Diversity of thought and multidisciplinary approaches to various topics are cornerstones of a Vassar education. Since the school requires students to take at least one-fourth of their classes outside of their concentrations, finding courses of interest that reach beyond their declared majors can be difficult for many students.
Junior Nick Liebniz, after carefully choosing classes from the several categories listed in Vassar’s course catalogue (Arts, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences), realized that perhaps the letter of the law was easier to follow than the spirit.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen. I was just picking courses that sounded interesting and would technically fulfill the breadth part of the graduation requirement, but I’m not sure they’ve thought the graduation requirement through totally. Every single one of my classes is about capitalism,” said Liebniz.
Looking back on his previous courses, Liebniz realized this problem may run deeper than he originally thought.
“Every class I’ve taken for the past three years has been about capitalism. My freshman writing seminar was about the influence of capitalism on the science fiction genre, my foreign language proficiency course was about capitalist values in German children’s stories and my quantitative analysis course was just an introduction to principles of economics, but you could tell my professor was a big fan of the free market.’”
Liebniz continued, “My major is a self-designed concentration about the intersection of capitalism and environmental studies. So, like, I was wondering: does this actually fulfill the graduation requirement? Will I be allowed to graduate?” said Liebniz.
Panicked that he would have to spend an extra year, or four, attempting to take classes unrelated to capitalism and the inequality created by the competitive economic system, the junior set up a meeting with his advisor, Mike D. Hathaway.
Hathaway commented, “He has nothing to worry about. We’ve handled this kind of thing before. The only thing he’s really missing is a natural sciences course, since his major is independent. He has a lot of options for classes he can take.”
He continued, “For example, there’s a cool astronomy course about corporations in space exploration, and a great physics course about electricity and electrical resource distribution in a low-regulation political climate. He could even take a computer science class about how to commodify programming skills in a market that is currently expanding. He’s got a lot of options. I don’t know what he’s so worried about,” said Hathaway.
This answer seemed unsatisfactory to Liebniz, who stated, “All those classes are still about capitalism! Even my social activities are capitalism based. I should never have joined The Young Economists org,” said Liebniz.
This junior isn’t alone in his single-issue course load, but he does seem to be the only one at all concerned. One sophomore enjoys only taking multidisciplinary classes about gender in early 20th-century France.
“I was so happy when I found a biology class about dog breeds popular among pre-World War I French aristocrat’s mistresses. I now have a great understanding of the genetics behind which dog breeds were seen as status symbols. I know the relationship between recessive genes and coat glossiness, which was a huge deciding factor in which dogs were raised by which mistress,” said the sophomore.
A senior also weighed in with her opinions about single-subject heavy schedules:
“I refuse to take a class that requires me to take a final or write an essay. I will only take project-based classes that accept short documentary films as cumulative projects,” she said.
A second meeting with his advisor proved a little more fruitful for Liebniz.
“Eventually my advisor said if I really wanted to take a class unrelated to my area of study, she’d help me find one. So, we read the entire course catalogue, took out the classes that had prereqs and any English Department classes ’cause I hate overanalyzing poetry, you know? Why do you have to know what it means? Just, like, enjoy it. Anyway, I was pretty happy with what we figured out.”
Liebniz explained, “We found a class on elements of utopian community political structure found in modern-day European socialist governments, so now I have a class about socialism. It feels good to have a little variety in my schedule, shake things up a little, get me out of my comfort zone.”
More recently, Liebniz was overheard saying he was considering dropping his class about socialism because he already understood the benefits of socialist systems over capitalist systems, and the coursework just felt redundant.