Editorial: The Five-Course Core

Jacquelyn Voghel

Managing Editor

The Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core: Practically all Roger Williams students hear about it before they make their college decision, and at a liberal arts university such as RWU, it should come as no surprise that students must take a variety of courses sampling the arts, humanities, and sciences in order to graduate. For some students, however, the Core requirements may prove to be more a burden than a benefit.

While a liberal arts education certainly has value, strict Core requirements often obligate that students take courses that may simply repeat much of the material that they have already learned, or will learn, in the introductory courses of their respective majors and minors.

The university seems to agree with this point, but only in some cases. Taking two science courses, for instance, exempts students from Core 101: Scientific Investigations, while taking both History of Art and Architecture I and II cancels out a student’s Core 105: Aesthetics in Context requirement. Effectively, majors from the School of Art, Architecture, and Historic Preservation, as well as science majors, are exempt from the Core classes most related to their majors, and rightfully so.

Conversely, sudents pursuing other majors do not receive this benefit. Core 102: Challenges of Democracy arguably encompasses many of the same ideas that a student would study in an introductory level history or political science course. And yet, students with majors or minors in subjects such as history, political science, or international relations are still required to take this Core class.

The same may be contended for the other Core classes; psychology majors are required to take Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, and both English literature and philosophy majors must take Core 104: Literature, Philosophy, and the Examined Life.

While the omission of one or two Core classes may at first appear to have only a small impact on a student’s schedule, this assumption is not always true. Students who wish to graduate early, are double majoring, or switched their major after freshman year often encounter difficulties when planning their schedules. In order to graduate on time, these students are sometimes forced to take on heavy course loads, shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars on summer and winter courses, or give up unique opportunities such as studying abroad or taking an interesting elective.

Furthermore, repetitive course material simply reinforces what students already know, rather than exposing them to new, more challenging ideas. Commonly read historical documents such as the Magna Carta, Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan,” and John Locke’s “Second Treatise on Civil Government” indeed provide invaluable insight into the basis of Western government and history; but, how challenged or engaged will students majoring in a related field such as history or political science feel when they have already studied these documents extensively in an introductory course for their major?

Through its omission of Core requirements most closely related to SAAHP and science majors, the university seems to recognize that repetitive course material is not beneficial to students. However, the question remains as to why certain majors are being accommodated while others are not. If RWU wishes to truly provide students with a chance to take challenging yet rewarding courses across disciplines, dialing back on Core requirements, given the appropriate context, may be an essential step forward.