Brown prides itself on its open curriculum. The idea of engineering one’s own path through one’s undergraduate education appeals to and attracts high school students from all over the country and the world. Students can feel confident that the administration trusts them, as mature adults, to decide how to best pursue their academic and life goals. Students are able to study what they value and enjoy, avoiding undesirable courses that may or may not help the student meet any of his or her goals. However, this academic freedom is challenged by a stricter and unnecessary writing requirement.
The class of 2015 and beyond must take at least two courses that require significant writing, designated WRIT, during their Brown career, and one of these courses must be in their first semester. Professors must decide whether their courses should be designated as WRIT, and then a committee reviews syllabi to approve this distinction. The list of WRIT-designated courses is by no means exhaustive of Brown’s writing courses; there exist numerous classes that require writing, but do not fulfill the requirement.
I am not arguing that writing is unimportant. Writing skills are essential for many, if not most, careers. However, there are many problems with such a requirement. For one thing, the requirement does not necessarily improve students’ writing skills. The vast majority of students can pass a WRIT course without improving their writing. Writing a few papers does not guarantee that one’s writing skills will improve or even that one shows competency in writing. Those students who really wish to improve their writing will do so on their own, with or without a writing requirement.
Effectiveness aside, the writing requirement contradicts the spirit of the open curriculum. While writing is important, it is not the only skill that students should develop in college. I would argue that math skills are also extremely important, yet the University does not require students to demonstrate math skills. This is because, of course, the University trusts us to make our own decisions regarding the development of our skillset during our time at Brown. Why does this same logic not apply to writing skills?
Adding requirements to our requirement-less curriculum is a slippery slope. How will our curriculum evolve from here? Perhaps the University will decide that math skills are also too important to allow students to disregard should they choose. How much could one more requirement hurt? Such changes, over an extended period of time, could push our curriculum to a standard rigid liberal arts program and destroy what makes Brown such a unique university.