Faculty and staff at the University of South are seriously considering whether to alter the university’s institutional graduation requirements.
As it stands, USD requires students seeking a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences degree to complete two consecutive science courses in the same discipline, such as astronomy, biology, chemistry or earth science.
According to Chuck Staben, USD provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, a discussion has been taking place among university faculty and staff on whether the science requirement should stay sequential, or be able to be satisfied by simply taking two science courses during one’s time at USD.
“This boils down to a very philosophical argument,” Staben said. “Is it better for a student to take two courses in a science and have a little deeper but potentially less broad knowledge of a science, or is it better for a student to have slightly less deep and broader knowledge? I’m pretty sure I don’t know the answer to that question, and I kind of think that nobody knows the answer to that question.”
Staben said he saw advantages and drawbacks of each side of the argument, but that he was inclined to favor a requirement that gave students more choice.
“In the end, the whole debate should be about what better prepares our students to be educated citizens of the world,” Staben said.
According to Staben, the reconsideration of scientific graduation requirements was motivated by a recent decision to alter elementary education majors’ science requirements. These majors will now be required to take two semesters, each of which are “split” into two different scientific subjects, giving future educators a chance to briefly study multiple areas.
“They might be better served by two courses that cover four areas,” Staben said. “What we settled upon was a course that covers biology and chemistry, and another one that does physics and earth science, in two semesters.”
According to Staben, USD is the only South Dakota Board of Regents institution that requires students to take two science courses of the same discipline. Staben said the sequential science requirement has been practiced at USD for “a reasonably long time.”
Christina Keller, USD Physics Department director, said faculty members in her department showed a mixed reaction to the possibility of nixing the sequential science requirement.
“Some would say the sequence is essential, because unless you take a full year in a discipline, you won’t truly understand it or you understand how science is done,” Keller said. “Others say that to be a truly engaged citizen, the more breadth you have, the more you understand about biology and physics, the better-educated citizen you will be in the future.”
Keller said it was her understanding that more faculty members are currently in favor of sequential science, and that she thought solely requiring half of a sequence to be “a bit of a disservice to the students.”
De Vee Dykstra, USD professor of business law and member of the University Senate Curriculum and Instruction Committee (C&I), said there has not been any real action on the issue, which she called an “ongoing process.”
“No change is being proposed, nor has any change been recommended,” Dykstra said. “The (C&I), in the process of reviewing general education requirements, is gathering information about the two-semester science requirement.”
Staben said if a proposal for a change in USD’s science requirements was drafted in the fall of this year, it could feasibly be implemented by the fall 2014 semester.
Sophomore Cassandra Backes said she was supportive of the potential change.
“It could broaden students’ general understanding of science,” Backes said. “If you’re bad at chemistry, you could try to take something else. It might be good, from a liberal arts perspective.”