Information from the CEP on Submitting Course Proposals

(Letter for 2019 coming in September)

September 13, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

We write to invite you to submit new and revised course proposals for 2018-19, due on October 1, 2018. Faculty proposing new courses and course revisions should use the CMS form on the Dean of the Faculty’s website. 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.

Please note:
Courses offered at the introductory level, typically 100- and 200-level courses, play a critical role in the open curriculum. The CEP wishes to ensure that the majority of these courses are truly open to all our students, regardless of the students’ preparation or previous familiarity with the academic field. We fear that the recent proliferation of low enrollment caps in introductory-level courses may now be limiting students’ access to some programs. For this reason, we urge departments to be vigilant about maintaining a balance between their capped and uncapped introductory level courses.

We are also concerned that courses that meet only once a week may 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 ay be appropriate for advanced seminars, the CEP expects most courses to meet more frequently. 

Enrollment caps
|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 your cap and include the criteria you will use to drop students if enrollments exceed the cap. Please bear in mind that instructors with an over-enrolled capped course need 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 the first round of pre-registration. Students remaining on the roster at the end of the second registration period will be guaranteed enrollment (please see below for a fuller description of this process). If you prefer to have the registrar drop students according to these criteria after the first round, you can now check the box authorizing the registrar to do so.

When capping enrollment, please remember that enrolling all Amherst College students in four classes each term requires that each course accommodates, on average, approximately 18 students. For every course that enrolls fewer than 18 students, another must enroll more than 18 students. Departments should review the balance between their capped and uncapped courses. As noted above, our committee plans to give greater scrutiny to this balance and to all courses that cap enrollment at 18 or fewer students, with particular attention to introductory courses, typically those at the 100- and 200-level.

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 wish to manage their own course enrollments should opt for " consent required." This option is recommended for faculty who wish to reserve spaces for first-year students in the fall semester, as well as for courses that require the student to meet with the professor and/or require the evaluation of diagnostic tests. If selecting this option, please specify your reason(s) for requiring consent.

Capped with Reserves for First Years
Faculty teaching limited-enrollment courses in the fall semester who wish to reserve spaces for first year students should select “Capped with Reserves for First Years” on the course proposal form, which involves setting one cap for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors who can pre-register for the course in the spring, and a total cap to be used thereafter. The difference between these two caps is the number of seats that will be reserved for first-year students, who will register for the course during orientation in the fall. Selecting “Capped with Reserves for First Years” requires the approval of the CEP and must be justified as part of the course proposal, which should also specify “The course will give priority during fall orientation registration to first-year students” as part of the enrollment information. (The ability to reserve spaces for FY students applies only to courses offered in the fall semester; the CEP has not authorized this for other purposes at this time.)

In courses specifying pre-requisites, please distinguish between prior courses that are “required” and those that are merely “recommended.”  The online registration procedures now allow the instructor to examine whether registered students have completed necessary background courses. Some departments, by previous agreement with the registrar’s office, require the instructor’s consent if the student has not completed the prerequisites. Courses listed under “recommended background” are primarily intended to inform the advisor-advisee discussion of course selection.

Class meetings and times
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 expected 150 minutes of regular class meetings. 

As noted above, we expect most courses except advanced seminars to meet more than once a week and will closely examine courses that do not do so. 

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. To avoid unnecessary conflicts with other courses, please refer to the attached course chart or to the online course distribution chart. While there are sometimes pedagogical reasons for scheduling 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. 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, perhaps at 8:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Revising 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 conduct both a substantive and also an editorial review of proposals to ensure that descriptions are free of grammatical errors and unnecessary jargon; are concise; and state the purpose of the course clearly. Chairs should also ensure that courses limit enrollment only if a cap is pedagogically necessary and meet more than once per week if the course is offered at the entry-level. In addition, the chair should ensure that the department’s full set of 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 caps on courses that are the gateways to the subject and courses that contribute to general education allow generous access (35 or more).

Chairs should indicate their approval on the CMS form by checking the box at the bottom of the form and then click on “save.” This will automatically submit the proposal for review by the CEP. If new courses constitute a major 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 Dean of the Faculty for her approval after the proposal has been finalized.  


We want to remind you to bring course keywords up-to-date and familiarize yourself with the online Course Scheduler, which allows you and your advisees to search easily 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 easily added as a minor revision to ongoing courses, as described below, in the CMS system.  Please note that this year the CEP has added a new keyword identifying courses which give special attention to issues of social justice. If this applies to a course that you teach, please add this keyword.        

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 the week of October 29-November 2, 2018.


Catherine Sanderson, Chair
On behalf of the Committee on Educational Policy 

Committee Members:
Catherine Epstein, ex officio
Tekla Harms
Tariq Jaffer
Lawrence Douglas
Edward Melillo


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 the first round of 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 pre-requisites or grade requirements for the courses.

Advisor course approvals will remain in place from the first round, 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 the first round 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 pre-registration, 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
·         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.

2017-2018 Course Heat Map