The faculty voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve the proposed course package. This new course package includes substantial changes in both the art department and the English department.
In an editorial earlier this year, we supported the English department restructuring, arguing that some of the requirements were unwieldy and that it might be admirable to allow for a greater diversity of classes in the major. This was before we saw some of the new 100-level courses that will take the place of the old 101.
The rationale behind the recent revisions in the introductory English classes is that now students in introductory courses will have more direct choice in what their introductory courses will be. And certainly choice, speaking abstractly, is a good thing. Furthermore, the English department wanted its 100-level courses to “introduce students to the range of approaches and interests animating the discipline” and to move away from an idea of 101 being a “core” course. What remains unclear to us, however, is why an English 101 course cannot introduce students to the range of approaches and interests animating the discipline, and how the new host of hyper-specialized courses will do a better job.
In Religion 101, for example, a course, which effectively gives religion majors a common base, students study different approaches to the study of religion. Similarly, Philosophy 101 and 102 introduce students to two of the more important areas of philosophy: moral and ethical philosophy and metaphysics and epistemology, respectively.
We feel old and stodgy calling out for more traditional “meat and potatoes” courses, but we also feel obligated to do so. The newly approved course package reads, “Through small class discussions and frequent writing assignments, 100-level English courses ask students to develop their skills as readers and as analytical writers.” We will allow that such goals as analytical writing skills can be cultivated in a number of ways, but we feel that the department is making too conscious a decision to distance itself from the old 101, focusing disproportionately on alternative forms of narrative, such as film. Will “Thinking and Writing about Television” really get us farther than “Techniques of Reading?”