Barnard is cutting its physical education requirement in half in order to save the college money.
Acting Provost Paul Hertz told Spectator in an email that Barnard's Committee on Instruction, which is composed of students, faculty, and staff, “concluded that a one semester physical education requirement adequately serves the needs of students.” Hertz and Dean Avis Hinkson announced the P.E. change in a statement Friday, telling Barnard students that it is “largely motivated by the financial constraints under which the college is currently operating.”
“The change offers cost savings which will allow for funding of other student and faculty resources,” Hertz said in his email to Spectator.
Currently, Barnard students are required to complete one semester of P.E. in their first year and a second semester of P.E. by the end of their junior year. Students will need to complete the new one-semester requirement in their first year.
According to Hertz and Hinkson, the Barnard faculty approved the change on April 2.
“This wasn't a decision made lightly,” COI member Julianna Coppage, BC '12, said. “We devoted a number of meetings to this pretty much since January ... Everybody took it very seriously.”
Student Government Association Vice President Rachel Ferrari, BC '13 and a COI member, said she was glad that the administration got student and faculty input before making a decision.
“President [Debora] Spar and Chief Operating Officer Greg Brown came directly to the COI to have faculty and students contribute to the decisions that were being made that were financial, in terms of our representing the academic experience,” Ferrari said.
Ferrari explained that Barnard's relatively small endowment, the cost of building the Diana Center, and the college's preparation for a major campus renovation were factors that necessitated immediate budget cuts.
In an email to the student body, SGA described the change as “not ideal,” although SGA academic affairs representative Malvina Kefalas, BC '14, said in an interview that of all the cost-cutting moves Barnard could make, this is “the one that would have the least impact on the college's mission.”
Coppage said that in COI meetings, “people came to the realization that reducing the P.E. requirement does not necessarily reduce the emphasis on wellness at the college.” SGA said in its email that it is “committed to working to increase awareness of Barnard's student wellness options to ensure that students can take advantage of these resources for their personal health,” and Hinkson and Hertz encouraged students to take advantage of the Well-Woman and FITbear programs.
Students reacted to the announcement with ambivalence, saying that cutting the P.E. requirement won't have much of an effect. Abigail Smith, BC '13, called the change “a little irrelevant.”
“People who already enjoy the requirement will exercise regardless of whether it's mandatory,” Smith said. “I'm glad the requirement exists, because it encourages people to know where the gym is and use Barnard's wellness resources.”
“As long as it doesn't prevent anyone from taking P.E. classes if they want to, the change doesn't seem to be that significant,” Mia Cooper, BC '14, said.
Others said that the P.E. requirement should not exist at all.
“The point of the requirement is to make people active,” Maddie Richer, BC '14, said. “I think we're old enough to make the decision to exercise for ourselves.”
But Dorcas Yip, BC '15, said she is “really sad” that the requirement is being changed solely for financial reasons. Yip plans to continue taking P.E. classes if they fit in her schedule.
“I still really want to take a dance class here,” she said.
Current students who have not completed a second semester of P.E. will not be required to do so. Ajla Karajko, BC '14, said that after proactively fulfilling her P.E. requirement as a sophomore, it frustrates her that other students who haven't fulfilled it yet are now off the hook.
“I'm mad because I had to do it for two semesters, and it's unfair that I only know now that my second semester wasn't required,” she said. “They should just start the new policy for the incoming class.”
Barnard has required two semesters of P.E. since 1984, but the college has reduced the requirement several times throughout its history. From 1972-1984, the requirement was four semesters, and prior to that, it was six semesters.
“The saddest thing about a college is that it's a business. It's not just a glorious utopia,” Ferrari said. “And I'm proud that our administration is willing to examine where we're putting our money and where else it could be put.”