Weinberg dean discusses challenges of implementing social inequalities, diversity requirement


(Daily file photo by Colin Boyle) Associated Student Government President Christina Cilento addresses aldermen, the mayor and city staff in October. ASG held a community dialogue in November on a proposed social inequalities and diversity course requirement.

Peter Kotecki, Managing Editor

While some students express dissatisfaction about the speed at which Weinberg is implementing a social inequalities and diversity requirement, administrators say getting it right may take time.

The current plan is to create two requirements — one focused on the United States and another on global inequality — Mary Finn, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, told The Daily in November. But Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph said in a November interview that implementing the proposal would be “tricky” because the college will likely have to create new courses and hire more faculty.

After gathering feedback from Weinberg faculty this winter, a committee will finalize the recommendation to create two requirements and present it to Randolph. The Weinberg dean said the Curricular Policies Committee will then likely review the proposal before a faculty-wide vote on it. Randolph said the requirements may be approved before the end of the academic year.

Weinberg senior Ashley Wood, ASG vice president for academics, said several ASG members and student leaders invested in the requirements told her they were disappointed in the speed of the process. Wood said the length of the discussion about whether the requirement should be U.S.-centric delayed the proposal from moving forward.

“A really big frustration is how long that it’s taken to get to this point, and it still isn’t a guarantee that it will happen,” Wood said.

In February 2015, hundreds of students signed a petition asking Weinberg faculty to support a requirement focusing on the United States after hearing that some professors were in favor of a globally-focused requirement.

But Randolph said the college needs to seriously consider how many existing courses would fulfill the requirement and what the class size for these courses should be.

“That’s not an easy decision to make,” he said. “But let’s imagine we come up with some abstract notion of what constitutes the right size for this. Then you can do the math and figure out, well how many courses do we need?”

The requirements would likely also fulfill another area, such as a major requirement, distribution credit or first-year seminar, Finn said. Randolph said Weinberg would potentially need to create 40 or 50 new courses to implement these requirements.

“It’s not just a matter of taking a course that exists and labelling it social inequalities and diversity,” he said. “That would be a sort of loss, I think, in the long run. We’ve got to have courses that really satisfy the criteria we set up.”

He said the college may also need to hire new faculty, but decisions to hire faculty are made in consultation with senior administrators, and the hiring process itself may take one or two years.

Efforts to create a social inequalities and diversity course requirement have been ongoing since February 2013, when Northwestern’s University Diversity Council completed a proposal asking NU to require a university-wide diversity requirement for undergraduate students.

Associated Student Government held a community dialogue in November discussing the proposed social inequalities and diversity requirement. The purpose of the discussion was to help further diversity and inclusion within classrooms and in student-faculty relationships, ASG President Christina Cilento, a SESP senior, said.

Randolph said there could be problems with adding the social inequalities and diversity requirement despite administrators’ good intentions. Based on discussions with deans at other universities, he said the job of conveying this material could fall disproportionately on certain departments.

He added that some faculty are concerned about there being a large influx of students who don’t necessarily want to take courses that fulfill these requirements.

“We want to make sure that these courses are something that really produce a good learning environment, not a type of conflictual space in a bad way,” Randolph said. “You want some conflict, but you don’t want it to be just forcing people to take courses that they really don’t want to take and not giving our teachers the tools to really manage that.”

Julia Jacobs contributed reporting.

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