By Katherine King
Kenyon received an F in the recent “What Will They Learn?” report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The report rated colleges based on their general education requirements, focusing on seven types of requirements: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. history, economics, mathematics and science.
Kenyon did not meet the criteria for any of these seven, but received partial credit for mathematics and science. Many of Kenyon’s peer institutions, including Vassar, Oberlin and Grinnell Colleges, also received Fs. However, most at Kenyon seem unfazed by these reports.
Provost Joe Klesner argued that there are multiple valid approaches to general education. “Part of … your education is to learn how to make those sorts of choices,” he said. He also stressed that there is depth provided by the rule that students must fulfill their distribution requirement in two classes in the same department. “We’re working with this notion of providing opportunities rather than imposing requirements,” Klesner said.
“I like the idea of choices,” Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff said. Rutkoff agreed with Klesner that Kenyon’s general education requirements did not need to become more restrictive.
ACTA’s report justifies its criteria, arguing that its model for general education requirements creates students who are “proficient in reading and writing.” However, Rutkoff argued that his students were proficient in these areas without specific required courses. He also disagreed with ACTA’s claim that a U.S. history or government class is necessary to provide “sufficient working knowledge of the history and governing institutions of this country to prepare [students] for informed citizenship.”
“We spent a long time as a faculty thinking about this stuff and we tended to fall on skills and competency rather than on subject matter, so hence the requirement on quantitative reasoning … and that makes much more sense to me,” Rutkoff said.
President Sean Decatur believes that Kenyon’s distribution requirements promote the general knowledge that other schools hope to teach through core requirements. “We provide a mechanism where students get a diverse exposure to the fields of the liberal arts, which I think are important,” Decatur said. “We empower students to be able to make decisions and navigate their way through the curriculum as opposed to having preset dictated courses. … I actually think that works well,”
Several students expressed satisfaction with Kenyon’s current requirements. “I’m able to avoid taking math like ever again because I can just take psych instead and it covers the same core,” Amanda Simpkins ’18 said. Although the leniency of Kenyon’s general education requirements did not influence Simpkins’ decision to attend, she believes that they are comprehensive. Ben Marakowitz-Svig ’17 echoed Simpkins’ statement. “I think the best thing to do is to create an environment that promotes being informed about, you know, current events in the world, if that’s what you’re going for,” he said.