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College 60 no longer an academic requirement

The general education requirement “Interdisciplinary Perspectives” — also known as College 60 — will be removed from the 2010-2011 Mills College catalog according to officials. Those graduating this spring and onward are no longer required to take the sophomore seminar course.

The idea originated in the Education Policy subcommittee of the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), a group of professors from various departments who steer policy on how to make Mills a better learning environment.

Professors voted on the measure during the Feb. 22 faculty meeting. While the motion passed with a strong majority, it was not unanimous, according to Dan Ryan, Associate Professor of Sociology and chair of the FEC.

According to FEC online resource Request for Comments, the College 60 courses were difficult to offer regularly and may not have had full institutional support from the College. Students negatively reviewed the professors in end of course evaluations, while those same professors received higher evaluations in their other courses.

The College had intended the College 60 courses to enhance student retention and to provide an interdisciplinary look at a single topic, according to Marc Joseph, Associate Professor of Philosophy and member of the Educational Policies Subcommittee.

“What the faculty decided was that the College 60s were unsuccessful vis-à-vis the goals we set out for them as part of the College’s general education program,” said Joseph.

According to Joseph, many faculty members thought that it was inappropriate to expect sophomores, who have not had much of a chance to become comfortable with their chosen area of study, to be able to fully comprehend an interdisciplinary analysis of a subject.

“Sophomores haven’t begun their upper division work within their home disciplines, so it may be premature to introduce them to interdisciplinary work,” he said.

Though College 60 course evaluations showed many students were not satisfied with their seminar classes, some students feel keeping the interdisciplinary requirement is important.

“Our College 60 class was awesome,” said senior Abby Lebbert. Mills junior Kat Gaines agreed.

Both Lebbert and Gaines said they would have taken their College 60 seminar, World Religions West: Identity, Spirituality, and Sacred Space, whether or not the requirement had been in place. They also said they know other students who feel the same way.

“You got a whole range of learning,” Lebbert said. “They should keep the requirement.”

But according to the FEC, many College 60 courses will indeed still be offered as a part of the curriculum but will be housed in separate departments.

While many faculty members still see interdisciplinary study as an essential part of a liberal arts education, this particular method of education was not working as planned.

“There are strong reasons in support of interdisciplinarity in general and strong reasons for having a ‘sophomore experience’ in the academic program,” Ryan said in an e-mail. “This decision does not contradict those. It just represents a judgment that this requirement, as it’s been implemented, wasn’t accomplishing the goals we had for it.”

Ryan said one aspect of the policy allows students who are to graduate this spring and who have not fulfilled the College 60 requirement to “be relieved of the need to fulfill it.” In addition students who have enrolled in a College 60 seminar but have failed the course will not need to fulfill the requirement.

Students and faculty have both raised concerns about these changes, remarking that it is unfair to those who have already fulfilled the requirement and that it may lead those currently enrolled in a College 60 course to become apathetic towards its successful completion.

One comment on the Request for Comments site made by Fred Lawson suggested this aspect of the proposal would “surely open Pandora’s box” and that “the requirement still stands for 2009-10, and we should hold current students to it.”

Ryan addressed this issue by saying “We don’t think students would suddenly cease trying in a course because of this option. A student who fails a course this semester fails a course and is a credit short of graduation.”

In addition, he said the committee doesn’t view these changes as unfair.

“To side with the idea that those who opted to delay fulfilling this requirement are ‘getting away with something’ while others have to ‘pay a price’ would be to take the position that the courses were a waste of time and that the opportunity cost of taking them far outweighs their educational benefit. Our conclusion is that this is not the case,” Ryan said.

As of now, the FEC is contemplating a program to replace the College 60 courses.

“The general thinking is that it’s important to have an academic experience that is distinctive for the sophomore year. First year has LLCs. Junior year has diving into a major, changing to a major adviser and sometimes study abroad,” Ryan said. “The conventional thinking is that… there should be an opportunity for something that’s intensive, that follows up on a previous course, that provides opportunity to work closely with professor and that, in general, fits in with the sorts of transformations that happen at this point in a student’s intellectual/academic development.”