Holcomb: SAGES is failing but is needed

Contract professors, lack of focus is responsible for downfalls

College is a time for intellectual exploration.

While courses required for majors are important for this, many simply reinforce similar skill sets and mentalities. SAGES takes a general education approach that attempts to provide all Case Western Reserve University students a similar experience.

It has its successes, but there are deficiencies that need to be addressed.

The goal of the SAGES program as written on CWRU’s website speaks of grounding undergraduates in “critical thinking, written and oral communication,” along with its “use,” “reasoning” and “engagement” in an “ethical” and “diverse” framework with the goal of learning about “human culture and behavior, scientific knowledge and methods of research.” Needless to say, it was quite an undertaking.

The small seminars cover a diverse range of topics and integrate multiple aspects of higher education. Seminars are an ideal way to foster critical thinking and writing skills. Instead of only a few times a year, you meet your advisor every week. In this respect, the program is a significant improvement upon standard general education requirements.

What most people don’t know is that the program was initially intended to enlarge the faculty. This has not been the case. Instead, professors are hired on a course-by-course basis. The reasoning is this would ensure that the professors have real-world knowledge they can share with the student body. They are not accountable to the university, and they are only paid $5,000 per course.

While these professors may be well-versed in their subject, they may not be qualified to convey the written and communication skills the program seeks to teach. These courses further siphon students away from social science and humanities courses. SAGES, instead of strengthening these departments, reduces student enrollment in said departments.

The bottom line is that the bulk of SAGES should be run primarily through the social sciences and humanities departments, not through outside hires. These university professors better cultivate a foundation of critical thinking and writing for STEM and arts majors. They can also better integrate the students into the campus and its various departments.

The diversity of SAGES classes may seem like a strength, but it is actually a weakness. SAGES covers a too-wide breadth for all majors; there is too great a variation in class type and class quality.

Talking to students, I realized most opinions of the SAGES program as a whole were dependent on their enjoyment of their seminar topic and professor. Some, inspired, switched majors, while others belittled their topic. Few thought about what they actually learned or improved upon.

While the intent is to build a writing and critical thinking foundation that can apply to their major, it appears students often do not see it in this way. While the program’s goals need to be better articulated, students themselves have the responsibility to take these classes seriously.

At the same time, we must not let the ideal be the enemy of the good.

I spoke with the Associate Director of SAGES Michael Householder. He said, “My attitude towards SAGES is similar to Churchill’s view of democracy. It is perhaps the worst form of general education, except for all the others that we have tried.”

After speaking with the heads of the SAGES program, I am confident they are dedicated and passionate individuals that only wish to make students’ CWRU experiences as enriching as possible. That being said, the program can and should evolve in the manner I addressed to achieve this end. Even beyond that, it should continue to use student feedback to grow into an even stronger program.

We are all just searching for our passions, and part of that is investing oneself in a discipline. But anyone can see that the lessons SAGES is trying to teach are critical to virtually every industry. All students can benefit from stronger social sciences and humanities departments; the program should be articulated to them as such. The SAGES program has been a boon to my education in a lot of ways, but I know it can be even better with the right kind of structure.

Chandler Holcomb is a fourth-year student.