February 26, 2012

English Department Eliminates Required Intro Courses for Major

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The English department will no longer require majors to take two “gateway” courses — classes designed to provide new English majors with an introduction to the discipline — according to Prof. Roger Gilbert, English, chair of the department. The change went into effect on Feb. 1, an email sent to English majors said.According to the email, the  department decided that gateway courses no longer served their intended purpose of providing an introduction to the major.The requirement, met by  taking any two courses between the 2000 and 2050 levels, previously constituted eight of the requisite 40 English credits needed to complete the major.According to Gilbert, the core courses were initially designed “as a kind of experiment.” He said the requirement had only been in effect for two or three years, and the department decided to cut it  after numerous students complained that the requirement posed a challenge to the completion the major.According to Gilbert, some English majors only found out about the requirement shortly before they graduated, and thus had to fit them into their senior year course loads.  This defeated the requirement’s aim of exposing new students to introductory material, he said.Another rationale for the change was the discrepancy surrounding which department courses ought to qualify as gateways, Gilbert added.“There was enough disagreement as to how the … gateway courses should be chosen and structured that we … decided that for now it made more sense to end the requirement,” Gilbert said. Coupled with the English department’s current effort to implement three new minors — English, Creative Writing and Minority, Indigenous and Third World Literatures — the move is indicative of the department’s continued mission to recruit more students, both to the major and to elective courses in the department.“We’re always thinking about drawing new students when we discuss changes to the major or other kinds of changes,” Gilbert said.Though the decision to cut the two-course requirement is not reflective of a desire to create a new requirement in the near future, Gilbert said the department is currently trying “to find a different way to frame our introductory courses so that students understand what their purpose is.”While Gilbert acknowledged that the gateway courses are not adequately serving their intended function, he said he still believes they are “by far the best place to start taking English classes.”“Eliminating the requirement is in no way meant to send the message that English majors should not take those courses,” Gilbert said.Prospective English major Ariel Smilowitz ’15 said she did not approve of the department’s decision, praising what she felt was the value of gateway courses. She said the requirement “provides more of a general background for students to gain a broader understanding of literature and all it encompasses, especially for students who are unsure of whether or not they want to pursue an English degree.”However, some students said they were supportive of the change. Crystal Brice ’12, an English major who took the courses before the requirement was terminated, commended the department’s choice. “I think that the elimination of the gateway requirement is a great thing,” Brice said in an email. “[The courses] took away the magic of the English major … The gateway requirements reminded me of high school — when the English teachers would spoon-feed us Shakespeare.” Though she enjoyed the material in the gateway courses, Brice said she thought they caused students who were apathetic about the requirement to respond less passionately toward the subject.Still, others were torn about the benefits of the introductory courses.English major Jessica Julich ’14 said in an email that she wavered between praising and criticizing the department’s decision. Though she acknowledged that forcing students to complete courses that do not interest them may discourage potential majors, she emphasized that “gateway courses give English majors a very strong base on which to build the rest of their major.”“Last semester, when the requirements were still in place, I decided to take [The English] Literary Tradition [I],” Julich said. “I had very little interest in the course material, or at least I thought I didn’t until I took the class. It ended up being one of the best classes I ever took at Cornell.”According to Gilbert, the department’s decision to eliminate the gateway requirement was not intended to discourage students from taking gateway courses. Rather, he said, the intent was to make the English major more flexible, to consider the diverse interests of students interested in the discipline and to improve students’ experience of the material by shifting away from a “one-size-fits-all major.”

Original Author: Lianne Bornfeld