Bard College Catalogue

The Bard College Catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the College's undergraduate programs and courses, curriculum, admission and financial aid procedures, student activities and services, history, campus facilities, affiliated institutions including graduate programs, and faculty and administration.

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Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

The Curriculum

The undergraduate curriculum creates a flexible system of courses that gives ­coherence, breadth, and depth to the four years of study and helps students become knowledgeable across academic boundaries and able to think critically within a ­discipline or mode of thought. 

The pillars of the Bard education are the structure of the first year, including First-Year Seminar: The Common Course; the program- and concentration-based approach to study; Moderation; the concept of distribution by modes of thought; and the Senior Project. Students move from the Lower College (first and second years), which focuses on general education and introduces the content and methodology of the academic and artistic areas in which students may specialize, to the Upper College (third and fourth years), which involves advanced study of particular subjects and more independent work.

Structure of the First Year

All first-year students participate in a common curriculum—the Language and Thinking Program, First-Year Seminar: The Common Course, Citizen Science—and take elective courses.
  • The Language and Thinking Program is an intensive introduction to the liberal arts and sciences with a particular focus on writing. It is attended by all incoming Bard students during the last three weeks of August. Students read extensively, work on a variety of projects in writing and other formats, and meet throughout the day in small groups and in one-on-one conferences with faculty. The work aims to ­cultivate habits of thoughtful reading and discussion, clear articulation, accurate self-critique, and productive collaboration. Satisfactory completion of the program is required for matriculation into the College. Students who fail to meet this requirement must defer matriculation for a full academic year.

  • The First-Year Seminar: The Common Course, “Studies in Human Experience” In 1953, the College inaugurated an experimental “Common Course” designed to show how the question of human freedom can be approached through a liberal arts education. Sixty years later, Bard’s First-Year Seminar: The Common Course continues to engage the individual experiences of first-year students, and to relate those experiences to extraordinary works of literature, philosophy, religion, politics, science, and the arts. In this way, the course introduces students to important intellectual, cultural, and artistic ideas that serve as a common foundation in liberal arts education. Core texts for the fall semester include Genesis and works by Plato, Mencius, Xunzi, Lucretius, Augustine, Ibn Tufayl, Montaigne, Luther, Descartes, Galileo, Milton, and Weber. Core texts for the spring semester include works by Locke, Rousseau, Equiano, Kant, Mary Shelley, Büchner, Marx, Nietzsche, Melville, Freud, Faulkner, and Arendt. Plenary sessions, guest lectures, panel presentations, performances, and student-organized symposia provide a collective forum in which students and faculty come together to investigate and test the ideas explored in the classroom.

  • Citizen Science is a two-and-a-half-week program that takes place during the January intersession, seeks to promote science literacy and introduce first-year students to methods of evaluating scientific evidence. Teaching occurs in three distinct classroom modules: laboratory experimentation, computer-based strategies, and problem-based learning. For the past three years, the program has focused on the critical theme of infectious disease and the impact that infectious disease outbreaks and subsequent management can have on global society.

  • Under the First-Year Advising system, all students are assigned an academic adviser, with whom they meet at strategic points during each semester: before registration; two weeks into the semester, when course selection is final; shortly before midterm; two weeks after midterm; and just prior to registration for the next semester. The advising system is intended to help students begin the process of selecting a program in which to major, meet the requirements of that program, prepare for professional study or other activities outside of or after college, and satisfy other interests.

  • First-Year Electives allow students to explore fields in which they know they are interested and to experiment with unfamiliar areas of study. Students select three elective courses in each semester of the first year (the fourth course is the First-Year Seminar).

Program and Concentration Approach to Study

A liberal arts education offers students both breadth and depth of learning. At Bard, the primary sources of breadth are the First-Year Seminar and the distribution requirements. The primary source of depth is the requirement that each student major in a stand-alone academic program, possibly in conjunction with a non-stand-alone­ field of study, or concentration, or with another program in a joint major.

A program is a sequenced course of study designed by faculty (and sometimes by students in conjunction with faculty) to focus on a particular area of knowledge or a ­particular approach to an area. The course of study begins at the introductory level and moves in progressive stages toward the development of the ability to think and/or create, innovatively and reflectively, by means of the formal structures that the discipline provides. A concentration is a cluster of related courses on a clearly defined topic. A student may moderate into a concentration, but only in tandem with his or her moderation into a program.

With a curriculum based on programs rather than more traditionally defined departments, the faculty are encouraged to rethink boundaries between divisions and ­disciplines and to examine the content of their courses in terms of how the courses interact with one another. This more flexible framework allows students to create interdisciplinary plans of study. Many programs and concentrations, such as Asian Studies and Human Rights, are interdisciplinary in nature and can take advantage of the faculty and offerings of the entire College. For example, the Asian Studies Program may draw from courses in history, literature, art history, and economics.

The requirements for Moderation and graduation differ from program to program and are summarized in the individual descriptions that appear in this catalogue. All students must declare a major in a program in order to moderate from the Lower College to the Upper College and become a candidate for the bachelor of arts degree. A student who decides to pursue a double major—say, physics and philosophy—must satisfy the requirements of both programs and complete two Senior Projects. A student who pursues a joint major moderates into two programs, ideally in a joint Moderation, and completes course requirements for both programs and a single, unified Senior Project. A student who pursues study in a concentration must also moderate into a program, fulfill all course requirements, and produce a Senior Project that combines the interdisciplinary theories and methods of the concentration with the disciplinary theories and methods of the program.


