With Phase II of spring course registration ending Thursday, students have finalized their schedules for next semester. However, some students have expressed confusion about why certain courses do not count toward the distribution requirements that they might expect them to.

"Economy of Latin America does not fulfill my [International Perspectives requirement]," said Kate Ransohoff '11. "I do have a problem with that."

Because the system of distribution requirements was revamped in 2006, there are currently two systems in place at the College. The Class of 2009 is the last class subject to the older system, which designates every single course as counting toward at least one of four distribution requirements. In the newer system, professors may decide to nominate their courses to count toward any of five distribution requirements.

Some departments have few or no courses that count toward the newer system of distribution requirements. For example, for the spring semester, only one of 29 courses offered in the government department and only one of 11 courses offered in anthropology will qualify. No courses in either the Italian or Japanese departments count toward a distribution requirement.

Still in development

Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and department chair Pamela Ballinger said she could not give "a very clear answer at the moment" as to why none of her courses qualify for distribution requirements.

"We [the department] are actually in the process of revisiting distribution requirements in our curriculum," she wrote in an e-mail to the Orient.

Certain courses, such as Physics 093, do not fulfill any distribution requirements "mostly because the course is still in development... It's really hard to go through the approval process in the abstract," said Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Madeleine Msall, who is teaching the course for the first time this semester.

Associate Professor of Romance Languages and department chair Charlotte Daniels said that certain courses in her department had been approved for a distribution requirement but then subsequently altered. These courses automatically lost their qualification after the changes were made, even though they would have continued to meet the requirements. They have not been nominated for reconsideration.

'Up to the professors'

Under the new system, it is solely the professors' responsibility, rather than that of the department or any committee, to steer a course through the approval process. There is currently no requirement that professors put their courses up for approval. For some professors, the process can be an unwanted burden.

"The teacher has to do all the paperwork," Ransohoff said. "They have to...argue their case, and I don't know why a teacher would want to do that."

In an e-mail sent from Italy, Associate Professor of Romance Languages Arielle Saiber wrote, "Getting courses approved for the distribution requirements is more complicated than one would expect."

"Ultimately, it's up to the professor as to whether or not they want their course to count as a distribution requirement," said Associate Dean for Curriculum Steve Cornish.

Cornish said that whenever a new course is proposed, the New Course Subcommittee considers if it should count toward a distribution requirement, whether or not the professor has nominated it to. In cases where the committee believes a course that has not been nominated would be a good candidate for counting toward a distribution requirement, they will encourage the professor to nominate the course.

To offer a course up for consideration to count toward a distribution requirement, the professor must respond to two or three questions about the nature of the course, according to Cornish.

"It's a quite simple process, really," said Cornish.

With no outside pressure to get their courses approved, however, there is sometimes little impetus for professors to embark on the process Msall called "somewhat lengthy."

"If you're going to have a course that's a 'cool and fun intro-level course' but don't want to deal with all of those 'I hate science' people, then you might decide not to meet the distribution requirement," said Msall.

Msall said that she did not think it was common for professors to abstain from nominating a course in order to avoid filling a class with uninterested students, but noted, "There is definitely a sense that there are students for whom having a distribution requirement makes them recalcitrant."

Professor of Sociology and Senior Faculty Fellow in the McKeen Center for the Common Good Craig McEwen was the dean for academic affairs during the development of the new system. He said that professors may choose to nominate a course either to "help contribute to the College" or to encourage students to enroll in a course. The second reason, he said, is "also potentially a disincentive," because it is not attractive to teach a course that might be filled with students who are there simply to fulfill a requirement.

"I think students tend to think of distribution requirements imposing only on them," McEwen said.

However, McEwen explained that the faculty has "imposed on ourselves a collective obligation to deliver" enough courses at the College that count toward distribution requirements.


Students have expressed discontent with the current system, pointing out that the limited number of courses qualifying for distribution requirements can be problematic.

"Overall, I feel that the system forces you into choosing classes you're not really interested in," said Christian Ebersol '11.

On the other hand, students like Nandini Vijayakumar '10 are pleased with the current system.

"I feel that [distribution requirements are] actually kind of open-ended," she said. "Exploring Social Differences can cover so many topics."

McEwen noted that the more choices there are for students within the system, the more interested students will be in the courses they take.

The system, which is in its third year, is due for evaluation, according to Cornish.

"We'll be looking at this very much because we're at the point where we need to assess the new distribution requirements," he said.