Faculty pass new distributive req.

by Karla Kingsley | 5/21/02 5:00am

In a groundbreaking decision after four years of ongoing deliberation, faculty approved implementation yesterday of a new world culture distributive requirement -- culture and identity.

The overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal will change the world culture requirement from the three current distributive requirements -- North American culture, European culture and non-western culture -- to the categories of western culture, non-western culture and culture and identity.

Although the decision has been made, current Dartmouth students' distributive requirements will not be affected -- changes will come into effect no later than for the Class of 2008 but possibly sooner.

As soon as the topic was introduced in yesterday's spring faculty meeting, faculty members began a 40-minute debate centered on the new requirements. Michael Rowlinson, Chair of the Committee on Instruction, summarized the issue at hand.

He said that the categories outlined in the proposal would "not function to divide the world up geographically, but rather pedagogically."

He continued to explain that the category of non-western culture would undergo the least change -- it would only be "revised in the direction of vagueness and plurality" to include more cultures. The western culture distributive would form a combination of the current North American and European culture categories.

The new category, culture and identity, rose out of a previous proposed category -- Race, Ethnicity and Migration. According to Rowlinson, some faculty members and students objected to this earlier title because it wasn't inclusive of all formative aspects of identity, only race and ethnicity.

When the debate was opened to the floor, various faculty members stood to give their opinions on the issue. History professor Pamela Crossley, who was opposed to the revision, objected to the category divisions of western and non-western culture. "I simply cannot give my vote to an affirmation of this western/non-western dichotomy ... it is too politicized," she said. Crossley was in favor of basing requirements on geographical categories.

English professor Don Pease responded in strong support of the change, noting that the change does not exclude any part of the former world culture requirements and emphasizing the importance of the new culture and identity distributive.

"In order to achieve education in world culture, students should understand how these identities are constructed," he said. "If we vote this down in the name of quibbling about putting quotations on western or non-western, we will vote down something that has been debated four years ... the recommendation of students," he continued, referring to a strong role that the Student Assembly has had in initiating the change.

Anthropology professor John Watanabe acknowledged arguments against the western/non-western categorizing of class material, but advocated the change. "I think it is an improvement. If we vote this down, we end up with what we have right now," he said.

English professor Josna Rege suggested that classes fulfilling a world culture distributive should address the argument of the debate. "We need to state the constructedness of the categories and part of the courses should be to question this construction," she said.

Other faculty asked which classes would be included, and if the curriculum would have to be restructured. Rowlinson, echoed by other faculty members, answered that the new category would encompass classes from many departments with very few or no changes in the curriculum.

While the debate revolved around the dichotomy of the western/non-western labels, computer science professor Scot Drysdale tried to focus on the vote at hand. "I don't see the consensus here. We will be debating [on category labels] for years. The question now is, 'do we want to add this third category?'"

After the verbal vote on the motion -- a resounding "aye" trumping the few dissenting "nay" votes -- Rowlinson commented on the issues of the discussion. "There is a very broad consensus that culture and identity are important and not adequately represented. The problem is how to make room. What do you collapse?" he asked, referring to the combination of the North American and European categories.

Student Assembly members also attended the meeting to see the results of their efforts. Student Body President Molly Stutzman '02 explained that the movement to alter the distributive categories started nearly five years ago, and Student Assembly is "thrilled and excited," that it has finally resulted in change.

Aly Rahim '02, vice president of academic affairs in the SA, emphasized the significance of the change. "This is unprecedented in the Ivy League," he said. "Identity formation as an academic requirement just doesn't exist at other places."