Magazine article Liberal Education

Diversity Requirements

Magazine article Liberal Education

Diversity Requirements

Article excerpt

AAC&U has just released a national survey, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, which shows that 62 percent of 543 responding colleges, universities, and community colleges either have in place a cultural diversity requirement for graduation (54 percent of responding campuses) or are in the process of developing one (8 percent). Of the 434 responding fouryear campuses, 60 percent report that they already have requirements in place. On the West Coast, the trend is even more dramatic. Seventy-eight percent of responding campuses, twoand four-year combined, require the study of diversity for graduation. Of campuses that have diversity requirements in place, 58 percent require students to take at least one approved course, while 42 percent require two approved courses. The movement toward these new requirements has been rapid: Most of them have been established within the last decade and a significant number, 30 percent, within the last five years or less. (See http://www.aacu-edu.org)

What is the cultural significance of this rapid curricular change? Colleges and universities require a particular study for graduation when they believe it important to their students' social functioning, both as human beings and as citizens. Writing, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences-all made their way into virtually every required curriculum because the academy reached a consensus that educated people need competence and conversancy in these areas, whatever their intended life roles and work.

Similarly, in the early part of the twentieth century, the study of "Western Civilization" also moved rapidly into many campuses' curricula. This reflected an emerging consensus that Americans, as citizens of a newly significant world power, needed a developed understanding of the values and institutions that undergird western democracies. By the 1970s, however, Western Civilization requirements were already on the decline because faculty members increasingly felt these courses to be too limited in their worldview and scope.

As an historian, I am persuaded that the new diversity requirements are filling the curricular "civic" space once assigned to "Western Civ." That is, diversity requirements signal the academy's conviction that citizens now need to acquire significant knowledge both of cultures other than their own and of disparate cultures' struggles for social power, in order to be adequately prepared for the world around them. Colleges and universities clearly recognize that international boundaries are blurring and that citizens now need what

AAC&U's American Commitments initiative called "the liberal arts of translation" in order to live and work in the multiethnic borderlands that comprise our world.

AAC&U has worked hard to add the study of both world cultures and U.S. diversity to the college curriculum. We can all be pleased at the progress academe is making with these changes, especially because the requirements reflect the successful addition of new scholarship-on women, U.S. minorities, and world cultures-to a curriculum which once excluded all these topics.

AAC&U also has urged, however, that campuses develop general education courses which explore diversity in the context of democratic values, histories, and aspirations. …

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