Editor's note: The content of a submitted letter does not necessarily represent the views of The South End, its editorial board or employees.
First, I want to thank all the Wayne State faculty, advisors, and students involved in drafting and proposing the new General Education requirements. I’m sure it was a complicated process, navigating the pragmatic economic demands of students with the ideals of a contemporary, global liberal arts education. I believe the new requirements will go a long way towards allowing students to gain that contemporary, broad education without sacrificing their own interests and forcing them to take out further loans towards otherwise ‘unnecessary’ courses.
Of course, I like most people, find it lacking in certain areas. The conspicuous absence of any sort of Critical Thinking or focused Philosophical course is concerning. To me (and I should be up front here, I am pursuing a minor in Philosophy), if we are to stake any kind of claim towards a cutting-edge, outward-focused education centered on the values of diversity, innovation, and leadership, then we must include those courses that encourage a critical analysis and consideration of those values.
I believe the reduction in the language requirement, however, is a net positive for students. I sympathize with the idea that language learning is of absolute importance for the already-arriving globalized economy. A monolingual student entering the workforce is, in the vast majority of fields, at a distinct disadvantage. I think there are two points of consideration here: first, to what degree is the university ultimately responsible for ensuring student success in careers, at least in all aspects? And second, what obligation does the university have in minimizing the cost to students?
Without going into a more abstract discussion of what the purpose of higher education is, it seems to me that there is any number of courses that we might say improve a student’s appearance in the job field but that is nonetheless absent from the General Education requirements. In fact, wouldn’t a sort of idealized student entering the job force have taken every course? Is there a course or skill that wouldn’t improve a student’s standings in these new, competitive markets? I don’t think so; of course, language acquisition enriches a student’s career prospects and even cultural understanding. But isn’t that what the entire university experience is meant to do? We have to realize that students are to a significant degree self-responsible for that sort of preparation and that it would be ridiculous for the university to force students to be prepared in the single way the university thinks is most appropriate. What is included in General Education is not only those ‘most important’ courses (however we arrive at such a category), but those courses that are a fundamental necessity, and it isn’t clear (at least to me) that language is remarkable in this respect.
This forces us to think less about ideals as such, and more about how we can meet those ideals with the pragmatism we are obliged to consider in the context of the enormous economic stress every additional university course puts on students today. Since it would be absurd to force every student to take every single course the university offers, and since it is not obviously clear that language acquisition significantly differs from any other course in its contribution to a student’s future prospects, we must seriously question if language is an absolute necessity for students and if we can even reasonably compel students to take these courses – and pay the ever-increasing amount of money and time to do so. I’m not so confident we can do that. A three-semester language requirement would come out to something like 12 credit-hours of class, which at Wayne State’s tuition per-credit-hour totals almost $5,000 and over a year of their time. If those who wish to force students to take language courses would like to approach every incoming Freshman and ask them directly for that $5,000, then perhaps I might be more open to including it as a requirement. Or, perhaps, if there was a significant reduction in tuition for those courses specifically. Either way, to demand that of students oversteps what I think a university can reasonably force students to pay for.
The other argument that comes up from those who oppose the General Education change – and that I think is actually somewhat more compelling – is that by removing the 3-semester requirement, students will no longer take some of those smaller language courses in the numbers they currently do, resulting in the gutting and eventual closing of some of those more niche programs and the laying off of the great faculty currently operating them. I agree that the loss of those programs would be a tragedy. However, we again cannot expect to force students to operate essentially as life support for these departments. If a program cannot function without strong-arming students into taking the courses they offer and funding the salaries of their professors, then perhaps that program needs some serious restructuring and reassessment. I’m certain every single department and program on campus would love to have the entire pool of WSU students to draw funds from; these departments (often rightfully) feel they are underfunded to the point of atrophy, but the responsibility for that condition falls on the state and the university, not the students. And we absolutely cannot expect students to shoulder that burden.
I agree wholeheartedly that a student who has no capabilities in languages other than English is at a considerable disadvantage in the contemporary market, and that it is in their best interest to acquire those skills. And the proposed General Education changes do nothing to stop students from doing so, just as they do not them prevent them from acquiring other immensely valuable skills like Computer Programming, Critical Thinking, Communication, or higher-level Writing. All the requirements do is allow students to stave off further debt from courses they do not wish to take. In an ideal world, then we could live up to those ideals of the perfect General Education, with language included. But especially in Detroit, the university has a supreme obligation to respond to the call to reduce unnecessary costs that are always being hoisted on students. Reducing the language requirement is one way to do that.