The College of General Studies: A Disadvantage or a Hidden Jewel?
May 2, 2012
The winds bitterly yanked at her turquoise scarf. My mother was walking back from the mailbox while I watched her. Breathe in. Breathe out. I was preparing for the worst as she tightly held onto the envelope that may decide my life for the next couple of years. My heart felt as though it were going to come out of my chest. Pray. Rip. Tear. Exhale. I got accepted. Jumping up and down on my couch, I was transformed into a little girl. I screamed out of joy as I read the first words of the letter: Dear Salma, Congratulations! You have been accepted…However, as I read further my heart dropped. I had been accepted into the College of General Studies. Questions raced through my mind. What is it? Who gets into it? Why did I get accepted into it even though I don’t remember applying? I remembered applying for the College of Arts and Sciences. I eventually accepted the fact that I am in CGS by telling myself that I should be thankful that I even got into BU.
I thought I was getting accepted into BU. At the time I did not understand the concept of colleges within a school. Although every university has a similar system, why was Boston University so focused on dividing its students? When I got into my dorm I noticed how divided the Boston University community truly was. Each door had each freshman student’s name and their college. Everyone automatically belonged to a certain community and interaction became scarce between colleges. Unless you participate in FYSOP, orientation, or similar programs (which you would have to pay for) freshman students seemed to be divided by college. The College of General Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Communication, The Metropolitan College, and the School of Management are the main colleges that exist with Boston University. The question then arises, is each of these colleges a sub-culture/ community within a bigger community/culture or simply a sub-structure?
The College of General Studies can be considered a sub-structure of Boston University. The University consists of different colleges that create Boston University as a whole. But, to call CGS a sub-culture would hint at a completely different meaning. A sub-structure can be considered “schematic- it seems involved with content rather than form.” However, a sub-culture refers to an analysis of the meaning of the place. A sub-culture can be more connected with a place of shared values, language, and behaviors that everyone associates with. Simply because there is the existence of a sub-structure does not automatically mean there is the existence of a sub-culture. Clarke stated that,
Sociologists frequently argue that particular structural circumstances, like being working class, give rise to distinctive cultures…For the moment, it is enough to point out that sub-structure and sub-culture are by no means synonymous, even when they appear to be. The strongest form of this fallacy, and the most convincing cases of sub-cultures are those where sub-culture=sub-community…
Therefore, one needs to figure out, primarily, whether the College of General Studies is a complex sub-culture or simply a sub-structure. Once this is found, a better analysis of the college can be made and improvements suggested.
In order to understand the effectiveness of CGS, it is best to hold the college in comparison with similar programs at other schools. Some of the biggest universities such as Colombia and Penn State have colleges that resemble CGS. However, although most of these general studies colleges focus heavily on a liberal arts education, there are some stark differences. For example, on the Colombia School of General Studies website it says that most students “at GS have, for personal or professional reasons, interrupted their education, never attended college, or are only able to attend part-time.” It seems that this college is much more integrated with the rest of the university because although the college has certain requirements, “GS students take the same classes, with the same professors, as a student in Columbia’s other undergraduate colleges.”  This is very different from the structure of CGS at BU. The students are restricted to only one course outside of the CGS so the integration with other colleges within BU is much less. The Colleges of General Studies at other schools seems to focus on liberal arts from a global aspect with a focus on languages. For example the College of Liberal Arts, “The CGS [at Penn State] has adopted four central research themes: Global Media, Global Rights, Global Technology, and Global Frontiers. Any activity related to each of these four themes is being led by core groups of faculty from different departments and colleges, whose varied expertise will guide the cooperative and creative nature of such programs.” This subtle communication between colleges and a specific curriculum has truly created success for these well-known schools. The College of General Studies on the other hand, seems to focus on a very general curriculum for undecided freshman. Although this may be useful, will these students benefit from this liberal arts education? As Ghita Benslimane, a non-CGS student, states, “CGS [at Boston University] defeats the purpose of college---to study your interests and not a general curriculum. Studying a general curriculum is reserved for high school. And college is reserved for studying a subject that one is interested in. CGS is not encouraging students to be independent and improve their weaknesses on their own.”But, is Ghita correct?
