Faculty debate new ethnic studies requirement

Students who enter the UW in 1998 may have to meet a five-credit Cultural and Ethnic Diversity requirement if the proposal, passed in February by the Faculty Senate, survives another vote.

The rule is designed to “expand each student’s ability to think critically” about issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age and class differences in human society.

Because the proposal is still under consideration, there is not a complete list of courses that would meet the new standards. However, Undergraduate Dean Fred Campbell said some popular courses that would fulfill the rule include “Human Sexuality,” “History of American Ethnic Groups,” “History of the South Since the Civil War,” “Race Relations” and “Introduction to Women Studies.”

During the spring more than 240 professors appealed the Faculty Senate vote. The vote must be reconsidered at the senate’s May 23 meeting, after this issue of Columns goes to press.

[June Update: The Faculty Senate tabled the requirement, substituting a resolution calling for integrating diversity into the curriculum.]

In arguing for passage, Medical Education Professor Jan Carline told the senate, “This is a skill that is needed by our young graduates going off into the work world.” He noted that it matches several goals in the UW mission statement and prompts the academic community “to address the issue of diversity” in its curriculum.

Speaking against the proposal, Sociology Professor Pierre van den Berghe said the issue “is based on the naive concept that a university’s goal is to foster self-esteem.” He added that most students are opposed to the idea and challenged proponents to conduct a referendum. “It is naive to believe the requirement would improve the climate on campus. Instead it would create a backlash,” he declared.

Several senators were concerned that the requirement might lengthen the time it takes to get a degree. Others wondered if there would be enough courses offered to fulfill the demand. Carline said that by setting the start date for 1998, there should be time to create new courses.

A previous ethnic studies requirement passed the Faculty Senate in 1991 but was rejected by 67 percent of the faculty who voted.