Post #4: Curriculum Committee

Having examined the course catalogs pretty thoroughly, I moved on this week to look through the files of the Curriculum Committee. When I first got a look at the box, it appeared an overwhelming task; it’s a huge box and packed with files. It would take a whole semester’s worth of work to comb through each paper and come up with some kind of coherent statement about the work the Committee accomplished. In lieu of that, I decided that I would look through some of the papers and see whether the committee had been working on a particular issue that it would be englightening for me to follow.

Luckily, I found such an issue right away. It was, in fact, the first issue discussed on the first page I looked at, but it was so tempting and, I felt, so revealing that I did not look farther, although later papers covered other issues.

This hot topic was the continued existance of the Department of Home Economics. The papers are kind of an exciting read, actually. Although the official minutes are written in a calm and dispassionate style, by the Committee’s secretary, it is clear that this is an issue which was being taken very seriously and about which nearly all the committee members, as well as the Department of Home Economics, had very strong feelings.

Over several weeks worth of debate and meetings, the committee discussed whether the Department of Home Economics was meeting the needs of a Liberal Arts college, and although it’s not stated outright, their discussion of faculty votes and presidental approval reveals that there were some members of the committee who wished to get rid of the program entirely. This seems to have been prompted by a report by the certifying board, which blatently recommended doing away with the program and keeping the courses as electives only.

Naturally, the students would not have been privy to the discussions going on in these meetings behind the scenes, but I would be very surprised if they were not aware, at least vaguely, that there was some upheaval going on in this program. The women who majored in Home Economics, particularly, were likely aware of some of the debate.

The implications of this for the classroom are several; in the first place, the idea that your major might be done away with would make any student nervous, particularly if they were unsure what that outcome would mean for their graduation.

In a broader sense, however, the debate over Home Economics is a debate over the roles of women in 1960s society. One of the ways Home Economics might not have been serving the needs of the school is that it was seen (as a department report says) as unimportant, because many outside the field did not understand what the Home Economics department saw as the many advantages and opportunities offered by a Home Economics degree.

The opponants of a continuing program in Home Economics were not entirely wrong in their assumptions, however; the Home Economics magazine included for faculty perusal has a very “separate spheres” feel to it, emphasizing women’s place in the home and family above all else.

So, the debate here is not really about the classes being taught or the skills that young women were learning. Instead, the faculty was actually arguing over the role that it imagined it’s students playing in the decades to come. Unfortunately, what was a huge controversy and the origin of a lot of paperwork in 1963 is barely mentioned in the papers for 1964. There is one mention of a faculty vote, but since Home Economics continues on through the end of the decade, the faculty must have voted to keep it. Since we no longer have such a department, however, we know that the battle continued for some years after.


One Response to “Post #4: Curriculum Committee”

  1. Grace Hobson says:

    You are correct – I do remember that the Home Ec program was being questioned, but it’s just sort of a subliminal memory. It will be interesting to read your findings. This was a women’s issue and what was going on with regards to the Home Ec program at MWC was a sign of the times.