The College of General Studies at Boston University is unique in the way it is set up. Unlike other colleges, the classes tend to be small. Usually, there are twenty students in the discussions and fifty students in the lectures. The biggest lecture is in the JSA—a term that could be referred to as the class or as the physical location of the lecture. It is rare to find a professor who doesn’t know each student’s name in their classes. Within the freshman and sophomore classes the students are broken into teams. Usually, students within a team are in the same classes. CGS is not the regular college. There seems to be something close to a “community” since if one walks in the hallways it is very likely to see someone you know. There are shared terms within the community relating to the classes freshman and sophomores are required to take. Rhetoric 101 and 102 are meant to be similar to a writing class taken at the College of Arts and Sciences. Other students outside of CGS may not understand the jargon used by CGS students. Humanities, Social Science, JSA, Team S, student mailboxes and Capstones are some of the jumble of terms that merge into the language of CGS students and faculty. Even outside of the building a supposed community arises. In the days before CGS tests or finals, West Campus becomes CGS student dominated territory. Every study space is invaded by masses of students gathering to prepare for their next task, to conquer the team tests. However, do the people of CGS really merge together to become a distinctive culture from the rest of Boston University? As Clarke stated, a community does not necessarily come together to form a sub-culture. A community is a group of people living under a particular area. A sub-culture requires there to be more clear integration and communication of students as a self-identified body. There are different teams, different clubs, and programs within CGS that are supposed to help integrate and welcome CGS freshman students. However, the end result creates self-segregated communities. Therefore, CGS can only be a sub-structure. As Clarke states, “The structural perspective looks at social events, the cultural into the analysis of meaning.” The College of General Studies is a sub-structure that holds many individual sub-cultures. Many within CGS don’t seem to have a meaningful connection to CGS. However, each student can integrate into sub-cultures within CGS. As Lucy, a student within CGS, states, “I think that there is a lot of division between teams but that each team is a tight-knit community. Since you see the same people every day, it's easy to develop great friendships.”Teams within CGS can become sub-cultures. This sub-culture however is not CGS. It is the programs and division that occur within CGS that portray signs of an emerging sub-culture.
People who have heard of CGS but have not joined the sub-structure tend to view it negatively. As one student in the College of Arts and Sciences indicated, “CGS is sometimes the butt of everyone's BU jokes.”The college is sometimes referred to as Crazy Glue and Scissors because of its supposedly childish treatment of its students. These perceptions of CGS have mostly been fostered by students within the BU community, but not necessarily by those within CGS. Some students inside and outside of BU have even commented on CGS’s “flawed system.” Martin, A CAS student, described some of CGS’s flaws by saying that “CGS doesn't seem to appeal to people that would take less than two years to get their graduation requirements out of the way, or to people that took a lot of AP/IB classes in high school.”Therefore, one can conclude that CGS is created for those who were in less advanced classes and needed help developing their skills from high school. But, could general classes at any non-CGS college be a solution? Then, CGS could either be eliminated or radically reformed. Yet, students would not have the option of smaller classes and more intimate connections with professors.
The Student Government Club at CGS is one of the prominent clubs at BU that tries to make a difference in CGS students’ lives. The Vice President-elect states, “CGS Student Government really has the students' best interests at heart. We have done a lot in the past and continue to plan for fun and exciting events. This year, we have hosted movie-screenings, holiday-themed parties, large social events such as ‘Besties’, and ordered the Capstone mugs for sophomores …The new student government has also purchased donuts and coffee from Dunkin Donuts for students on May 7 before their finals. So we really do care about the school and the students in it.”They bring together CGS students through these great events which promote socialization and a sense of community within BU. Through school-wide events such as “Besties”, CGS student government reaches to students outside of CGS and welcomes these non- CGS students to take a look into the CGS community. However, for the most part the vice-president states that “CGS Student Government definitely works primarily within CGS.” There must be increased communication between students of different colleges that goes further than the classrooms. Clubs are an integral part for this to occur.
