Letter to the Editor: Defending requirements

To the Editor:

Spencer Flohr ’14 writes an interesting Opinions piece, “Requiring Interest” in the April 16 issue of the Record, regarding what he sees as the problem with divisional requirements, suggesting eliminating or altering them, so as to make them “less burdensome” with the already constricted “32 chips we get to trade” over a four-year Williams education. True, 32 chips in the scope of an undergraduate education are not a great deal. Take this from someone who then did medical school, six years of post grad work, two years of drafted military medical research, 32 years in hematology/oncology practice with three board certifications and is currently completing my 23rd and 24th audits of courses at Williams over the past six years.

But, let’s do the math. Of the three divisions at Williams, Division I offers 25 areas of study from languages and the arts through Arabic history and art history to classics and English. Division II: 28 fields of study from Africana or American studies through anthropology down to sociology. Division III: 16 areas from astronomy and astrophysics through biology and math into psychology.

So, if you decide on any one of the three areas of concentration you have but six chips to cover to fulfill your requirements out of the area that Flohr feels “fails to contribute meaningfully to the intended goal of producing interesting people” while also offering possible advantage to students at other institutions who are free to choose all courses without requirements. If you are a non-major then you have nine chips to scatter through three divisions.

In either case, this is neither a burden nor an extraneous luxury. It’s a gift. Are there not first year students initially bent on becoming a science major who switch to a fulfilling lifetime in the humanities after a second-year course introduction to history, or vice versa for a newbie planning on being a political science major who instead spends a lifetime committed to research in computational genetics after an undergraduate introduction to Division III biology?

I agree.

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32 chips is meager, except of course at finals time. But remember Einstein’s iconic thought: “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Give it a chance, will you?

Jesse Spector M.D.


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