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Faculty Meeting: Changes to Distribs, Language Requirement, N.R.O.

For the life of me I can never understand why The D does not report on upcoming faculty meetings. Matters of real importance to students are discussed and voted on at these gatherings; for students to find out what happened after the fact cuts them out of conversations that they might influence either directly by their presence or at least in interactions beforehand with their own professors. This afternoon’s meeting has four items on the agenda that will impact the academic life at the College in meaningful ways:

1. Simplified Distributives: The current ten-course/eight-category system will be replaced for the Class of 2024 with the requirement that students take ten courses as follows: three in Natural and Applied Scientific Inquiry; three in Social Scientific Inquiry; three in Humanistic and Aesthetic Inquiry; and one in Interdisciplinary Inquiry. “One course in Natural and Applied Scientific Inquiry must have a sustained laboratory or field component. One course in Humanistic and Aesthetic Inquiry must be in critical analysis and one in creative production.”

In addition, the World Culture requirement would be reduced to one course “designed to help students engage and understand a world of cultural and social ‘difference.’” The recommendation suggests that a range of 40-50 different College courses would satisfy this requirement.

Analysis: Yawn. Other than the amorphous World Culture obligation (a sop to the oft-repeated demand of the BLM crowd and their acolytes that the College offer some kind of diversity re-education program), this simplifying change represents little more than a swing of the pendulum back to the requirements in place when I was a student.

The question of distributive requirements was broached at the faculty meeting on April 29, 2015. At that time Professor of Anthropology Deborah Nichols sharply asked for some (any?) data about the current course-choosing habits of students. She stood before her colleagues and said:

It would be great, though, if at some point we institute some kind of measures for the success of these things [distributive requirements] since we’ve now gone from one to the other and back again. Maybe since we are an educational institution, we could do some research and know something about the patterns from the course selection of our students and whether any of this makes a lot of difference or not.

The proposal put forward today contains nary a statistic.

2. Language Requirement: Also starting with the Class of 2024, “every student must complete one course at the level of Language 3 or above in a (non-English) language that is offered at Dartmouth. (Transfer credits will be considered.) There will be no exemptions, or ‘placing out’ of this requirement.”

Analysis: The logic of requiring students to study a foreign language and/or literature at the college level holds together, but I can’t help but suspect that this new obligation is more about obliging students to take courses in Humanities departments where we have (too) many tenured professors and not much student demand.

3. Quantitative/Formal Reasoning Requirement: The general belief among the members of the various committees who studied this proposal is that “some type of quantitative requirement should be preserved.” One course in this area will be required of students.

Analysis: Just as we have Writing 5 and Freshman Seminars to teach writing, the belief that we should teach fluency with numbers makes sense. Numeracy is lacking among students; a quick read of The D will confirm that fact.

4. Modified N.R.O.: This idea “proposes to replace the N.R.O. with a Satisfactory/D/E option, in which any grade of C- or higher would count as a Satisfactory grade, and contribute towards reducing the number of credits required for graduation. The grades of D and E would count in the student’s grade point average.” A maximum of three N.R.O. elections per student would be allowed.

Analysis: Although professors appreciate the theory behind the Non-Recording Option, in practice they hate it. Their sentiment stems from promising students who do poorly in an early-in-the-term quiz and too-quickly determine that they have little likelihood of earning an A. Such students then elect to take the course as an N.R.O., and their engagement in their coursework plummets. The proposal would ensure that students do at least a minimal amount of work in a course.

Conclusion: These curricular changes would take effect in the seventh year of Phil Hanlon’s Presidency.

Addendum: The D reported quickly on the meeting: changes to distribs were approved; the proposed language requirement modification was rejected; and discussion of the N.R.O. was put off to a future meeting.


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