Criticism of St. Mary's fails woefully

June 07, 2013

Anne D. Neal apparently thinks that because St. Mary's College of Maryland has been unable to fill 150 seats in its incoming freshman class, its curriculum must be flawed and its students ill-educated ("Cautionary campus tale," May 30).

As a student of St. Mary's College of Maryland, I strongly disagree with Ms. Neal's stance, and I am appalled by the complete lack of basis on which she constructs her argument.

In her commentary, Ms. Neal pulls her evidence of St. Mary's apparent failure in curriculum from the "American Council of Trustees and Alumni's 'What Will They Learn?' study," which apparently "gave St. Mary's core curriculum a D, finding that students could graduate with immense gaps in their skills and knowledge." Ms. Neal asserts, based on the findings of the study, that St. Mary's students "can graduate without exposure to literature, American history or government, foreign language, or composition."

In truth, St. Mary's students must meet core requirements in such areas as international languages, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and a core seminar. To say that St. Mary's students are not required to study foreign language is untrue. Exposure to literature and composition is embedded in the core seminar requirement, and students must also take a placement exam in composition to determine if further instruction is needed.

Interestingly enough, Harvard College, the institution from which Ms. Neal is a graduate, received a "D" in the same study, "lacking" almost the exact same requirements. It seems that the study fails to take into account that many students achieve their core requirements utilizing AP credits and their equivalents. Ms. Neal also chooses to criticize the cost of tuition at St. Mary's college, but again fails to recognize that the cost tuition at Harvard is more than twice that of St. Mary's.

Ms. Neal goes on to subtly criticize the "trendy" introductory seminars that are also a core requirement of St. Mary's College. The goals of these introductory courses are to enhance "critical thinking, information literacy, written expression and oral expression" in students, while also encouraging them to become active members in the college community. While the topics of the seminars are quirky and weird (a description of St. Mary's that students take pride in), the "meat and bones" of the courses are dense with constructive learning.

As a student in the seminar, "Victorian Monsters and Modern Monstrosity," with Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black, I read such influential works as Jane Eyre and Dracula, among others, and learned to critically analyze these works in both written and oral discussion.

I learned the foundations of research and writing and how to actively integrate myself into the college community, all in a class that I found to be interesting and fun. I suppose Ms. Neal's classes at Harvard never ventured beyond the boring, overarching, "cookie-cutter" topics of learning, and that is her loss.

It seems that whatever point Ms. Neal had been attempting to make has been buried by her unfounded criticism and her complete disregard for factual evidence. She has insulted and degraded every student, faculty member, and alumnus of St. Mary's College of Maryland. I would suggest that Ms. Neal's time would be better spent examining her own alma mater, rather than criticizing an esteemed college about which she has no knowledge.

Sarah Jablon, Severna Park

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