Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: The Answer to the BU Hub

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s). 

Daniel Kool is a freshman in the College of Communication.  

In early spring 2020 — before the chaos of a global pandemic set in — a milder chaos circulated Boston University’s campus: rumors that the university’s novel system of general education, the Hub, was set to be canceled in the coming fall.

Since its launch in 2018, the program has been an unending source of student confusion and frustration.

Many find it difficult to navigate, or assert that the distribution of the curriculum’s “essential capacities” shows a bias toward the humanities over STEM fields. These claims hold merit, but their most common goal — the complete elimination of the Hub — is irrational and misguided. While the Hub has proven to be a hastily debuted curriculum that, in practice, falls short of student needs, the solution is not allowing it to fold but doubling-down on its potential.

There is no consensus on general education in academia. While a few elite colleges, like Columbia University, tout a century-or-more old core curriculum as a sign of success, others, like Brown University, offer undergraduates complete freedom on the basis that it will create classes of self-aware self-starters.

BU’s newest curriculum, which requires students to earn 26 units from 20 broad categories — “Aesthetic Exploration” to “Scientific Inquiry” — in tandem with their major, can feel like an awkward compromise between these traditional extremes.

But, in fact, the University of Chicago, which has been consistently ranked among the country’s top ten institutions, has utilized a Hub-esque approach since the middle of the 20th century. Clearly, guided-choice curricula like the Hub — in which universities provide only a scaffolding of subjects for students to explore, rather than a ready-built program — have already been proven effective.

It would be reckless to completely abandon general education requirements, as some students have suggested the administration do. Unlike, say, Brown — which is famous for its open curriculum but hosts only 6,700 undergraduates – BU is a massive school. By sheer ratio alone, the advising team would be unable to meet the increased demand for meetings and advice.

Such a change would also neglect BU’s nearly 3,000 first-generation undergraduates, who may lack the guidance of parents and family in determining their college pursuits.

Meanwhile, reverting back to a standardized general curriculum would only undermine the freedom incoming students expect upon entering higher education. Fundamentally, college is a time of exploration and blossoming sovereignty. The university has a responsibility to defend students’ right to curiosity.

With roughly more than 100 courses available for each unit, the Hub manages to preserve the integrity of inquisition. Meanwhile, its breadth still pushes students to explore fields they may never have considered otherwise.

It also frees students from unnecessary financial burden.

As North Central University Professor Zachary Michael Jack explains, under a standard 40 credit-hour requirement, “the cost to complete a general-education program could be in excess of $50,000.” In its freedom, BU’s Hub ensures that every dime of tuition holds personal and professional value to students.

Meanwhile, the professional world — which, with luck, undergraduates will eventually find themselves in — is entering a state of hyper-specialization. As more and more American jobs are outsourced or automated, conventional wisdom may compel students to aggressively focus their skills, upping their chances of surviving the increasingly competitive job market.

But that same professional world is witnessing greater and faster change than ever before. Hyper-specialization in a risky field may turn out to be career suicide.

Especially in such career-fixated programs as BU’s Sargent College or School of Hospitality Administration, mandating a wide scope of education is an essential — potentially life-saving — balancing factor. After all, a “sampling period” has been shown to matter even among some of the world’s most focused success-stories.

The program’s current issues stem from a lack of total commitment.

As Eric Jarvis, associate director of the BU Hub, explains, the size and diversity of the university’s student body make implementing such an overhaul inherently difficult, no matter its goal. A fully-fledged launch was simply not viable in 2018.

Improvements, he notes, are already underway in the form of an ever-expanding catalog of courses and a new, reduced-load Hub requirement for transfer students — down from 26 to 10 units — starting Fall 2020. Presently, transfers find themselves at a deficit of Hub units.

A proper reform of the Hub would streamline the process of adding units to existing courses.  That is, according to Jarvis, is currently done by a series of committees. It would also condense the requirements of the Intellectual Toolkit, recognizing that skills like “critical thinking” and “creativity” develop naturally over a four-year pursuit. Finally, the administration would work to increase student awareness and understanding of the curriculum, mitigating the most common source of frustration.

The Hub has tremendous potential to grant undergraduates the freedom to learn at their own pace, to their own desires, while still providing the necessary guidance to developing minds. It needs only to see its footprint expanded and its fat trimmed to begin fulfilling this most basic right.

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