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February 29, 1988 - Image 27

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-02-29

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So, what is happening out there to
colleges and universities? Most
of the revisions that have been
and will be put into effect go
straight to the heart of the mat-
ter. That "heart" is general edu-
cation-the profoundly impractical
body of courses intended to broad-
en one's knowledge and improve
the intellect. Traditionally, this has
meant study in the liberal arts-an
emphasis that largely distinguishes
colleges from vocational schools. In a
word, enlightenment. This is what
Sanjay Reddy, a senior in civil engi-
neering, encountered with a course on
the symphony at Stanford. He took it
to satisfy a requirement, but he got
much more. "It was," Reddy says, "an
awakening experience."
Curriculum reform has helped to
foster a renaissance in the liberal
arts. The number of students major-
ing in such areas as fine arts, human- Faculty focus: Many stillp
ities, social sciences and natural sci-
ences is rising (although business remains the single most popular
major). Many schools, including Texas A&M, the University of
Miami and Ohio State, report liberal-arts enrollments at their
highest point in 10 years. History, in particular, is attracting new
interest (page 14). But not all the reasons for the liberal-arts
renewal are scholarly. Ironically, career-minded students now
. seek more humanities because corporate chief executives have
praised this preparation. (Some career counselors, however, re-
port that companies end up hiring specialists.) Subjecting the
liberal arts to such pragmatic tests makes many faculty members
fume. "Asking the worth of a [liberal arts] education is like asking

how good a Mozart symphony is," says
University of Alabama English pro-
fessor Jim Raymond. "How good is the
Mona Lisa? If you throw it in a fire, it
won't keep you warm very long. In
some sense it's worthless, but it's to be
valued for itself."
Game-show contestants: Nevertheless,
many students fail to see the point of
classes that have no immediate links
to a career. Jennifer Onesto, a senior
in journalism at Ohio State, calls
her required general-ed coursework
"game-show-contestant classes." At
Iowa's Grinnell College, where the
only requirement is a freshman tu-
torial, an internal study in 1983 deter-
mined that 22.7 percent of that year's
graduating class had taken not a sin-
gle math course and 28.5 percent had
skipped history. Says Tom Reeder, an
engineering student at Brown, which
. also prides itself on an open curricu-
efer research to teaching lum: "I know a lot of engineering stu-
dents who chose Brown because they
knew no one would make them take an English class or write any
kind of nonscientific papers here. I have friends who have spent
the last two and a half years just doing math problems." Most
commonly, students grudgingly admit the value of the liberal arts.
"The [general education] courses broadened my thought," says
Jeffrey Cook, a senior at SMU majoring in business, "but I would
have never taken them if I hadn't been forced to."
To expose more students to intellectual challenges, universities
everywhere are revising the old blueprint known as the core
curriculum-still requiring a minimum amount of work in each of
the subdivisions of the liberal arts, but increasing the total re-

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