HWC has resisted my pleas to join EphBlog for two years now. But as least I can highlight comments (like the one from this thread) in order to bring his commentary to a wider audience. (Not all our readers check the comment threads.) Enjoy!

Speaking of blogging and diversity and professors and Williams, this one should should be right up David K’s alley: a professor blogging against Williams’ recently approved curriculum “Diversity Requirement”.

In this interesting read, Professor Burke argues not only against diversity requirements, but against curriculum requirements in general.

One of his objections is that curricular requirements may serve simply as a way for the faculty to pat themselves on the back for implementing a desireable institutional objective. He proposes more direct ways of giving this positive reinforcement:

These kinds of rationales are also a problem because increasingly they lead to requirements as a kind of prestige object, very distant from achieving particular or focused learning objectives. Having a requirement in this case becomes a symbolic and gestural communication of the seriousness with which an institution regards an idea, concept or discipline. There are cheaper ways to do that: give people little gold stars or medals or hearty handshakes from the president, if that kind of symbolic affirmation is what they’re seeking.

More to the point, Burke argues that, at a college like Williams with students like Williams students, there is no need for a “diversity requirement” because the students would be naturally interested in learning about different cultures and the curriculum would provide ample, and attractive, opportunity. In short, the students would “buy” without being forced to because the product is something they want anyway.

If a student can get through Williams without taking a course that could plausibly get an “asterix” for meeting one of those criteria, then that student is working very hard to avoid those courses. It might have been fair to think that in the early 1960s, your average white male student at Williams (or Swarthmore or Amherst or Princeton or Duke, etcetera) would have been largely disinterested in any or all of the possible meanings of diversity that Williams has designated as learning objectives. Today, I really think that a student with active antipathy towards those objectives would be unusual. In this case, the marketplace of courses at your average liberal arts college is more than adequate to ensure that most students will encounter questions of diversity in some fashion.

As usual, Burke’s blog is an interesting read.

Indeed. Williams should ensure that all its courses are rigorous (i.e., no more science guts). After that, it need merely require 32 credits and a major. Leave everything else up to the students.

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