The block courses are an essential part of the university’s liberal arts education, but students often don’t know why the courses matter.
TU is a liberal arts school, meaning that its aim is to bring interdisciplinary critical thinking skills to its students. Inevitably, that means students will be taking classes outside of their major: geology majors need a certain amount of English credit to graduate, and creative writing majors need to sit through a number of science courses to meet the core requirements.
That doesn’t sound so difficult or draining on the surface, but the block system has proven to be unpopular at TU. I’ve heard from multiple students that the block system has arbitrarily lowered their GPA, that it’s a waste of time and that it unjustly increases the number of years that someone has to pay TU their tuition. In short, the block system is viewed as just another set of hoops to jump through on a student’s way to earn a bachelor’s degree. If the students aren’t getting much out of all these required classes, then there’s been a failure somewhere within the structuring of the block system.
This problem isn’t within the content of the classes: an introductory chemistry class is an introductory chemistry class, regardless of who’s taking it or why. Instead, there seems to a be a lack of academic integration on these subjects. Is the creative writing major being told how and why they should be studying chemistry, or are they just being put into the class without an interdisciplinary context? If the university is going to make a non-chemistry major take chemistry courses, the least it can do is put its focus on the liberal arts aspect of the block system.
This sort of interdisciplinary integration could be done quite easily, particularly in the sciences, by making non-major block courses. These courses would then focus on how the block course connects with other disciplines. Don’t just drop someone into a block course without first establishing a greater narrative of the importance of communication and inspiration between academic disciplines. Explaining why something is important or, better yet, inspiring a student to widen their academic perspective is wildly different than simply marking certain courses as required blocks.
I know that the block system can work. My roommate added an additional major in anthropology after taking a class in anthropology as a block course. However, I’ve heard many more complaints than excitement about the system. I know that’s partially because additional work is rarely fun, but TU needs to put in a bit more work to convince its students of its own curriculum’s importance. Liberal arts schools are built around this framework of critical thought across all majors. If the school fails to sell its own students on the interdisciplinary necessity of the liberal arts, then TU needs to reconsider its approach.