Another rising club at CGS is the World affairs Forum. The club is known for its intimate gatherings with the best BU professors and its engaging discussions. The club is a good way to develop personal relationships with professors and learn information in a fun way. As the President of the club, I believe that The World Affairs Forum tries its best to communicate with professors outside with CGS and bring them into the CGS atmosphere to educate professors as well as students from other colleges of the great recourses, and students that CGS has. CGS students can have lively discussions with juniors and seniors of other colleges and have the same understanding of concepts discussed. Therefore these students disprove any misconceptions about CGS. Even professors hold biases and confused conceptions about the different colleges, including the College of General Studies, because they usually stay within their departments. Unless CGS professors and other departments at BU directly come in contact, professors don’t usually know much about each other. I have noticed through my interactions with non-CGS professors that many professors outside of CGS (no names mentioned) tend to think highly of themselves. However compared to the professors outside of CGS, professors working within CGS are not credited for humbling themselves to help their students. Some non-CGS professors are either too “busy” to reply to my invitation to be guest speakers at the club or reject my invitation. These professors, as well as the club members, don’t want to simply feed students information. The professor wants to attend a meeting where the professor is confident that we can debate with/against the professor instead of being passive beings. By proving CGS’s students high level of intellect to the incoming professor, we can show a more positive view of CGS’s students and faculty.
However, throughout CGS’s mixed reputation the most important factors of whether the college is effective are through the feedback given from CGS students. After interviewing five CGS students of varied backgrounds, not one student regretted their time at CGS. Therefore, there has to be some benefits gained from CGS’s curriculum and general structure. One CGS student commented on her experience at CGS by saying, “I don’t regret applying to CGS. I love it. I love my professors and I love the diverse curriculum. There are times that I feel like the things I’m doing will not help me in my career, but then later on I realize that more knowledge can't hurt, so it's all good.”This has been the general consensus between CGS students. Students understand that the information given can benefit them in the long run because they can incorporate it to their electives. For example, rhetoric could be used in classes that require a lot of writing. Social Science was specifically helpful for me because the readings correlated directly with the readings I had to do for Introduction to International Relations. Another student commented on the communal aspect of CGS by stating that “In CGS, you're not just a number - you're an individual that people take notice of.” Small classes and increased communication between students and faculty has created a unique structure for CGS that not many other colleges at BU can compete with.
The professors at the College of General Studies seem to have an overall positive view of CGS as a whole. However, this may be the cause of a bias since they have been working within the CGS community for long periods of time. When interviewed, both commented on the close communal aspect of CGS. One Social Science teacher stated, “I see a lot of community at CGS and that's a real strength. We professors get to know our students pretty well, and we see them their sophomore year as well. So there is a sense that we are one university body and that feels good. When I taught at another university before coming to CGS, it was so big that it was easy to feel lost. I had students for a semester and then never saw them again.” So, there seems to be hints at a community within members of the faculty. This is not seen as strongly within the students at the college. The emphasis on small classes and community has constantly been agreed upon to be a positive aspect of CGS. However the professor does agree that “sometimes the students may feel a little isolated from the rest of the university” but, she believes that the college has added more electives to help students branch out. She also states that CGS does have a sense of a community since it can be so easy to get lost in BU’s big university. On a different note, a humanities professor commented on the many benefits of an interdisciplinary structure of CGS. However, he focused on the structure’s impact of his communication with other professors. He stated that “it’s quite interesting to work in a multi-faceted environment and interact daily with colleagues with very different academic training. Moreover, the overarching curriculum in Humanities helps keep me focused on broader trends.” As a concluding remarks on the findings of these interviews, I can say that the teachers benefit more so than the students when it comes to CGS’s integration and feeling of community.
Faculty-Student interaction is vital for a student’s success because it helps students move forwards and learn from professors on a personal level. Merely attending discussions and lectures, getting good grades, and then sleeping to only wake up to the same cycle will not improve one’s chances of success after college. Nor will it benefit the student besides the gaining of a GPA. Getting involved in clubs and interacting with faculty within a school can truly help motivate a student to find something that interests them. At CGS, students are given the chance to speak with professors on very flexible office hours. The professors and deans hold the knowledge of experience which is something students undermine. By understanding a professor’s background and interests, students can then locate their own interests and carve a path for themselves. Students even have the chance to participate in research with the professors through programs such as Directed Study and UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). Nancy Nyhan, a woman who did her dissertation on CGS at BU, agreed by stating that:
The research is very clear that the more students make contact with faculty, especially outside the classroom, and the more educationally satisfying those contacts are, the more likely these students are to stay. Furthermore, even among those who stay, those who report contacts and report them satisfying are more likely to have higher learning gains while in college… faculty contact is, therefore, the fabric of the college community and is an independent predictor or force in learning… 
Through this statement we see that teacher contact has a truly positive impact on the student. Therefore, CGS has created great opportunities for students to thrive. However, the problem lies in how to motivate the students to grasp these opportunities as soon as they can and to take risks; even if they are undecided freshman.
