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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Independent study reform overdue

    Everyone enjoys a break – but not when it comes at the expense of other hard-working UA students.

    Independent study classes have long been a mixed bag of sorts. Some students work endless hours to earn an “”A””; others do next to nothing – clearly an unfair system. That is why it is encouraging that an administrative task force will spend the fall reviewing the independent study guidelines and making recommendations for their improvement.

    The concept of an independent study is a great boon to a student’s education, allowing for the examination of topics not readily investigated in classes. It is an open door toward further research work with a professor, perhaps leading to a potential undergraduate or even master’s thesis. It demands a high level of intellectual maturity to complete a self-directed project on time. And the rigorous development of an independent research project pushes students to explore a subject in minute detail.

    The task force’s new guidelines ought to accentuate these types of benefits without undermining the independence inherent in an independent study. Mandatory meetings with a supervising professor are critical – but the frequency of those meetings should be determined by professor and student. Project proposals and final papers should also be required at the outset and completion of the work.

    The issue here is accountability: Is the student doing work of high quality commensurate with the quantity of units received? While it would be easy to impose a strict regime of accountability, the task force should err on the side of intellectual autonomy. The fact that these studies are independent and student-driven is the aspect that makes them such fecund ground for academic growth. To lose that aspect in a tide of regulations, rules and official schedules would be a loss to the university and to the students who participate.

    Ultimately, the arbiters of what constitutes a decent independent study are the supervising professors. It is their responsibility to uphold the standards of academic integrity. Indeed, rather than taking all comers, professors ought to screen potential students for independent study projects, perhaps implementing a GPA benchmark and requiring a letter of recommendation from a professor in the department when a professor does not know a student well. A high GPA may be an indicator of the student’s ability to work effectively and independently, and a letter of recommendation can speak volumes about a student’s suitability – or lack thereof – for independent study.

    The work of the task force is a welcome development for the integrity of UA’s independent study program. The key for the task force will be to improve independent study oversight without hindering the laudable benefits of intellectual autonomy. If they succeed, it will be a benefit to us all.

    Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Nina Conrad, Lori Foley, Ryan Johnson, Ari Lerner, Nicole Santa Cruz and Matt Stone.

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