Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Trinity must reevaluate academics and encourage desire to learn




For the past few years the outside view of Trinity College has been a hot topic. Ever since we were ranked the #1 party school in the NESCAC the Trustees have panicked while we, as a student body, have reveled in our new title. Their solution: social reform. Control the social life so that the outside image of the school isn’t so undesirable. This plan is just a way for the Trustees to appear to be addressing the issue while ignoring the root of the problem, which is a blatant deviation from this school’s mission statement. It is this deviation that has led to the undesirable image that our school has had cast upon us.

What this school needs more than social reform is academic reform. As someone who has become familiar with the Charter Committee report, there are many mentions of Trinity’s “academic excellence” and its “motivated and highly credentialed faculty.” Indeed we do have some highly credentialed academic minds working at Trinity. Indeed we do have some students, such as members of ISP and Guided Studies, the Illinois Scholars and Presidential Fellows, who demonstrate academic excellence.

These students represent an overwhelming minority of the student body at Trinity College. These students make up the “talented, motivated, and diverse body of students who are challenged to the limits of their abilities and are fully engaged with their studies, their professors, and one another.”

I have always been amazed with the uniformity of the student body that is a direct result of the admissions process at this school. Somehow we manage to fill Trinity’s incoming classes with a majority of students who fit the ‘Trinity Student’ stereotype; well-dressed, gorgeous, and rich.

Many students who come to Trinity College are part of an exclusive and unique area of society, commonly referred to in the mainstream media as the 1%. Many come from prestigious preparatory schools where they received the best education that money can buy.

What I have seen, as a student objectively observing my peers, is that when you combine wealth with free time the students at this school (and many others like it) fill it with activities this school (and its critics) frown upon. If a school doesn’t give students something to do, students are going to find something else to do. While yes, it is important to worry about the social lives of all students, I do not think that this is the most pressing issue. What Trinity College NEEDS to worry about are the academic lives of its students. They need to hire faculty that will inspire students to want to learn.

This school needs to do what their mission says and create a “community united in the quest for excellence in liberal arts education.” The administration needs to take notice when the average grade in a class is an A yet most of the students reported on their course evaluation that they spent 0-2 hours a week working on material for that class outside of class time. If students here can smoke weed and write a passing paper, then they are either a genius or they are not being held to a high enough academic standard. If students can spend three or four nights a week drinking till the wee hours of the morning and skipping half their classes (or going to them drunk) but can still pass the class then they are again either a genius or are not being held to a high enough academic standard.

I honestly don’t care what other students do. Their education is their own business. I love partying just as much as the next college student, but when the administration of the academic institution I hope to call my alma mater in 2 months starts pointing fingers (and, in my opinion, wrongly assigning blame), I feel like it is my job as a member of this college to step up and say something.

The “rigorous curriculum” referred to in our mission statement is long gone, replaced by mediocrity and laziness. It is the job of the college to further our education. And I am saying here and now that, in many facets, they are failing. They are not pushing students to achieve their full potential.

As a science major I have seen what the faculty of this school is capable of and have benefited immensely from their hard work and dedication to academia. I have sacrificed sleep, health and, at some points, my sanity to complete my work for these classes. I couldn’t slack off, partly because I haven’t been gifted with an above average intelligence, but also because the curriculum of these classes did not allow me. They don’t allow students to pass based on intellect alone. They REQUIRE effort; blood, sweat and mental anguish, all of which form a student who possesses academic strength and the potential for mental growth.

It is in the chemistry, biology and neuroscience departments that I have witnessed teachers adhering to the college’s mission of “bringing to the classroom the insight and enthusiasm of people actively engaged in intellectual inquiry.”

A text message I received a couple years ago still resonates with me. It read “you think ive taken a science class here? I enjoy having fun times, not doing work.” While that text message disgusted me in that it symbolizes all that is wrong with some of the students here at Trinity, it also inspired me. It made me realize that I am part of a unique breed of students here at Trinity. I am a student who takes full advantage of my college experience. I am a student who is trying to get the most out of the $250,000 which I will have given to the college when my tenure here culminates in May of 2013. I am putting meaning behind my bachelor’s degree, and leaving Trinity ready for the real world with an education that I am proud of.

A B.S. in Economics (the most popular major at this school) involves the completion of 13-14 courses. The major involves one lab, Econometrics, only if Professor Zanoni teaches it. Save a few math classes, all the courses in the Economics major are worth 1 credit, making the major a total of 15 course credits. Conversely, a B.S. in Engineering involves the completion of 17-20 courses as well as a year-long senior design project. Three of the math classes are one and a half credits each. Depending on the students concentration, seven to 11 of the classes involve a lab (1.25 credits).

As a veteran science major I can say from personal experience and from conversations with other science majors that the work required for the laboratory portion of a class is often greater than that required by the lecture. That leaves the engineering major with a minimum of 24 course credits to complete. Except I forgot that they also need to complete eight course credits in arts, humanities, or social sciences, including at least two courses chosen to achieve depth in one subject area within these disciplines, bring their total up to a minimum of 30 course credits (only six credits shy of graduating). Other majors such as chemistry (nine labs, two 1.5 credit math courses) biochemistry (ten labs, two 1.5 credit math courses and physics (four labs, three 1.5 credit math courses) seem to be holding their students to a similarly rigorous academic standard.

As I am browsing through different the various major requirements I am happy to see some changes to the requirements, some additions to the major. This is an indication that things are heading in the right direction. Starting with the class of 2013 the anthropology major will consist of 11 classes instead of 10. But really? Is that really a valid change? Is that really going to make the major more difficult, more complete, so that the anthropology graduates coming from Trinity College have a useful and more complete knowledge of the humanities in this world?

How can one major, engineering, require over twenty credits while anthropology only requires 10? How can a student be expected to have a thorough knowledge (enough for a bachelor’s degree) of a subject when they are only required to take ten classes in four years? The same goes for Religion and Political Science (~10 course credits), Sociology, American Studies, History, Philosophy and Classics (~12 course credits), and Public Policy and Law (~14 course credits), to name a few.

What I am asking for from this school is to reform the students’ academic lives here at Trinity College. I believe that this will bring about the type of social reform that the school has been putting so much emphasis on. It will reaffirm Trinity College as a legitimate academic member of the NESCAC, a group of colleges where we have been comfortably sitting at the bottom end of academically. It should be the goal of any collegiate institution to fill the waking hours of their students’ days with academic ponderings that show them the beauty of knowledge.

I love school. I love learning. People who know me well can tell you that I joke about being a “closet nerd,” playfully (and unsuccessfully) hiding my unattainable thirst for knowledge because it’s “not cool.” But this isn’t high school anymore and I am not afraid of being branded a nerd.

I attribute my desire for knowledge to my professors, mainly those who I do research with, who push me as much as I push them to continue to grow as a student. It is my dream for Trinity that all students can leave this school with such a strong and rewarding relationship with their close professors as I have with mine.

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