Princeton’s website explains that distribution requirements “transcend the boundaries of specialization and provide all students with a common language and common skills.”Currently, the University requires A.B. students to complete classes in seven general areas: Social Analysis, Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical Thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Quantitative Reasoning and Science and Technology.Providing a holistic education is the core of Princeton’s mission, and these requirements are a commendable measure toward that end. But Princeton’s formula for liberal education must at times adapt to the world beyond the FitzRandolph Gate.Those students who graduate Princeton with no exposure to computer programming or to basic data analysis leave this school without skills that are fundamental to the world in which we live. Accordingly, the Board urges the University to replace the STN requirement with a data analysis and computer programming requirement.
Our personal, professional and civic lives are conducted, shaped, monitored and informed by computers and by the data they collect. The recent enrollment explosion in 100- and 200-level computer science classes to some extent reflects student awareness of this fact. This upward trend has stretched the department’s resources thin. The University tried to curb enrollment by designating the most popular courses “No Pass/D/Fail.”This increase is not a fad, just as the Internet, computing and “Big Data” are not fleeting trends. Instead of fighting student interest, the administration should reexamine and update its understanding of a liberal education.
A computer science/data analysis requirement could be fulfilled by programming or statistics courses. Currently, some statistics classes and most 100-, 200- and 300-level COS classes are designated as fulfilling the Quantitative Reasoning requirement. But this requirement can also be filled by traditional math classes such as calculus that have little to do with programming or statistics, leaving many A.B. students with an inadequate understanding of recent technological developments.
The marginal value of the STN requirement in addition to the STL is minimal when compared to the potential value of a data analysis and computer programming requirement. Recognizing that expanding distribution requirements may impinge upon students’ other academic endeavors, the Board thus believes that the STN should be dropped in order to accommodate the proposed requirement. Computer programming and data analysis would confer skills that are intellectually important and professionally helpful in a wide range of fields. It is no coincidence that a number of humanities departments already require majors to fulfill some kind of a statistics requirement.
COS 126: General Computer Science is already a requirement for all B.S.E. students. But computer science and data analysis courses offer more than just technical skills for students pursuing quantitative degrees; they provide an introduction to a system of thinking and problem-solving without which a modern liberal arts education is incomplete.Even for students who want to pursue careers in fields that are not dependent on computer programming or big data, understanding these concepts is important because they have significantly influenced the broader workings of society. As such, the Board recommends that the University adopt a computer programming and data analysis requirement in order to prepare students for their professional careers and to maintain the comprehensiveness of its educational curriculum.