Eight unit physical education requirement rooted in Williams history, philosophy

Seniors who have yet to complete the physical education requirement received notes of warning upon returning from break that they would not graduate without completing the requirement. The more or less routine note reminded seniors of the number of credits they had yet to fulfill, and stated the consequences of not completing the requirement. For some seniors, the note raised questions of the validity of the rationale behind the requirement.

The physical education requirement was originally established in 1891, with the completion of the $50,000 Lasell gymnasium.. The course catalogue of the 1891-1892 school year advertises Lasell’s state of the art equipment and explains the requirement as well as the rationale behind it.

“During the first term,” the catalogue states, “the Freshman class receives from Professor Woodbridge such practical lectures as to health and habits of study as are suitable to their needs. A careful examination and measurement of each student is made by the director, not only soon after entering the college, but also at occasional intervals later in the course, in order that the exercise may be adapted to individual peculiarities and a symmetrical development secured.”

Although the term “symmetrical development” is no longer used by the department of physical education, the department’s goal, according to Chair and Director of Athletics Robert Peck is to encourage students to develop a well rounded educational background, and to lead well balanced, or “symmetrical” lives.

“There’s been a component of Williams education that involved physical education for a long time now,” Peck said. “This is a relatively stressful academic environment and we believe that the complete person is educated in body and mind.”

By 1925, Williams had changed the physical education requirement to two years, which is the basis for our current requirement. Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Physical Education Coordinator Michael Russo explained today’s requirement. Students are required to complete eight units of courses in order to graduate. These units can be obtained in numerous ways including enrolling in PE and outing club classes, playing an intercollegiate or club sport, marching in the pep band, managing a sports team, and doing community service related to athletics.

Brett Linck ’99 praises the variety of classes offered. “The athletic department does plenty by itself,” he said. “Add in the great courses taught by the Outing Club and it’s amazing that people don’t end up completing their requirement earlier. I still haven’t taken all the PE classes I want to take.”

Russo praised the flexibility of the program and reflected that this very flexibility reflects the mission of the department.

“My main goal as physical education coordinator is to turn non athletic people on to physical well being, so that they can enjoy that for the rest of their lives,î he said. ìYou get the occasional grumbler, but for the most part, the majority of students do appreciate being able to participate.”

Peck aptly described the program as “free instruction in great facilities under very competent instructors.”

It is Registrar Charles Toomajian’s job to enforce the requirement of Physical Education for graduation. Although some students seem to take the requirement lightly, Toomajian insists that the school does not.

“It is absolutely correct that it is a requirement for graduation,î the registrar said. ìIf students do not complete eight units of PE credit, they do not receive the bachelorís degree.”

Toomajian cited several recent cases of students who had failed to graduate because of failure to meet the requirement. In all cases, the Committee on Academic Standing has granted lenience, allowing students to receive a diploma after completion of the requirement. In many cases this has resulted in the student graduating in a different class than originally intended. Toomajian recently spoke with a student who would have graduated in 1996, but has not yet received a diploma because of failure to meet the requirement. Another student had to delay entrance to medical school because he didn’t have a diploma.

“I don’t personally believe that we should have a physical education requirement of eight units in order to graduate, but I’m obligated to tell the committee on academic standing that a student has not completed it,” Toomajian said.

Peck and Russo explained that students who have not completed the requirement are notified of their standing with frequent notes, like the one many seniors received at the beginning of this month.

“We send out warnings periodically,” said Russo. “By the end of Winter Study if a senior still has three or more credits to complete, their names are sent to CAS [the committee on academic standing].”

Although it is recommended that students complete the requirement by second semester sophomore year, Peck commented that it is unrealistic to require students to complete it so soon, although no student is allowed to go abroad Junior year without first completing 6 units.

Linck showed support for the requirement. “I think there is a strong rationale behind the PE requirement,” he said. “Regardless of how smart we are when we leave this school . . . participation in the real world necessitates use of both our bodies and minds. The educational value of college is not found in solely testing the limits (or lack thereof) of our minds, but testing ourselves in as many ways as possible, and through those struggles, becoming better people. I believe strongly in the whole ‘sound mind, sound body’ ideal, and I think that is what Williams is shooting for with the PE credit. That, and exposing people who might not have ever chosen to participate athletically to an aspect of life which is very fulfilling and healthy.”

A senior who did not wish to be cited, but has one unit left to complete does not support the requirement.

“I run nearly every day and respect the theory behind the PE requirement (which is why it is somewhat ironic that I still don’t have one of the eight credits),” she said. “It makes sense that people should maintain some minimum level of fitness. However, I think the PE requirement does become somewhat silly in practice. For some students it turns into a bureaucratic nuisance, and for some athletic administrators a funny compulsion. In my view, it is ridiculous, pointless and somewhat sad when students receive PE credits for helping out at winter carnival or when students lie on forms in order to get credit for independent activities. I wonder if it might make more sense to improve the intramural sports system, think of other ways to promote health, and eventually get rid of the PE requirement.”

Toomajian said that although the physical education requirement comes up once in a while in discussion among faculty members, the discussion never gets very far. According to Toomajian, when the Committee on Educational Policy met to discuss and eventually approve post season play for sports teams because of changes in NESCAC, several faculty members suggested that the committee needed to look at the broader interplay of academics and athletics. If that were to happen, Toomajian has no doubt that the physical education requirement would be one aspect of athletics reviewed.

Peck is adamant that the requirement will stay more or less as it stands. He dismissed options such as community service and drug and alcohol education in place of physical education. “I encourage students to be involved in community service, but it’s not PE.”

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