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University committee report proposes potential revisions to Weinberg degree requirements

Kristine Liao, Reporter

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A University committee released a report last quarter that proposed some changes to Weinberg graduation requirements, including a universal three-course language requirement.

Ann Bradlow, the committee’s chair and Weinberg’s associate dean for academic initiatives, said she hopes a final version of the report can be ready by the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year. According to the report, proposals also include a new structure for first-year seminars and the addition of “interdisciplinary overlays.”

“The best part about the committee is the very interesting discussions that it has provoked,” Bradlow said. “It has got us thinking about the goals we run by. We have them in our minds, but this process is forcing us to be more explicit about the goals that we see.”

The committee received feedback on the first draft of its report from students, faculty and alumni, and is now working on revisions before submitting a final report to Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph.

One of the major proposals was the creation of interdisciplinary overlays, which are themes that can be emphasized in courses across the curriculum rather than through additional course requirements, Bradlow said.

Bradlow said although the general idea of overlays has been well received, there have been discussions regarding the two specific types of overlays proposed: one about ethics, and another about social inequalities and diversities. She said overlays will encourage students to see connections across different areas of the curriculum.

“(The overlays) specify certain themes that then can be infused throughout the curriculum,” Bradlow said. “They also serve as lenses for students to view different areas of study through. It also encourages faculty to see their work through these various lenses.”

In March, the University held a student forum to discuss the draft and provide the committee with feedback, Bradlow said.

Weinberg sophomore Aaron Zimmerberg, who attended the forum, said although the committee is looking out for students’ mental health, the potential changes would increase stress.

He said he was concerned that the implementation of interdisciplinary overlay requirements could create issues with uneven enrollment, as students could enroll in classes that qualify as both a distribution requirement and an overlay.

“The committee does do good work in addressing the requirement of inequality and diversity education, which was one of the primary motivations of having the change in the first place,” Zimmerberg said.

In addition to the overlay requirements, Bradlow said the language requirement proposals have provoked a lot of discussion. The proposals mandate a three-course language requirement for all students, regardless of previous proficiency, according to the report.

Bradlow said criticism of changes to the language requirement does not revolve around the requirement being any harder to fulfill, but on the constraints it may put on students’ schedules.

Zimmerberg said he thinks the change in the foreign language requirement is inconsiderate of international students.

“It’s kind of silly because an international student from a country where English is not the primary language would be required to learn an international culture when they are already in America learning about the American culture,” he said.

In addition to the feedback received, the committee is looking into the curriculum structures of other universities, specifically Duke University, Harvard University, Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis, according to the report.

Bradlow said by studying the curriculum of peer universities, the committee has recognized a common focus on “depth as well as breadth” in undergraduate education.

“Our students and our societies are really well served when you have a well-structured curriculum that encourages depth of knowledge of some specific area, as well as cultivate their curiosity and the ability to think in different ways,” Bradlow said.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated when the changes will be implemented. Only a final report may be ready by the next academic year. The Daily regrets this error.

Email: kristineliao2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: kristine_liao

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