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Susannah Kroeber '11: A minor change, a major difference

Brown students defend the New Curriculum almost as if it were a graduation requirement. Against a hostile world of those who believe Brown to be a free-for-all education system, more representative of the late 1960s and 70s than modern-day America, Brown students stand together to advocate for a Satisfactory/No-Credit grading system, the ability to design our own concentrations and our complete lack of distribution requirements. This curriculum is the reason why many of us chose Brown. It is a significant part of the way we describe what distinguishes Brown as an educational institution.

We see the New Curriculum as a demonstration of the University's willingness to let us make our own choices. This is the first time that most students are allowed to choose every single class, with no set requirements beyond those within individual concentrations.

As much as we love the new curriculum, when those from outside of Brunonia leave the room, there develops a sense of discontent within the idyllic kingdom. The concept of taking a risk on courses outside your chosen area of expertise without the pressure of performing highly by choosing the S/NC option is attractive, but many students focused on graduate programs are concerned with how the number of Satisfactories, as opposed to As and Bs, will look. Our lack of distribution requirements makes it possible to specialize even more by making it feasible to double- or even triple-concentrate.

Now think about the number of hoops we have to jump through to exercise some of the most innovative parts of the New Curriculum. The addition of prerequisites into Banner to prevent students from pre-registering for certain courses, even with prior, non-Brown background in a subject, is just one of the limits on our choice. I don't know many college students who try to pre-register for a fourth-year language class without previous introduction, but I'm sure that they could — upon shopping that class — figure out that this was not the appropriate course for them.

This problem of a fundamental lack of trust between students and administrators is exacerbated in scale by the process of creating independent studies or concentrations. With the New Curriculum's birthday this calendar year, there has been more than the usual discussion about the integrity of the curriculum and how, if at all, it should be revised or revisited. Beyond the general arguments that students lay out regarding the discrepancies between the founding ideas and practice of the New Curriculum, there is one issue with it that stands out: minors.

I realize that with our use of "concentration" instead of "major," the term "minor" is potentially problematic, as there is not a comparable pair for concentration. Beyond semantics, the arguments for deliberately prohibiting minors in the New Curriculum seem to be well-conceived but have not proven entirely applicable to Brown students.

One of the concerns when the New Curriculum was designed was that students would choose to form clusters of secondary interests, having one major and then several minors account for all their undergraduate courses. This would limit their desire to experiment with other classes for which they did not have the sufficient interest or experience to eventually declare a minor.

For many students, including myself, the lack of minors forces those of us interested in multiple disciplines to choose double-concentrating over simply taking diverse courses. This is in part due to the graduate school application system. For example, many teaching schools require a major or minor in the subject area you wish to teach.

Beyond the partially contrived world of academia and its corresponding requirements, showing a certain degree of acquaintance with various subject areas without requiring a very careful examination of an academic transcript can be very useful for career options. A resume, not an academic transcript, is the paper tool that helps you get a job. This rarely includes a full list of course work; rather, you are expected to give a concise summary of your collegiate knowledge, most often limited to concentration and perhaps language competency.

Having easy-to-recognize stamps (i.e., majors and minors) for each graduate's degree of competence in each subject is not a pitfall of education. The fact is that what we learn in our undergraduate experience transfers benefits onto us in a manner that does not appear on an academic transcript or resume.

Giving students a few more tools to assert their qualifications does not detract from Brown's commitment to educating its students in a liberal fashion, but may instead reduce the stress upon students, as we would be more concerned with personal development than job qualifications. An option of minors would allow some students to expand future career opportunities and make them feel more comfortable with their educational experience.

Susannah Kroeber '11 is a Slavic studies concentrator from Beijing, China.




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