Editorial: An in-depth look at the proposed diversity iniatives at Brandeis
Editors' note: This is the first in a series of three editorials, each of which deals with a specific aspect of the issue of diversity at Brandeis following last semester's "Dusty Baker incident" in the pages of our newspaper. This editorial examines the curriculum initiatives proposed by Provost Marty Krauss. Next week's will examine how campus organizations and community members are held accountable following controversial events on campus. The third editorial will discuss a refocusing of the concept of diversity and its definitions that are, for better or worse, either stressed or misunderstood. We invite and encourage community members to respond to these editorials or to contribute to the discussion of diversity by submitting letters to our forum section. E-mail email@example.com.
Last Thursday, Marty Krauss, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, sent out a lengthy e-mail to the community addressing potential academic initiatives discussed by the Administration to deal with the contentious issue of diversity.
The e-mail was ambitious and inspired, but it was also vague and inconclusive. The Administration felt it necessary to take an academic stance on diversity in light of the overwhelming sentiment that Brandeis lacks diversity. Action is necessary, but perhaps the issues should be further discussed and examined before significant changes are implemented.
While recognizing the demand of students for academic offerings is appropriate and even necessary at a liberal arts university, it must be noted that many large, established departments currently struggle to offer enough courses to meet demand. Departments such as Politics, Comparative Literature and Economics have a severe shortage of offered classes which, in conjunction with limited enrollments, makes it difficult for many students in these majors to fulfill their academic desires.
Additionally, a lack of classes has created an environment in which courses that should be offered in a seminar setting have become lectures, limiting the possibility of valuable in-class discussions.
Professors and students alike must be granted a certain amount of academic freedom. Students need choices in their scholastic endeavors and professors need the liberty to teach as they-the valued scholars of our community-deem appropriate. Excessive University mandates are contrary to the traditions of a liberal arts education.
A focus on diversity in the classroom is laudable. However, the possibility of requiring diversity classes is a cause for concern. Students attend liberal arts universities such as Brandeis in order to experience an array of classes without rigid requirements. Students want to have one or even two majors and still have time to take classes purely for enrichment. Currently, there is a non-Western requirement that every student at Brandeis must fulfill in addition to taking classes in each of the University's four schools. The requisite course in non-Western studies compels and encourages students to expand their worldviews. This is a tangible method of, in essence, requiring students to take a class that includes diversity, generally in a racial, socioeconomic or geographic sense.
Even if the curriculum is not changed to add a requirement and is simply expanded departmentally to include "diversity classes," one must examine what is currently offered and what the University needs to foster broader perspectives. With so many courses becoming increasingly global in their approach-affording students the opportunity to understand the pluralistic vision that is presumably the goal of every diversity initiative-one must wonder how a class on diversity would specifically be effective.
There is another underlying question that begs to be answered. Is diversity an academic matter? Classes can help us understand why the goal of diversity is an important one and they can broaden our perspectives. But classes alone pale in comparison to social interaction, which tears down barriers on a more personal level.
It is difficult even to determine if "diversity" refers to socioeconomic status, geographic location, country of origin or color of skin, or if it is more abstract than any of these strict definitions. It is a topic that implores discussion and is subject to a variety of interpretations that cannot and should not be narrowly boxed in a classroom setting. Before curriculum changes can be made to include diversity, the concept itself must be defined and explored. It is intriguing that the administration would seek to give substance to such an abstract value rather than foster a discussion about its true meaning and importance.
A mandated class in diversity would not necessarily affect the feelings of a student. People change through experiences and lessons in life, but academia is not always the best setting for this. Increased attendance at university and club sponsored events such as speakers, exhibits and cultural performances that will lead to discussion, either in organized arenas or in smaller, more informal groups would perhaps be a more concrete and successful approach to tackling concerns over this tenuous subject.
We have asked many questions that we are not prepared or qualified to answer. It is the responsibility of the Administration to further define these initiatives and what amendments should be made to the curriculum of this university. More importantly, it is the responsibility of each member of the community to discuss diversity and to take active roles in making this university a place of which we can be proud-both in and out of the classroom.