Science requirements urged for SFS, MSB

April 2, 2009

Professors and administrators called for the creation of a science requirement for students in the School of Foreign Service and the McDonough School of Business in a report released this week, while noting that the University’s limited science resources would complicate the implementation of such a requirement.

“I’m not sure that we could make a claim to anyone being liberally educated without some scientific literacy,” Assistant Provost Randy Bass, who worked with the Provost’s Ad Hoc Working Group on the Curriculum during the construction of the report, “A Call to Action: Curriculum and Learning At Georgetown,” said.

Provost James O’Donnell put it even more bluntly.

“There is a generation of folks who think that the letters SFS stand for Safe from Science,” he said. “That’s just embarrassing.”

O’Donnell and Bass emphasized that the feasibility of a science requirement is severely constrained by the fact that Georgetown does not have enough science professors or facilities to support the entire student body. With the construction of the science building on hold because of the recession, it may be years before these resources become available.

“The bad news is that movement in this will be facilitated when we have more science faculty and science facilities,” O’Donnell said.

If and when new requirements are added, O’Donnell and Bass said that the courses would be designed to fit in with students’ academic interests, stressing a desire to increase curricular flexibility and integration across disciplines. A new science requirement might replace or be combined with an existing general education requirement.

MSB Academic Council President Kelly Thomas (MSB ’09) wrote in an e-mail on behalf of the Council that she would be more amenable to a science requirement if it replaced an existing requirement or if it was related to business in some way.

“If the requirement was added as a replacement for an existing liberal arts requirement, then it would be more welcomed by MSB students than if it were to take the place of one of their 18 business courses or a free elective,” she wrote. “If the university was willing to tailor a science course to a business education, it would be very beneficial to producing a well-rounded business person upon graduating.”

The MSB and SFS deans did not respond to requests for comment.

The “Call to Action” grew out of last year’s Intellectual Life Report, a document produced by the Main Campus Executive Faculty that critiqued many aspects of academic life at Georgetown. According to Robert Cumby, the Chair of the MCEF, the “Call to Action” grew out of the section in the Intellectual Life Report that focused on curriculum and pedagogy issues.

The “Call to Action” concludes with a plan for the creation of further working groups to study the issue, though administrators hope to see changes within the next few years.

“I would hope that over the next 18 months things would begin to happen, at least in experimental or pilot programs,” Bass said, adding that he anticipates at least two to three years of experimentation before any school-wide changes are made.

Georgetown Curriculum Changes

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Most SFS students take a good number of science and math APs in high school. The minor marginal benefit of taking a similar course again is far outweighed by the marginal cost.