By Maria Assaf
A professor I know once recalled an incident in which a journalism student complained about having to take a philosophy course. The student questioned the importance of taking electives that were completely irrelevant to her core courses.
Many Ryerson students, even friends of mine, often complain about having to take elective courses that take away time they could use toward focusing on their major (a.k.a. their personal affairs). But if universities follow through with this notion and continue to use it as a marketing tool, they should begin calling things by their name and just portray themselves as colleges.
The fact that the practicality of electives is even in question is concerning. The whole idea of going to university, besides obtaining that indispensable piece of paper we call a diploma, is to become well-rounded individuals who can question authorities and use our work to contribute meaningfully to our society.
For example, an engineering student may say that they will never need to speak to another human being in their careers, so why should they know politics? How would they engage on projects that can improve the world if they did not know the politics surrounding public research or if they do not know about the world’s most pressing issues such as climate change?
The world would be in shambles with uninformed scientists, and governments would love it.
Considering programs like arts and communications, how influential could their work be if an author is not aware of the political and economic context of his or her times?
Designers, photographers, filmmakers and reporters should be the most excited about taking electives. The bread and butter of our careers comes from venturing outside our areas of expertise.
We may be able to know how to make a beautiful product, but the depth of what we create will only come from the deeper knowledge we obtain about the world. Trends and fads die the night of the day they are born, but only timeless concepts survive in history. This is what makes work influential.
There are already hints of the disappearance of electives in craft-based programs such as journalism, photography, filmmaking and fashion design. Many of these programs are moving more toward specialization, leaving behind liberal courses that are no longer considered practical.
Only a couple of years ago, journalism students had to take mandatory politics courses. Now, a student can go through four entire years of university education without ever hearing a word about Canada’s Prime Minister.
This is problematic and also misleading for prospective students. The move away from electives is a move from being a university to becoming a college.
Moreover, it is a move that will create an army of unquestioning machines who can complete a task, get a salary and one day retire, but who will never ask why.
If this move advances, student bodies, which throughout history have been at the core of social uprisings against oppressive world leaders from South America to Europe, will cease to be an important political force.
We would become toy soldiers, which governments will be able to use like robots; who would never vote and who would never bother to question the status quo.