Sweeping Changes In IMSA’s Academic Offerings

Students attend a class in auditorium | Source: Whit Pruitt - University of Arkansas

Each year, around December, IMSA releases its Course Catalog, a comprehensive outline of course offerings and credits for the following academic year. IMSA recently published its Course Catalog for 2022–2023, which, as usual, includes a number of modifications from past years. In the most recent edition, the changes are two-fold.

Academic Curriculum

Several different classes have been adjusted for the coming school year, some added and others removed. These courses have just recently been chartered and will be offered this upcoming school year…

  • Survey of Calculus (Mathematics). A half-credit course offered to juniors and seniors, Survey of Calculus “intends to [be a] broad overview of the two main branches of calculus: differential and integral.” The course is designed to provide an overview to students “who want to know what calculus is before committing to a complete, in-depth course.”
  • Introduction to Proofs (Mathematics). A half-credit course for sophomores and juniors, Introduction to Proofs is designed to “provide students with the fundamental skills to read, write, and reasons when working with mathematics.” Working with logic, deduction, set theory, and combinatorics, the course will prepare students for more rigorous math electives.
  • Authors & Topics: Travel Writing (English). A senior-only course, Authors & Topics: Travel Writer intends to explore “literary travel writing” by analyzing a myriad of writers including Ryszard Kapuściński, Susan Orlean, Bill Bryson, and Jamaica Kincaid.
  • Expression and Experiment in Poetry (English). Also a senior-only course, Expression and Experiment in Poetry will empower students to “overcome fears of poetry” and “develop the necessary skills to read historical and contemporary poetry.”
  • History of Biology and Medicine (History). A senior-year course, History of Biology and Medicine will “trace the varied attempts to explain and modify the living world from antiquity to the twentieth century, mostly through the history of medicine.”

Several courses will also be terminated this coming year.

  • Rhetoric & Communication (Science)
  • Authors & Topics: Satire from Swift to South Park (English)
  • Historic Global Commodities and Culture (History)
  • History of Mathematics (History). Though listed on the Course Catalog for 2021/2022, History of Mathematics was not actually offered. This upcoming year, the course has been officially removed from the Course Catalog.
  • African American Studies: History Focus (History)
  • Russian II (World Language). IMSA’s Russian program has been pared down. Russian I and Russian II are no longer being offered, indicative of potential efforts to end the Russian program going forward.

Research in Global History of Africa is continuing this coming year. Though listed as an officially charted class, enrolled students share that the “class” this year has become more of a reading group (that explores topics including linguistics in Southern Africa, decolonization, religious syncretism, medicine, and more). Many students are hopeful the course can operate like a typical class this coming year.

With five course additions and six removals, IMSA now offers 131 classes (not including SIR operations), which closely tracks offerings from six previous years (133, 131, 132, 131, 133, 131).

Independent Study and Student Inquiry & Research (SIR)

Of the changes, one of the most significant has been a modification to Student Inquiry & Research (SIR) and Independent Studies. Beginning this upcoming academic year, students will no longer be permitted to be enrolled in both an SIR and an Independent Study concurrently. This starkly differs from practices in previous years, where the administration gave control over enrollment in SIR and Independent Studies to students. Students are conflicted about the decision.

Jayant Kumar (’23) strongly disagrees with the decision, arguing that “Independent Studies and an SIR have very different motives and learning outcomes for the student. The fact that one cannot pursue both at the same time is quite frankly absurd.”

Atharva Gawde (’23) agrees with Kumar, sharing that “the decision really benefits nobody and really messes with my plans.” A result of the recent change, Gawde now feels forced to “pick and choose between his interests” and argues the “arbitrary decision just dissuades students from actually taking the initiative to pursue their interests and passions.”

Shaan Doshi (’23) also disagrees with the decision, arguing that it’s a student’s prerogative to find what works for them. “Students should determine how much we can do, not administration. If it’s overwhelming, then we drop; but that’s up to us, not them [administration]”

Students share similar sentiments, regardless of grade. Kyler Yu (’22) argues “that it isn’t a reasonable change. A lot of students are doing both and succeeding in both. One is about research and another is about learning — they help a student develop in two unique ways.”

Matthew Salinas (’24) agrees with the previous comments. Though he sees the administration’s rationale, he argues that “a lot of kids can do both, especially if they want to do both. If they want to do both, it means they are committed and it develops time management skills.”

However, some students agree with the administration’s decision.

Avyay Duggirala (’24) believes the “decision is honestly fair. Otherwise, students might try to overwork themselves which could negatively affect their mental health.”

Bhavya Vegesna (’23) shares that “for SIR, a lot of students join whatever project their mentor is working on, so students really don’t have the freedom to research what they’re curious about.” Vegesna believes the recent change might correct this issue and foster student individuality in outside-of-class ventures.

Regardless of their position on the decision, students that joined The Acronym for an interview all argued that student input should have been prioritized in the decision-making process. Jai Sutaria (’23) shares that “students [should] have been involved in the process of making that decision to ensure all perspectives were taken into account for the decision.”

Academics will look incredibly different this coming academic year — from the introduction of new classes to sweeping changes in IMSA’s prized SIR program, students will have to learn to adapt to new classes, new policies, and new teachers. Will these changes foster student growth and advance IMSA’s mission? Only time will tell.

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