Aeschylus or Swahili?

The changing notions of what students need to know

Many students appreciate the paternalism of core requirements. CUNY-Brooklyn senior Sonya Donaldson says of her physics requirement, "I railed against it, but I ended up making connections between structuralism in English Lit. and deconstruction in physics." But others mentioned that core courses tend to be lower quality than electives, because neither the instructors nor the students want to be there. They also noted that survey classes could only allot single weeks to thinkers like Plato and Kant.

Permissive schools also garnered mixed reviews. Some alums, while grateful for the freedom, regretted not having learned a foreign language or read the classics. Then again, as Colin Dodds, Eugene Lang '99, put it, "I also wish I'd learned piano when I was a kid, but when I was a kid I never would have sat still long enough."

NYU, according to Dean Santirocco, built rethinking into the structure of its core program a decade ago, and continually implements changes in response to student and faculty feedback. "Now, a lot of universities are addressing these questions," he says. "It doesn't mean it's broken. But this is a moment of revisiting."

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