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2012 Spring Issue 1 (April 6, 2012)

Change at Carleton: It’s our responsibility

April 6, 2012
By Stuart Urback

A lot of the writing I do talks about the need for more variety of opportunities to do more than write papers and to do more independent, self-directed work. A lot of the opinions are directed at the establishment.” The idea is that a lot of opportunities are restricted at a curriculum level and it prevents students from working with the system to achieve their curriculum- goals.

One goal to this end has been the notion that a different way of presenting available classes would allow students to find their own path through college similar to paths other students have taken rather than being shoveled into pre-packaged majors.

But the problem is that students have been making it enough of an issue to warrant reviewing the major process to such a degree.  Talking with a professor about the issue was rather enlightening.  From his perspective the biggest problem was the fact that students weren’t taking enough 300 level research classes in order to pursue their own work.

I think this opinion definitely has some merit.  If students are resting on the system, finding the easiest path through by accomplishing necessary goals and taking classes that fulfill requirements.  While some of this is certainly exploration, which is positive, some of it is a desire to not “stick your neck out” or take risks that might push workloads or risk negative grades.

But, at some level, if we want to see change at a curricular level, students have to start taking those risks.  Risks like writing essays in class that make interesting connections instead of ones that are known to be correct.  Risks like taking 300 level classes outside of your major in order to pursue interests.  And, most importantly, risks like asking to do independent study programs to further explore areas that aren’t offered at the college.  Eventually, if students keep pushing against the system, professors and the administration will take notice. 

There are plenty of ways that the college still needs to grow, there’s no doubt about that.  But, if we are to see that growth we have to do something about it.  If we don’t engage the system, it won’t grow the way we want. 

To that end, the best way I’ve found to enter this discussion is to talk to professors.  Professors tend to be incredibly receptive and interested in this type of stuff.  They come up with great suggestions on how to work around the system and they genuinely care about the students.  I’m sure most of this stuff is rather obvious, but the point remains, professors are not only able to talk about their discipline, they are also good for talking about the relationship between the institutional requirements and personal goals.  But the most important thing is that if enough students keep asking these types of questions, it will get talked about more.  And if it gets talked about more that is one step closer to seeing real change in diversifying the type of research and study that is possible at Carleton.

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