After completing Political Science 324: Black Americans and the Political System, LSA junior Ryan Fantuzzi was left wondering why the course didn’t fulfill the LSA race and ethnicity requirement.
“I took that class and it didn’t count for race and ethnicity,” Fantuzzi said. “I think it should have considering the entire focus of the class was politics and the African-American community.”
Fantuzzi is not alone. Members of the LSA Student Government and the Michigan Student Assembly have promised to reform the requirement for years, but no changes have been made.
Critics say there is little correlation between a course’s topic area and whether or not it counts for R&E credit.
Why Some Classes Don’t Count
In order for a class to count toward the R&E requirement, faculty members must submit a course approval form and a course syllabus to the LSA Curriculum Committee. They must also write one or two pages explaining how the course will have a substantial discussion of three issues: the meaning of race, ethnicity and racism; racial and ethnic intolerance and the resulting inequality; and comparisons of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, social class or gender.
Often, a course doesn’t count because it does not address all of these issues substantially, as is the case with Prof. Joshua Cole’s History 111: History of Modern Europe.
“Questions of race and ethnicity are relevant to many of the topics we cover,” Cole said in an e-mail interview. “Nevertheless, because race and ethnicity constitute only a part of a wider range of subjects covered by the class, it doesn’t seem right to me to allow students to satisfy the requirement with this course.”
After a faculty member submits a course, the Curriculum Committee determines whether or not the course meets the requirements. A course is typically approved for a five-year period, after which it must be re-certified.
For courses taught by more than one instructor, departments may submit the course for a blanket certification. If the course is approved, each instructor must use the same syllabus.
If a course does not receive blanket approval, one faculty member might offer the class as R&E based on his or her syllabus, while others might not. This means that one semester the class might count toward the requirement, while the next semester it might not.
Evans Young, LSA assistant dean for undergraduate education, said students should talk to the instructor of the course if they feel the class should count toward R&E.
Students can also submit petitions to the Academics Standards Board if they feel a class they took at another institution or at the University should fulfill the R&E requirement. The petition must include a syllabus for the class and a written argument explaining how the course addressed the three requisite issues.
Looking for a solution
Despite years of campaign promises to reform the requirement, student government members have yet to force a change.
Max Lebowitz-Nowak, MSA academic affairs commission chair, said the R&E requirement is an issue he will work on this semester, but it’s a process that could take a long time.
This semester, he said he will work for an MSA resolution formalizing the assembly’s support for the project. After that, he plans to research what other top institutions do across the country and compare their policies to the University’s. He said he wants to use the information to craft a PowerPoint presentation to show University administrators.
Lebowitz-Nowak also encouraged students to voice their opinions.
“The more student feedback we have, the more we know it is important to students and we can bring it to the administration,” he said.
Meanwhile, LSA-SG is also working on the issue.
Nick Glauch, chair of the Race and Ethnicity Task Force, said LSA-SG has had problems addressing the requirement.
“There are many ways in which people interpret the requirement itself,” he said. “Some people think it should cover discrimination in general, some people think it should be just cultural studies, then there are some who don’t think we should have it at all.”
These differing opinions have lead to arguments during LSA-SG meetings, Glauch said, citing a two-hour debate last year.
This year, Glauch hopes to get past the difficulties. He said that starting this week, his committee will begin surveying student groups at their meetings. He also plans to poll a random sample of students.
Glauch said the survey is an important step toward understanding how students feel about the requirement.
“This was something I ran into coming into the University,” Glauch said. “I know it is something students feel differently about across the spectrum.”
Glauch said he will present the results to LSA-SG at the beginning of the upcoming fall semester.
University officials are also planning to discuss the requirement later in the term, Young said.
This Class Counts:
Nursing 220: Perspectives in Women’s Health
LSA Course Guide description: “In this course we will examine women’s health issues, across the lifespan, from feminist and socio-cultural perspectives. We will explore the social construction of women’s sexuality, reproductive options, health care alternatives, and risks for physical and mental illness. Attention will be paid to historical, economic, and cultural factors, which influence the physical, biological, and psychological well-being of women.”
This Class Doesn’t:
CAAS 103, Sec. 1: Malcolm X, Black Power and the Practice of History
LSA Course Guide description: “This course examines the life and legacy of Malcolm X . Our focus will be on understanding Malcolm X’s influence on the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s . In addition, we will critically assess the ways in which his legacy continues to be constructed and used to represent that period of Black struggle.”