By Jimmy Threatt
The Introduction to the Humanities program at Stanford is meant to introduce freshmen to the humanities. While, it certainly meets its objective of introducing students to many important ideas, its methods of achieving this objective are severely flawed. I remember hearing negative things about IHUM from upperclassmen when I arrived at Stanford, but I decided to give IHUM a fair chance before I decided whether or not I liked it. However, after taking IHUM during my freshman year, it is extremely easy for me to see that IHUM is the greatest academic drawback I have encountered at Stanford.
First of all, the program is completely unnecessary. IHUM merely requires students to take an extra set of humanities classes because Stanford already mandates under the General Education Requirements that all students must take a humanities and a social science class. Why doesn’t Stanford also require that all students complete a program focused on math and science in addition to the math and science GERs? The answer to this question is that it is ridiculous to require students to take the same kinds of classes as part of a program during their freshman year when they are already required to take very similar classes in order to earn their diploma.
Not only is the purpose of IHUM flawed, but the courses themselves seem to have other purposes. During my fall quarter IHUM, I felt that I was more in a program to force a liberal mindset upon me rather than to introduce me to the humanities. Maybe Stanford believes the humanities and liberal ideas are one and the same—I really don’t know. However, at one point, my two professors staged a debate about gay marriage. The professor that was arguing for gay marriage, which would be considered the liberal stance, made several nice points about the pursuit of equal rights for all people. Then the other professor stood up and constructed an argument that was not against gay marriage, but produced an argument about why people should not fight for gay marriage. He argued that a push for gay marriage would mobilize the conservative base. I was stunned simply because no matter where you stand on gay marriage, that was a pathetic attempt to argue against gay marriage for the sake of teaching the class. The example assumed that mobilizing the conservative base is a bad thing. Being against gay marriage is a conservative stance, so it makes no sense why a person arguing against gay marriage would believe fighting for gay marriage is a bad thing because it will mobilize the conservative base. Based on that class, it would seem that my professor not only thinks mobilizing the conservative base is a bad idea, but is also willing to make a pathetic attempt to take a stance against gay marriage rather than try to teach his class. Perhaps he let his political views interfere with his teaching, hampering his ability to educate his students. His argument against gay marriage was turned into an argument against conservative ideas by his own liberal thinking. This was a terrible lecture no matter which party you support. Certainly, we would hope that a class for all freshmen would be one to educate rather than one to indoctrinate.
Not only are the purpose and teaching of IHUM flawed, but the concept of the program has been put into practice in a poor manner. IHUM courses are four units; yet some courses require a much larger amount of work than do other courses. Students come to Stanford to get an education and to do work. However, if students are forced to take a program, then the courses that make up the program should all be somewhat equal in workload.
I noticed this flaw in the program during fall quarter when I had to write a six and a ten page paper and take a written exam while my roommate had to write two five-page papers and take a written exam. I noticed this disparity again during the two-quarter sequence when I had friends in an IHUM who were only required to have a ten to fifteen minute oral interview with their TA instead of a three hour written exam.
At this point, I wrote a letter to the Freshmen Dean’s office complaining about the disparity in workload when all students received the same number of credits for IHUM. If some students had to do greater amounts of work than others, then I thought it was at least fair for those students to receive more credits for their extra work. I received a response to my complaint from Ms. Phaedra Bell, who was affiliated with the IHUM program in a major capacity. I met with her, and it was a complete waste of time. She dismissed my complaint, smiled, and reassured me of the importance of IHUM. She believed my complaint was invalid because she assured me that the workload in all IHUM classes is equal. I cited the example of my roommate’s fall IHUM and my fall IHUM and she said, “Although I’m happy you are discussing your school work with your classmates, it is not always the most accurate way to gain information.” She assured me that there is a board of people who review all of the syllabi, assuring that all of the courses require comparable amounts of work. If Ms. Bell is right, then either the people governing IHUM do not realize the unfair system they have set up, or they simply do not care.
The IHUM program is flawed, both in idea and in practice. Stanford students already have to meet many requirements to graduate, and one of the GERs is a humanities class. We don’t need to be introduced to the humanities, especially in a way that rewards students who get into a class that has half the work and receive the same number of credits as other students. Hopefully, Stanford will one day realize the flaws in IHUM and either get rid of the program or keep the classes that have been offered as part of the program for the entire student body to take at their own digression. Unfortunately, that has not happened and will probably not for some time, so until then I apologize to the class of 2012 for the pointless and flawed program this prestigious university will force upon you.