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April 28, 2016

Cornell College of Arts and Sciences Considers Restructuring At Forum

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Arts and Sciences Representatives and the CAS Dean’s Advisory Council discussed the college’s plan to divide the admissions and advising offices and reevaluate the distribution requirements at an open forum Wednesday.

Gretchen Ritter ’83, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that this restructuring is in part a response to “huge increases in applications,” citing the over 19,000 applications to the CAS for about 1,100 available seats in the class in the last admissions cycle.

“We always have many more qualified applicants than spaces,” Ritter said, “[We ask] who would most benefit? For whom would our style and approach to education be a great fit?”

The College Curriculum Committee, chaired by Prof. Laura Brown, English, was recently established to examine the requirements outlined by CAS and make recommendations on potential improvements.

“Any number of things might happen,” Brown said, referring to the possible outcomes of the Committee’s meetings.

She emphasized that the committee will examine how distribution requirements affect students’ educations, through an open discussion with students and administrators.

The committee will conduct polls with students, “asking what [their education] meant to them, where it has led them, how it has contributed to their career satisfaction,” Brown said.

In addition, Brown said she will host focus group discussions and use data on course selections to compile substantial information on the efficacy and productivity of the current distribution model.

Ritter said she also hopes to evaluate the relationship between students’ majors, distribution requirements, and first-year writing seminars, possibly allowing for a more thematic approach and integration of a common focus, dependent on a student’s academic interest. Ritter’s suggested examples included a common focus on history or quantitative reasoning.

“There are several schools that are in the midst of rethinking their curriculum,” she said.

Ritter suggested the idea of a core curriculum model, which she said would establish certain required courses or texts for all CAS students, as opposed to the distribution model.

Ritter also posed several questions to be considered in revising the college’s academic policy.

“Why do we have a foreign language requirement?” Ritter asked. “What should we do in our educational structure to help people prepare for citizenship? Should there be any requirements in college? Should we have a core curriculum in which everyone reads the same books?”

In considering why so many students are choosing to pursue pre-professional academic tracks, the committee also hopes to establish how exactly a liberal arts education is important and useful today, according to Ritter.

She said she hopes the committee will find answers to the question “What is the value of a liberal arts education?” stressing that CAS’s academic advising will implement any necessary improvements to maintain that value for students.

  • Concerned Student

    Sounds to me like someone is looking to move up the corporate university hierarchy. Restructuring? Even the word smacks not of rethinking how we learn, but how product is created and delivered. As for having everyone take the same classes and read the same thing, that sure seems like a recipe for either very large courses or on-line classes. Which is an ideal strategy if you want to use rising tuition revenues for something other than teaching (like more administrators?).

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  • acturg

    Am all for “liberal arts” education, but when cost of such starts to approach 1/4 million dollars (after tax dollars mind you) there comes a point where students start to think pragmatically … “how will I pay for this?”

    It is no wonder that “pre-professional tracts” are gaining traction.

    Employers are increasingly getting tired/less financially able to “train recent grads” on skills they could/should have learned in college. For example why isn’t computer language as important as a foreign language?

  • Anon

    Perhaps we need to start assessing the true value of newer, more niche fields. Why does say, American Studies exist, while Star Trek Studies or Science Fiction Studies or TV Studies or Video Game Studies or Alcoholic Beverages Studies or Sports Studies or Sports History or Trucks & Guns Studies or Redneck Studies does not? It seems like all of these fictitious majors could really be created and be structured in such a way as to develop all of the same skills frequently claimed by the humanities such as writing, researching, critical thinking, analyzing symbolism and wider societal effects, and learning about culture and things that at least some people find meaningful or important.

    When college degrees become ubiquitous, they lose their value as a pure signalling mechanism for employers. It’s not surprising that the liberal arts grad working at Starbucks has become a stereotype. Many fields seem to simply be exploring rather peculiar interests and hobbies rather than being immersed in true intellectual rigor as seen in a field like physics and other STEM majors or even history or philosophy (if but somewhat diminished by comparison). At what point is college just becoming a vacation to pursue hobbies canonized as fields of study instead of learning in a deeper sense?