Students and faculty discussed possible changes to the Arts and Science distribution requirements, Thursday.

November 10, 2016

Faculty and Students Discuss Value of Arts College Distribution Requirement at Forum

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In the second of two forums, College of Arts and Sciences students met Thursday to discuss distribution requirements and potential impending changes in the college.

The Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee — consisting of faculty from several departments and two students — devised three scenarios to frame the discussion of future changes. The first is to focus on improving the understanding of what skills students should master during their time at Cornell.

“We want to reevaluate our school’s mission currently and to clarify what skills we want to impart on our graduates,” said Gauri Misra ’19, one of two discussion’s moderators. “Whether that’s scientific analysis or some sort of reasoning.”

The second scenario is “time stamped,” Misra said. Under this scenario, it would be compulsory for Arts and Sciences students to complete all distribution requirements within their first two years.

“This would allow for an exploratory stage, where we could try different courses from different areas,” Misra said. “It’s an attempt to set a foundation for the rest of our time at Cornell.”

The third scenario is inquiry based. It would focus primarily on problem solving skills and answering the questions of “How can we apply what we’re learning to real world problems?” and “How can we make it more interdisciplinary?” Misra said.

The students in attendance broke up into smaller focus groups with one faculty member to discuss their thoughts on potential changes to the Arts and Sciences requirements.

Many students felt that, in general, the distribution requirements did not prevent them from accomplishing their academic goals, but they said certain requirements were more restrictive than others.

Amanda Coate ’19 said she had some difficulty fulfilling her science requirement, and although she found astronomy to be interesting, she questioned whether “it helped me at all in an academic sense.”

Some students called the language requirement a bit “daunting,” as introductory language courses meet every day, making it difficult to fit it into their schedules.

Prof. Patrizia McBride, German Studies, acknowledged that the Arts and Sciences curriculum goals should be clarified both to the students and the faculty. She added that as an advisor, she sees firsthand the “tensions” students feel when choosing courses to fulfill their requirements.

McBride said it is important for students to acquire “an array of basic abilities,” including critical and analytical thinking which will help students be flexible and open-minded in pursuing the academic and professional goals they have set for themselves.