Simpler Manoa Core Curriculum and Graduation Requirements

by Matt McGranaghan

Note: I wrote this in about 1998, before the Manoa Faculty Senate passed the "new core". I still (2014) think that it would be a better way to organize the curriculum, so I have left it here in case anyone is interested. In my opinion, the new core is not a "core" in any normal sense of the word. It's "design" was more about creating a structure and procedure to continually re-define a "core" than about the content that would be included. The resulting structure strikes me as an undue amount of overhead, mired in campus politics and kuleana protection, arising out of an apparent inability to decide what knowledge actually constitutes the core of an education today. It amounts to "passing the buck" rather than a shared understanding of what should constitute the core of an education at the University of Hawaii.


The old (pre-Fall 2001) Manoa Core and Graduation Requirements became a burdensome, Byzantine, ossified mess that had grown through time. (See Ron Cambra's "The UHM Core: Snapshots" , [This web-page was taken down or moved. Ask Dr Cambra where it has gone.]) It inhibited innovation and did not demonstrably enhanced education.

I would argue that the current Manoa requirements are worse. There is no pretense of their being a core. The Foundations and Focus structure entails administrative overhead to seek, assign, and track course designations and student effort to find courses with the needed designations. The situation is made more complex by A&S having it's own byzantine, though unaligned and now essentially orphaned, distribution requirements. In short, what we have is complex to manage, hard to navigate, and not demonstrably successful. Tear it all down!

The requirements should be simplified to free the students to explore the university in ways that they deem interesting, and to allow the faculty to be more responsive to student needs. At the same time, breadth of perspective should be encouraged, and faculty should encourage and demand intellectual rigor and challenge in all courses.

Below are a set of proposed changes that are intended to address these concerns. I offer them as a point of departure for discussion of a re-formed core.

Proposed Changes

  1. Drop the Manoa core and graduation requirements. Instead, have major-based degree requirements with "deep breadth" through requiring a major and either a minor or a second major for graduation. (A&S should do the same.)
  2. Drop the WI requirement. Instead, expect that all courses, especially those at the 300 and 400 levels, require significant written work --- and provide useful feedback on it. (Oral communication, ethics, culture, symbolic reasoning, quantitative reasoning, etc. should all be handled similarly ---by expecting the faculty to competently situate course material in broader context and by expecting that students integrate their learning across courses.
  3. Drop the language requirement. Instead, encourage students to explore languages as electives, potential minors and/or majors.

Resulting Curriculum

A Bachelor of Arts Degree would require:

  1. 120 credit hours.
  2. at least 60 of which are upper division.
  3. a major.
  4. at least one minor or a second major.

A Bachelor of Science Degree would be awarded if the student's program included three of the following four sequences:

  1. CHEM 161, 161L, 162, 162L (or CHEM 171, 171L).
  2. MATH 205, 206, (now numbered 241, 242).
  3. PHYS 170, 170L, 272, 272L (or PHYS 151, 151L, 152, 152L).
  4. A similar two year biological science sequence.


Students could more freely explore disciplines. Students would be free to explore the range of disciplines at the University and they would still have to develop depth of familiarity with several.

The university would be a free-er market of ideas and insights, and probably more responsive to student demand. One explicit intent in this proposal is to break away from the ossification of the (old) current core and the unstable nature of the new one.

There is currently little incentive to introduce new 100 and 200 level courses that are not part of the core because they have to compete for enrollments with required options of the core. Similarly, there is disincentive for students to explore courses that do not fill as many requirements as possible.

Inter-campus articulation of the Manoa Core would be simplified. Departments would have to decide whether courses in their discipline offered on the other campuses meet their requirements. Interaction with colleages on other campuses may be, therefore, encouraged.

These changes would also eliminate some bureacratic and administrative overhead. Bringing degrees more clearly in line with departments would discourage the unwieldy practice of colleges offering courses outside of departments. Finally, the need for a committee to review courses proposed for the core and the need to see whether core requirements (or equivalents) were met would both be eliminiated.

written Summer 1998
modified 13 May 1999
lightly revisted Aug 2009
very lightly touched Nov 2014
even more lightly touched Oct 2017