Allegheny College’s Curriculum Committee’s proposal to change the current distribution requirement passed 90-34 in the faculty meeting on Nov. 13, according to Amelia Carr, secretary of the faculty and professor of art. The first class to officially take part in this new curriculum will be the class of 2020.
The new distribution requirement requires students to take one class in each of the following areas of inquiry: civic learning; human experience; international and intercultural perspectives; modes of expression; power, privilege and difference; quantitative reasoning; scientific process and knowledge and social behavior and institutions.
Since 1996, the distribution requirement has required that students take two classes in each of the three divisions of the college: the social sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities. If a student is not majoring or minoring in the natural sciences, he or she must have one lab course included in his or her distribution.
Ian Binnington, chair of the curriculum committee and professor of history, said that these areas of inquiry represent things the college already does. Exposure to the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities is still being accomplished through some of the categories.
“So in a sense, some of these categories replace the divisions,” Binnington said. “This fits in with what a lot of national organizations are recommending. It fits in with what accreditation bodies are recommending. It fits in with what career education folks are recommending. That students coming into the 21st century world need to be quantitatively literate, they need to be scientifically literate, they need to understand, to a certain extent, different cultures and how they work together. They need to understand questions of diversity and power. These are things that many of our students are already doing.”
In 2009, President of the college James Mullen, asked the summer planning group the following question:
“In 2020, what will a student have the right to expect from the best liberal arts experience in the nation as it prepares her or him for a diverse and complex world?”
Combinations 2020, a vision for where the college will be in 2020, includes goals to change the distribution requirement, according to Binnington. However, it is not the sole reason the curriculum committee is making the change.
“It’s a symptom rather than a cause,” Binnington said. “I think that Combinations 2020 talks about the distribution requirement because people for quite some time have been concerned that the divisional distribution requirement we currently have isn’t doing any longer what we thought it was doing.”
The curriculum committee has been planning these changes for approximately five years, Carr said. Though the proposal was long, the curriculum committee wanted as much feedback as possible outside of the general discussion on the floor of the meeting. The proposal was sent out to the entire faculty in a Google document so they could post comments.
“We really wanted this to be an open discussion,” Carr said. “The curriculum committee was very insistent upon this. We worked to put together a number of ways for that to happen.”
With the requirement to take one course in each of the eight areas of inquiry, the fear is that students will now have more work to do but Binnington believes the process will be easier for students than it is now.
“If you think about the classes you or any other student took in your first two years, you will have probably satisfied most of the requirements without really even trying,” Binnington said. “Many of our students take math or chemistry or English or political science, that combination they’ve satisfied probably three of these requirements in their first semester.
“So, our expectation is that many students will do most of these requirements without any extra effort in their major or minor programs or in classes that otherwise interest them…. The assumption is that it’s actually going to be a lot easier than it sounds to fulfill these eight, because at no point are we asking students to take a specific class in order to fulfill a specific requirement. They have significant choice in how they navigate their way through these requirements.”
Courses in a major or minor program can count towards the new distribution requirement.
“I think that the way the distribution requirement is now is pretty effective because I took my two distribution courses my first semester here at Allegheny,” said Olivia Reindl, ’17. “If it [the new requirement] counts towards your major I think that will be beneficial to students because it’s like killing two birds with one stone in a way.”
Students who will matriculate in or after the fall of 2016 will be subject to the new distribution requirement. Those who matriculated before 2016 will be held to the distribution requirement outlined in previous academic bulletins or catalogues.