Proposed changes to distribution requirements would add new category, give students more flexibility| Apr 21, 2019
The Committee on the Course of Study is set to propose the first major changes to the University’s general education requirements in 25 years at the next faculty meeting on April 29.
The three most prominent of the proposed changes, which would be introduced to the Class of 2024, are the addition of a Culture and Difference requirement, a rewriting of the distribution requirement descriptions, and the assignment of multiple distribution requirements to certain courses, allowing students to choose which distribution the course will fulfill.
Faculty members will have to approve the changes before they go into effect.
The proposed Culture and Difference distribution would require students to take a course that exposes them to diverse identities. It can be taken in conjunction with another requirement, meaning that students do not need to take more classes to fulfill their requirements.
“Culture and Difference courses offer students a lens through which other forms of disciplinary inquiry are enhanced, critiqued, and clarified, often paying close attention to the experiences and perspectives of groups who have historically been excluded from dominant cultural narratives or structures of social power,” the proposed requirement description reads.
The Committee also proposed that some courses fulfill two distribution requirements. Under this proposal, students could choose which distribution requirement they would prefer a course to fulfill when choosing classes, giving students more flexibility.
“I can propose a course and a student could select to take this for Literature and the Arts or for Social Analysis, and, depending on what the student needed, the course would count in either category,” Dean of the College Dolan, who was the Head of the Committee on the Course of Study, explained.
Finally, the committee rewrote requirement descriptions to better aid students during course selection. According to Dolan, requirement descriptions should be a “good tool for students,” but they have not always previously performed that function.
These changes come out of a charge that President Eisgruber wrote in 2015 to create a Task Force on General Education in order to ensure that the distribution requirements continue to support the University’s mission and respond to changes in the landscape of higher education.
The charge for the Task Force on General Education, which was also led by Dolan, noted that “the Gen Ed requirements are intended to ‘transcend the boundaries of specialization and provide all students with a common language and common skills,’” citing language from the Undergraduate Announcement.
“What has to be changed? How well are they working? Should things be added? Should there be a computer science requirement? Should there be an international requirement? Should there be some sort of diversity requirement? Are the number of requirements enough?” Dolan said, listing some of the questions that the task force wanted to answer.
To fulfill this charge, Dolan said that the task force needed to answer some pressing questions using voices from students and faculty. The task force also analyzed secondary reading on higher education, as well as data from other institutions.
After meeting for about a year, the task force published their recommendations in October 2016. When Eisgruber approved the recommendations, they then went to the Committee on the Course of Study, which would discuss the potential implementation of the recommendations over a span of two years.
“A lot of the issues were complicated. We needed to hear from a lot of people, we needed to discuss things, we needed to discuss them again. And that’s how we finally got to the point where we’re at right now. So, it was a long process, but it was a good process. And as a result, I feel very happy with what we’ve come up with here,” Dolan said.
In addition to the core faculty, students participated in the Committee’s discussions. Though a student committee member declined to comment due to the group’s confidentiality, Dolan said that the committee “took their recommendations and concerns very seriously, and they are fully behind these recommendations as well.”
The last review of general education requirements occurred in 1994, and the most recent modifications were made to the writing seminar program in 2001 and the science and technology requirement in 2010. Dolan hopes to see another review process sometime in the next 10 years.
Ultimately, Dolan said the Committee on the Course of Study hopes that the current proposed changes to the general education requirements will allow them to “be much more lively instead of a static document.”
Faculty and students alike agree that the proposals would make necessary changes to the distribution requirements.
After taking SOC 227: Race and Ethnicity last semester, Ariadni Kertsikof ’22 fully supports the proposed addition of a Cultural and Difference requirement.
“People going to this university and living in the world today can’t have a university education and not have a course on race and ethnicity and what role this plays in people’s lives and the role of the government and the role of policy to change things,” Kertsikof said.
Lecturer of the Writing Program Carolyn Ureña ’08 said that she is “especially heartened by the new requirement in ‘Culture in Difference,’ which acknowledges that structures of power influence the ways we all inhabit the world.”
“I know this kind of encouraged experimentation is what eventually led me to major in Comparative Literature and become an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersection of medicine and the humanities,” Ureña added.
Will Alvarado ’19 noted that he appreciates the added flexibility afforded by the ability to apply certain classes to one of two distribution requirements.
“Being able to have some options on the distribution label for a class would allow not only more students to take the course (as I know some students have been discouraged due to having already fulfilled that requirement)” he wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “It would surely allow students to be able to focus on taking courses that contain content that interests them in a deeper way.”
This story was updated on Monday, April 22 to include language from the requirement description for the proposed Culture and Difference distribution requirement.