Why Some College Generals Need To Be More General

Everyone should know chemistry, but subjecting humanities majors to 3-hour labs intended for serious chemical engineering students is not the way to go.

As part of the liberal arts agenda, universities across America have subjected countless students to “general” classes that can feel almost back-breaking at times. The reason I say “back-breaking” is because these general requirement classes also happen to be prerequisites for certain majors themselves. This means that if you attend the University of Minnesota (as I do), and you are an economics major (as I am), you must take chemistry in order to receive your diploma––a class that, keep in mind, is specifically geared towards chemical engineering degrees and crazed lab rats…not for the common “liberally educated” student. 

Let me explain. For the non-sciences person, chemistry at University of Minnesota is hell. Labs are an intense 3 hour ordeal, which are composed of the following:

You must complete the experiment at hand while simultaneously detailing your methodology and results.You are expected to know how to use literally every single piece of lab equipment––most of which even chemistry majors themselves don’t even know.After you complete your experiment, you must write up an extensive protocol for next week’s lab experiment.

But that’s not even the worst part of it all. Each lab is graded based on the most incredulous 20 point rubric ever created. Now, in the real world, scoring 19/20 constitutes an A. In the world of the UMN chemistry department, a 19/20 results in a zero in the grade book, meaning that you must do everything correctly…or you are, for lack of better terminology, screwed. Once upon a time, I overheard a chemistry student relaying to her lab-mates about how she had spent the entire day vomiting due to lab-induced stress, and how every day had mad her increasingly less confident about medical school ambitions. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention — the lab was only worth one credit! Forget about the poor sciences students for a second––I now wonder how the art history majors were holding up. 

To call Chem 101 at UMN a “general” credit requirement is clearly pure insanity––a fact that is only exacerbated by the struggles of actual science majors. However, I’m not for the elimination of chemistry. I believe that all students should have some conceptual scientific knowledge to better inform themselves of their surrounding environment and the mechanisms of the world. The same applies with mathematics, physics, etc. This is the essence of the well-rounded individual that the liberal education agenda preaches. But having an art history major memorize gobs of text about molecular structures just to pass an exam is a game that is reminiscent of high school, and does not at all translate into a more well-rounded individual. If anything, it transforms one into a stressed maniac. 

This is why we need to make some general classes (like chemistry), more general. For the non-chemistry major, the class should not be about a high-stress, real-world lab situation. This is highly unnecessary. Instead, cut out the crazy labs, and communicate the essence and fundamentals of chemistry to humanities majors. The liberal arts agenda is important. But from time to time, this campaign needs to be augmented in order to be effective for the entire student population. 

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