FYS task force needs student voice

By Editorial Board

First-Year Seminar, Columbia’s introductory course for first-year students, is contemplating major changes this year as the college creates a task force to restructure the program, including the process of how teachers are chosen, as reported Aug. 25 by The Chronicle.

Shortly after the Aug. 13 resignation of FYS Acting Director Douglas Reichert Powell was said at a forum for FYS instructors, Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, announced that he would like to see the department chairs select their best professors to teach the course. Wearden also said those professors should be encouraged to bring their specialized area of study and expertise.

To ensure the changes are beneficial and worthwhile for students, the task force should include students to discuss their past FYS experiences and changes they would like to see. The course should also have a more structured curriculum but still retain its focus on social issue topics.

The current class is intended to allow students to hone their creative skills with topics focused on identity, ethics and creative vision, according to the course description. This varies from many other colleges with introductory seminar courses designed for first-year students. For example, the Oberlin College directory offers more than 30 freshman seminar courses, such as The Privileged and the Marginalized and Jane Austen Then and Now, that students can choose from, each focusing on different social issues and cultural topics. By contrast, Columbia’s FYS courses allow instructors to individualize their curriculum by offering a variety of films and texts they can choose from, such as the play “Antigone” and film “Crash.”

Providing seminars with specific topics is more useful to students because it ensures they are placed in a class that interests them. Nevertheless, it is important that all courses have clear goals and be structured in a manner that engages their students’ interests.

Wearden also encouraged professors to focus on their field of expertise when teaching FYS, but because students are randomly enrolled in the class, they could be stuck learning about a topic unrelated to their interest. This could give students a negative view of Columbia early in their college career and discourage retention.

To ensure that students benefit from the class, students that have taken FYS should be a part of the task force. Those students can talk about their experiences and give meaningful input to changes under consideration. The Student Government Association could select students for the task force. By ensuring students are part of the task force, it forces the administration to give students’ suggestions serious consideration and ensures positive change.

As the class that is often a student’s first experience at Columbia, it is imperative that the course has precise goals that are appealing and valuable to the student body.