Proposal moves forward to College Senate outlining condensed humanities program

The Committee on Undergraduate Academic Policies, Core and Review approved a proposal that will be sent to the College Senate requiring students to take one humanities course. The resolution would allow students to choose Humanities I or Humanities II. Some students believe such a proposal will prove benefical to students who have a significant amount of degree requirements, while others believe that the humanities program needs to become more diversified. (Jenna Harbus/Staff Photographer)

The Committee on Undergraduate Academic Policies, Core and Review met to discuss a proposal to reduce the required number of humanities courses from two to one on Tuesday March 21.

The proposal was brought forth by the Department of English and is supported by the history department. If passed by the College Senate, this change will allow students to choose between either Humanities I or Humanities II to fulfill their humanities credit, rather than by taking both. 

Associate professor and Chair of the History Department Justin Behrend said that the proposal is an attempt to fix the current problems with the humanities, so that its position as a foundational course may be strengthened. These problems include a lack of lower-classmen, the exclusion of multiple writing assignments, large class sizes and a lack of dedicated full-time professors. Goals of the proposal include an increase in the enrollment of sophomore students in humanities courses, a trained, dedicated group of humanities professors, a reduction in class sizes and a larger focus on writing.

“This is a course that’s supposed to be at the core of the Geneseo liberal arts experience,” Behrend said, “and the majority of the humanities faculty wants to see some changes.”

Student Association President senior Michael Baranowski noted the importance of student exposure to the texts in the humanities courses.

“In my opinion, two of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Geneseo have been Humanities I and II just because the texts are so important to the history of humanities, but it shouldn’t just be limited to Western history,” he said. “I think it would be really awesome if the school was able to offer even one or two courses outside of Western humanities.”

Professor and Chair of the English Department Robert Doggett expressed similar beliefs, seeing the humanities as a course that is greatly beneficial to students of all majors. Doggett believes this is especially true of students early in their college career without a major, as both the texts and the exposure to English, history, philosophy and foreign language would be valuable.

“We don’t want to get rid of this course, we want to improve it, and we think this is the best way to do that,” he said.

Economics and English double major junior Brendan Mahoney said that he believes the current humanities program is too exclusive.

“It might not have been the original intent of the course, but at a college that has ‘inclusivity’ as one of its five main comes off as kind of backwards to spend a whole four hours a week for two semesters learning about how great the people who created our western worldview are,” he said. 

Biology and psychology major senior Sufyan Ahmad suggested diversifying the humanities program to include other cultures outside of the Western world.

“Having subsections would be good idea because some people might be more interested in one particular culture, and I know that a lot of professors specialize in certain parts of the world, so they could teach whatever their specialty is.”

Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department Theodore Everett opposes the proposal, as he believes that the decision to cut the humanities requirement in half will not necessarily achieve the goals of the proposal. Everett would prefer a more systematic fix, as the problems within the humanities program are not necessarily problems that are exclusive to it.

“This is a big deal,” Everett said. “If it were necessary to cut it in half in order to save the program, then I’d be in favor of that, but I don’t see that its necessary, just one of many possible options.”

Everett was a guest during the meeting and could not vote on this proposal. 

In addition to philosophy, the professors from the Department of Languages and Literatures who teach humanities are against the proposal in its current state. 

The committee vote saw 10 in favor, zero in opposition and one in abstention. The proposal will now go forth to the Senate, where it will be further discussed at a later date.

Associate news editor Malachy Dempsey and news editor Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article. Managing editor Nicole Sheldon also contributed to the writing of this article.