TCU Senate hosts forum to discuss changes to graduation requirements

Students and faculty gathered in the Alumnae Lounge on Monday afternoon to discuss the perceived purpose and importance of Tufts’ current graduation requirements for liberal arts students.

The event, hosted by Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate, aimed to collect student input on the current requirements, according to TCU senators and education committee members junior Historian Rati Srinivasan, sophomore Treasurer Chris Leaverton and sophomore Education Committee Chair Nesi Altaras.

According to the TCU website, the Education Committee focuses on tenure and promotion cases and the selection of the recipient of the Professor of the Year Award, along with individual projects having to do with student education.

Attendees were divided into smaller discussion groups, which were each moderated by a TCU senator and faculty member. These discussions focused on major themes like considering what a liberal arts education is, what the purpose of graduation requirements are and if the current system effectively addresses those purposes.

Dean of Academic Advising and Undergraduate Study Carmen Lowe said that while discussions this semester have focused on student and faculty points of view on the liberal arts curriculum,the discussions next semester will focus more on the changes to be made.

“We were hoping to kick off the conversation about the curriculum as a whole, and to get students and faculty to think about the curriculum and our requirements holistically,” she told the Daily in an email.

According to the Tufts Bulletin, the purpose of these requirements is to create well-rounded students with exposure across different disciplines. Currently the graduation requirements call for the following credits: two semesters of writing, six foreign language/culture, two natural sciences, two mathematics, two social science, two humanities, two arts and one world civilization.

There is currently no process in place requiring the university to review its graduation requirements. This has left the current system unchanged for about 70 years, according to Leaverton, Srinivasan and Altaras.

“If this change does not come from us [the students], then it’s going to come from nowhere,” Leaverton said.

According to Lowe, there are problems within the current system, such as some students using Advanced Placement (AP) credits to satisfy distribution requirements, while other students may not have had the opportunity to take AP courses or tests in high school.

“There is way too much emphasis on checking items off a list, and some students have the erroneous perception that they must complete all their distribution requirements within their first two years before focusing on coursework that interests them,” she said.

The discussion groups were put in place after “A Resolution to Change the Graduation Requirements for the Undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences” was passed by Senate in February 2016. The resolution, sponsored by Srinivasan, Leaverton and Altaras, called for the creation of a committee made up of students and faculty to review graduation requirements at least once every four years.

To fulfill the directives of the February 2016 Senate resolution, the TCU Education Committee formed a joint subcommittee with the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), which is a student-faculty group that works outside of TCU Senate. According to its website, EPC’s mission is to “initiate, receive, review and enact policies or recommend proposed changes of educational policies to the full faculty of arts, sciences and engineering.”

While the EPC is taking part in the liberal arts distribution reevaluation process, it is currently focused on the future implementation of the credit-hour system, according to Srinivasan.

The new subcommittee, made up of members of both the TCU Education Committee and EPC, is called the Curriculum Review Committee, whose sole purpose is to review and propose possible reforms to the graduation requirements in their current form, Srinivasan said.

“We want to have a bigger discussion of what does a modern education have to be like,” Srinivasan said.

The committee has spent time conducting research and reviewing previous surveys which detail students’ perceptions of the graduation requirements, according to Srinivasan.

“A committee of six people cannot decide what is best for this entire school,” Srinivasan said.

She explained that previous surveys completed by graduating seniors have shown several common themes, like science majors’ dislike for arts and humanities requirements, and vice-versa. Many, Srinivasan added, felt that the requirements were more of a chore rather than an opportunity to explore topics outside a student’s chosen major.

However, according to Lowe, there are benefits to the foundation, distribution and major requirements, as they add breadth and depth to students’ educations.

“The foundation and distribution requirements recognize the value of building on strengths while working on weaknesses,” she said.

The discussion over graduation requirements is nothing new, according to Srinivasan.

In the past, efforts to review the requirements have failed because of lack of student involvement, Leaverton said. He, along with the other senators, are hoping to change that by hosting a series of forums with both the student body and faculty.

Leaverton also added that the purpose for this year is to collect feedback from the community.

From there, the subcommittee hopes to form a larger working group to consider possible proposals, Sranivasan said. At that point, the working group will be considering more concrete issues like which classes should satisfy which requirements, or which requirements should even remain, the senators explained.

“If the faculty don’t know that the students want [the requirements] changed, then nothing is going to change,” Leaverton said.

The committee has explored other institutions’ graduation requirements and is figuring out whether they would work well at Tufts, according to the senators.