College changes Western Humanities requirement, prompts mixed reaction from campus community

President Denise Battles confirmed a College Senate vote to change the curriculum requirement for Western Humanities on Monday May 8. The change to the curriculum was proposed in part to address overcrowded classes. 

The College Senate curriculum change plan has two components. Under the new system, students will only be required to take either HUMN 1 or HUMN 2, instead of both. In order to take the course, students will additionally be required to have fewer than 75 credits. 

The change to Western Humanities originally went through the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee before coming to a preliminary vote at the April 4 Senate meeting. The Senate then passed the proposal after its second reading at the May 2 meeting by a 44 to 17 vote. Following college governing procedure, the passed proposal went to Battles for approval. 

Interest in changing the curriculum came primarily from the English and history departments, which staff most of the classes, according to Interim Provost Paul Schacht. Schacht believes that the departments pushed for the new system partly to expose students to the humanities as sophomores, rather than as juniors or seniors, in order to give students a foundation for other areas of studies. 

Schacht also believes that the Senate made this change because if students take humanities courses earlier, they have more time to change their majors if they would like to major in English, history, philosophy or languages and literatures. Additionally, Schacht felt that some of the interest in curricular reform came from faculty dissatisfaction with the Western Humanities course as a whole. 

“For a significant number of faculty in the two departments that wrote the proposal, the Western Humanities sequence with its exclusive focus on Western works and the relative inflexibility of the syllabus was not appealing,” he said. “Part of what was behind this proposal was an assumption that scaling the requirement back to one course might open up a new opportunity for conversation about the content of the course.” 

The curricular change did face opposition from some faculty members who felt that it would water down the courses. Before the Senate voted on the proposal, the Senate addressed a motion that would postpone the measure until the fall. The motion failed by a vote of 45 to 13. 

Professor of political science and international relations Robert Goeckel expressed his concern that the proposal was too hasty in solving the perceived problems with the current humanities courses.   

“In terms of staffing, we haven’t tapped all of the resources out there who could teach the class and there are some in the political science department who could teach,” he said. “Secondly, many of our alumni … have commented on how much the humanities sequence have helped them in their careers and I don’t think we should underestimate the long-term impacts of the current course. 

One of the major proponents of the change, professor of history and Director of the Center for Inquiry, Discovery and Development Joseph Cope, instead contended that the proposal wouldn’t diminish the humanities course.

“Nobody was jumping into this enthusiastically, but there are these structural issues that have been simmering beneath the surface for many years,” he said. “The compromise of this proposal is it allows students to continue to take both sections of humanities if they want to and it allows departments to require both sections of humanities as co-requirements for their majors.”

The change to the curriculum will go into effect in fall 2017, according to an email sent to academic students from Assistant Provost for Curriculum and Assessment Savi Iyer. The requirements for students who entered the college before the 2014-15 academic year will not change. 

English major junior Veronica Taglia believes that the proposal was necessary based on student concerns about the course.

“Not only is it a huge scheduling issue for faculty, but it’s also a pretty divisive issue for students,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to be in the class and aren’t reading the books, so it’s not living up to the canonical Western Humanities experience people make it out to be … I don’t know whether or not they’ll end up making any more changes, but I think they should wait to see how these changes pan out over the next school year.”