In order to graduate, students at the University must complete 39 hours of general education credits from a wide range of subject areas with an overwhelming amount of course combinations to choose from.
For the most part, these requirements are an age-old pebble in the shoe of every underclassman.
For the average incoming freshman, often too timid or clueless to seek out an academic advisor, navigating the complexities of gen ed requirements can be a daunting and frustrating experience.
I vividly recall filing through the gen ed booklet as a freshman, irked by the fact that I would be forced to endure another round of the math and science courses I'd despised so much in high school. I convinced myself that because these courses had little relevance to my envisioned career path, they were simply a waste of my time and money.
After all, qualifying for a job is the reason I came to college in the first place, right? What could I possibly gain from sitting through courses that had nothing to do with my major?
It seems many of my peers hold similar convictions about the University’s hefty gen ed requirements. In an article published last spring, the Reveille spoke with a handful of students about their thoughts on the subject.
Many felt the requirements delay graduation unnecessarily. Although this is not a concern to be dismissed — especially considering the current cost of tuition and the fact that cutting gen ed requirements would allow most students to graduate at least a year early — the objection ultimately presupposes a distorted notion of what it truly means to pursue a college education.
Having passed through the gauntlet myself, I now see the invaluable potential a carefully implemented general education curriculum can have.
Believe it or not, despite the relentless air of philistine careerism that seems to permeate every inch of discourse concerning higher education these days, the University is not intended to be a utilitarian conveyor belt pumping products out into the workforce.
Rather, it should be an epicenter of self-realization; a place where individuals can grapple with the big-picture concepts of life and culture that, while not often helpful in job-finding, are essential for grounding one's mind with a sense of meaning, social awareness and continuity with the past.
This sort of education has never been more necessary. Amid natural disasters and political strife, we must learn to understand what connects us to the past.
The University's mission statement on general education describes this sentiment perfectly, stating, “General education courses are required to ensure that all students receive a broad-based education that enhances their ability to describe, interpret, and analyze their world. The primary aims of the general education requirements are to create strong citizens, instill a life-long desire for learning, and enrich the human experience.”
However, if the University is serious about achieving these ideals, they still need to make some serious changes to the current gen ed curriculum. Instead of presenting students with an overwhelming amount of highly specialized courses, they should require a few specific courses to provide the sweeping perspective needed to put one’s life in a wider context.
For instance, rather than having students choose from dozens of fragmented courses from many different disciplines to satisfy an ambiguous humanities requirement, all students should be obliged to take a course on American or world history. This would provide students with a much more efficient, effective overview of human endeavor.
Of course, it benefits students to pursue their intellectual interests with fewer restrictions, but they can do this with their elective courses — which there would naturally be more room for if the gen ed curriculum was consolidated.
This reform is long overdue. If the University hopes to “enrich the human experience,” and develop graduating classes of “strong citizens,” it should reshape its current approach to general education to supply students with a more concise foundation for facing the world with critical and intellectual prowess.
Evan Leonhard is a 19-year-old English and philosophy major from New Orleans.