At a two-and-a-half hour meeting Thursday, over 200 faculty members endorsed substantive changes to the undergraduate curriculum, including revisions of both the foreign language and distributional requirements.

While the new requirements at first seem to be a quite radical shift from the current curriculum, we find that they are merited, and are, in fact, inherently consistent with the University’s philosophy of letting students design their own educations.

The faculty voted on curricular proposals put forth by the Committee on Yale College Education last spring as part of the first substantive review of the undergraduate curriculum in 30 years. Before Thursday’s meeting, controversy had surrounded what had proved the most contentious of the review’s academic proposals — the reworking of the undergraduate language requirement. The academic review committee recommended requiring all undergraduates, regardless of their proficiency upon entering, to study at least one semester of language at Yale, but reduced the level of proficiency required in a foreign language from four semesters to three. The faculty also endorsed changing the distributional groups to require classes specifically in writing and quantitative reasoning, while reducing the number of required classes in other groups — humanities and arts, social sciences, and natural sciences — to two.

In response to the proposed reduction of the language requirement, some professors argued that reducing the level of proficiency required would mark a debasement of the University curriculum, but we find it hard to accept this blanket claim. Certainly an aspiring mechanical engineer who replaces a fourth semester of language study with a higher level math class is not receiving a compromised education. Six credits of language study of 36 credits total can be prohibitive for group IV majors or others with a long list of other academic requirements to fill. The new language requirements strike a balance between exposure and proficiency, ensuring that all students do indeed “go some further distance” in their language study (as one faculty member put it), but ensuring that students still have the benefit of flexibility and choice in their educations.

For the same reasons, we find the redesigned distributional requirements encouraging. Ensuring that all students take classes specifically devoted to writing or quantitative reasoning guarantees that they improve these essential skills; neglecting these areas of education would, we believe, truly reflect a debasement of the University’s mission. The current distributional groups are quite nebulous, and we believe the new breakdown ensures that all students are exposed to essential disciplines, while the reduction in classes required in each group will allow students more control of their studies. We did find the proposed reductions surprising, but while a mere two humanities classes seems like a shockingly low number, it does allow students to set their own academic priorities, and many students will far exceed the minimum standards set forth.

The creation of a new curriculum, and its clear endorsement last week, reflects the faculty’s faith that we’re capable of creating the educations that are best suited for our own needs. We appreciate their confidence in us and plan to heed their call.