The Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Alberta could soon be undergoing a major revamp.
The dean’s executive committee is pitching the idea of dropping the degree’s entire 36 core credits and the requirement of a minor by the 2017 – 18 academic year. The department that oversees the student’s major would instead dictate their degree requirements.
For new arts students, that could mean dodging second-language classes and swapping the widely dreaded six-credit science requirement with any non-arts discipline. Transfer students could also more quickly jump into their field of study.
The committee’s proposal argues that the changes would make the BA program more competitive; its 36 core credits are the highest among the top 20 comparable Canadian universities. The proposal also notes that the core requirements favour some fields over others, and that the changes would make room for a potentially mandated university-wide indigenous studies requirement.
It’s true that the core arts requirements are outdated and restrictive. I graduated from the U of A with a BA in English and Film Studies, but it wasn’t until my third year that I was able to invest academically in my chosen field of study. First, I had to slog through unrelated classes that bored me in an effort to appear well-rounded. The truth is, I barely remember the 200 flashcards I memorized in art history, and I feel more disgruntled than educated for having survived biopsychology.
But eradicating all core requirements to boost a degree’s appeal—and entice the students that out-of-province programs are increasingly plundering—seems misaligned with the virtues of a liberal arts program.
If English and second-language classes are favoured over other areas of study, it’s because they constitute some of the most basic skills a student should wield when graduating. It’s unclear what core requirements each department will introduce, but it’s possible—and troubling—to imagine new arts students dodging tough subjects like these to secure a higher grade point average.
From a recruitment perspective, the university has tapped into a smart strategy to nab more tuition dollars. And the faculty’s goal to make its BA program more flexible has merit. But if a liberal arts program is meant to intellectually challenge and enrich a student, giving them full reign over their degree feels like handing an unlicenced driver the keys to a new car.V