This past month, Student Assembly and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to add courses under the attribute “COLL 199” to the College of William and Mary’s College Curriculum. These courses would “require that all students take a course…dealing with justice and equity” and “examine…at least two key social categories including…race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, religion, and disability”. The Society for the College, an independent voice for students and alumni, welcomes curriculum requirements that advance the liberal arts, but COLL 199 undermines a liberal education and marginalizes students’ opposing viewpoints.
The liberal arts are broadly understood to include literature, philosophy, mathematics, social and physical sciences. The “justice” sought in the COLL 199 resolution does not refer to justice in the usual sense; rather it refers to ideas of “social justice.” Social justice is a remarkably amorphous term that includes whatever the user wishes. The College seeks to provide a world-class liberal arts curriculum, yet it lacks a serious literature or physical science requirement. To keep its standing as a top liberal arts institution, the College needs more rigorous, truly liberal arts requirements, not mere mushy subjectivism.
The COLL 199 requirement is not political or philosophical orthodoxy. The resolution dog-whistles post-modernism, a grab-bag school of thought without a defining characteristic. Post-modernism is not morally grounded, it does not have broad agreement among scholars, and it does not represent the beliefs of a plurality of Americans. Requiring courses that focus on half-baked controversial theories with massive intellectual disagreement is an unjust requirement for students.
The College has a long tradition of a world-class liberal arts education. Rather than eschewing a rigorous curriculum in favor of course requirements as intellectually porous as Swiss cheese, students and faculty should embrace a tried and true liberal arts tradition.
Email Skip Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org.