Opinion | Staff Editorials

Timing of GS announcement is BS

  • AWN OH | GS Dean Peter Awn sent out an email Wednesday notifying students that GS would no longer offer Bachelor of Science degrees.

On Wednesday, School of General Studies Dean Peter Awn announced via email that the school would offer only Bachelor of Arts degrees from now on and would no longer award Bachelor of Science degrees to its students. Awn characterized the decision as a part of the process of the School of General Studies curriculum becoming much more liberal arts-focused and integrated with Columbia College and Barnard College, which only award B.A. degrees.

The most surprising part of this announcement, though, is that the new policy will apply even to GS seniors—students who will be graduating in three months. Though the number of students affected by the change may not be huge—no more than 15 members of the class of 2016 are pursuing a B.S., General Studies Student Council President Hannah Germond, GS ’16, told Spectator—some of these students have already spent nearly four years at Columbia pursuing B.S. degrees. Additionally, these students have already applied to receive their degrees, with the understanding that they would be B.S. degrees. These students were notified only shortly in advance of the school-wide email announcement.

Graduating seniors have been applying for jobs, graduate schools, and fellowships—and generally planning their postgraduate lives—under the assumption that they would be receiving B.S. degrees, only to find out that they will be receiving a B.A. at the end of this year. This is a problem: Some employers require one degree over another, as the degree type signifies the kind of education that a student has received. Students looking for jobs now find themselves having to explain why they are suddenly receiving a different degree. This situation is simply unfair. It is not the responsibility of students to consider the possibility that the University might change the rules of the game with only three months until graduation.

The difference between a B.A. and a B.S. is more than a technicality. The B.S. degree, as Awn wrote in his email, “presumes that the academic program for which the degree is awarded is comprised predominantly of non-liberal arts courses.” Because the current curriculum does not align with this standard, the New York State Department of Education—the body that oversees the awarding of such degrees—“raised serious concerns” about GS continuing to award the B.S. degree. Even the GS administration, though, didn’t find out long before students about the policy change—the decision was simply handed down from the Office of the Provost, according to GS students who have been in contact with administrators.

In light of the suddenness of the change, real questions should be asked of the Office of the Provost. If concerns about the GS curriculum are long-standing, why was this announcement made so suddenly? Why has the school put graduating seniors in this predicament? If the Office of the Provost had advance knowledge, it had a responsibility to prepare seniors for this possibility. If the University did not have prior knowledge, what does the fact that the Department of Education was forced to impose this decision upon GS say about Columbia’s attentiveness to the requirements?

In the long term, this decision may be the correct one, but it leaves graduating seniors in a bind. It would not be unreasonable of them to call BS on this unexpected announcement.

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

If GS students pursuing BS degrees suddenly get BA degrees, then the requirements can't be different if they are still graduating 3 months from now. Why would employers care then?

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Fed up posted on

I completely agree. Major changes like this and the recent announcement that the University will no longer give credit for unpaid internships has raised even more serious questions about the amount of transparency between students and the administration. The fact that the university is so comfortable handing out decisions with little to no notice is absolutely disrespectful and wrong. Students are what keep this university going, and the way that they consistently treat us when it comes to matters like this should not be tolerated.

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Anonymous posted on

I wonder if student leadership had any knowledge of this before the announcement was made. If they did, some responsibility should have fallen on their shoulders to prepare the students of this being a possibility. It almost appears as if they just stepped out of the way and let everyone get blindsided.

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Student Leader posted on

Believe me; we were blindsided. Not sure if University Senators or the GSSC Executive Board had an idea, but I highly, highly doubt it. If anyone knew anything, it was most likely the Committee on Instruction, whose members are never, ever transparent.

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Anonymous posted on

The 15 students affected knew about the change months ago. For everyone else, it doesn't matter, so why the fuss from people not affected? Over 90% of GS are already getting BAs now.

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Anonymous posted on

Wait, your own article specifically says the affected students were communicated with!

> “There were under 15 students out of our grad class expected for graduation with a B.S., and those students were all communicated with prior to the decision being made, to discuss steps for their transition,” Germond said.

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Anonymous posted on

Yea it sounds like Germond knew about this and provided no transparency till the announcement was made.

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Anonymous posted on

Why the hell does becoming more "integrated with C.C. and Barnard" make this any more acceptable? Are we that desperate for approval and acceptance that we're willing to just surrender those things that makes us distinguished? And why does does the New York State Dept. of Education get any say in how the hell Columbia awards it's degrees. We're an elite private institution filled with the brightest academic minds in the world and our faculty is just going to roll over to a government bureaucrats who probably have no idea what it takes to graduate from an institution like Columbia? Did the trustees even put up a fight? Leadership has failed on every level in this decision. The E-board needs to prove they're not just bunch of resume enhancers and get their classmates backs for once. Those 15 students should be getting some tuition back for this bullshit.

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Anonymous posted on

Andrew Lawson 2014!

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