In March 2020, Bowdoin asked us to be flexible. Today, we do the same. Having more flexibility in course options—half-semester courses, 1.5 credit lab courses, optional J-terms, etc.—will give students more ways to reach the 32 credits necessary to graduate without sacrificing their mental or physical health.
This semester has felt challenging for many people; there should be more ways for students to de-escalate their course load and take care of their personal needs without jeopardizing their academic path. As of now, unless students have AP or IB credits coming into Bowdoin, it may be impossible to drop a class mid-semester and stay on track to graduate without taking five classes in a semester later on—an unreasonable demand.
It’s time to think outside the box. Continuing to function as an academic institution through a period of such intense grief and dislocation requires us to think critically about how to make academics workable for the people the College is intended to serve. The College should offer opportunities beyond traditional courses to explore and achieve the credits needed to graduate both during and outside of the semester.
Currently, if students want to take a half credit class, they have a limited number of options:, often only performance groups or private lessons. Only offering half credit courses under a few disciplines contradicts the fundamental aim of a liberal arts college. Our peer institutions offer many more opportunities to obtain credits outside of full credit, semester-long courses. Colby holds a “Jan Plan” where students can earn three credit hours toward the 128 hours required for graduation. Bates has a 4-4-1 plan, allowing for students to take an immersive, one-credit course after the completion of spring semester. A voluntary one-course period at the end of either semester is a reasonable option for Bowdoin to consider.
During the semester, students should be able to gain additional credit from half-semester courses, such as writing and research workshops or courses on more niche topics that require fewer weeks to explore. Additionally, lab courses could be worth 1.5 credits given the work and contact hours required.
Outside of the semester, students are incredibly limited in achieving course credit. Courses taken at other institutions must be “liberal arts courses analogous to those in the Bowdoin curriculum,” and students must take the course for a letter grade. This ambiguous definition, combined with the high bar for approval, provides students with little flexibility for academic pursuits beyond Bowdoin.
Bowdoin classes can be very hard—all students knew this coming into college. However, none of us could have anticipated the hardships we have all faced this past year, and we don’t know what challenges face us in the future. Reducing the rigidity of the current credit system would offer students more avenues to graduate in four years and more opportunities to explore new fields.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Sophie Burchell, Sebastian de Lasa, Seamus Frey, Diego Lasarte, Rebecca Norden-Bright, Emma Sorkin and Ayub Tahlil.