Launchings from the CUPM Curriculum Guide: Introduction

David M. Bressoud, February, 2005

February 2004, the MAA published the CUPM Curriculum Guide. It is the latest in a long and distinguished line of CUPM reports that have made recommendations on the undergraduate curriculum in mathematics and have appeared roughly every ten years, going back to the committee’s founding in 1953,

This CUPM Curriculum Guide is unprecedented in several respects:

The twenty-two recommendations in the Guide form an ambitious agenda. Many of them deal with what the department should be doing. This includes requiring discrete mathematics as well as a data-based statistics course of all mathematics majors, assessing the strengths, weaknesses, needs, and aspirations of all their students, supporting faculty engaged in curricular construction and improvement, and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration.

Other recommendations focus on goals for our courses. Every course should help students learn how to read mathematics with understanding, how to approach problem solving, how to reason logically to conclusions, and how to communicate mathematical ideas with clarity and coherence. At least some courses should help students learn how to use computer technology appropriately and effectively.

Some of the recommendations focus on what our majors need. This includes skill with a variety of software tools and knowledge of computer programming, the experience of a capstone project that allows them to showcase their ability to communicate mathematics both orally and in writing, experience with the breadth of mathematics, experience with the depth of mathematics, and experience with mathematics as a vibrant field that is wrestling with important and interesting questions.

The Guide is not a checklist. It is intended to provoke examination within each department of the effectiveness of its programs and to help each department identify areas in which improvements can be made most easily. Successful departments are those that are never content, that are always looking for ways to improve the education they offer.

Each recommendation is accompanied by a discussion of what it means and how it might play out in practice. The supplementary Illustrative Resourceshighlight what has been done at other institutions. Each mathematics department is unique, but every department can learn from and build on the failures and successes of others.

In addition to provoking self-examination, the Guide is intended to be a lever for convincing deans and other administrators to provide the institutional support needed to bring about change. The recommendations in this Guide were endorsed by the MAA Board of Governors in August, 2003. Such endorsement carries weight.

I will highlight one recommendation each month and illustrate how it is being implemented. I welcome your comments and especially your suggestions of programs, projects, and initiatives that should be added to the CUPM Illustrative Resources.

Access pdf files of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004.

Purchase a hard copy of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004.

Access html files of the CUPM Illustrative Resources.

Do you know of programs, projects, or ideas that should be included in the CUPM Illustrative Resources?

Send ideas to:

We especially need more good examples that document actual experiences with the use of technology. We also need more examples of interdisciplinary cooperation.

David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was one of the writers for the Curriculum Guide, and he currently serves as Chair of the CUPM. He wrote this column with help from his colleagues in CUPM, but it does not reflect an official position of the committee. You can reach him at