Spirit of the Independent Course
story Graham Link
Independent Courses are arguably one of this college’s most compelling benefits. The opportunity to propose, build and shape your own course is simply unique in higher education. These courses erase our major labels and grade anxieties, allowing us to pursue knowledge with no other purpose beyond itself. In short, we become learners before students. There is a certain purity about the whole idea.
But all this could soon change.
On Aug. 19, 2014, the Curriculum Committee laid out a new policy on Independent Courses.  Unfortunately, although some reasonable points on formal assessment and overloading are made, there are also some serious restrictions introduced as follows:
(1) All so-called ‘2MCs’ must now be capped at five students. If more than five students are interested in a course, it is up to the professor to whittle it down “by any criteria they desire”.
(2) Enrolment in 2MCs will now take place through the standard add/drop system used for all other courses.
These restrictions are cause for concern. Arbitrarily limiting class size to ‘X’ number of students is counter to the spirit of the 2MC courses, where desire to learn should be the only selective criteria. The new restrictions cite space limitations and the absence of Committee review to justify X=5. But neither of these reasons are satisfactory. First off, students who take 2MCs are passionate. Practical concerns such as space will not stop them – a classroom is just Starbucks minus frappuccinos. This problem will of course be resolved in the new campus.
On the issue of curriculum review, we must remember that these are independent courses. Their content is student proposed and designed according to personal interest – indeed this is one of their primary benefits. Imposing a requirement for Committee review would become a limiting hurdle and stub out proposals before they gain legs. Separately, it’s inevitable that more than five students will participate in 2MCs anyway, if the professor will have them. If there are eight interested students, three will just have to audit. Being truly curious, they won’t miss the credits. Five (possibly random) students will get credit for their passion while the others will not. If there are to be size restrictions, they should be left to individual professors. They should not be imposed from the top across the board.
As for the new enrolment procedure, if the course registration process becomes just another online ‘add/drop’ listed alongside every other course, we risk diminishing the proposal process. We lose the fun of the chase. For me, crafting these courses has offered just as much value as the courses themselves. Collaboration with interested peers and professors toward your own curriculum is extremely rewarding. But under the new policy, students may no longer need to have a personal hand in this process. Instead they will simply sign up after the fact when it’s all already said and done.
To address both of these issues, I suggest that we distinguish between faculty and student proposed 2MC courses. Use the public ‘add/drop’ system only for faculty proposed courses such as ‘Math for Economics’. Retain the current ad hoc system for student proposed courses. This would both ensure student involvement in course proposals, and allow every student who contributes to a course proposal to receive their rightful credit. Separate kinds of courses deserve separate policies. Annette Wu ’17, current student in a 2MC course, sums it up thoughtfully: “Yale-NUS is about doing things differently and if administrative barriers are enforced at the sacrifice of an amazing, view-changing, totally unique course… it would be a real waste of our pioneering potential… We clearly care about our education, and we know our professors truly care for us. Why not make the most of it?”
. Yale-NUS Registry. “2 MC Courses in Semester 1 (AY 2014/2015 – Aug-Dec 2014).”