The Student Association Senate passed a resolution encouraging the Faculty Senate to make changes to the distribution system in a 22-3 vote, following debate about Rice’s commitment to liberal arts education and reforming major requirements. The Faculty Senate will decide whether to implement the changes, which reduce distribution requirements from 12 hours to nine hours in each area, in a vote at their meeting on Wednesday.
“I think all of the students want to see us say that this isn’t the end-all-be-all and we recognize that addressing major requirements is important."
The changes were proposed this semester by the Faculty Senate Working Group on General Education and Distribution. Besides reducing distribution requirements, they would also revise the definitions for each distribution group, and shift the responsibility for recommending courses for distribution credit from the deans of each academic school to course review committees. The proposal also changes the frequency of the review process to twice rather than once yearly.
Lovett College Senator Ariana Engels, a freshman, voted no along with Lovett President Tessa Fries, a junior.
“I think the overall sentiment at Lovett is that this proposal is somewhat disappointing in what it changes, because it doesn’t fix the problem of overload with problematic majors,” Engels said.
McMurtry College President Walden Pemantle said McMurtry supported the resolution but raised questions over the proper way to address student workload issues. The original language of the resolution did acknowledge that changing distribution requirements was not a full fix to concerns about academic requirements, and also called for a comprehensive review of major requirements by academic school deans.
“My college is for [the distribution requirement changes] and I’m for it just in that it lessens the workload on students, but ultimately I think more breadth and having less majors that ask too much of their students is the better way to fix the problem,” Pemantle, a junior, said.
Pemantle proposed an amendment to the resolution adding language that emphasizes Rice’s continuing dedication to a holistic education. The amendment was approved unanimously via straw poll with Pemantle’s abstention.
SA President Justin Onwenu said the amendment helped characterize the resolution as the first step in addressing concerns about student workload.
“I think all of the students want to see us say that this isn’t the end-all-be-all and we recognize that addressing major requirements is important,” Onwenu, a Sid Richardson College junior, said.
Onwenu said one of the advantages of the proposed changes is that since classes would be classified as capable of fulfilling distribution requirements twice a year rather than annually, the change could increase class variety.
Brown College President Santiago Avila said students at Brown were divided as to support of the resolution as a whole and concerned about what the resolution would mean for liberal arts at Rice.
“We actually had a little bit more in favor of opposition, because it sends a signal that we are defying our own commitment to a liberal arts education,” Avila, a junior, said.
Avila said that the proposed changes wouldn’t do enough to change attitudes towards distribution requirements. He voted no on the resolution.
“I just don’t think this is the solution to the issues we see with the distribution system,” Avila said. “I think a lot of it actually falls down to proper advising and moving away from ‘Let me just take the easiest distribution’ to ‘Let me take something that’s actually going to add to my education.’”
Will Rice College President Michael Devine said the changes to the distribution requirement system would give students more flexibility in their schedules.
“With the credit-hour cap we gave the administration the power to determine what students could and couldn’t do,” Devine, a junior, said. “With this, we are provided with more freedom to do what we wish with our education and what we get out of it.”
Onwenu clarified that the resolution was not a response to last year’s credit hour cap but said he agreed that the resolution meant students would have more freedom to dictate their academic schedules.
Duncan College Senator Juliette Turner-Jones said it was necessary to pass the resolution to send a message to the Faculty Senate.
“If we don’t support this, it’s going to look to the Faculty Senate like we don’t know what we want, as if we’re not ever going to stand behind something for change,” Turner-Jones, a freshman, said. “If we support this it’s step one of a several-step process.”
The print version of this article originally incorrectly stated that the legislation passed in a 22-2 vote. The vote was 22-3. Brown College President Santiago Avila voted no on the resolution and said that if Brown College Senator Grace Wickerson had been present she would have voted yes.