Big Ideas 2019 RFP

L&S Undergraduate Studies

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing today to invite you to join with colleagues to propose a Big Ideas Course. As you know, the campus offers hundreds of excellent courses. What sets Big Ideas Courses apart is that they take up key intellectual and societal challenges that cannot be adequately addressed by the perspective or methodology of one discipline alone.

Since its inception in 2012-13, the program has inspired new ways of thinking and learning, kindled new levels of intellectual curiosity, and furthered the ultimate aim of a liberal arts education by altering the way our students see and interact with the world.

Most importantly, Big Ideas courses are truly co-taught by two or more faculty members from different departments, meaning that both or all of the instructors attend every class meeting, and interact with one another and the students.

This kind of teaching is a challenge, but it’s a rewarding challenge. Faculty members who have taught in the program routinely rave about the experience. Here is what one of our instructors—architecture professor Nicholas de Monchaux, who co-taught with Shannon Jackson from Theater, Dance and Performance Studies—told us:
"I can say without reservation or hyperbole that teaching a Big Ideas Course was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences of my fifteen-year career teaching architecture, and probably one of the most intellectually rewarding as well. Providing an opportunity to both re-think the fundamentals of my own discipline, as well as engage new and essential connections to students and ideas far outside my own experience, the course represented to me the best and too rarely realized promise of the diverse community of knowledge that we know as the university."

The archive of courses from the program’s first seven years and the short, engaging video about the program appearing on our program’s webpage will give you an idea of the range of possibilities. For the upcoming years of the program, we hope you will engage your creativity and collegiality and propose topics that will contribute to the dynamism of the program.

We also welcome course proposals related to the signature initiatives that have emerged from the campus’ Strategic Planning exercise, in particular, Inclusive Intelligence; Environmental Change, Sustainability, and Justice; Democracy, Values, Governance, and Freedom of Expression; Inequality and Opportunity; Charting a New Course to Health and Wellbeing. Like these initiatives, the Big Ideas Courses start with the principle that the biggest and most vital questions of our day require an interdisciplinary approach.

In keeping with the spirit of low bureaucracy/high impact, we invite you to submit a one-page description of a course that matches the goals of the Big Ideas Courses initiative by 
Friday, November 16.

We do ask that you consult with your respective department chairs (or vice-chairs for teaching and/or curriculum committee) before submitting your proposal. Please let your department know that the College of Letters & Science will provide GSI support for the Big Ideas courses that are selected and offered, and also replacement costs where appropriate, to enable the departments to cover the instruction you would have otherwise provided.

The selected teams will receive up to $10,000 in course development funds, which can be used, e.g., to hire a GSR, purchase course materials, travel to research the topic, or hire technical assistance. The period for course development will be spring and summer 2019. We would ask for a commitment from the teaching teams to offer their Big Ideas courses in 2019-20 or 2020-21 at the latest.

Please address your proposal (or questions about program logistics) to Alix Schwartz, who is coordinating the initiative for the college, at

We hope that this year’s call for proposals strikes a chord with faculty members who want to try something new, different and exciting, just as our first call for proposals struck physicist Saul Perlmutter. After he had taught Sense and Sensibility and Science two times, he told us, “When I first heard about the Big Ideas Courses, I realized that there had been a course that I’d always wanted to teach and I’d been trying to figure out ways to do it for many years.” We were delighted to help him make that dream a reality, and look forward to partnering with you to create your dream course.

Bob Jacobsen
Dean of Undergraduate Studies