Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

Exactly how tough are the academic requirements at Harvey Mudd College, an elite California school that focuses on engineering, the sciences, and mathematics?  A recent headline in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that the institution “is rethinking its ‘soul crushing’ core curriculum.”  Indeed, an external review team concluded that “there is general agreement that the core [at Harvey Mudd] is an exhausting and dispiriting slog for too many students.”

To investigate this claim, University Life sent a team of student reporters to the Harvey Mudd campus to sample the school’s core courses.  Here is what they found:

Toby:  “I took a course called Rising Tides Calculus.  It’s held in a large grain silo on the edge of campus that has been converted into a water-storage tank.  At the beginning of every class session the tank is empty and you’re just sitting at your desk.  The instructor comes in and gives you a complex problem set that must be completed in 50 minutes.  Then the water starts flooding into the tank through a bunch of side panels, forcing you to work on the problems while you’re also trying to stay afloat.  Unfortunately, the desks are metal and bolted to the floor, so they’re no help.  As the water level gets higher and approaches the dome of the silo, the whole scene becomes an absolute sh*t-show: panic, screaming, and a lot of flailing about. 

“I’d never enroll in a course like this again….ever!  I got a B+, but it wasn’t worth it.  It’s way too cruel, even if you’re a good swimmer.”

Marlene:  “I thought it would be nice to take an Art History course, so I signed up for Post-Impressionism with Professor Spencer.  A nightmare!  At the beginning of the final exam you stare for 15 minutes at Seurat’s classic pointillist work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte [see above].  Next, you close your eyes and estimate the total number of dots in the painting, and how many dots of each color there are.  If any of your estimates are off by more than 10, you receive an electric shock to the back of your neck and repeat the test with another pointillist painting.

“During this exam I developed the most horrible headache of my life!  A guy next to me, his head actually exploded!  What a freakin’ mess!  Does this course really teach you anything about art?”

Graham:  “I made the mistake of taking the English course, Team-building and the Construction of Literature.  It’s a one-week residential ‘lived experience’ offered during Spring Break in a cabin on Timber Mountain in the San Gabriel range.  On the first day, your group of 10 is given a huge sack of tiny refrigerator magnets, with each magnet containing a single word.  It turns out that they’re the words for the complete text of Middlemarch by George Eliot.  By the end of the week you‘re supposed to recreate the entire novel on the floor of the cabin, chapter by chapter, by placing the magnets in the proper sequence.  What makes it worse is that we didn’t even have a copy of the book to guide us.  How insane is that?  Middlemarch is over 900 pages!

“I have no idea how this circus turned out.  I just left and hiked back to campus.”

There you have it.  Are these courses too intense?  Excessively demanding?  Fundamentally unfair? 

Or are today’s kids just whiners and snowflakes?

It’s your call.