The College of Arts & Sciences faculty approved the adoption of the New College Curriculum on Friday, a decision that will completely transform the College’s general education model. Whereas students could formerly choose between the Traditional Curriculum, the Forums Curriculum and the New College Curriculum, students will no longer have a choice, as all students will automatically be required to take the latter. Composed of three main parts — Engagements, Literacies and the Disciplines — this New College Curriculum allegedly aims at providing a “innovative, comprehensive and interdisciplinary general education.” While it is concerning to us that the implementation of this program may be costly, we are skeptical that the New College Curriculum offers a dedicated commitment to intellectual excellence that is worth pursuing.
Although it is unclear when the New College Curriculum will be launched, the Engagement Courses’ pilot program has given students some perspective into just how frivolous some of these classes can be. One engagement course is entitled “Thrifting: An Empirical Case Study.” According to the course syllabus, the class is intended to, “immerse [students] in the empirical complexity of thrifting from scholarly, journalistic and insider perspectives.” As intellectually stimulating as this class sounds, it’s unclear why the University needs to dedicate an entire course to it. Other engagement class titles include “On Ghosts,” “Why we hold hands” and “What frogs can teach us about humans,” which, frankly, speak for themselves.
Let us be clear, we agree that the purpose of a liberal arts education is to challenge students’ deeply held convictions and expose them to new, thought-provoking ideas. But there’s an important qualifier here — as a prestigious public institution, the University should not be investing significant financial resources into courses that likely do not carry much intellectual weight. While some advocates of the New College Curriculum were persuaded by its allegedly modern, innovative and interdisciplinary appeal, these words seem like fluffy excuse to spend a lot of money on courses — and professors — that don’t seem worth it. Regarding its interdisciplinary nature, there’s a huge difference between granting students the voluntary option to take engagement courses versus forcing all first-year students to take these courses as part of a required curriculum. If the New College Curriculum is as great as its advocates contend, then there should be no reason to mandate enrollment in it.
Mandating enrollment in the curriculum is especially troubling to us given that there seemed to be very little student input. 270 faculty members of the College voted on behalf of 11,700 students currently enrolled in the College — none of whom could vote. It is hard to justify making such a drastic change to the College without receiving substantially more input from those who are affected the most.
However, Sarah Betzer, co-director of the College Fellows Program and associate professor of art history, seemed enthusiastic about the New College Curriculum. “Through the new curriculum model and its intentionally smaller first-year class sizes, we have a greater ability to learn who our students are – what animates them, what they care deeply about, and what they want out of their lives,” she said.
As progressive as this vision sounds, the purpose of an institution of higher education is for professors to impart their knowledge onto students, not the other way around. Although we applaud the University’s intent to expand its academic horizons, we are skeptical that mandating an entirely new curriculum is the right way to go about it.
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