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Curriculum changes | Students discuss the merits of the current Arts and Sciences distribution requirements Monday.

November 8, 2016

Students, Faculty Evaluate Arts Requirements at Forum

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Correction appended 

Students and faculty discussed possible changes and improvements to the College of Arts and Science curriculum at a forum Monday evening.

In order to earn a degree from Arts and Sciences, students must complete distribution requirements that encourage them to explore a wide array of subjects, including foreign languages, and courses that help students learn from a historical and global perspective.

Prof. Laura Brown, English, said that this distribution of required courses “enable students to experiment in an organized way.”

These requirements allow students to take advantage of the academic breadth that Cornell offers, according to Micaela Gelman ’17. Students can take this diversity of learning one step further by becoming a part of the college scholar major — a program that, essentially allows students to make their own major if they cannot find one that fits them perfectly.

Brown further explained that it is integral of the goal of a liberal arts education to “maintain [this] flexibility, but control the opportunities so that it’s not so open-ended that you’re lost.”

After some students indicated that the number of requirements were too narrow and burdensome, Julie Gokhman ’17 said that it is unrealistic to aim to create requirements that reflect all students’ preferences.

“You’re not going to be able to create something that 4,000 people agree with,” Gokhman said.

Students said imposing so many requirements can compel students to sign up for classes just to tick them off their requirements, instead of taking courses that they are genuinely interested in.

To address this problem, the CAS curriculum committee created three possible scenarios for changes, according to the University.

The first would be to adjust the current distribution credits to redefine the college’s overall goal and the second would be to require students to finish their distribution requirements in their first two years — allowing an initially broader sense of what the college can offer. The third would be to offer more cross-disciplinary courses within set distributional areas.

Another change students discussed was the difficulty language requirements can pose to students hoping to study abroad, as CAS requires two years of language study or the level equivalent before allowing students to study abroad. Many said languages can take large amounts of time and be can be demanding to begin learning from the beginning.

Although Brown said she is uncertain if any of these changes will be implemented, she still encourages discussion of what a liberal arts education should mean.

“The goal is to think as carefully and creatively as possible about liberal education today and where Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences belongs or should belong in that bigger picture,” she said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Laura Brown is the senior vice provost for undergraduate education. She no longer holds the title and is currently the John Wendell Anderson Professor of English.