OPINION | NTC’s distribution requirements benefit Tulane’s administration more than students

Gabe Darley, Staff Writer

NTC distribution requirements
Gabe Darley

Tulane, like most higher-education institutions in the U.S., follows a core curriculum approach to undergraduate learning. Albeit by a different name, the Newcomb-Tulane College General Education Requirements are a collection of required class attributes defined by the NTC Curriculum Committee as a tool to “develop information literacy, critical thinking, and personal and social responsibility in our students.”

The requirements certainly cover a broad range of topics, from Formal Reasoning to Social and Behavioral Sciences. However, when it comes to learning retainable information and building applicable life-skills, these curriculum requirements fall flat.

The problem is not necessarily with the core model in itself, but rather its components. It is easy to find solace in the poster children of the program; who could argue that a writing or service component is not integral to a student’s success after college? After all, good adult citizens of the world are philanthropic, positive members of their communities and conducively employ academic skills in their workplaces and personal lives. 

Unfortunately, not all core attributes are created equal. Some are great disappointments, falling short of the precedents set by the writing and service components.

Many of the requirement titles are intentionally vague to keep their interdepartmental nature intact. Consequently, the attributes lose their efficacy. 

 Notably, the Formal Reasoning requirement asks that the student take three course credits to learn to “think with rigor and precision and … use formal or mathematical models for logical reasoning and objective analysis.” 

 Of course, a basic mathematics course like Calculus I fulfills this requirement. But, so will a class through the philosophy department entitled “Elementary Symbolic Logic,” which, described by the syllabus, is a class designed around “techniques of analyzing sentences and arguments.” These hardly seem comparable in their subject matter, and the latter does not even appear to satisfy the Formal Reasoning’s definitive mission to ensure students “display basic quantitative literacy at minimum.”

 This lack of true standardization is not confined to Formal Reasoning. The Global Perspectives requirement, meant to “prepare its graduates to be global citizens,” can be completed via an Introduction to British Literature class, an unapologetically Anglophilic field almost certainly covered extensively during the average Tulanian’s four years of high school English. To the same accord, the Textual and Historical Perspectives title, tasked with forcing students to “evaluate literary, philosophical, and historical texts,” can be checked off with an Advanced Russian Grammar course.

 Does taking one, or even two, courses  in any of these areas guarantee that a student is more prepared for the post-graduate real world? Realistically, without reinforcement of the knowledge summarized in these courses later on, the lessons learned from Introduction to Biological Anthropology will soon be forgotten by all of the non-Anthropology majors who simply registered for the course out of bureaucratic obligation. Even if remembered, it is unlikely that something like the timeline of human evolution will be particularly applicable to an English or architecture major later in life.

 Why then stall a mathematics major planning to become a statistician by forcing them to take an arbitrary foreign language class? All together, these core requirements make up a minimum of 30 credits worth of courses with the average student’s semester sitting at 15 credits. Meaning, fulfilling the entirety of Tulane’s core requirements amounts to a potential full year of a difference in regards to a student’s graduation date. 

 This begs the question of the administrative benefit to mandating these classes. With a full year’s tuition hanging in the balance of 30 credits necessary and multiplied by the entire student body, doing away with this curriculum by allowing every student to take a fast-track to graduation, would cost the university a considerable profit margin.

 If these requirements were established purely for a student’s benefit, perhaps then each individual should decide whether or not to engage in these distribution areas. By no means should a computer science student be barred from a class focused on Global Perspectives. In fact, this kind of interdisciplinary focus should be encouraged and integrated into the major-specific curriculum.

 Maybe major departments and professors should keep these attributes in mind when teaching their classes to streamline the distribution process. Maybe a communications major should be empowered to decide the value of a math class for themselves. Maybe these requirements, in their current form, may not be worth a ceiling cost of $70,000 to all students. Regardless, it seems at least fair to ask.