Diversity of Disciplines Necessary in an Interdisciplinary Climate
“Breadth requirements are good.” If I’d heard someone saying that three years ago in my 1,600 person astronomy lecture I would have laughed in their face. sure, U of T’s breadth requirement leaves much to be desired; the logic by which courses are assigned appears arbitrary, and it seems unfair for students to be forced to take courses they find uninteresting. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to “encourage” students to explore academic life.
U of T’s breadth requirement is imperfect, but this is not a reason to discount it entirely. The system is broken, but not beyond repair. The policy was last modified in 2010, so its details remain flexible.
Part of the value of the breadth lies in forcing students to confront material they might have otherwise avoided. This ensures that university is not completely indulgent, but involves a challenge in engaging material that is not immediately satisfying.
U of T’s academic character is a paradoxical mix of departmental segregation, and a newfound enthusiasm with the interdisciplinary approach. That tension (mixed with bureaucratic laziness) may account for the unrefined breadth requirement.
Another reason for the breadth is to combat the art-science divide, but it fosters the wrong outlook. It presents breadth courses as ‘grunt work’, with no value other than the promise of eventual graduation. However, the Credit/No Credit quota already empowers students to take courses they might not do well in. The breadth requirement should be less rigid, to let students take advantage of this latitude.
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Students should want to diversify their knowledge, if they don’t want to then they should be forced. With the option to take courses as Credit/No Credit, this requirement is easily confronted. Had I made this discovery earlier in my program, I could have been filling test tubes instead of sweating over my GPA.