As faculty who are also Furman graduates (late 80s) we have followed with interest the curriculum review process from its inception last year, to the retreat this fall, and now through perusing postings on the web and listening to general conversations across the campus. Herein, we would like to address three concerns. First, the choice of external participants at the retreat suggests that there are certain colleges (Colgate, Amherst, Williams) against which we are comparing ourselves – perhaps in an attempt to be more like them. Our concern here is that we might lose our ability to attract our current unique student body that has represented us so well. We believe that a wonderful aspect of Furman is that she is elite without being elitist and this taps a student group that other colleges and universities cannot. We also see much sentiment for a reduction of our current GE requirements – a suggestion we both oppose. Finally, we both see significant advantages to the three scheduling periods currently offered under our current calendar. Our reasoning follows.
Upon graduation from high school, each of us was academically strong and counselors suggested we apply to the top universities in the country. We did not do that – rather we applied to schools with top flight regional reputations. Schools like Duke, Harvard, and Williams interested neither of us. We lacked the confidence – not the skills, to attend such schools. At Furman we each acquired the additional skills and confidence necessary to take a step neither of us would have considered earlier, namely, each of us attended prestigious graduate schools far from the South in both distance and culture (Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley). Furman had been just the right stepping stone. Anecdotally, we see a number of students in this category here now too. These students are not weaker than students at top schools; perhaps they are just a bit more sheltered and a little less world wise. We are very proud of what we are able to accomplish with this student group and would miss them greatly if Furman were repositioned such that these students felt more comfortable applying elsewhere.
So what did Furman do to take each of us out of our more regional mindset? In part it was the nurturing family-like atmosphere that we are all proud of at Furman. But in large part it also was the curriculum. The passion to learn outside our “comfort zone” (i.e. our major courses) was acquired. In hindsight, it would have been a foolish decision, but early in our college experience, each of us would have gladly avoided the challenge posed by most of the general education requirements. Thus, we are grateful that the faculty made the decision that we should learn integral ideas/concepts of the liberal arts education. Indian Philosophy, Music Appreciation, Art Appreciation, three terms of Humanities, three terms of language, Romantic English Literature, and Anthropology are some of the courses that helped shape us more than our major courses. Now that we hear that some of the even more “prestigious” colleges and universities have fewer requirements in these areas, we value our Furman education all the more.
Finally, we would like to expound the benefits of our current calendar. Our experience as students was that focused attention on fewer courses was a particularly effective approach for learning. This is also the opinion of majority of the students we now teach. The twelve registration periods afford students significant flexibility in their schedules. In particular, foreign study would be impossible for some majors in a semester system. Finally, one of us has just come from having taught for almost ten years at institutions on semesters. He has not found that system to be any more amenable to research or teaching. In fact, the necessity of teaching more classes at once reduces the familiarity with students because each faculty is responsible for more students at a given time.
In your deliberations, please consider the uniqueness of Furman and her student body. Our student body is different than that at many other elite institutions. Not lesser, only different. I have no doubt that we all share in the goal of doing what is best for our students. By retaining our uniqueness we give students a different great liberal arts institution to choose from rather than the same one with a different name. Diversity of institutional types in education is key to providing students with choices.Posted by love at November 19, 2004 09:32 AM