Bowdoin needs to take a long, hard look at its distribution requirements. In doing so, the College should ask, "What are we trying to achieve through these requirements?" and "What are the academic advantages of asking students to choose courses in these areas and not others?" In short, the College should conduct the type of self-evaluation that every successful organization conducts from time to time to assure that it is on the right course.

It is time to have this self-evaluation because a major study on the state of American higher education recently concluded that something is very wrong at America's colleges. According to a forthcoming book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, 45 percent of American college students do not significantly improve their critical reading skills or writing between the beginning of their freshman year and the end of their sophomore year. Perhaps more disturbing, the study found that 36 percent of college students did not improve in these areas by the end of their senior year. The study's sample consisted of 2,300 undergraduates at 24 representative institutions around the country.

While, no doubt, Bowdoin beats the national average, it would be foolish to assume that we are immune to this deficiency. What is most disturbing is that we actually have no idea where we stand.

Currently, the College makes no effort to gage how much the typical Bowdoin student learns in four years. Of course, with 33 majors, more minors, and an incalculable number of potential class combinations to choose from, no two Bowdoin students follow the same course of study.

However, there are some basic skills that every Bowdoin student should improve upon in the time between matriculation and graduation. Most fundamental among these skills are the ability to read critically and write well. Reading and writing a lot in college is not an "English major thing" or a "government major thing;" it's an "educated person thing."

I know one sophomore computer science major who tells me that he has not read one single book cover to cover since coming to Bowdoin. The only reason that he has read anything—or written anything for that matter—is because of his requirements. The College must reevaluate its requirements and reform them so that they promote even more critical reading and writing.

We have come a long way from the days when every college graduate could quote at length from the Bible, Homer or Shakespeare. It would degrade our education to go back to that, but being a broadly literate person is still at the core of being educated.

Essentially, what I'm proposing is that students should have to take more humanities classes that are intensive in reading and writing before they graduate. The freshman seminar requirement and the Exploring Social Differences (ESD) distribution requirement are not enough.

Where appropriate, math and science professors should find meaningful ways to integrate essay writing and non-textbook academic reading into their courses. Whatever the College decides to do, these deficiencies must be addressed. Further, they must make sure their solution is effective. Bowdoin should evaluate all students' critical reading skills before the fall semester of their freshman year and after the spring semester of their senior year.

At the same time when new students take their placement tests in math and science, they should have to take a critical reading test too. This test would not be for placement but only for the College administration's internal use. Before students graduate, they should have to take an equivalent test to see how they have improved. If most students' critical reading doesn't improve, the College should be embarrassed and adjust.

Bluntly stated, it is more important that a science or math-oriented person be forced to learn how to write well and be knowledgeable about literature than it is for a humanities oriented person to know calculus (or science). For one thing, an educated person can live their entire life without needing to use college-level math or science. The same is not true for reading and writing.

Further, math, like a foreign language, must be used continually or else it is forgotten. There is little benefit in making students take just one math class in their time at Bowdoin. If that requirement has to be sacrificed to make room for more reading and writing-based requirements, I think everyone will benefit.

Humanities majors shouldn't be the only ones to come out of Bowdoin with improved critical reading and writing skills. We should all be well-read and be able to articulate our views at more than a high school level when we graduate from an elite institution of higher education.

Sam Vitello is a member of the Class of 2013.