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What would you consider to be measures of rigor in the JMC curriculum?


The reading lists and the final paper.

- David Brigode (Student: 1969 - 1973)


Unfortunately, I feel that JMC sometimes lacked rigor in execution rather than theory in some classes. Some classes could have demanded more of the students and some less. I feel that rigor in course selection was greatly dependent upon choices made by the individual student. For example, I had to work intensely during my junior and senior years to take all the University requirements for the geology degree and still complete the JMC requirements as well. Some classes, however, were definitely graduate level in their reading requirements, class participation and product expectations. In general, there was an overall decline in rigor during this time period across the entire University due to the war.

- Paul M. Buehrle (Student: 1969 - 1973)


I would consider the fact that everyone had to take a foreign language in the first year, and that it was an intense two-year course in one year. I would consider the fact that all testing was done through written exams rather than electronically graded tests. I would consider the fact that all of the classes were very small, forcing students to be prepared every day! And I would consider the fact that the students were involved in planning the curriculum for the College to be a part of the rigorous education that JMC students undertook as apart of their learning experience.

- Dennis Hall (Student: 1965 - 1969)


I was pretty heavily involved during the process of discussing, then changing, from P/N grading to regular grading in, oh, about 1975. I remember the contentious arguments. Someone, can't remember who, presented 'data' to show that, whereas around 1972 a 'P' grade roughly equated to a 3.0, by 1974, a 'P' was roughly equivalent to a 1.0. (I also remember how suspicious we all were about that phrase, and how often I have used Twain's description of the three types of lies, first heard in a JMC sociology class about statistics - titled 'The Numbers Game' I recall). I wound up on the side of going to conventional grading, a stance I would now reverse.

- Mark Harris (Student: 1973 - 1977)


The language program, definitely.

The writing requirements: all the elective courses were four credits, and one of the credits was to be graded as independent study. Many of the courses, however, were more independent study than not. I think some outsiders took this as a license to "get away with murder," but I found it forced me to develop my own thinking.

The course distribution requirements that ensured experience with all academic areas.

Another standard of rigor was not so much the curriculum itself as the community of motivated students and faculty.

- Carl Koivuniemi (Student: 1965 - 1969)


I am not sure I fully understand this one. But I felt very challenged in all my courses, and particularly in the 8 credit foreign language. If you blew a quarter grade it really messed you up. I think by our junior year they were giving half credit for plus grades and that helped a great deal. I also was very challenged by the various writing components. I wasn't a very good writer when I started out and I still don't consider myself to be a great writer. I am competent but that's about it. However I am a great editor and proofreader, thanks to JMC.

- Suzanne Levy (Student: 1965 - 1969)


None. Difficulty of course work varied far too widely. The styles and demands of the instructors (particularly, Juan Calvo) were what produced any sense of rigor or seriousness.

- William McGarvey (Student: 1966 - 1971)


For me it was demanding, but not overly demanding. Expectations could be tightened in some ways.

- Joe Milkes (Student: 1967 - 1971)


I have come to appreciate the assessment process that was on the way out when I was there: folders of accumulated work that demonstrated progress and achievement. For the outside world, it is sometimes hard to explain this. GPA, class ranks, long-term career development seem to mean more.

- Pamela Oestreicher (JMC faculty: 1976 - 1978)


Designing your own major is huge, as I noted. It’s not a task most would take on.

Although the field experience seemed like just getting credit for having fun at the time, it took some work/networking to decide on an experience and get it set up, and the papers did require you to closely examine parts of everyday life.

The writing classes were intimidating for me, but I’m very glad I took them. There were so many phenomenal writers enrolled in those courses it took years before I realized I have above average writing skills compared to people in my own profession.

- Cleo Parker (Student: 1974 - 1978)


JMC was not an honors college, but many of its students became members of the Honors College. Many outstanding high school students "self-selected" themselves into JMC, recognizing the value in its promise of small college/big university experiences. Interaction in the residence college setting made sharp students sharper. The classes were interesting. I don’t recall dogging an assignment in JMC, and I don’t recall others doing so. JMC inspired a lot of self-motivation, and out of that energy came much excellent work.

- Charles K. Roberts (Student: 1966 - 1970)


That students and faculty both had to comprehensively assess student work in each course. This was written in essay form. No easy check off boxes. People truly reflected on what they had accomplished, and what to tackle next.

- Nancy R. Shaffer (Student: 1972 - 1975)


The content of some of the courses was at a very high level for courses basically replacing general education electives for freshmen and sophomores.  This arose from the small size of the classes, the seminar style, selection of challenging basic texts rather than survey  packages, and above all the high quality of the instructors and students. 

The rigor of the love of the inquiry is the toughest and best there is, but unfortunately it is hard to institutionalize.

