Information from the CEP on Submitting Course Proposals

This letter will be updated for 2022.

September 13, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

We write to invite you to submit proposals for new courses and revisions to existing courses for 2021-2022, which are now due on October 1, 2021. Faculty proposing new courses and course revisions should use the Course Catalog Editing System, which you can also find on the Provost and Dean of the Faculty’s website (General Information – Course Catalog Editing System). 

In developing course proposals, faculty and department chairs should pay close attention to the following considerations:

Course description

Course descriptions should be comprehensible to someone who has little or no familiarity with the field, be relatively brief, and avoid the use of academic jargon whenever possible (examples: ECON-262, ENGL-278, GEOL-251). Science courses that include a laboratory with half-course credit should clearly indicate this in the course description.

Enrollment caps

Because of the enrollment churn that takes place during the add/drop period, courses that are capped often end up enrolling fewer students than the cap. When capping enrollment, please remember that enrolling all Amherst College students in four classes each term generally requires that each course or section accommodates, on average, approximately 20 students. For every course that enrolls fewer than 20 students, another must enroll more than 20 students. Moving forward, therefore, the CEP will give greater scrutiny to all courses that propose to cap enrollment at 20 or fewer students

Moreover, courses offered at the introductory level play a critical role in the open curriculum. The CEP wants to ensure that the college offers a sufficient number of these courses and that they are truly open to all our students, regardless of the students’ preparation or previous familiarity with the academic field. For this reason, we urge departments to maintain a balance between their capped and uncapped introductory-level courses. 

Any restrictions on course enrollment must be noted and explained on the submitted form. Please be as specific as possible about the pedagogical reason for the cap and include the criteria you will use to admit or drop students if enrollments exceed the cap. Please bear in mind that an instructor with an over-enrolled capped course needs to cut the class roster to a number greater than or equal to the approved cap by the end of the fifth business day after pre-registration. Students remaining on the roster at the end of the second round of registration will be guaranteed enrollment (see below for a more complete description of this process). If you prefer to have the registrar drop students according to the specified criteria after the first round, you can check the box that authorizes the registrar to do so. 

Minutes per class

The Course Catalog notes that “Courses typically meet for three hours per week, with the expectation that an additional nine hours of academic engagement be spent in class, lab, discussion, studio, film viewing, and/or preparatory work.” This corresponds to the expectations of our accreditors. We ask that you keep these parameters in mind when developing or revising a course. Please also include information in your proposals about any additional expectations beyond the typical 150 minutes of regular class meetings. Courses that meet only once a week should plan to meet for 165 minutes to allow for a break.

Course meetings per week

We expect most courses to meet more than once a week, and we will closely examine courses that do not do so. Courses that meet only once a week present special challenges, both to the instructor teaching the course and also to students wishing to take the course. Because such courses meet across multiple blocks, once-a-week courses also may limit students’ access to other courses. While meeting once a week may be appropriate for upper-level seminars, the CEP expects most courses to meet more frequently. 

January term courses are expected to meet daily for the equivalent of at least two hours of class time per day for the entirety of the January session. January term courses also have the option of meeting entirely online.

Class meeting times

It is important in an open curriculum to encourage exploration. That exploration is hindered if a department’s courses are all offered during overlapping time slots. While there are sometimes pedagogical reasons to schedule classes to overlap, we ask that, to the extent possible, departments use all the available time slots before reusing a slot to ensure that students will have maximum flexibility in scheduling their courses. Please refer to the Course "Heat Map" to see underutilized times. If courses meet just once a week, we ask that whenever possible they meet at a time that will create as few scheduling conflicts as possible, such as Friday afternoons.

Consent required

Please be aware that selecting this option means that students will be unable to register for your course until you provide consent. Instructors who want to manage their own course enrollments should opt for “consent required.” This option is recommended for courses that require the student to meet with the professor prior to enrollment and/or evaluation of diagnostic tests. If selecting this option, please specify your reason(s) for requiring consent.


In courses that specify prerequisites, please check the prerequisites box and then indicate prior courses that are “required” and those that are merely “recommended.” The online registration procedures allow the instructor to examine whether registered students have completed necessary background courses. Courses listed as “recommended” are primarily intended to inform the advisor–advisee discussion of course selection. Some departments require the instructor’s consent if the student has not completed the prerequisites. Students are now able to search in the Course Scheduler for courses that have “no prerequisites” and that are appropriate for students who have no prior experience in the field. If a course has no check in the prerequisite box, it will automatically be tagged with this designation.


We want to remind you to bring course keywords up to date and to familiarize yourself with the revised online Course Scheduler, which allows you and your advisees to search for courses by keyword. This tool will be most helpful if you ensure that you have added the appropriate keywords to your courses; new keywords can be added as a minor revision to existing courses, as described below. 

Course expectations

We ask the faculty to list the expectations for work in the course in response to the following prompt: 

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: _______________.

(e.g., an emphasis on written work, readings, independent research, oral presentations, group work, in-class quizzes or exams, artistic work, field work or trips, quantitative work, lab work, instruction in languages other than English, visual analysis, aural analysis, or other expectations of work that might be central to the course)

This information, which emphasizes that these are just “likely” expectations, will not appear in the course description. It will instead appear when students click on the course in the Course Scheduler, where it will be followed by a standard sentence regarding Accessibility Services: 

Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner. 

