A simple future Trinity curriculum

The Academic Council is currently formulating a new pedagogical framework for Trinity College, complete with freshly designed requisites for general education that will replace the existing Curriculum 2000 benchmarks. Such pedagogical transformations frequently necessitate a back-and-forth, where conflicting perspectives about Duke students among various departments must eventually reach a compromise. Let me present my view — one which I believe to be impartial in its applicability across diverse departments and efficacious in how it addresses present-day needs.

I appreciate the current Areas of Knowledge requisites, and I extend my gratitude to the Research and Writing Modes of Inquiry. However, I am inclined to say that certain other Modes of Inquiry do a disservice to the student body. Presently, owing to the capacity of a solitary course to fulfill the criteria of multiple Modes of Inquiry, students are incentivized to go on a treasure hunt in the course catalog for classes that amalgamate in one course a ‘gen-ed code’ of Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI) and Ethical Inquiry (EI) within the areas of Social Sciences (SS) or Arts, Literature, Performance (ALP). This means students are less likely to choose courses purely driven by their personal intellectual interests. 

Astonishingly, a lot of esteemed professors, usually older, have yet to optimize their course nomenclature to encompass a greater number of these holy grails known as Trinity codes. I believe that if they were to ornament their courses with these Trinity codes, the enrollment figures for their courses would experience a substantial increase. The current setup tends to lead to a proliferation of certain interdisciplinary course offerings cross-listed in several departments. This leads to students getting disincentivized to take courses in one single department that suffer the penury of merely one Area of Knowledge.

Additionally, the structure of the Areas of Knowledge framework fails to encapsulate the multifarious breadth of academia. A student who satisfies their Social Sciences credits by just taking two courses in Economics is scarcely afforded a sufficiently panoramic perspective of the various social sciences and their methodologies. Similarly, a student who exclusively enrolls in Biology courses to satisfy Natural Sciences credits will get to experience very little of the extent of natural sciences; what about classical mechanics?

I propose the implementation of a more lucid system that reveals the full expanse of academic offerings at Duke University and thereby mitigates the aforementioned inadequacies.

In my proposal, each student must enroll in at least one course within each of the following departmental combinations, including cross-listed courses. Note that no single course may concurrently satisfy the requirements of more than one departmental combination. Several departments appear multiple times, allowing one to take multiple courses in that department to fulfill the requisites of the corresponding sets. The exact demarcation of the sets is merely illustrative and may be reshuffled at Duke’s discretion.

Set 1: History, AAAS, Religion, Classics. Examining the significance of our historical continuum and cultural heritage serves as the crux of this set.

Set 2: Art & Art History, Dance, Music, Theater Studies, VMS, English. The focus of this set is to look at the myriad of human artistic expressions. 

Set 3: English, Literature, Classics, Philosophy. Delving into the written word as an instrument of profound significance in the realm of liberal arts is the theme of this set.

Set 4: Slavic & Eurasian Studies, Romance Studies, German Studies, ICS, AMES: Acquainting oneself with the intricacies of a specific culture is the overarching objective here.

Set 5: Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Public Policy: Scrutinizing society through the lens of individual preferences, ideologies and utilitarian calculus stands as the focal point of this set.

Set 6: Psychology, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, GSF, Linguistics. Examining societal dynamics from a vantage point that encompasses broader, structural and systemic trends constitutes this set.

Set 7: Computer Science, Statistics. Students acquire proficiency in analyzing the world through the lens of numerical data, thereby attaining computational fluency to a certain degree.

Set 8: Physics, Mathematics, any Engineering. The pure quantitative sciences, where mathematical rigor and scientific inquiry merge.

Set 9: Chemistry, Physics, Biology. The foundational bedrock of the natural sciences involving empirical investigation.

Set 10: Biology, Neuroscience, Evolutionary Anthropology, Earth & Climate Science, Environmental Science. The biological sciences serve as the focal point of this set, studying the complexities of life, evolution and the environment.

Sets 5 and 6 are a good replacement for existing Social Sciences requirements, sets 7 and 8 are a good replacement for existing Quantitative Sciences requirements and sets 9 and 10 are a good replacement for existing Natural Sciences requirements. Furthermore, Set 10 means every student takes one class that is related to biodiversity and climate change without an explicit climate change coursework requirement.

The current paradigm necessitates two courses for each of the Areas of Knowledge, meaning students must take a minimum of 10 courses to satisfy the current general education requirement, and the minimum number of courses needed does not change under this system. Consequently, this new system would not increase the requirements for achieving a comprehensive breadth of education. It also ensures that students get to explore as many departments as possible.

I also propose abolishing Modes of Inquiry requirements. While it is true that cross-cultural inquiry and ethical inquiry are important, cross-cultural inquiry is implicit when you take a class in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and ethical introspection is implicit when you take a political science class. Modes of Inquiry engender some classes more equal than others — it makes a class on techno-humanities likely to engender more interest than a class on Faulkner, and makes a class on societal applications of data science more lucrative to take than a class on theoretical foundations of statistics. Classes in AAAS already make students study the after-effects of racism and slavery; hence it is already obvious that a class in AAAS makes students think critically — it does not need a Dukehub tag separately certifying critical thinking.

I do agree that the Writing and the Seminar/Independent Study requirements are valuable, and I will keep those requirements unchanged. Note that with the plethora of seminars offered in every department and the extent to which Duke undergraduates tend to do research of their own choice, these requirements are nowhere near burdensome. A well-designed liberal arts curriculum should be one where liberal arts students enjoying and exploring liberal arts naturally finish them, without even checking the ‘Degree Progress’ tab on Dukehub.

We have observed that the campus community has bifurcated, with STEM students exhibiting a disdainful attitude toward the humanities, and humanities students feeling alienated on a predominantly pre-professional, STEM-centric campus.

A rudimentary measure to ameliorate this schism comes if students gain a holistic appreciation for the expansive realm of liberal arts and sciences, wherein the intrinsic value of each academic department's contribution to the corpus of human cognition is acknowledged.

Additionally, the hope is that students shall cultivate a more healthy disposition toward their course selections, exploring a particular subject to determine which subtopic is of most interest rather than unilaterally prioritizing courses with three or more codes.

Of course, I do not consider this proposal infallible, and further comments are welcome.

Angikar Ghosal is a trinity senior. HIs column typically runs on alternating Mondays.


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