It seems to me that the problem with the Williams requirement system is consistency. There should be two main options for the administration, namely that a core knowledge base will be required, or that it will not. The current system falls in the unattractive middling grey area wherein the advantages of neither side are achieved. If a college wishes not to require any specific knowledge, it allows students to study whatever they wish.
If this is to be accomplished, we would have to eliminate some of the current requirements that push students into classes which don’t interest them. Forcing scientists to suffer through classes that they see as BS (and I don’t mean bachelor of science) or forcing literary buffs to suffer through classes that they see as monotonous calculations doesn’t really help.That is, unless the College has decided that all students should have a well-rounded grounding.
In this case, every student, no matter what their interest, should be required to take a math course, a science course, a history course, an English course (preferably including Shakespeare), an art course, a music course, a foreign language course, a philosophy course, etc. If a college wishes to impose requirements, then it is logical that we can force students to learn some basic information from every area. What is not logical is the current system that fails to fulfill either ideal.
The requirements in place assure that students will be forced into taking classes outside their area of interest, but at the same time these requirements will not force the student to take any courses which would be considered a necessary part of any canonical notion of education.
It should bother all of us that a student can graduate after four years at Williams having never taken any classes in English, Math, Philosophy, etc., and yet is required to jump through preposterous hoops such as the peoples and cultures requirement.
The first thing that we need to do is to establish a consistency, deciding that either obscure cultures are not a necessary part of a college education, or that Shakespeare and Plato are. Both sides are somewhat defensible, but the current position of straddling the barbed-wire fence is not.