Next fall marks 10 years since Bowdoin’s current academic distribution requirements were approved, and eight years since students first chose their courses bearing them in mind. Then as now, the wording of the requirements was a cause of concern and confusion, and the rationale for why some courses qualified for a requirement while more relevant ones did not was unclear. Back in 2004, this board expressed support for the requirements in hopes that they would encourage students to broaden their academic experiences, but expressed concern that the Exploring Social Differences (ESD) requirement would apply to too many courses. Now, it seems that the opposite is true. Courses that fulfill a specific distribution requirement are often tough to come by, and the current system frequently causes students to enroll in classes that do not challenge them academically. There are only so many credits that can fit into four years at the College, and none of them should go to waste.
Given the systemic problems of the distribution requirements, it is heartening that they are now being reviewed by the Curriculum and Education Policy Committee (CEP), a body composed of students and faculty. In addition to revising the language of the ESD, Inquiry in the Natural Sciences (INS), International Perspectives (IP) and Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) descriptions to make them more succinct, the CEP is proposing to change the criteria and application process necessary for a course to fulfill a distribution requirement.
In this last aim, the CEP could potentially improve the registration process significantly by developing a standardized protocol for allocating distribution requirements. Currently, there are many courses that would seem to meet the parameters of INS or VPA that do not actually satisfy a distribution requirement, often for the simple reason that the professor did not apply for the designation. For example, Introduction to Anthropology does not count toward an ESD credit, nor does The German Experience fulfill the IP credit. The allocation of distribution requirements should be more consistent within individual departments, and easier to obtain for a given course. Professors should be encouraged to register their courses to fulfill distribution requirements, and the difficulty in gaining approval should not dissuade them from doing so.
Additionally, Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) is currently considering a proposal that would extend the Credit/D/Fail deadline from the sixth week of classes to the ninth week. This would ensure that professors return at least one assignment before students decide to take a course for grade. Under the current deadline, many students have yet to receive a grade in a class, and pushing the deadline back will enable students to make more informed decisions about their course schedules. Should BSG approve this proposal next week, we hope that it will not fall on deaf ears, and urge the faculty to adopt the measure.
Amending the College’s academic requirements with these problems in mind would help students make the most of their time at Bowdoin. We recognize that this is not a simple process, but it is not an impossible one, and it would be a shame to see the proposed changes tabled due to bureaucratic protocol.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Nora Biette-Timmons, Garrett Casey, Linda Kinstler, Sam Miller, Sam Weyrauch and Kate Witteman.