Distribution requirements limit students’ possibilities

Connor Guy

We go to a small, liberal arts college, right? Then why the hell am I finding that I can’t take all these really interesting classes? Why the hell is the rest of my academic experience at Whitman planned out on an 8 ½ by 11-inch sheet of paper that I have pinned on my bulletin board?

Distribution requirements. I’m pissed off at distribution requirements. Prepare to read a rant.
I fully recognize the value in attending a liberal arts college like Whitman. Believe me, I would not be paying Whitman’s outrageous tuition if I didn’t think that being here was the most enriching, beneficial thing I could be doing with my time.

In fact, I would even go as far as to say that distribution requirements, as an idea, are really great. But somewhere along the line, Whitman really screwed up in implementing this great idea, because I’m finding it really limiting right now, and not enriching or beneficial at all.

Whitman’s probably thinking that if students were left to pick their classes without requirements other than those of major and minor programs, they’d pick nothing but studio art and yoga. The distribution requirements are meant to keep people from taking only classes pertaining to their majors. Of course.

But here’s how the system fails: First, there are simply too many requirements. They look like the plague on my organized little four-year planner worksheet and, along with my major and minor required classes, they effectively keep me from taking anything random or interesting.

Some of the most interesting classes I’ve taken at Whitman haven’t counted toward anything. These are the classes that really make the liberal arts education experience: the random classes you take because they look cool.

Spring semester, freshman year, I took this amazing course on the international Dada movement in art. It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken. But the four credits I earned in that course count toward nothing except the total number of credits I need to graduate.

And, because I took that class instead of some boring, introductory level science class that I’m not at all interested in, my second half of Whitman is going to be jam-packed, leaving little room for another such class. What the hell? Why can’t I have the enriching experience I’m paying for?

Or, what if I want to take a class that falls under a distribution category that I’ve already fulfilled? For example, I want to take philosophy and sociology classes, but too bad: they count toward categories that I’ve already satisfied; I can take them, but they won’t count for anything.

Never mind; I can’t even take them. Instead, I have to take a host of uninteresting,

introductory courses that won’t be enriching at all, but will count toward categories I haven’t yet fulfilled.

There are so many more-effective ways that Whitman could handle distribution. They could simply require students to take classes from a certain number of departments. Or, better yet, they could abolish distribution requirements altogether.

I don’t need Whitman to tell me which courses will be most enriching, or will contribute to my liberal arts education. If I’m willing to pay the ridiculous amount of money I do to come here, can’t Whitman at least trust me to get a liberal arts education on my own? Can’t Whitman trust me to take classes that I’ll find interesting?

No. I have to be babied. I have to be treated like an unmotivated high school student who doesn’t really want an education. I have to be forced to take advantage of the $40,000 I’m forking over to Whitman every year.

Seriously, why does Whitman even care? If students are willing to pay what they do to take only the classes required for their majors, why not let them? If they want to squander their money, who’s Whitman to stop them? Then I could get my liberal arts education on my own terms.