A theoretically possible conversation between two William and Mary students:
“Hey man, have you taken a class to fulfill your CSI domain yet?”
“The COLL 200 CSI or the normal CSI?”
“Yeah, I’ve taken care of that…my bigger worry is the ALV domain. I have no idea what I’ll take for that.”
“I think I’ll just take a creative writing elective. That seems easy enough.”
“No, creative writing doesn’t fulfill the ALV domain.”
“What?! Creative writing screams Arts, Letters, and Values!”
“I don’t know what to tell you. It does count for the Creative and Performing Arts Proficiency, though.”
“Those aren’t the same thing?”
“Nope. What about your COLL 300 and COLL 350 classes; have you taken care of either of those?”
“Yeah, I took Math 150 last semester.”
“No — I said COLL 350, not 150.”
“I know! My COLL 150 was also a 350.”
“Yeah, some classes fill multiple COLL requirements. Wait, you should know that — aren’t you in RELG 347? Give me a second.” (He pulls up the Open Course List and looks up the class) “Yeah! That is a COLL200, COLL350, CSI and HIPP.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Wait, what’s HIPP?”
“Wait isn’t the point of the COLL system that you take these different classes in specific years? Like, COLL 200s have to be taken Sophomore Year.”
“No, I don’t think that’s the case.”
“But we had to take COLL 100 and 150 freshman year!”
“Yeah, those are the exceptions I think.”
I hope that conversation made my point obvious: the College of William and Mary’s curriculum is a tad bit confusing. To be explicitly clear, I think the idea behind it is great. Having certain general requirements, each of which can be filled by taking one of a myriad of classes, is in my opinion the sweet spot between giving students complete agency over their schedules and requiring the taking of specific classes in various disciplines. However, terminologically the system we have in place lacks… elegance, in a word. It is clunky. It reads a bit like a piece of legislation that started out simple and intuitive but had a bunch of amendments, exceptions and caveats crammed into it to appease those on the other side of the aisle. I think that much of the problem stems from the blending of three verbiage systems to describe requirements, those being the COLL [insert multiple of 50 here] requirements, the three letter acronym domains (ALV, NQR, CSI) and the proficiencies. If the differences between those three categories were plain and obvious, or if they each purported to address a different style of learning or type of knowledge, maybe the logic of the system could be more readily understood. Unfortunately, no such clear distinctions exist. The three “categories” often overlap, and it isn’t always intuitive why certain classes fulfill one requirement instead of another.
One might respond to this article of mine by pointing out that criticism is worth little—and hardly constructive—if not accompanied by a proposition for improvement. If I am not here to propose a cleaner, more aggregate conceptualization of the College Curriculum Requirements, then what good am I? Well, I would argue that I need not put forth a specific alternative at this time for two reasons: one, because identifying the best alternative is first contingent on determining whether we as a college are willing to alter our framework to something more conducive to consistent terminology (a question to which I do not purport to know the answer), and two, because coming up with alternatives once we have answered that question wouldn’t actually be very hard at all. If the answer to the first question is no, for example, maybe we could just run with the CSI/NQR/ALV system by reframing all of the proficiencies and COLL levels as three letter acronym-ed domains in their own right. Or, maybe we could run with the COLL system and reframe the proficiencies and domains as COLL 0s and COLL 50s, respectively. Or, maybe we could invent a new methodology for naming, such as assigning each requirement a number for the recommended year you take it, a letter for what general subject or skill it focuses on, and another number for the number of credits required. I don’t know. Maybe all of those would be improvements. Maybe none of them. But what I do know is that the complicated meta-infrastructure in place both makes it more difficult for students to grasp their progression and obscures the fact that the heart of the College curriculum is in a great place.
Adam Jutt ’25 is planning on majoring in who knows what (maybe public policy and economics). Aside from being in The Flat Hat intern program, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at email@example.com.