At a time when most colleges and universities are raising academic requirements to brake the educational tailspin we've been in for years, the University of the District of Columbia has actually taken steps to eliminate a foreign language course requirement for bachelor degree candidates along with a writing and literature segment for all undergraduates.
These changes, recommended by UDC President Robert L. Green and given preliminary approval last month by the board of trustees, were opposed by the UDC Faculty Senate. The new rules, according to Faculty Senate President Wilmer L. Johnson, "water down our standards when we need more standards, not fewer."
Defending the UDC administration's move to lower academic requirements, acting provost Ewaugh F. Fields said, "This gives us greater flexibility; it doesn't dilute anything."
While flexibility is certainly important, it should not take precedence over maintaining a university's standards. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case at UDC.
UDC's proposal does not seem to be part of any new educational philosophy designed to stimulate achievement in a university that has an open admissions policy. This proposal seems to be merely an expedient device to help students graduate more easily.
Indeed, the only term with which I can describe this is "deficit model thinking." This phrase may seem a little put-offish at first, but it simply means that when less is expected, even less is asked for.
This kind of thinking not only lowers the standard at a potentially good university, it also gives the students a false sense of security and a degree that may not have the skills behind it that an employer demands.
Because we are in the midst of a communications revolution in the United States, our universities should be preparing students for stiffer educational challenges, not less-flexible ones. For a large urban public university containing many students in need of remedial assistance, the goal should be to find better ways to motivate them as they grapple with the subject matter they need to compete in today's world.
But the fact is that the people at UDC who are pressing for lower standards do not seem to have a forward vision. According to acting provost Fields, "If I were majoring in business, computer language would help me more in my career objectives than, let's say, French."
This statement may be a good example of deficit model thinking, for it in no way considers the possibility that the student can learn computer languages and French and be the better for it, particularly if he or she has to go to France or any French-speaking country to do business.
For black students, it may all boil down to a game of catch-up. Because of segregated schools and discrimination, blacks who are perhaps 20 years older than most UDC students found themselves playing the frustratingly painful game of catch-up when they entered the marketplace. While the present generation may or may not be academically performing at grade level, the introduction of computer technology has upped the skills ante and made the game of catch-up even more difficult to play.
The resolution to relax the requirements is now in the D.C. Register, and District residents can lodge their protest or support for the measure by contacting the UDC board of trustees.
Whatever the outcome, there is one thing that we as residents of the District must remember: If Washington is to become a world-class city, it will need a first-class public university system, and black educators, in particular, must do their part to maintain high standards. They are responsible; there is no one else to blame.