As a senior, the issue that vexes me most is the strict enforcement of a six-course limit per semester. I ardently beseech: Emancipate Blue Devils from the shackles of this restriction! Permit students to partake in up to ten classes per semester as long as there are no scheduling conflicts!
It is lamentable – American students often remain oblivious to the extraordinary nature of the liberal arts curriculum, an educational paradigm so unique to institutions such as Duke University and its peers, which afford students the unparalleled privilege of exploration across a myriad of disciplines. Regrettably, Duke constrains the extent of knowledge that one may access during their undergraduate tenure through a six-course limit.
The last few semesters have all started off predictably. During the first week of classes, I attend 12 different classes across the six available time slots each day. Then I had to make the heart-wrenching choice of retaining a mere six courses. Inevitably, I emailed some of the professors, “Dear Professor, due to the course limitations, I am unable to take your class.” When I was a sophomore, this predicament was fine, as there was always the next fall to take that one epistemology seminar, that one class on NMR spectroscopy, that musicology class. But now that I'm a senior, I am unsure if I shall ever have the privilege of taking a course on general relativity or immunology.
One might posit the proposition — surely you can talk to the instructor and attend the lectures without taking the class for grades on your transcript? It is true that one can even read the textbooks on their own. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge how a lot of our mentality is engendered by our K-12 educational system which unavoidably fosters a predisposition for a ‘goal-oriented’ motivation. Examinations, grades and scholastic scores invariably serve as the proverbial carrots at the end of the stick. They are what compel students to finally go through the slides and actually read through the textbook. I have tried to audit courses in the past, only to grapple with the difficulty of sustaining the tenacity to address every single homework problem with the same fervor and diligence as one might in a course with grades attached to it.
One may rebut, "What if additional coursework results in additional mental duress?" My reply is, do we not deem Duke students as fully-fledged adults with the capacity for reasoned judgment? My advocacy is rooted in the principle of self-governance, where individuals are afforded the privilege to exercise discretion in their course loads. Should they willingly elect to stress themselves, let them. It is conceivable that certain scholars may derive a heightened sense of involvement at Duke while submerged in work. As an analogy, not everyone has to deadlift 330 pounds or more; yet, for those who aspire to be stronger and yet stronger, and truly enjoy the gym, is it not irrational to constrain them to lift a mere 200 pounds in the name of safety?
A more overarching predicament that afflicts the academic milieu at Duke University is the tendency toward an excessive degree of coddling. Administrative entities, by and large, have a preoccupation with the purpose of shielding students from undue stress and strain. One is left to ponder: Why are there so few mentors who explicitly push you, who intentionally try to stretch the cognitive sinews of the students to their utmost extent? I admit that Duke does boast of a plethora of resources and opportunities for personal growth and scholastic advancement. However, it is disconcerting to note that the onus of motivation is invariably placed squarely upon the shoulders of the individual student. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the prevailing GPA system, which disproportionately penalizes those who aspire to tackle more arduous coursework.
Throughout my time at Duke, I have come to terms with but still deeply regret the existence of this pervasive culture of minimal exertion — doing the least work possible. If you study at an institution as prominent as Duke, the prestigious brand is an invaluable asset, which creates an advantageous footing for students as they venture forth into the real world. In light of these circumstances, I ask what is stopping you from pushing yourself harder while you have the opportunity to do so?
The truth is, Duke ultimately serves its student body. Indeed, one of the university's virtual agoras, the Duke subreddit, bears witness to a litany of inquiries echoing myriad iterations of the same refrain:
"What is the easiest humanities course on offer?"
"Which QS course has the least work beyond class?"
"What courses involve minimum engagement?"
This attitude pervades both the humanities and social sciences, as well as the STEM disciplines. It is worth pondering why you're attending a liberal arts institution if your intellectual adventurism remains so constrained by your comfort zone?
I do not think that there is any inherent impetus for Duke to not push their students unless the undergraduates (who are in a way clients of the university) want it that way. As such, we observe manifestations of this inclination in new ways. Hence, Calculus II is no longer a requirement for a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. In pursuit of flexibility, we relinquish the sacred mantle of academic rigor.
I reiterate that every student has their unique trajectory, and individual aspirations pertaining to their collegiate odyssey. No one is to be coerced into adopting more formidable course loads; the call here is for even more autonomy to select one’s academic load and, more importantly, to make it slightly less disincentivized to work hard.
If you go to grad school, the terrain narrows significantly in terms of focus, scope and breadth. Corporate jobs are highly likely to be imbued with repetitiveness. Maybe some of you will one day pine for the halcyon days of college, while others may greet its recollection with indifference. Nonetheless, the truth remains: Undergraduate studies constitute the ultimate opportunity to engage in intellectual discourse with luminaries in their respective domains. I mourn the fact that my last fall semester in my undergraduate studies has already begun!
Angikar Ghosal is a Trinity senior. His columns typically run on alternating Mondays.
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