Features  Liberal arts, liberal integrity?

McGill’s name is synonymous with “world renowned” and “top-10 university.” Students come from all over to learn and better themselves through McGill’s high standards and demand for quality. It’s shameful then that McGill’s largest faculty should have the most lax practices when it comes to academic integrity.

The Faculty of Arts – usually associated with innovative teachers, debate-filled conferences and readings piled sky-high – encompasses subjects that range from the major to the seldom heard-of. The difficulty, however, with almost-endless subject matter is balancing an academic syllabus with a unique learning approach.

There are arts courses that replace traditional textbooks with compiled excerpts from mass media outlets, and although this draws subjects from abstraction into reality, some texts – like op-ed columns from the New York Times – are hardly appropriate academic bases. Academic journals, old texts, and literary theories aren’t always the easiest to swallow, but they validate a field’s content. And without a basis in academia, courses become superficial portrayals of their topics, something especially true of social sciences. Compared to mathematical complexities of engineering or the ever-experimenting Faculty of Science, the nature of arts is more flexible, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t value fundamental scholastic study.

Another fallback of arts courses lies in the one-sidedness of opinions presented. Professors seem to put on blinders and teach only select arguments. While one viewpoint may be more widely held, ignoring its counterargument still hinders learning. If you don’t know much about the topic at hand, you won’t know you’re being taught biased information. Furthermore, if professors don’t adhere to proper research standards or represent partial viewpoints, what example is this setting for students?
It forces us to wonder whether course content is actually inspected before it is approved. Are department heads really signing-off on one-sided, opinion-based courses? And who is responsible for monitoring professors’ quality of teaching? With regard to content, each course should be critically evaluated and moderated by its department.

Creativity and academia don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Some courses can and do function through student-directed learning – one of the best courses I ever took was one in which mid-semester, the class got to vote on what aspect of the course we wanted to learn more about. McGill is also great for “breakthrough academia”: professors who study fields they’ve “invented” by bringing together subjects that aren’t conventionally handled together. Some of the best-taught courses come from professors genuinely interested in exposing students to a new area of study, and presenting it in a way that is relevant, while firmly based in academics.

Although Arts can’t have the same criteria as other faculties, its beauty stems from the fact that it’s not an exact science. All the faculty needs is careful course monitoring. Let the Arts building, the most iconic structure on campus, sincerely reflect the integrity of McGill University.