Soon, the Committee on Education Reform (CEP) will deliver its recommendations for curricular reforms. From the words of one member, “Everything is on the table.” The curricular reforms for the coming years could bring major changes to the College. Though not a member of the CEP, there are a good number of curricular reforms I believe would be very astute for the new administration to take on.
At the heart of any school’s curriculum are the people who teach the courses that are offered in the Bulletin every year. Williams prides itself on its remarkable faculty – professors who look to teach as well as to push scholarship in their respective field.
Many, including one Zephaniah Moore Swift, asked the question of how can a college in the middle of nowhere sustain itself. Though Williams has survived President Swift’s move to the Connecticut River Valley, the question of location is still a pressing one. For students, Williams is just a four-year investment in the Berkshires. You punch in your time and afterwards you go off to Manhattan or the like. However, for our faculty, Billsville is home. I for one have found it intriguing how such bright and energetic people could decide to make their professional home in such an idyllic setting. This is just one factor behind the high number of professors who have left our Purple Home for the skyscraper cities. Another factor is how our faculty has to teach five courses, instead of the professional standard of four. Williams professors, because of their high visibility, are expected to play the role of mentor and advisor while their university peers write and research without pesky undergrads around.
If curricular reform is going to take place, the first thing that must take place is the College adopting some means of enticing the best teachers in the country to come (or stay) at Williams. If you want to entice, I would say the first things that can be done are to reduce the workload from five to four courses and to increase financial incentives. I know this would be a very expensive reform – forcing the school to hire more professors and to raise salaries, but I think these are the two most visible means of retaining or bringing in faculty.
After dealing with the immediate question of faculty, the College should critically reexamine the role of its sub-departmental structures, particularly clusters. What exactly is the purpose of clusters? If the clusters are for “educational purposes only,” then why have them? I think this confuses students in believing that clusters have some greater importance. It also seems to be a convenient place for the College to put interdisciplinary groups of courses without giving the group any sort of importance. If the College is going to be “progressive” in its curriculum, and if interdisciplinary studies are at the “cutting-edge” of education, then Williams should look to give such courses more significance in the curriculum.
Briefly, part of the school’s campus discussion last year was the issue of the Peoples and Cultures requirement. There are some that would like to see the Peoples and Cultures requirement gone. It can appear to be antithetical to the spirit of rest of the curriculum’s paucity of requirements. Truly, I wish there were no need for a requirement for students to be forced to take one course on the non-Western world. What should be the reality of the courses at Williams is a diversity of peoples and cultures emanating from every course possible. That is the true reality of the world. How can we claim to provide a “liberal arts” education if it only covers just a quarter of the world’s people? Every class should be a Peoples and Cultures requirement. There should be no need for students to say that they will force themselves to go take a course: just one thirty-second of their required workload, on something outside of established Western canon.
What would particularly warm my heart is if the administration would strongly consider expanding its non-Western World courses. To expound, Williams must appear to be something out of the ’70s to those from the outside and see how Williams has not embraced Latino Studies, has utterly ignored the growth and importance of South Asia, has not strengthened its commitment to Middle Eastern, Afro-American or Asian Studies. For the plethora of professors and courses Williams has, very few actually deal with the world beyond the immediate concerns of white America. Programs such as Middle Eastern Studies are taught by only a handful of professors. When it is time for these professors to go on sabbatical or if one chooses to leave, these lesser-committed programs are tossed into turmoil.
The Latino Love Fest that was the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this past summer should hit everyone with an anvil that it is time to bring Latino Studies to Williams College. When you have the likes of Trent Lott, Strom Thurman and Co. embracing the importance of Latinos in America today, how can a so-called forward and progressive-looking college not act to start studying how this happened? I am embarrassed to see how the College has done what it can to stymie rather than pull Latino Studies into the Williams College curriculum.
However, Latinos are not the only ignored represented minority group in the curriculum. Another black eye to the Williams curriculum is the lack of almost any courses on the study of the Asian Subcontinent. Indians and Pakistanis are growing in size and influence by leaps and bounds in America, changing the face of these fifty states. As a final recommendation for the administration, Williams should try to treat the growth of South Asians with more empathy in the curriculum than it has shown to other minorities that have passed through its “hallowed” halls.