The University of the District of Columbia is moving to loosen its course requirements for graduation, despite strong protests from faculty members who called the changes a step backward.
The changes, given preliminary approval by the trustees last month, would eliminate a foreign language requirement for students seeking a bachelor's degree and a required sequence in writing and literature for all undergraduates.
Instead, students would be able to choose from a list of English courses that must include speaking and listening as well as reading and writing, according to the trustees' resolution, which was recommended by UDC President Robert L. Green. Foreign languages would be optional, the resolution says, in a broad area of humanities courses that range from theater and dance to "computer language" and statistics.
Specific requirements in philosophy and fine arts would be replaced by much broader course distribution rules.
The move comes at a time when UDC is seeking to improve its reputation but appears to run counter to steps at many colleges to tighten academic requirements.
"This gives us greater flexibility. It doesn't dilute anything," said Ewaugh F. Fields, UDC's acting provost and vice president for academic affairs. She added, "We must build the schedules that students need to meet their career objectives . . . . We can't just think about the faculty. Just because we have the faculty sitting there, we can't require the courses."
However, Wilmer L. Johnson, the president of the Faculty Senate, said the new rules "water down our standards when we need more standards, not less.
"It gives the appearance that we are going back to the confused 1960s," Johnson continued. "Everybody was experimenting and throwing the baby out with the bath water. It didn't work. We thought we were on the right track but now they're fooling around with the requirements."
"We're going backwards," said Andress Taylor, an English professor who was a member of the committee that drafted the present requirements in 1978. The standards were set after UDC was formed by a merger of Federal City College, Washington Technical Institute and the District of Columbia Teachers College. The merged institution has an open-admissions policy allowing any high school graduate to enter regardless of grades or test scores.
Taylor said because of UDC's open-admissions policy, high drop-out rate and heavy load of precollege remedial work, the planning committee "wanted our degrees to be rigorous so they would be valid and respected . . . . I think you need a solid traditional university before you can experiment. But unfortunately, we seem to have lost our patience. Since the students can't meet the requirements, we're changing the requirements to meet the students."
Earlier this week the steering committee of the Faculty Senate urged the trustees to rescind the changes when they come up for a final vote, probably in late February after publication in the D.C. Register. But the new policy was passed by the trustees by a 9-to-2 vote Dec. 18, and board Chairman Ronald H. Brown said it was unlikely that the board would change its mind.
"I think we've learned from experience," Brown said, "and the UDC administration felt that our students needed more flexibility and choice of courses. That's not unusual in higher education today. A lot of Ivy League schools do not have language requirements."
However, during the last few months, several national reports have charged that many colleges lack coherent liberal arts curriculums and urged stricter graduation requirements.
Clifford Adelman, an NIE researcher, said the steps to loosen requirements occurred on most campuses during the student unrest of the late 1960s and 1970s. Since then, several studies have indicated a trend toward adding requirements, including foreign languages, at a wide range of colleges, but Adelman warned that it is uncertain how great a turn away from the "smorgasboard approach" has occurred.
At UDC, the report recommending the new graduation requirements mentioned as one reason for the change "the difficulties encountered by perspective sic graduates that led to repeated requests for exemptions from specific university-wide requirements."
Under the new rules that allow students to choose among foreign languages, computer languages, statistics and other courses, Fields said students could take "what would be to their advantage."
"If I were majoring in business, computer language would help me more in my carreer objectives," Fields said, "than, let's say, French. We are here to serve our students."
She added that the greater flexibility in selecting courses would require the faculty "to do a better job of advising students" but said the university would take steps to improve its counseling.
But history professor Joseph Brent remarked, "That doesn't make sense. What we were hoping for was a far more organized curriculum, one that would guarantee certain outcomes. Instead, we're making it easier for people to manipulate the system to get through here rather than to get an education."