The Common Intellectual Experience, or CIE, is a required class for all freshmen. The course revolves around four central questions and utilizes a variety of ancient and modern texts. It is taught by professors in a variety of departments and is normally completed during the semester. However, these are not normal times.
This year, Ursinus freshmen, including myself, came to campus two and a half weeks before upperclassmen for our CIE class. CIE was an intensive three-hour-per-day, five-day-a-week course. Classes were held over Zoom and/ or in-person, as were mandatory events such as a screening of the movie “Persepolis” and a virtual performance of Plato’s “Euthyphro.” Even though CIE was pass/fail, students had to participate and write three essays.
Just because all freshmen were tasked to read the same texts and spent the same time in class doesn’t mean they all shared the same experience. The three differences I noticed from talking to fellow freshmen were the expectations in quality and length of papers, the amount of homework, and how the conversations in class were conducted. These three differences resulted in not every student benefitting from CIE, and created unequal experiences. CIE was meant to be a common connection between all freshmen, but the differences I observed obstructed this goal.
The first distinguishable difference between the CIE experience is with the expectations for the three essays. Students were given word counts of 1200-1500 words for the first two essays and 1500-1800 for the last essay. However, these expectations were depended the professor. Some faculty preferred shorter essays while others expected students to meet every standard on the rubric. This meant every student wrote a different amount.
The second and arguably the most noticeable difference in students’ CIE experience was the amount of work one was expected to do outside of class. Many students were expected to read the portion of the assigned text, taking notes and finding points for exploration. Others were given questions to answer with quotes or other evidence. This took much longer, and meant that a student could have extra work depending on their CIE section.
The third difference was how discussions were conducted in class. Some professors who assigned questions for students to answer seemed to focus on answering the questions and breaking down related passages. Others had one portion of the class break down parts of the work and another part connect ancient works to modern society. Some classes utilized smaller group discussions through Zoom breakout rooms or during in-person classes. type of discussions a student was exposed to depended on which professor they had.
The purpose of CIE is to get freshmen acquainted to liberal arts thinking and to answer the four questions. It should not be different because a student gets Professor A and not Professor B. While professors do and should maintain flexibility to run their own
courses as they please, a class all freshmen take should come with more uniformity. Thus, the Common Intellectual Experience requires more planning to create a common classroom experience.