Addition or updating of course expectations will be considered a minor revision for existing courses, as described below. 

Revisions to courses 

A course approval form must be submitted if you intend to make revisions to an existing course. Please check the box at the top of the form indicating whether you are submitting a major or a minor revision of an existing course. Major revisions include any change that modifies the enrollment restrictions, prerequisites, number of minutes or days that the course is meeting, and/or substantive alterations to the description. All changes require department chair approval. Major revisions to existing courses will be reviewed by the CEP but will not be reviewed by the faculty as a whole. 

Department chair approval 

Department chairs are required to review proposals to make sure that the description is free of unnecessary jargon, that the enrollment cap is pedagogically necessary, that courses generally meet more than once per week, and that the department’s courses offer a balance between capped and uncapped courses. Enrollment caps cannot be imposed or reduced after the course has been approved by the faculty, so the committee also encourages department chairs to discuss issues of class size with new or visiting faculty members before they submit their course proposals. Please make sure that, if caps are placed on courses that are the gateways to the subject or on courses that contribute to general education, that they still allow generous access.

Chairs should indicate their approval on the form by checking the box at the bottom and then clicking on “Save.” This will automatically submit the proposal for review by the CEP. If new courses constitute a significant shift in the curriculum for the department, or if the department plans to make other substantive changes to the major, the CEP requests that the chair inform the committee. 

Proposals for courses to be listed in more than one department need approval by chairs of each department. Faculty proposing courses outside of a department, such as colloquia, must notify the Provost and Dean of the Faculty for her approval after the proposal has been finalized.

We appreciate your efforts to meet this timetable. It is important to have courses reviewed by the CEP so that they can be approved by the Faculty in time for advising week, which will take place during the week of October 25, 2021.



Sandra Burkett, Chair

On behalf of the Committee on Educational Policy 


Committee Members:

Robert Benedetto

Nicola Courtright

Catherine Epstein, ex officio

Nicolas Graber-Mitchell ’22 

Geoffrey Sanborn

Adam Sitze

Jalen Woodard ’23 


Instructors with an over-enrolled capped course will be asked to cut their class rosters to a number greater than or equal to their approved cap by the end of the fifth business day following pre-registration. Students who are cut from a course will have an opportunity during a second registration period to register for alternative courses. While reducing the class roster is not mandatory, students remaining on the roster at the end of the second registration period will be guaranteed enrollment (barring unforeseen circumstances, such as lack of available classroom space or equipment), provided they attend the first class during add/drop and have satisfied all prerequisites or grade requirements for the courses. 

Advisor course approvals will remain in place from pre-registration, but advisors may need to approve additional substitute courses so that students can complete the registration process. Capped courses at or below their cap following pre-registration will have their caps enforced automatically by the registration system in the second round. Nevertheless, an instructor can always add students beyond the cap by contacting the Registrar. During add-drop, students can make further changes as necessary, and faculty may add students, room capacity permitting. While Five College students will participate in the pre-registration process, they will not be guaranteed enrollment following the second round of registration. 



The keywords are: 

  • artistic practice
  • attention to issues of class
  • attention to issues of gender and sexuality
  • attention to issues of race
  • attention to issues of social justice
  • attention to research
  • attention to speaking
  • attention to writing*
  • community-based learning
  • fine arts for non-majors
  • lab science course
  • languages other than English
  • online only (only available for January courses)
  • quantitative reasoning
  • science and math for non-majors
  • transnational or world cultures taught in English
  • writing intensive*

*To avoid confusion about the distinction between attention to writing and writing intensive, please consult the definitions below. More than one keyword can be checked but the keywords for attention to writing and writing intensive are mutually exclusive. 

Attention to writing:

Any course in any discipline can define itself as giving attention to writing (W) if it has as one of its conscious and stated objectives the improvement of students’ critical writing, whether that writing is highly discipline-specific (e.g., a lab report) or broader in its application. Whether a course counts as a W course is determined not so much by the number of pages of writing students produce as by the uses to which that writing is put. In particular, writing assignments should be used at least in part for the purpose of improving students’ writing skills rather than solely as evidence of their mastery of course content. Accordingly, in W courses, students can reasonably expect to receive extensive feedback not only on the content but also on the form of their writing. This feedback might be given in a variety of ways, e.g., written comments, one-on-one paper conferences, and/or classroom discussion of samples of student writing.

Writing Intensive:

Writing intensive courses are designed specifically to meet the needs of students whose secondary education did not adequately prepare them for writing at Amherst College. Students who take these courses will be taught the fundamentals of academic writing: thesis development, the use and citation of secondary sources, cogent argumentation, effective organization, the construction of coherent and unified paragraphs, and the crafting of complex yet clear sentences whose grammatical structure accurately mirrors the logical relations between the ideas they express. Though a significant amount of class time will be devoted to writing instruction, these courses are based squarely within a particular discipline and may count toward the major in the department in which they are taught.