I completely agree with Vivian Shotwell ’03 regarding the elimination of the distribution requirement, and wish to further her argument.
Having a distribution requirement does not fulfill the objectives of a liberal arts institution, rather, it dampers creativity and intellectual curiosity in a number of ways.
First and foremost, students have leeway to explore the curriculum at will, and would not lose this were the distribution requirement repealed. Williams students attend this institution with many interests; the curriculum is broad enough to allow a reasonable degree of experimentation without hindering one’s major course of study. Students with intellectual curiosity stretching beyond the scope of a division or two can pursue their varied interests; eliminating the distribution requirement would not eliminate their ability to do so.
Furthermore, most students here aren’t omni-Ã¼ber-prodigies; the office of admissions has acknowledged that in selecting a class, they don’t look for 525 well-rounded individuals, but rather for a broad collective of experiences, insights, talents, and interests. These so-called “angled” students bring expertise in one or several fields of academic or co-curricular interest to the table. Shouldn’t college be a logical extension of this? Why, all of a sudden, is the Williams student forced to “broaden” himself into three clear-cut divisions?
Moreover, the claim that the distribution requirement helps one to foment interest in an unexplored discipline is undermined in part by the existence and success of the Winter Study Program, whose mission is just that.
What seems most alarmingly overlooked in my eyes is the acknowledgment that many (if not most) courses are cross-disciplinary by nature, and are not cross-listed to recognize this. Classes in, for example, classics or a foreign language or music simply are not “just humanities” classes. Any study in a foreign language, especially the classics, is an automatic study in the customs, culture, traditions, and history of a certain group. Music reaches even farther; it embodies many social and scientific principles, from its basis in mathematics and physics to the psychological and societal role it plays.
As one who is contemplating a double major in two division I disciplines, I find that the freedom I have to explore other humanities courses is quite limited. More than half of my time will be devoted to these two disciplines. As I sit down from time to time to plan out possible academic routes, I am amazed at the limited degree of exploration I will have within Division I. Because I happen to be interested in two humanities majors, I will have to forego learning another foreign language or two. I won’t be able to read as many works of literature as I would like. I probably won’t find the time to take a studio art course, nor Williams’ famed art history courses either, all of which is considered by faculty, administrators, alumni and peers to be integral to a liberal arts education. Rest assured, I will find value in the other courses I will take, for they will interest me too, but at what cost? Is restricting my access to the courses I want to study truly a liberal arts experience?
Attitudes about divisional distribution requirements range from indifference at best to loathing at worst. If Williams truly has the intellectual development of its students as its priority, then the CEP will move to eliminate the divisional distribution requirement, and will do us all a favor in doing so.