Roadblocks to Timely Graduation?

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For some, the road to graduation is smooth and steady. But others see graduation requirements as an obstacle to obtaining a diploma rather than an opportunity to explore several fields of study.

"By making people take classes in subjects they hate, students hate (the disciplines) even more because they are forced to learn," says Kenny Rosenberg, a senior physics major.

In outlining a path toward graduation, UC Berkeley students are faced with a series of requirements outside of their major: university requirements such as the Subject A and American History and Institutions, the American Cultures requirement, and finally individual college requirements, which include Reading and Composition and breadth requirements.

Some students think that the total number of breadths is a burden.

"I think your major has enough (requirements) to worry about," says Vicky Toscano, a freshman intended sociology major. "It should be up to the individual if they want to broaden their perspective."

Other students, however, only detest graduation requirements if they have neglected to take them thus far.

"The only people I know who dislike breadth requirements are graduating seniors who didn't realize they had another breadth to take, so they have to take summer school to get their degree," says Julie Jalalpour, a senior developmental studies major.

Students say that breadth requirements sometimes interfere with other studies and attempts at double majors. They also say that classes in different subjects from high school should fulfill some of the class categories.

The reasoning behind the breadth requirements comes from the notion that students should be well rounded and capable of thinking about a number of topics.

"We expect our students to learn to think and reason in any number of courses, no matter what the subject," says Margaret DiStasi, director of the College of Letters and Sciences' office of undergraduate advising.

She says the college believes it has an obligation to require students to obtain a liberal arts education and to provide specific and structured guidelines for their schooling.

DiStasi adds that the college believes requiring breadths is a sound educational philosophy, and breadths are also required by administrative regulation.

At the College of Engineering, professor Dave Auslander says breadth requirements keep variety in their students' programs and do not deter students from graduating on time.

"The engineering requirements are quite rigorous, but engineering students are able to graduate in a timely way," Auslander says.

He cites statistics of May 1999 graduates that show more than 80 percent of those who entered as freshmen graduated in eight or fewer registered semesters.

Engineering students have a lighter load and broader selection of breadth requirements, with one semester of Reading and Composition and four other breadths required.

"We do have a responsibility to constantly look at our procedures and curricula to make sure that educational value is enhanced and stress is minimized," Auslander adds.

Carol Christ, executive vice chancellor and provost, says that none of the analysis the university has conducted suggests that breadth requirements contribute to a longer period of study before graduation.

Christ adds that breadth requirements are set by the individual colleges on campus.

With students' putting a greater emphasis on job skills and marketability, some question the usefulness of learning subjects outside of their profession.

One advisor at UC Berkeley's Career Center disagrees.

"I believe students should get a strong liberal arts background while in college - specialization should come later," says Peter Van Houten, who recently retired as the Career Center's director of graduate school services. "The basic skills of reading, writing and thinking are what people need for their lives and their careers."

He adds: "What we think we know now about science and lots of other things will be found to be wrong in the future. People always will need to know how to read and understand great ideas, and to be able to express themselves well. Thinking is our greatest asset, and everything that can be done to develop that skill in college will pay off down the line."

Van Houten adds that he tells his pre-medical students to take as many non-science courses as they can.

"Much of what they will do as physicians will have nothing to do with science," he says. "What we know about diseases will change, but human emotions and needs won't change. We need to know how the great thinkers of the past have felt and what they have had to say about our lives as humans."

Some students agree, and add that the classes have opened them up to interests they might not have found otherwise.

"I like breadths because they force you to explore subjects that you might not study," says Jalalpour. "I found my major by taking a class that was used to fulfill a breadth."

Sarah Yi, who graduated last year with a psychology degree, says she understands why some students may perceive breadths to be a hassle.

"When you get stuck with breadths in engineering or (the) Haas (School of Business), you're tied down to meet the requirements for your major, and you don't have a chance to experience other classes," she says.

But she adds that she enjoyed her breadths and says the requirement can be turned into a positive experience. She cites oceanography and etymology classes as piquing her interest.

One alumnus says he liked taking his breadths because they provided the last opportunity he had to learn material not in his major.

"In retrospect, I should have taken more breadths," says John Valva, a political science major who graduated in 1988.

Some professors who instruct popular courses used to fulfill breadth requirements say they enjoy teaching introductory classes for non-majors.

Professor Alex Filippenko, who taught Astronomy 10 last semester, says many students take that class to satisfy the physical sciences requirement.

He adds, however, that many students do not consider satisfying the breadth a formidable task.

"Even though many students take it to fulfill a breadth requirement, a substantial fraction think it will be fun and educational, and not so much as a 'burdensome requirement,'" he says. "I have overflow crowds each semester that I teach a class, and many students express a genuine curiosity about astronomy."

He says he hopes to make it an enjoyable experience for students who think the class is an arduous requirement.

"A major goal of mine for those students who feel the class is a burdensome requirement is to turn them on to science through astronomy," he says. "My goal is to not get more students to major in astronomy, but rather to inspire them to enjoy future articles they encounter about astronomy."

Professor Nancy Amy, who taught Nutritional Sciences 10 last semester, agrees that the breadth requirement is useful rather than cumbersome.

"This time in college is essentially the last time that older adults can try to civilize its next generation," she says. "Many of us have realized that a wide range of knowledge is important for viewing problems in a creative way. It is much easier to learn about new things if a person has a few fundamental concepts to build on."

Despite compelling explanations, one student remains unconvinced.

"There is no real-world application," Rosenberg says. "What's the point learning about it if you don't want to learn it?"


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