Administration to propose curriculum changes

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • December 8, 2011

Barbara liberalarts
The Institute for the Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies is creating two proposals to change the college’s curriculum requirements.
The Institute for the Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies is creating two proposals to change the college’s curriculum requirements.

Over the past three decades, general educational requirements have drastically changed at Emerson College, causing debate among alumni, educators and students. 

Now, the curriculum may change again, as administrators work to propose an increase in the number of liberal arts based courses required of students. 

The current model, split into three sections of Foundations, Perspectives, and Global and U.S. Diversity, requires much less of students than its precedents. This system, developed in 2005, according to Anne Doyle, executive director of academic administrations and academic affairs, was designed with hopes of broadening the scope of student education. 

According to a course catalog from 1980-82, students then were required to take classes in English, communication, performance, visual communication, philosophy, history, literature, behavioral science, mathematics, and Black Studies. 

Nearly a decade later, as shown in the 1989-1990 course catalog, the requirements shifted. Students needed to take three public speaking courses, a freshman seminar, and two writing courses as part of a communication requirement. Students then also needed to take one course in the following topics: Western Civilization, history, ethics, literature, art, mathematics, science, social science, minority studies and non-western civilization. 

Amy Ansell, dean of liberal arts and director of the Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies said her department is creating a two-part proposal to change the requirements again, in hopes of strengthening the Liberal Arts curriculum.  

The first proposal focuses on a revision to the first year seminar program. This change will increase the intensity of courses and create a standard set of learning objectives to focus on during each semester, Ansell said. 

The second proposal will create more upper-level classes in liberal arts. This will allow for students to minor in topics such as dance, fiction, history, literature, music, philosophy, photography, poetry, political science, post-colonial and global studies, psychology, science, sociology, visual studies and arts, women’s and gender studies, and writing. 

Ansell said this move is made to bolster the liberal arts foundation. 

“My aim is to ensure that academic excellence is distributed evenly across all four years and all disciplinary areas,” said Ansell. “For the institution as a whole, strengthening Liberal Arts will help deliver on Emerson’s mission to integrate liberal learning with our specialized areas of study in a manner that is as synergistic as possible.”

One way of increasing liberal learning is through a more intense language requirement. The department recently sent a survey to students asking what they want from World Language classes, according to Ansell. 

The survey asked students if they would rather add more languages to the curriculum, or add more higher level course in the languages the college already offers. Ansell said based on this survey the Liberal Arts department will move to strengthen academics in this section of the college.

“As long as there is consensus on which language to add or other course opportunities, we can add courses as early as next Fall,” said Ansell. 

Tori Weston, an educational planner at Emerson and a member of the class of 1998, feels where students of today really miss out is in the public speaking courses.

During her time at Emerson, Weston said she was required to take three public speaking courses as opposed to today’s one required course on the subject. Weston added that at the time, she did not enjoy the public speaking course, but they impacted her professional career in a positive way.

Weston said she attributes much of her success as an educator to her  voice, body language, and speaking focused courses, and though she is glad students still take the basic speech course, it is not to the same caliber as her classes.  

“People think today you can talk like a valley girl using ‘like’ after every sentence,” said Weston. “When you are talking with friends that is fine but not in an interview. It is so frustrating because you have really smart students that just don’t know the protocol.” 

Weston said with the move from Back Bay to Boylston Street, Emerson lost a lot of its fundamental principles.

“What Emerson was founded on – unless you’re a communications studies major – nobody really knows about,” she said. 

Doyle said she agrees that the cut in public speaking requirements took away from the students of today. 

Elle O’Brien, a senior writing literature and publishing major, said she does not like the idea of adding more public speaking courses. 

“I don’t like public speaking though my course was totally adequate,” said O’Brien. “I’d probably cry if I had to take another one.”

O’Brien added she would prefer to take more writing and major oriented classes in lieu of public speaking. 

In 1999-2000 students took classes in oral communication, writing, arts and humanities, history, social science, mathematics, ethics, and multi-cultural history. 

A graduate of 2000, Mary Ann Cicala, the interim director of alumni relations, said her liberal arts education at Emerson was invaluable. 

“Those liberal arts classes ultimately had a huge impact on me,” said Cicala. “I came here to study theater, but how can I make strong choices about art or interpreting something without having an understanding of liberal arts, history and multicultural visions?”