By Clara Kelvin-Grey
— Zero. The number of other university colleges (UCs) in the Netherlands with a compulsory pure Logic course. Although AUC is unique in this, other Dutch UCs have different approaches with the similar goal of encouraging the problem solving and critical thinking skills deemed necessary to become a good academic.
Leiden University College’s Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges program focuses on mathematical skills to solve real world issues in the compulsory courses Mathematical Modeling and Mathematical Reasoning. Meanwhile at University College Utrecht (UCU), the only compulsory course that students have to take is Research in Contexts, but Humanities students are also required to take The Humanities Lab. The first five weeks of that course focus on forms of analysis in cultural studies, while the second half concentrates on predicate logic. University College Roosevelt (UCR) offers a similar compulsory course for all Arts and Humanities students named Introduction to Argumentation and Rhetoric.
So why does AUC break the mold?
Dora Achourioti, coordinator of the Logic, Information Flow and Argumentation course at AUC, said that “logic is very abstract, and as such it trains the kind of reasoning […] needed for academic research.” As to why the course is mandatory, Achourioti explained that “students need someone to help them decide what they need. They need guidance.” Moreover, Achourioti thought, “AUC needs policies for all students,” and “the vast majority of students like Logic.”
According to an online survey taken by 323 AUC students, only ~52 percent like Logic, and ~47 percent found it had no relevance to their studies at AUC. Only about a third of students thought that Logic should be compulsory.
Not only do other UCs have different compulsory courses instead of Logic, they also offer a choice of course depending on major or ability. The reason for just the single logic course at AUC is that “different Logic courses would go against the ethos of the college and the spirit of liberal arts,” according to Achourioti. In fact, she believes that the logic course unites students, as they have to work and problem-solve together.
Students who are taking the course for the second time do not necessarily share this view. Bridget Nea, a first-year Humanities major taking Logic for the second time, said that in some ways she agrees this would go against “the ethos of the college.” She also found “the concept of forcing students to take a mathematical course that does not pertain to their field of study medieval in the first place.”
Nepheli Papadaki, also a first-year Humanities major doing Logic for the second time, said that by “making it mandatory, [it] eliminates this element of choice, and creates a high school atmosphere where several of your classes are pre-determined for you.”
Ana Tavadze is a first-year Humanities major who will be taking Logic for the third time next semester. “I can’t even describe how many times I’ve felt like I’m the stupidest person on Earth because I’m doing it for the second time […] I still don’t get it and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna fail again,” she explained.
So how do other UCs justify their choice of other mandatory courses?
Dr Patsy Haccou, coordinator of LUC’s Mathematical Reasoning course said that “there is no course specifically aimed at Logic or Critical thinking in the LUC first year curriculum. Development of these skills is supposed to be an essential element in all the courses.”
Dr Jocelyn Ballantyne, who teaches the Logic component of The Humanities Lab at UCU said, “I don’t believe that students benefit from being forced to learn anything against their will: you have to be open to the insights a study offers in order to benefit from it.”
Dr Michael Burke, Professor of Rhetoric who teaches the Introduction to Argumentation and Rhetoric course at UCR, explained that they have chosen not to offer a compulsory logic course because “we (UCR) are not a liberal science college but a liberal arts and sciences college. A pure logic skills course only really benefits maths and computer science majors.”
Taking Logic for the second or third time can be frustrating and counterproductive, with consequences for study abroad and individual course plans. “I am on academic probation and cannot go on exchange, which is also saddening. Help me out. Give me an alternative. Let me write a paper about Logic and apply it to my major somehow,” Papadaki explained.
Meanwhile, Nea is forced to consider leaving AUC. “I am not at university to take Logic. How can taking the exact same course three times enrich anyone’s academic life?” she said.
For Tavadze the consequences are not only academic, but also financial. She is worried that if she fails the course once more, AUC will ask her to leave, and according to their scholarship contract, she would be obliged to re-pay ~16,000 Euros for her first year here.
Despite the restrictions imposed by having to take the same course up to three times, AUC has a single policy for all. However, it seems that failing Logic is rarely due to a lack of effort or time input, as is the case with other courses. Gabriella Thompson, a first year who has failed Logic twice, said, “I get As and Bs in all my other classes with no problems.”
“Even though I worked very hard I’m still failing it. That proves that it’s not only about hard work. Honestly, I think it comes down to this: you either get it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you need a lot of luck to pass it,” Tavadze concluded.
It really sucks to fail the logic course, especially if the consequences are so disproportionately dire. I’ve always sucked at maths and physics and likewise I came scarily close to failing logic. That said, precisely that challenge got me and many similar (humanities) students up to speed with the academic standard and work ethos at AUC. You don’t have to understand/remember logic itself to pass the course with a 55, so either you train your abstract thinking – which is useful in every course – or you train yourself in learning and reproducing that which doesn’t come naturally, which is much of what sets a UC apart from a regular university. If you fail the 100-level logic course twice, you simply do not belong at an interdisciplinary honours college.
