Verbum Ultimum: Reevaluate Our Requirements

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/19/15 8:14pm

Dartmouth is widely recognized for its dedication to liberal arts education, and as a part of that mission, students have to fulfill various distributive course requirements to ensure exposure to a wide range of subjects before graduating. As the College looks to increase academic rigor and revise the curriculum, now is the time to reconsider distributive requirements.

We believe that a fully open-course curriculum — like the one at Brown University — is not the right model for our educational goals, but that does not mean that the current system cannot be improved. There are a number of adjustments that must be made to keep the curriculum holistic.

Dartmouth has not done enough to develop distributive courses that teach students to critically assess and discuss timely and important societal issues. There are classes such as the upcoming “10 Weeks, 10 Professors: #BlackLivesMatter ” — but overall, students can spend their four years in Hanover without confronting questions of ethics and social responsibility in the broader community. We suggest that the College create a new distributive that verses all students in issues of global citizenship, including social justice and intersectionality.

As it stands, students must fulfill 13 specific distributive requirements in order to graduate, in addition to a full year of foreign language or demonstrated proficiency. Though — unlike some schools — we thankfully have four years to do so, many students still find it difficult to complete this alongside their chosen degree plan. Simply adding more distributives, then, is not the solution. We must work within and improve the framework that we already have — which is why we suggest that a new distributive requirement be integrated into restructured first-year writing courses.

Many first-year writing courses lack direction, with students just reading from a variety of books chosen by their professor. Others, however, have a more specific focus, such as “Constitutional Law and the Right to Privacy.” The discrepancy between first-year writing courses clearly needs to be addressed to guarantee a more consistent experience for all first-year students. Incorporating new distributive topics into this system is one way to maximize the writing program’s potential as a shared learning experience for an entire class year. Professors teaching first-year writing classes could tailor their course topics around the educational objectives of the new distributive requirement.

Moreover, the requirements that we do have should be re-evaluated — the College last modified them more than a decade ago. Is both a “Literature” and an “Arts” distributive, for example, necessary? Why is there a binary between “Western” — assigned to courses that cover North America and European topics — and “Non-Western” classes? The former two could be merged into one “Literature and Arts” distributive, modeled after Princeton University’s class requirements, and students could simply take two “Literature and Arts” courses. Regional requirements should be split into more specific categories, or students should be required to complete more than one “Non-Western” class, with no requirement for “Western” — as most students will end up taking courses that address Western culture and history during their time at the College. Distributive requirements, when used, should encourage students to branch out academically.

By putting “Literature and Arts” together, restructuring “Western” and “Non-Western” classes and incorporating more distributives into first-year writing classes, there will be enough room to add a new distributive without overburdening students. Dartmouth should retain its distributive system — but it must be updated if we want to provide a truly global liberal arts education.

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