CLAS Core Curriculum Could Use Some Updates

Carter Smith, Staff Writer

Class registration has rolled into town, and as a double-major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), there are a lot of courses I have to take in order to get my degree. A healthy chunk of that course load consists of the CLAS Core Curriculum. Many of my friends and I both in and out of CLAS have had many discussions about whether all of our requirements are actually useful or not, unanimously coming to the conclusion that they are not.

Requirements such as History, Math/Statistics and the Literature and Writing Seminar are widely useful for professional success over all fields and have lots of ways to fulfill them. Others like the Language and Natural Science requirements can be laborious to complete. They often pigeonhole students into taking courses that we do not enjoy, forcing us to give up slots we would rather fill with courses for our majors, minors or for fun.

The Language proficiency requirement is particularly oppressive. Fulfilling it with a Latin alphabet-based language (French, Spanish, Italian) will take four semesters, while so-called “critical languages” (Irish, Ancient Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian) only take two. This requirement can only be circumvented by getting a four or five on an AP exam (only for languages offered by the university, leaving out popular languages like German) or getting a very high grade on a proficiency test (which can shorten the number of classes necessary for requirement completion).

While I understand the University’s desire to increase the cultural competence of its students, having to take multiple semesters of languages that we will likely never use if we aren’t specializing feels like a waste of time to many of us: slots that could be filled with better courses.

Having an understanding of how the world around us works is vital to being an educated citizen, which is why it puzzles me that the Natural Science requirement feels like a slog to complete. The University does offer its MSE courses for non-science majors, which are more general and slightly easier than the BIO 1000s, but they still come with two to three hour labs in addition to meeting two to three times per week.

The lecture portions are the biggest classes most of us will ever take: 40 to 60 people are packed into one of the Mendel lecture halls to be shown slideshows for 50 to 75 minutes, boring students to tears. The labs do better in smaller class sizes but rarely do better regarding classroom engagement.

There is a large number of MSE courses in the catalog, covering anything from the chemistry of water to how humans fight cancer, but the courses actually offered for each semester rarely seem to meet demand. We often have to choose a course purely based on what our schedule allows, which is not necessarily the one we find interesting. 

So cool, the Core Curriculum is not optimized, but how should we update it? I have a couple of suggestions.

The Language requirement should be limited to proficiency in the introductory level or outright dropped; the people who are only taking language for the requirement probably forget most of their skills by graduation anyway. 

With Natural Science, if there is no specific area of study required, the requirement seems aimless, especially when classes and professors are so hard to engage with. I would recommend a combination of more and smaller classes being available, dropping the requirement down to one semester and/or the creation of a “Science for the Modern World” class, which could be a crash course on concepts and specifics we need for everyday life.

I also have ideas for what those requirements could be replaced with. Everybody should have at least a basic understanding of economics. It is necessary to understand how money, businesses and government initiatives work, an opinion reinforced by my advisor Dr. Sarah Reed, assistant teaching professor of Economics. 

“Basic economics courses help students to become more informed about common economic issues, such as recessions, unemployment and inflation,” she said. “They also help students develop critical thinking skills regarding economic decisions made by individuals, businesses and policymakers.”

Making the course “Introductory Topics – Economics” a part of the Core Curriculum is necessary in giving Villanova students crucial knowledge of economics, which is vital to being an informed citizen.

Another skill widely applicable for professional success is being able to clearly communicate your ideas and opinions to others, which is why I think Public Speaking should also be added to the Core Curriculum. Dr. Juanita Weaver, a senior instructor in the Communication department, was asked about the necessity of Villanova including a public speaking course in its core. 

“I have taught at three other universities,” Weaver said. “One required it of every undergraduate, another required it in some form for all undergraduates and the third required it in their liberal arts program. It is a skill that crosses all disciplines. Employers rate it as one of their most desired qualities in employees.”

However, there is one problem with adding these courses to the core: professor availability. Both Reed and Weaver acknowledged that finding professors to teach enough sections of both courses to accommodate demand for the courses would likely be difficult, forcing these professors away from the more nuanced elective courses they love. 

This article was born out of frustration with having to sit through required classes that not only have not piqued my interest but also have seemingly given me little information of value. Hopefully, the Core Curriculum can be updated to at least solve the second issue.