EDITORIAL: Assess proposed general education changes
The Task Force on General Education has proposed several changes to the current general education requirements for Brandeis undergraduates, according to a Jan. 27 email from Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren. This board commends the University on initiating this long-overdue process of evaluating the needs of students and how best to guide them through their careers at Brandeis. However, select proposed changes to the core curriculum are shortsighted and unnecessary.
As per the current proposal, certain parts of the general education requirements will remain unchanged. This includes the physical education requirement; the schools of thought requirements, such as creative arts and social science; and the University Writing Seminar program.
This board supports retaining the current schools of thought requirements, as well as the physical education requirement, but we recommend that UWS be established as a requirement that students can fully test out of, just as one would with Composition, allowing students who enter Brandeis with established writing backgrounds to pursue other interests. This would shrink UWS class sizes and ensure that the course is better tailored to those enrolled.
The task force’s proposal outlines additional changes to the general education program, such as incorporating Writing Intensive, Oral Communication and new Digital Literacy components into students’ curricula so that they can fulfill the requirements within fields that pertain to their studies. Since Digital Literacy would vary from major to major, we hope this addition would provide students with further knowledge pertaining to their intended field of study while not imposing extra classes onto their major or minor requirements — it would ideally be an added component to certain classes that may have more technical aspects to them.
However, the proposed inclusion of three additional required non-credit modules — mind and body balance, navigating health and safety and life skills — is likely to consume a good amount of already limited student time. While these skills are undoubtedly useful to have, and while we certainly encourage the University to offer classes in these areas, we oppose the implementation of these modules as additional requirements. Mandating students to attend such programs undermines the value of the information imparted in them, as students who would be interested in learning such skills would go out of their way to obtain them, while other students may attend only to show face and add to their participation grade rather than fully invest their efforts into mandatory courses in which they have little interest.
The proposal of introducing a shared first-year experience is also unnecessary, as such classes already exist in the form of optional first-year and senior-year seminars. The presented structure for this requirement is untenable and would be impossible to implement in its proposed state. Furthermore, if students are interested in the interdisciplinary courses considered under this requirement, they have more than enough opportunities to take one or more of the courses that address 21st century challenges currently offered at Brandeis. Instead of tacking on these requirements to their schedules, the University should grant first-years the latitude that a liberal arts education affords and foster the opportunity for them to pursue a variety of interests, which may give rise to future career paths — arguably the primary purpose of a university education.
This board recommends that the University consider collapsing its proposal to add what ultimately amounts to six required courses to the “Global Citizenship” aspect of its general education initiative. According to Prof. David Powelstock (GRALL), the DeisUS requirement that the University plans to integrate will encourage students to “explore the historical and contemporary experiences, interests and perspectives of a wide range of groups and institutions that have shaped and have been shaped by life in the United States.”
This board recognizes that, especially in the current climate, such additions to our curricula are critical. The DeisUS requirement, in addition to the already established non-Western requirement, should be sufficient to fulfill the intended goal set forth by the Global Citizenship initiative.
To that end, we recommend that the University consider abolishing the language requirement. Students cannot learn a foreign language to the point of retainable fluency in three semesters, and if they decide that a foreign language is critical to their career path and future success, it is up to those students to design their course load to match those desires.
Furthermore, a foreign language is no longer part of the quintessential liberal arts education, and it is high time that our University requirements be altered to reflect that.
It is clear that certain general education requirements do provide students with further knowledge pertaining to their chosen areas of study and do enrich their education without costing them a semester that could be invested toward achieving a new minor or exploring a new interest. However, other proposed amendments will likely hold back students more than help them. Brandeis prides itself on providing students with the flexibility to delve into an interdisciplinary array of studies; the Brandeis Undergraduate Admissions website boasts, “Nearly half our undergraduates pursue a double major, often in fields on opposite ends of the academic spectrum.” This board understands that these changes are intended to make us happier, healthier and more well-rounded students, but additional classes and requirements would only further constrict us and our ability to explore a variety of avenues and disciplines, cheapening what is otherwise a strong liberal arts education.