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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