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Committee to rethink academic requirements, social justice

Part I in a series on academic restructing.

Published: February 13, 2009
Section: Front Page

REQUIREMENTS: Prof. Sarah Lamb (ANTH) discusses howthe economic crisis will affect university requirements at the Town Hall on Academic Restructuring yesterday.<br /><i>PHOTO by Ben Rifkin/The Hoot</i>

REQUIREMENTS: Prof. Sarah Lamb (ANTH) discusses howthe economic crisis will affect university requirements at the Town Hall on Academic Restructuring yesterday.
PHOTO by Ben Rifkin/The Hoot

When the Curriculum and Academic Restructuring Steering Committee was created by the Faculty Senate in early January, it was crafted with the idea that the committee would find ways to save money by reorganizing Brandeis’ academic curriculum. Almost one month later, the committee’s sub-committee on academic requirements has developed some ideas for restructuring the curriculum that probably would not help the university financially, but that would codify Brandeis’ definitions of liberal arts and social justice.

Co-chair of the steering committee’s sub-committee on academic requirements Prof. Sarah Lamb (ANTH) said in an interview that “there’s a lot of energy around looking into requirements now that we’ve never had before.”

“We can look more into what we want to do with education and where we want to go and how to structure ourselves,” she said. “Basically, this crisis is an excuse to do things that don’t really have to do with the budget.”

Current first-year students are required to take one university seminar, one university writing seminar, one writing intensive course, one oral intensive course, a quantitative reasoning course, three courses in a single foreign language, a non-western course and they must also take one course in every school (science, social science, humanities, creative arts, and two physical education classes).

Lamb said that the sub-committee on academic requirements is looking into whether to keep the requirements as they are, “tweak” them, or discard the requirements all together.

Dean of Arts and Sciences and chair of the steering committee Adam Jaffe said that when it comes to certain requirements “the budget crisis has provided us with the opportunity to think outside the box on many things.”

“A lot of these things are ones that someone thought before and that have already been discussed to various degrees,” he said. “But the budget pressure makes it easier to change things it would have been harder to change otherwise.”

One such example is the non-western requirement. Lamb said that the requirement has been thought as out-dated for quite some time because it focuses on a very limited area of the globe.

“I think that what it’s trying to get at is not to learn about something ‘non-western’ but rather ‘diversity,” Lamb said at the Town Hall on Academic Restructuring last night.

In Lamb’s view, a “diversity” requirement would include classes about sexuality, gender, race, religion and ethnicity—something that would encourage students to take more courses outside of their major with the incentive that more courses would count toward fulfilling the requirement.

Lamb and Jaffe also said that in most cases, changing the requirements do not save the university money.

“If you get rid of a language requirement, you might have less sections of French classes, but there’s always going to be at least one French class in each level, so you don’t save that much money” Lamb said.

Lamb did mention that by changing the requirements, the university might attract more incoming students, which in turn would make the university money through tuition.

“For example, some people say that the quantitative reasoning requirement scares off applicants, so if we got rid of that, we might have more,” she said.

Additionally, the committee is considering marketing the requirements better to make them more attractive to incoming students. One example of this is if the foreign language requirement remained the same but was called “global citizen ship” in order to put an emphasis on the university’s core value of social justice.

Still, Lamb said that whatever options the sub-committee recommends, the recommendations would most likely be made based on academics and what it means to be a liberal arts institution as opposed to making money.

“We want to make Brandeis look as attractive as possible, but the changes in what makes up requirements are really about what makes a liberal arts institution a liberal arts institution,” she said. “It’s really purely academic and about the direction in which we want to point the university.”