I think the rigor of JMC courses varied greatly.  Some required (or at least elicited from me) as much and as good work as Walter Adams’ famous antitrust course or the senior honors and graduate courses I attended at MSU.  Others required no more work than the easiest courses I took in the university.

- John Stick (Student: 1971 - 1975)


This is hard for me to say. I never thought that any of the courses were very difficult. Well that’s not quite accurate. I found many of them to be challenging, but I welcomed the challenge.

- Darlene Swartz-Hubsky (Student: 1969 - 1973)


There is a tendency on the part of MSU administrators to look at the pass/fail system and say JMC was not rigorous. Not true. The pass/fail system was only in place for a couple of years and was not, in my opinion, an important part of the college.

One measure of academic rigor was the high percentage of Honors College students at JMC. JMC tended to attract highly intelligent, hard working people. Another measure was the fact that graduate students from other departments were taking JMC courses for grad school credit, while I took the same courses as a freshman and sophomore.

Another measure of rigor was the writing requirement. We had to write papers in all of the classes. There were no final exams, except in the language classes.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)

You had to be a highly motivated self-starter to flourish at JMC. That was important.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


Overview: JMC's 'rigor' as a College

I have in effect completed no fewer than 5 distinct university curricular steeplechases (BA; BS; MS; PhD course / qualifying work in the USA up to ABD status; PhD qualification and dissertation in Sweden). My BA experience at JMC was at least as 'rigorous' as any of the others - including the two doctoral experiences under each of the distinct Anglo-American and German systems.

Much of this rigor was 'structural', in the sense it was intrinsic to the JMC model itself. The inaugural class entering in Fall 1965 was admitted subject to special vetting of their applications. In the early years, there was an inescapable one-year intensive language requirement as well as a mandatory participation in the Inquiry and Expression program. There were specific expectations concerning breadth of disciplinary sampling and depth of course content (with internal courses being equivalent to graduate seminars in the University at large). The student was personally responsible to craft his / her own education through proactive design of his / her Field of Concentration. The student was expected to spend one full term (then, a quarter) outside the classroom environment, pursuing a full-time independent, field or foreign study.

These latter points highlight perhaps the most clear-cut 'measure of rigor' in the JMC curriculum - its focus on the student's own initiative in guiding and executing his / her baccalaureate process.


JMC's 'rigor' with respect to its unique course offerings

JMC's internal courses were topically-focused and operated as upper-division / graduate-level seminars involving a small number of students and an instructor. Non-JMC students wanting to take JMC courses could only do so in the context of upper-division undergraduate / graduate credits and requirements. In other words, the 'rigor' of ordinary JMC courses was institutionally ascribed to be on a par with advanced and graduate studies in the University at large.

This was the explicit objective in light of the 'heuristic learning' paradigm of the time. Students were exposed to advanced, topically-centered courses in the expectation that they would pick up the basics (e.g., terminology, methods, key themes) as they went. I have no reluctance to claim we JMC students were subject to a pedagogical model more rigorous than any other MSU undergraduates. This mode of coursework was excellent preparation for advanced / graduate studies specifically and professional career functions generally.


JMC's 'rigor' with respect to its demands on its students

The two previous points illustrate a context in which JMC students were 'on the spot' to perform in a manner unlike what other MSU undergrads encountered.

You can doze in a lecture hall as one among 300 students passively listening to a canned presentation. You have to be 'on' in the context of 15 - 20 students actively discussing course content with an instructor.

Generating essays and papers for a long-established course and among hundreds of peers can be accomplished through a procedure as trivial as imitation. You cannot get away with mere imitation when you are doing a self-defined and self-directed independent study.

Pursuing a conventional major is a matter of following the 'cookbook recipe' outlined in the Catalog. You are personally responsible to generate and defend your 'major' when it is a customized Field of Concentration created and negotiated jointly by you and a faculty advisor.

Yes, there were students who stumbled through four years of JMC 'in a haze'. After all, it was the 1960's / 1970's, right? However, no one 'sleepwalked' through a complete 4-year JMC experience.


'Rigor' as evidenced by conventional indicators of academic merit

There are multiple bases upon which to claim JMC students - as a body - demonstrated academic performance above the MSU average of the day. Among these are:

  • The fact that JMC consistently placed at the top of all MSU units in terms of GPA. I regularly checked the Union bulletin board for the last term's unit-level GPA stats, and I don't remember JMC ever placing lower than second during 1969 - 1973.
  • The fact that JMC's Spring 1973 graduating class achieved 'honor attributions' disproportionate to University averages and norms. (76.9% 'With Honor'; 30.8% 'With High Honor'; 28.2% 'Honors College').
  • The claim that JMC 'contained more Merit Scholars than Harvard'. This claim I could never verify, but the fact remains that JMC had a very high proportion of Merit Scholars.
  • The unprecedented high proportion of students in JMC's inaugural class who qualified for Phi Beta Kappa.


- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)

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Randy Whitaker (JMC '74)


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