You are (almost) Union: how school policies contradict its mission

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By Julia Hotz

You are Union. This recent $250 million campaign was designed to fund areas of student, faculty and facilities’ support in order to reinforce Union’s “reputation as one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions.”

Yet despite our institution’s commitment to drawing and maintaining students who are “restless to learn, uncomfortable with narrow boundaries and wish to challenge themselves,” there are several areas in which Union diminishes the ambition of its student body.

Perhaps the most recent example of this could be seen within the aftermath of The Drowsy Chaperone, the college’s first musical.

Witnessing this glorious production on the Wednesday before its official opening night (they allowed students to attend the final dress rehearsal because the show was so popular), I thought, while standing in a unanimous ovation, this is truly amazing.

Lucas Rivers ‘15 and his cast created such a masterpiece out of their own resources, time and wits. These motivated self-starters (a term you’ve probably seen on every job and internship application qualifications list) have not only paved the way for future musicals, but also for any passionate student who wants to take on an endeavor that has never been done before.

That’s what I thought until I learned of how the theater department reacted to The Drowsy Chaperone. Rather than praising these hard-working students for creating one of the most well-attended productions that I have seen at Union, they were initially quite critical and hesitant to offer their support.

Though they are now offering to cooperate with these enthusiastic students in their next musical pursuit, the theater department should be proud of its students’ discomfort with narrow boundaries; it should be booking the main stage, attempting to expand the musical theater program and offering their expertise and assistance in every way possible rather than simply “cooperating” with such student initiative.

Another way in which Union diminishes student ambition is within its four-course policy. I was unsure of which major I wanted to pursue when I first enrolled.

Interested in a variety of disciplines from calculus to poetry writing, I assumed that I would utilize the purpose of a liberal arts institution by taking a variety of these courses and deciding on my focus after doing so.

However, when I arrived at Union, I learned that non-engineering students not in the Scholars Program are only eligible to take a maximum of four courses for one term out of the year, provided that their GPA permits it.

Even if a student has proven himself or herself academically capable and is in no danger of graduating late, they are capped at three (sometimes four) courses.

What kind of logic is that? I thought Union encouraged its students’ curiosity and their willingness to challenge themselves? Isn’t the mission of a premier liberal arts institution to afford its students a broad, diverse education, as opposed to a centralized one?

Shelby Cuomo ‘12 recently pointed out another way in which Union discourages student ambition, citing students who embarked on Olympic training ventures, military experience and presidential campaign work, but faced the obstacle of Union’s 12-term residency requirement. Much like the musical debacle and the four-course policy, the 12-term residency requirement diminishes the potential of its student body.

If a student is ambitious enough to fulfill their Gen Ed and major requirements in 11 terms, or wants to spend a term utilizing some extravagant opportunity, then why should they be punished for being “restless to learn”?

These three areas, however, are not to undermine the many ways in which Union does reward our ambition and even affords us opportunities to do so. Minerva Fellowships, oganizing theme majors, Green Grants and student-conducted research are just a few of these options. Furthermore, professors are always incredibly encouraging of such ambition; from staying after class to talk for 45 minutes, to helping draft an independent research proposal.

However, I only wish that our environment is as conducive to our student (and our professors’) ambition; if we are truly Union, then we should not be satisfied with these violations of our institution’s mission statement.

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