Liberal Arts have played an important role in the creation of the College of General Studies. The term “liberal arts education” seems to be used constantly without a true understanding of it meaning. The Liberal Arts are aimed at “imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum.” Also, the liberal-arts curriculum can sometimes be described as a comprehensive “study of three main branches of knowledge: the humanities (literature, language, philosophy, the fine arts, and history), the physical and biological sciences and mathematics, and the social sciences.”The College of General Studies is built on rhetoric, humanities, social science, and the natural sciences. Therefore, the college has taken the concept of a liberal-arts curriculum to heart. Many have praised the effectiveness of a liberal arts education. However, not many have truly researched the actual impact of liberal arts education on the students learning outcome.  Is a liberal arts education the answer? Shouldn’t students be getting prepared for the “real world” by studying the things that specifically help them get the job they want? Seifert points out that those students in liberal arts colleges are exposed to “good practices” more than students at other colleges. This could be due to the faculty-student interactions, the small size of the college, and the general studies curriculum. The liberal arts outcomes embody ‘‘a cultivation of the whole human being for the functions of citizenship and life generally.’’This “cultivation of the whole human being” can benefit students in the long run especially if they want to change their majors or potential jobs. Liberal arts help foster better practices that can be used in any sort of situation in the “real world”. Therefore, a liberal arts education is more useful than attending a college where one simply studies their major. A college where a student focuses only on his/her major limits the student and may actually provide fewer opportunities for him/her. Especially in today’s poor market, students need to be open to working in different fields because it is difficult to say ‘I will work at a law office as a defense lawyer who only defends those who are mentally ill’. The likelihood of attaining a job in such a narrow field truly limits opportunities. That is why places like CGS foster good general habits. The best part is that after two years students can then focus on their major which creates a strong and balanced plane of knowledge. CGS’s two year liberal arts program is more effective than a four year liberal arts college since “the incremental contribution of each additional year of attendance at a liberal arts college over previous years becomes progressively smaller in magnitude.” Therefore, the College of General Studies at Boston University has been able to promote good practices in its students through close relationships with faculty as well as through its general education curriculum.
Although the College of General Studies at Boston University has been shed in a negative light by those outside the college, the liberal arts education it has adopted seems to have an overall positive effect on those students who graduate and move on to another college within BU. However, this type of education affects only those who truly try to take advantage of the small classes and possibility of teacher-student communication. For those CGS students who pay $50,000 to sit back and watch it go to waste, no education can truly benefit them. Students must take the first step to profiting from such underappreciated colleges through risks and interaction with faculty and students at the college---and outside of the college. However, there must be some reasoning behind the negative comments of CGS.
Reform is definitely needed to move CGS out from the shadows and into the brightest and highest pedestal. First most, the College of General Studies needs to move towards becoming a sub-culture rather than a sub-structure. A sub-structure is just a system within a system that functions as a place for social events. However, a sub-culture is much more effective in creating, not just a community, a group of people who share common interests through language and certain rituals. However, at the moment there are small and separated sub-cultures within the CGS community. Whether it is through more events that CGS student government initiate or by faculty themselves, CGS freshman and sophomores need to make more connections with each other. There needs to be general meetings where students can stem out from their teams and become integrated into a future CGS sub-culture. Three main proposals in improving CGS’s status within the BU community include: a) more direct connections with other colleges through the CGS clubs b) increased communication between teachers of different colleges c) a general integration of CGS faculty and students into a sub-culture to foster a sense of “pride” of being part of the CGS culture. With the use of such methods the College of General Studies can be exemplified as being a place of varied sophisticated ideas and general education may finally be seen as something worth investing in.
Clarke, Michael. “ On the Concept of ‘Sub-Culture.” The British Journal of Sociology 25, no. 4 ( 1974): 428-441. http://www.jstor.org/stable/590153.
Encylopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Liberal Arts.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/
339020/liberal-arts. ( accessed April 30, 2012).
"GS at a Glance | General Studies." Columbia GS | School of General Studies | Columbia University in the City of New York. http://www.gs.columbia.edu/gs-at-a-glance (accessed April 13, 2012).
