Updates to the Academic Requirements in Discussion by Student-Faculty Committee

With unofficial graduation requirements like spending the night in Magill and punching a Quaker, it can be easy to overlook the far more mundane academic requirements. However, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) is in the process of discussing possible updates to these requirements.

In order to graduate, each Haverford student must complete a first year writing seminar, one year of a foreign language, a quantitative requirement, and distribution requirements. The distribution requirements follow a 3-3-3 model, meaning that students must take at least three courses in each of the three divisions: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Discussion about a possible update began a few years ago, when student-written plenary resolution that aimed to reduce the number of courses students were required to take in specific disciplines was passed at the Spring 2011 Plenary. This was in the wake of an accreditation review by the Middle States Association.

“The College had an accreditation review in 2009 or 2010; we are accredited by a group called the Middle States Association so that we can give degrees and the like.  Those reviews, which are very extensive, happen every 10 years,” explained biology professor Philip Meneely,  a faculty member of the EPC. “It was recommended that we review our general education requirements because we had not done this in a long time.  So there were three threads at about the same time– a student plenary resolution, the College’s preparation for the accreditation review, and Middle States saying that a review seemed like a good idea.”

The EPC, composed of faculty members and two students, Jessica Libow ‘16 and Colleen Cumberpatch ‘15 have been proposing, editing and revising plans. Members created the most of the plans and the committee evaluated them, to determine strengths and weaknesses. No changes have been made yet, but the EPC hopes to present the faculty with several possible models for new academic requirements.

“A lot of time last year was spent getting ready to present and preparing background,” said Colleen Cumberpatch ‘15, on of the EPC student representatives. “The hope is that more movement will be made, and faculty will pick one or two.”

A list of potential plans was presented to the campus, and at the end of last year, the student members of the EPC tabled in the DC to present the plans and answer questions. In the weeks leading up to tabeling, the student body were sent emails detailing the plans. Many students came with questions already prepared, and almost everyone had an opinion.

The level of student participation and interest is “a testament to the fact Haverford students really do take our education seriously,” reflected Cumberpatch. While the plans are all different, the theme of the necessity of breadth and depth is common.

“That’s what liberal arts should be about,” said Libow.

Some would entail a less drastic change, like the 2-2-2 model, which would decrease the number of classes necessary in each division to constitute a major. Others are more elaborate, such as “Learning in Contexts,” which would require students to work in five different narrow categories. These new categories range from the very general to the incredibly specific, as is the case in the “Experiences and Applications” plan, which requires one natural science or psychology course that includes a laboratory or science-based field work, and one course involving humanistic or social-scientific field work, studio-based production, or non-textual “making,” such as artistic expression and musical performance.

Some of these plans are far easier to implement than others, while others might just not be feasible. Regardless, Meneely believes changes are necessary because “when defining by divisions, we’re not responding to the way academics is now.”

Recently, the EPC has been looking at anonymous student transcripts in the contexts of the proposed plans. A good way to test the real world practicality of the plans is to see if prior graduates would have still been able to graduate under the proposed standards and requirements.

Assuming the EPC is successful in its goal of picking a few plans to send to the faculty, changes to the educational model could become a real possibility. A change in the academic requirements is inevitable, but the timeline is uncertain.

“We don’t want to be too optimistic, there are a lot of moving parts,” said Cumberpatch. “Being on EPC really gave me a good perspective as to how many members of the community have to be involved.”

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