For years, university administrators and faculty have debated the implications of changes to our general education requirements, with questions of culture, ethnicity and sexuality – but mostly of political correctness – at the center of their discussions. A recent landmark in the ongoing deliberation occurred this past weekend, when the UCSB College of Letters and Science approved significant changes to its Bachelor of Arts general education requirements.
One of the advantages to the changes lies in the ability of each student to tailor the newly named Culture and Thought requirement to his or her individual interests. One could be interested in the history of medieval France, Chinese Marxism or ancient Egyptian religion, and – under the changed requirement – have the flexibility and motivation to explore all three without being tied down to a particular series.
In addition, the Non-Western Culture label that once connoted the inferiority of countries that are not the United States or in Europe now instead reflects an all-inclusive worldliness that respects rather than degrades. Although the great lengths that university administrators and American politicians go through to avoid offending minority groups sometimes border on absurdity, language’s power to influence perception should not be underestimated. Any label change that steers people away from the limiting and ethnocentric view of a the-West-and-everyone-else world is a welcome one.
Though a large number of upperclassmen will be pissed that their successful efforts to fulfill the old Area E-1 and E-2 requirements were in vain, this change throws a bone to lower-division students who now have less to worry about when scheduling their classes.
Nevertheless, the powers that be should have prevented this annoyance on behalf of upperclassman by choosing to phase in the new G.E.s with the next freshman class – rather than immediately – as a reward to those of us who sacrificed more convenient schedules to ensure we completed our graduation requirements in a timely fashion.
The powers that be should also be a little worried that they have only glossed over an issue of great importance to many students on campus. While its name has changed, those in pursuit of true cultural balance in education will likely be disappointed by the continuity of Area E’s actual curriculum. Acting as little more than fancy paint jobs, the new labels may be seen as superficial fixes to problems that run deeper than the power of linguistics could ever remedy.
Since issues related to culture and equality in education are sensitive and complex, the evolution of our required curriculum is inevitable. However, heated debate over these issues is healthy for the university, ensuring continued intellectual growth for students and faculty.