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A New Leader for Learning

CAS Prof M. David Eckel to head BU’s Core Curriculum

M. David Eckel, a CAS professor of religion, will take over as director of the CAS Core Curriculum on September 1. Photo courtesy of Core Curriculum

When M. David Eckel describes his departure from Harvard Divinity School 17 years ago, he likes to joke that he parted the waters of the Charles River and walked to Boston University. Now, in a decidedly less dramatic fashion, the College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of religion is taking on a new role at BU: director of the CAS Core Curriculum.   

Developed in 1989, the Core Curriculum is an integrated series of courses that provides the foundation of a liberal arts education by combining the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences into a single structured curriculum. While maintaining its base in the classics of Western thought and literature, the Core Curriculum also introduces students to important works of Eastern philosophy and art.

“Institutions of higher learning need a strong liberal arts core to ensure that students have strong foundations as scholars and citizens of the world,” Eckel says. “Yet few universities have them.”  

The Core Curriculum is one of two ways for CAS students to fulfill their general education requirements, and it accounts for about half of a student’s courses during freshman and sophomore years. It is not a major, nor does it preclude taking other classes as electives. About a third of CAS students enroll in the program, according to Eckel, while the rest choose a more traditional divisional studies option.

“I tend to describe the Core Curriculum as being a college within a college,” he says. “The small discussion classes generate a real feeling of community, and students get to know one another and the faculty extremely well.”

Effective September 1, Eckel will replace James Johnson, a CAS assistant dean and an associate professor of history, as the Core Curriculum director. An expert in Asian religions who takes a broad cultural and comparative perspective, Eckel focuses on varieties of Buddhism, particularly in India and Tibet. In addition to teaching two first-year Core Curriculum courses, he teaches CAS classes about Buddhist philosophy and new religious movements in America. In 1998, he received a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“We wanted to bring in someone who was familiar with the program, and David is well-beloved among both the faculty and students,” Johnson says. “He will most definitely bring a fresh energy to this large and complex program.”

In the upcoming year, Eckel’s goals, he says, are to “continue to strengthen and enrich” the experiences of undergraduates enrolled in the program. “Aristotle once said that things have to be constantly pushed to remain in motion,” Eckel says. “Academic programs are kind of like that, and we are constantly working to deepen the curriculum.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.