At last, we come to the end of our journey through Pitzer's core values, and how applicants might better come to understand what we mean when we repeat them. So far we've discussed Social Responsibility, Intercultural Understanding, and Interdisciplinary Learning*. The final core value that is central to the Pitzer College experience is Student Autonomy.
*Briefly, though, I want to pass along this article for anyone who is interested in reading more about the debate (oh yes, there is a debate!) over interdisciplinarity and its future in higher education.
And now back to the task at hand...This idea of Student Autonomy was born, like our other values, from the experiences of the individuals who founded our college in the early 1960s. Student Autonomy has many meanings, and is manifested in several ways both philosophically as well as practically here at Pitzer.
Most liberal arts educations are based on a "core curriculum," which is a fancy way of essentially saying "general education requirements." These core curricula may comprise the first one, two, three or even four semesters of one's college education. The idea behind the core curriculum was to give all students the same basic introduction to college-level work by teaching the "foundations of a good liberal arts education," often without giving students any choice in their own course schedules.
Not at Pitzer.
Rather than force students to check courses off of a list of requirements, our letter of admission is a vote of confidence in our students that they are capable of imagining and navigating their own educations. We do provide some guidelines to ensure that students expose themselves to a breadth of subjects (32 Sociology courses, however fun, do not comprise a robust liberal arts education). For example, Pitzer students take at least two courses in the Humanities and Fine Arts, two in the Social Sciences, one in the Natural Sciences, and one in Formal Reasoning. Within those areas, however, the specific courses that students choose to take are up to them. Easy, right?!
You'll notice that I didn't say "Math." If you're anything like I was in high school, you are constantly asking yourself what does geometry...calculus...trigonometry have to do with what I am going to do in the world. The principle behind Student Autonomy is that everything we do here at Pitzer should be related to making the world a better place. Not everyone is going to use a graphing calculator to make the world a better place. Some of us will. The result is that we've hired some outstanding faculty to teach courses such as Math, Philosophy and the "Real World," The Mathematics of Gambling, Mathematics in Many Cultures, and more. If you want to do Dynamical Systems, Chaos, and Fractals, we've got you covered there, too! The point is, you have choices. By the way, Math, Philosophy and the "Real World" was one of the best courses I took in college.
Another manifestation of Student Autonomy on campus is the presense of student input at the highest levels of administration. It is not uncommon - at all - to find students in heate debates with each other, with faculty members, and with administrators over institutional decisions, policies, and current events. The fact that debate even exists between students and administrators is evidence that students have real agency in every aspect of the governance of the school. Students are required to sit on every governing committee at Pitzer including the Faculty Executive, Budget, Academic Standards, and Judicial. If you love Student Government, if you're passionate about the direction of your institution, and if you're courageous enough to engage in conversation then you will likely be encouraged by the autonomy you find at Pitzer.
So for prospective students, we want to see your leadership, your independence, your initiative. Are you the kind of person that does well with autonomy? Are you curious and excited about taking courses in whatever subjects you choose...even if it means turning a course you end up disliking into a learning and growth opportunity? If so, then show me! We want to see all of those moments when you've stepped out onto a limb by yourself. We want to hear about the hard choices that you've had to make. We want to know that you're excited to thrive in an autonomous environment.
I hope this exploration beyond the buzzwords has been helpful. As we head into Winter, keep coming back to Admission Unpeeled to follow your application through our office. Blog posts will be more frequent as we begin reading heaps of applications. We know that this is a stressful time. So if there's anything we can help you with, please don't hesitate to contact us here at the office.