The real challenge of requirements

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During my college search, academic requirements played an important part in my decision-making. I didn’t want to attend a college, like Georgetown, at which I would be locked into the requirements of a core curriculum. But I felt intimidated by schools with completely open curricula, like Brown, at which I would have absolute freedom in the classes I took. When it came to Bates, it seemed to hover in the space in between; with four basic requirements   W1-3, L, Q, and S, Bates at once allowed students the opportunity of a varied liberal arts education and the agency to tailor that education to their own interests. Bates, with this balance of academic requirements, felt like the remedy for my academic dilemma.

When I arrived at Bates, the requirements played out closely to how I anticipated. As an English major, I knocked off my W1 and W2 in my first two semesters with ease. When it came down to my L my second semester, I was challenged; but this challenge was to be expected. After all, this was the academic spirit which drew me to Bates–a well-rounded education which would sharpen my ability to think across disciplines.

But the more conversations I had with those outside my major–particularly the more scientifically-minded–I found that the experience I faced with requirements stood in contrast to those of many other majors at Bates. The academic requirements as an English major, albeit challenging, seemed in accordance with the liberal arts education which I was promised at Bates. But how did the requirements play out for students of different majors?

Here’s the scoop. Let’s say you’re a Biochemistry major at Bates. Your Q, L, and S requirements are satisfied by the required courses for your major– Calculus, Chemistry, most science electives, respectively. You check off your W1 with your FYS, which all freshman have to take. Your W2 and your W3 are left. Well, that’s actually not so bad, because you get your W2 out of the way when you take Cell Biology– or the colloquial name among students, “Cell Hell.” And finally, all you have left is your W3. Well, that’s just your thesis, so you’re all set.

Now let’s turn the tables a bit. You’re a History major. You bang out your W1, your W2, and your W3 with ease, because well, you’re a humanities major and you’re awesome at writing. But what’s left this time? You’ve still got the Q, the L, and the S hanging over you. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways you can creatively circumvent this requirement too. You can probably cross off your Q with “Working with Data.” But your S and your L, and maybe even your Q if the last class doesn’t work out, will be a tough nut to crack for the less numbers-oriented Batesies.

I understand where Bates is coming from in respect to these requirements; Biochemistry has a high number of requirements, a hefty workload, and with many 3-hour lab blocks required for the major, Biochemistry majors can end up spending more time in the classroom than many other Bates students. But as a liberal arts school, I think that Bates might want to consider how its few requirements–or, at least the classes which fulfill them–manifest themselves across students of all majors.

I also know that as an English major at Bates, I am biased in this discussion. So I talked to a few science majors who could give me the scoop from the other side of things. An anonymous chemistry major ‘20, says, “I’m not sure it’s fair that people in the sciences [get] a freebie when it comes to required classes. I know I’m benefitting from the system, but I think it might make more sense if the requirements were a little bit more balanced across majors.”

Balancing the requirements across students of all majors while still making the work of science majors relatively manageable is by no means a simple task. With that in mind, I still believe it is crucial we consider the ways in which our liberal arts education works in terms of all Bates students. I, along with many students I know, came to Bates for an education which will educate me in all disciplines–humanities, science, and otherwise. I think Bates might need to reconsider its requirements–a fundament of its academic program–to assure us that we are still upholding this promise. If the benefits of our system outweigh the drawbacks, great. If not, a systematic restructuring might be in order.

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