THE SANTA CLARA
April 16, 2015
I absolutely love Santa Clara. I love the campus, the school’s mission, the professors, the classes, the environment and the people. However, there’s one thing about this place that I absolutely hate, and that’s the core curriculum.
Not counting Pathways, which almost everyone can fulfill with requirements from their major, the core curriculum consists of 20 classes.
Depending on how you fulfill it, Santa Clara’s bloated general education requirement can run anywhere from 80 to 100 credits. This is a lot, especially compared to the 96 credits required for a math major. Since most students are able to fulfill anywhere from a third to a half of these classes with requirements from their major, the weight of this burden is very rarely felt. However, like most burdens, the majority of it is unfairly borne by the minority.
Before I continue, let me expand upon what I meant above when I called the core curriculum “bloated.”
Bloated is when I enroll in the second course of my mandatory freshman Critical Thinking and Writing class and receive the exact same syllabus with the expectation to complete the exact same assignments that I did in the fall.
Bloated is when I look at the guide to the core curriculum and find that to graduate, I need to take a group of three classes with the eerily similar-sounding labels — “Diversity: U.S. Perspectives,” “Civic Engagement” and “Experiential Learning for Social Justice.”
Bloated is when I have to take an “Arts” class, despite the fact that the Cultures and Ideas course I took last quarter required me to co-write an opera.
Let’s be honest and call the core curriculum what it is: marketing that the university can point to whenever the topic of the university’s mission and Jesuit ideals comes up.
Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love the Jesuit idea of a multi-faceted, wholly-educated person, but an endless parade of frighteningly similar classes is not my idea of a Jesuit education, and nor should it be anyone else’s.
These duplicate courses do not make me a well-rounded person of conscience, competence and compassion. All they do is make me more cynical, sarcastic and incendiary, because they prevent me from delving deeply into the subjects I care about.
As a consequence of my degree plan — a double major in applied math and physics — only three of the 20 classes mandated by the core curriculum do “double duty” as a degree requirement.
Note that this problem is even worse for engineering physics students, a major in Arts and Sciences that I doubt most people even know about. They only have two double duty classes, despite having arguably the toughest major in the entire college.
To everyone who is not a math or science major and unable to relate, ask yourself this: How would you feel if you were forced to take 18 highly technical math and science classes in addition to your current major?
Before you ask, engineering majors don’t have this problem because the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accreditation effectively allows them to double and triple-dip their core requirements, meaning one class can fulfill multiple requirements.
Business also doesn’t have this problem because many of their core requirements are replaced with unique, business-specific classes.
Why? Why am I forced to spend the hours of 7:20 to 9:05 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday doing something I already did two quarters ago? Why is anyone? Those four hours are another four hours to do homework, another four hours in which to take a class that interests me or just time to decompress from the rigors of back-to-back science and math classes.
You may be thinking at this point that these are just the complaints of someone who wants to be able to ignore everything that cannot be modeled as an equation.
This could not be further from the truth. When not at college, I am a history buff and an avid reader who is more than happy to discuss the writings of Camus, Ellis, Goodwin or any popular science fiction or fantasy author, or for that matter, any author at all with anyone who wants to.
So no, these are not the rantings of a simple science nerd who wants to be able to retreat into his castle of calculus or his personal stronghold of physics and never have to write another term paper or read another word. These are simply the frustrations of someone who finds his intellectual passions being stymied by a stifling blanket of sameness and unable to do anything about it.
The bottom line is that something needs to change. This constrained environment is one of the main reasons why, for the most part, the physics and math departments aren’t given much of a chance to stand on their own feet.
This is less evident in the case of the math department, which boosts its numbers with computer science majors, but the physics department only has about seven to eight graduates each year. Regardless, because of their smaller numbers, both departments operate primarily in a service capacity to the engineering program.
If the goal of Santa Clara really is to create intellectual and socially conscious leaders in engineering, business and science, then why are they effectively gutting the intellectual growth of every science or math major who comes through their doors?
Matthew Russell is a freshman mathematics and physics double major.