Report Hits `Dumbing Down' of Top Virginia Colleges

Article excerpt

Virginia's most esteemed colleges allow students to choose from "a hodgepodge of narrow, dumbed-down, and trivial courses," an organization of concerned scholars says.

A rising tide of electives and a dearth of specific core curriculum requirements afflict the institutions, according to a report being delivered today to the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia by an organization of college and university faculty dedicated to high academic standards and academic freedom.

"Higher education in Virginia is subject to the same dumbing down that we are seeing in colleges and universities across the country," said Michael Krauss, president of the Virginia Association of Scholars, who prepared "The Troubling State of General Education: A Study of Six Virginia Public Colleges and Universities."

"In a state which gave birth to Jefferson's conception of an educated citizenry, it is simply shameful that schools are failing to provide the kind of general education that is needed for our graduates to be involved and educated citizens," he continued. "Virginia, with its impressive array of colleges and universities, should be resisting this trend."

The report was endorsed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA, formerly the National Alumni Forum), a group also dedicated to academic freedom and excellence.

It examines curriculums at six Virginia institutions - George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Virginia State University, the University of Virginia, and the College of William and Mary. Two-thirds of Virginia's undergraduates attend these institutions.

The report charges that these schools are failing to transmit "essential knowledge" in basic subjects such as English, history, science and mathematics, and it calls on the higher education council to examine other state schools and to strengthen core curriculum requirements in the state.

The University of Virginia, for example, has no single course requirement demanded of every student. Engineering students have no freshman writing requirement, and those in the liberal arts have no separate math requirement.

"This eye-opening report reveals education in disarray," said ACTA President Jerry L. Martin. "The result is an academic cafeteria that allows students to live on intellectual junk food."

Lynne V. Cheney, ACTA chairman and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, warned that students "who reach the end of their college years without knowing basic landmarks of history and culture are unlikely to be prepared to make the complex choices today's life demands." The report contrasts what the Virginia Association of Scholars calls "today's nearly meaningless requirements" with the rigorous general education provided students in the past.

The educational goals set forth in the 1997 catalogues echo those of 1964 by defining the major subject areas of general education requirements as English composition, foreign language, the humanities, the social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences, according to the report. …