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New Gen. Ed. requirements go to far

The Task Force on General Education released new General Education Requirements in early September. The Brandeis Hoot sees value in certain changes to the system, but we are concerned the requirements will become too extensive or complicated.

Among the several new requirements is the “Schools of Thought” requirement. This is the same as the current “school distribution requirement” in which students must complete one course from each of the four schools of Arts and Sciences: humanities, social sciences, science and creative arts. What is new, however, is that students will can no longer use AP or IB credit to satisfy the requirements. AP or IB scores can still be used to accrue credits towards graduating, but can no longer count for certain requirements.

At a Senate meeting on Sunday night, Susan J. Birren, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, said this should not cause students to feel overwhelmed by the number of necessary courses because certain other requirements are now going to be housed within each major.

This means that every department will offer courses that satisfy the Writing Intensive, Oral Communication and Digital Literacy requirements. For example, an English major, instead of taking a computer science class that would not count towards their major, can take an English course outfitted for Digital Literacy. We see this as a beneficial change. It is already common for students to double-count major requirements and university requirements, and this change will make it even easier to incorporate these requirements into students’ course loads. Everyone knows the classic jokes about “Physics for Poets” or “Rocks for Jocks,” or even the Brandeis “Tree Class,” and we don’t want that stereotype pushed by university requirements. We appreciate that students can gain these skills while learning about subjects they’re passionate about. Classes are far better run when students are actually interested in the material. Despite the added burden of the new requirements, we do think that the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Studies requirement is a great addition to the curriculum.

However, we still think there is reason to be concerned about the minimized use for AP/IB credits. Whether students are taking a Digital Literacy class within their major or outside it, under the new system there will a greater number of courses students must complete. This also limits students’ flexibility to choose classes within their majors.

Increasing the number of requirements, and thus the number of classes that students need to fit in their schedules, will limit the academic freedom that students have. We worry about bogging people down with courses, when Brandeis students are already spread across various majors and minors. The cliche here is that Brandeis students have triple majors and triple minors—oftentimes not related to one another. Intellectual curiosity is a hallmark of Brandeis students; it’s a unique stereotype to our university that it wouldn’t be crazy to find a student double majoring in HSSP and Computer Science with minors in Studio Arts and CAST.

We are not saying that all the required courses are without merit, but we wish the university had more faith that students would choose to explore their interests and seek out important life skills during their time here.

We also have concerns about the new Health, Wellness and Life Skills category that will now replace the current Physical Education requirement, mandating that students take three six-week module courses. Having students take three modules that are not for credit is too much. They will have to tack them onto their schedules which are already jam-packed with courses and extracurriculars. Students who want to participate in extracurriculars may have to sacrifice their interests in order to schedule the time to take these modules. Additionally, the “UWS” course will now become the “First Year Experience” and will mandate students participate in two “Critical Conversation” sessions with faculty members and take a 3-5 hour “experiential learning” trip with the class. We don’t want to overwhelm first-years and discourage them from exploring different academic departments or clubs.

Additionally, in this new system, Brandeis is eliminating the fitness test that now allows students to test out of one or both of the requirements. Varsity athletes are currently exempt from the entire P.E. requirement, and under the new system they will still be exempt from one of three modules:

We take issue with this point because it is unfair that athletes maintain the exemption while other students, who are equally as active, will be required to take all modules. Students on most club sports teams practice twice a week for three hours. Dancers practice anywhere from one to 10 hours a week, and yet this does not count for the physical education requirement. One could argue that official varsity teams are easier to monitor, but that is not a legitimate argument. That does not equate to dedication to their sport, and there has to be a way to effectively monitor whether club athletes or dancers are attending their practice, which could combine having a sign-in system at facilities in Gosman and relying on students to be truthful about their involvement.

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