Moderation is undertaken in the second semester of the sophomore year. Through this process students make the transition from the Lower College to the Upper College and establish their major in a program. (Transfer students entering with the equivalent of two full years of credit should, if possible, moderate during the first semester of residence, but in no case later than the second.)

Each student prepares two Moderation papers, the first assessing his or her curriculum, performance, and experience in the first two years, and the second identifying his or her goals and proposed study plan for the final two years. The student also submits a sample of work he or she has done in the program—for example, a long paper written for a course. The work is reviewed by a board of three faculty members, who evaluate the student’s past performance, commitment, and preparedness in the field; make suggestions for the transition from the Lower to the Upper College; and approve, deny, or defer promotion of the student to the Upper College. 

Distribution Requirements

The distribution requirements at Bard are a formal statement of the College’s desire to achieve an equilibrium between breadth and depth, between communication across disciplinary boundaries and rigor within a mode of thought. In order to introduce the student to a variety of intellectual and artistic experiences and to foster encounters with faculty members trained in a broad range of disciplines, each student is required to take one course in each of the nine categories listed below. No more than two requirements may be fulfilled within a single disciplinary program. High school Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses may not be used to satisfy the requirements. Non-native speakers of English are exempted from the Foreign Language, Literature, and Culture requirement.
  • Analysis of Arts (a course in the analysis of nonverbal art)
  • Foreign Language, Literature, and Culture (a course focused on language acquisition and/or the analysis of literature or culture via an engagement with a non-English language)
  • History (a course focused on historical analysis)
  • Humanities (a course focused on the analysis of primary texts in philosophy, religion, or social thought)
  • Laboratory Science (a laboratory course in the physical or life sciences)
  • Literature in English (a course focused on the literary analysis and explication of texts in English, in either the original or translation)
  • Mathematics and Computing (a course in mathematics, computing, statistics, or logic; all courses require passing the Q-test, a mathematical skills evaluation exam)
  • Practicing Arts (a studio course in the visual or performing arts, or creative writing)
  • Social Science (a course in an empirical social science other than history)
In addition, all students must fulfill a “Rethinking Difference” requirement. Courses with this designation focus on the study of difference in the context of larger social dynamics; they may consider the contexts of globalization, nationalism, and social justice, as well as differences of race, religion, ethnicity, class, ­gender, and/or sexuality. A single course may simultaneously fulfill both the “Rethinking Difference” requirement and another distribution requirement.

Senior Project

The Senior Project is an original, individual, focused project growing out of the student’s cumulative academic experiences. Students have great flexibility in choosing the form of their project. For example, a social studies project might be a research project, a close textual analysis, a report of findings from fieldwork, or a photographic essay, while a science project might be a report on original experiments, an analysis of published research findings, or a contribution to theory.

Preparation for the Senior Project begins in the junior year. Students consult with advisers, and pursue course work, tutorials, and seminars directed toward selecting a topic, choosing the form of the project, and becoming competent in the analytical and research methods required by the topic and form. Students in some programs design a Major Conference during their junior year, which may take the form of a seminar, tutorial, studio work, or field or laboratory work. One course each semester of the student’s final year is devoted to completing the Senior Project. The student submits the completed project to a board of three professors, who conduct a Senior Project Review. Written projects are filed in the library’s archives; select papers are available at Digital Commons, an online collection of scholarly work generated by the Bard community ( Samples of each arts project appear in Word and Image, an online publication (

Academic Courses

The courses offered in the undergraduate program are described in this catalogue under the four divisional headings and the interdivisional programs and concentrations heading. Courses that are required by, recommended for, or related to another program are cross-listed in the course descriptions. For example, Art History 258, Manet to Matisse, is cross-listed as a course in the French Studies Program.

Courses numbered 100 through 199 are primarily, though not exclusively, for first-year students; 200-level courses are primarily for Lower College students; and 300- and 400-level courses are designed for Upper College students. Every semester, approximately 550 courses are offered, about a fifth as tutorials (often student designed) and the rest as seminars, studio courses, lectures, Senior Projects, and independent studies. The average class size is 18 in the Lower College and 12 in the Upper College.

Most courses in the Lower College meet twice weekly for 80 minutes each session, although instructors may vary the length and frequency of meetings according to their estimation of a class’s needs. Many seminars in the Upper College meet once a week for two hours and 20 minutes. Laboratory courses usually meet three times a week (two two-hour seminars or lectures and a laboratory session). Intro­ductory language courses customarily have four one-hour sessions each week, intensive language courses have five two-hour sessions, and immersion language courses have five three-hour sessions each week. Most tutorials meet once a week for one hour.

All courses carry 4 credits unless otherwise noted. There are several 2-credit seminars; intensive language courses carry 8 credits and immersion language courses 12 credits. A normal course load is 16 credits each semester. To receive more than 18 credits, a student must be certified by the registrar’s office as having had a 3.6 ­average or higher in the preceding semester and cumulatively. Exceptions must be approved by the dean of studies.