A couple of comments:
When any student chooses to attend AUC, that student is voluntarily choosing to take every required course for the major and the bachelor degree, including logic. Thus it is nonsensical to complain about being compelled to take a course like logic when it was in fact the student’s choice to take logic when the student chose to be an AUC student. Indeed, other UCs do not have a mandatory logic course, and students are welcome to apply to and attend one of the other UCs if the curriculum at AUC is not compatible with their goals. It is absolutely not the intention of the AUC Board to make AUC identical to the other UCs in the NL; in fact, it is the intention that AUC have its own unique emphasis and character, which includes required courses in logic, academic writing, global identity, languages and so forth. No one is being “forced to learn something against his/her will.” If you don’t want to learn what AUC expects you to learn, do not apply to AUC.
AUC is a liberal arts college. As such, the curriculum is structured to ensure that students who graduate from AUC have a breadth of knowledge across the disciplines. Any master program or employer that encounters an AUC graduate should know that this is someone whose academic background is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and cross-disciplinary, with a minimum level of expertise in mathematical and logical reasoning, academic writing and presenting in English, investigating questions using appropriate research methodology, thinking critically, structuring coherent arguments, and so on. A team of professional educators from a variety of backgrounds has determined that the AUC curriculum is an excellent vehicle for providing students with such a liberal arts education. Because it is the nature of all of us to pursue the path of least resistance and take only the courses that most interest us, it is necessary to make some courses mandatory to ensure that a degree from AUC means essentially the same thing for every graduate.
Students who do not want a liberal arts education should not apply to AUC, but apply to one of the traditional bachelor programs in which all courses are within a single discipline. Even then, students will have to take some courses that they don’t like or that are especially difficult.
Because AUC is a liberal arts college, it is absolutely never an appropriate argument to say that a student should not be required to take a specific course because the course has “no relevance to their studies at AUC” or because the relevance of the course to the student’s future academic or professional goals is not clear. Being relevant to a specific academic discipline or profession is not the point at all. The purpose of the course is to help a student become competent in an essential aspect of a liberal arts education.
AUC is an honors college. We have high admissions standards and high standards for passing our courses and earning our degree. Unfortunately sometimes students apply to AUC despite not having met our mathematics admissions requirement for their intended major, and often provide an earnest argument why they should be admitted anyway, promising to do whatever it takes to make up for the deficiency, and sometimes members of our admissions team allow such students to slide through and receive an offer of admission despite falling short of the requirements. When I review such an application I reject it, but some of my colleagues are not as strict, and really are just setting these students up for misery and failure. All four students mentioned in this article, who are repeating logic for the second or third time, fell short of the mathematics admissions requirement, a couple of them by a large deficit. AUC did them a disservice by putting them in a situation that they were not equipped to handle. Had our admissions team done its job, these students would be attending a different school more compatible with their academic ability. AUC students who do meet the mathematics admission requirement typically find logic to be one of their easier courses. But even for those who struggle, the logic teachers offer extensive extra help outside of class throughout the semester, voluntarily sacrificing their time to get students through the course. Many of the students who failed logic in the past semester never attended any of these extra-help sessions, despite being urged to attend, or attended only a few of the available sessions. Consequently they have to assume some responsibility for their repeated failures, and cannot claim that they worked hard to pass the course when they failed to take full advantage of the help that was offered to them.
A college or university in which every student only has to take the courses that interest him/her and that do not make too heavy of a demand on the student would be quite lovely, but the degree would not be worth the paper on which it is printed. An AUC degree is worth the time, money and effort that has to be expended to earn it, and our graduates are respected as being of the highest academic quality.
I see that the article misrepresents my views. To clarify (for the sake of a herring that is not a red herring), I copy here the relevant passages from my correspondence with the author.
I first copy the relevant quotes from the article and then append my response as it was sent to the author without further comments.
1. “logic is very abstract, and as such it trains the kind of reasoning […] needed for academic research.”
The actual sentence is the following:
“Logic is very abstract and as such it trains the kind of reasoning that is needed for academic research as such, whatever one’s own discipline is.”
The emphasis here is on the interdisciplinary character of logic, that is, the part of the sentence that is missing. As it reads in the article, the sentence confuses necessary and sufficient conditions (as in the fallacies of denying the antecedent or affirming the consequent). Abstraction is necessary -not sufficient- for academic research, and it is but one of the many skills that logic trains.
2. “students need someone to help them decide what they need. They need guidance.”
Precisely to avoid a straw man framing of my words, this is what I wrote to the author:
“This was said in the context of replying to the thesis that `you can’t make students take a course’.
I take this position to argue against having mandatory courses in general. In contrast to this, I would say that it is the responsibility of those who design an ambitious education program -such as the one AUC promises to its students- to make sure that the students acquire the basic skills that they need in order to be able to pursue a successful academic path. This is the place of the mandatory academic core courses where logic is situated.
This is important for me to clarify, otherwise this sentence out of context may be taken to imply that I think students should not choose for their courses, which is not at all what I believe (quite the contrary in fact!).”