Nyhan, Nancy L. “A Study of Non-Cognitive Variables and Performance of Students in the College of General Studies.”PhD diss., Boston University, 1995.
Pascarella, Ernest. "Do Liberal Arts Colleges Really Foster Good Practices in Undergraduate Education? ." Journal of College Student Development 45, no. 1 (2004): 57-74. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed April 11, 2012).
Seifert, TA, KM Goodman, and N Lindsay. "The effects of liberal arts experiences on liberal arts outcomes ." Research in Higher Education 49 (2008): 107-125. springer.com (accessed April 12, 2012).
 Ibid., 430.
 Benslimane, Ghita. Personal interview. 27 Apr. 2012.
 Clarke, “On the Concept of ‘Sub-Culture,” 429.
 Lucy Ye, email message to author, April 27, 2012.
 Martin Banigan, email message to author, April 27, 2012.
 Lucy Ye, email message to author, April 27, 2012.
 Portia Amofa, email message to author, April 28, 2012.
 Lucy Ye, email message to author, April 27, 2012.
 Susan Lee, e-mail to author, April 30, 2012.
 E. Thomas Finan, e-mail to author, April 30, 2012.
 Nancy L. Nyhan, “A Study of Non-Cognitive Variables and Performance of Students in the College of General Studies” (PhD diss., Boston University, 1995), 69-70.
 Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "liberal arts," accessed April 30, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/339020/liberal-arts.
 Seifert, TA, KM Goodman, and N Lindsay, "The effects of liberal arts experiences on liberal arts outcomes ", Research in Higher Education 49 (2008): 108, springer.com (accessed April 12, 2012).
 Seifert, "The effects of liberal arts,” 110.
 Seifert, "The effects of liberal arts,” 112.
The College of General Studies: A Disadvantage or a Hidden Jewel?
- Open with a description of myself opening my acceptance letter
- Feelings were bitter sweet
i. Emphasis confusion- what is CGS? Should I just be thankful I got into BU
ii. Talk about the “name”- IV league schools and what you get into is judged by the name, not how useful the college is to individual people
- Intro Paragraph(s)
- Subculture vs. Substructure- which one is CGS?
i. Cite Michael Clark in “ On the Concept of Sub-culture”
ii. Origins of CGS ( in other colleges as well such as Colombia and Penn State)
- I am using websites of different CGS’s in different Universities
iii. Is this substructure useful? Should CGS exist? If yes then who is affected by it
iv. Effectiveness of Liberal Arts ( a huge part of CGS’s motto)
- CGS is assumed to be a “lower class” college compared to the rest of BU
i. Crazy Glue and Scissors
- It is a “disappointment” if you enter it supposedly
- Students constantly complain about how they don’t like CGS in the hallways
i. I will interview two current CGS students for evidence and their perspective on CGS
- CGS helped create a community b/c it is small vs. it’s easy and boring
- Teachers at BU who have never heard of CGS- communication b/w teachers would possibly make CGS better
i. I will interview two teacher from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Teacher from COM
- I will take a look at two different clubs within CGS ( the World Affairs Forum and CGS student Government) to understand the culture beyond the classroom
i. Something to take notice of: These clubs interact only within CGS and don’t try to reach out to other colleges as much
ii. This is something that needs to change- WAF club is trying to change that- active steps towards showing CGS that CGS students are as “smart” as the rest of BU
- Teacher student communication/interaction
i. Evidence from Nyhan (dissertation) source
- Discussions and Lectures in comparison to those in other colleges within BU (good or bad?)
- CGS- should it exist?
- A liberal arts education
i. I will explain what this means and its impact on college students
ii. Is liberal arts education the answer? Can we succeed in after college life ( jobs) better if we have this type of education?
iii. Use of Pascarella sources on liberal arts and good practices
iv. Use interview with Jon Donald- a former CGS student senior who was influenced so deeply by CGS’s curriculum of liberal arts that he is hosting a conference on the subject
- Concluding thoughts/ comments and steps for taking action
- CGS needs to become a subculture rather than a substructure
i. A subculture is just a system within a system that functions for a certain purpose. It may or may not connect with the rest of the system directly. it is not as effective as a subculture- right now only a few seem to understand CGS as a subculture, all students should find CGS as a place of comfort, not a place to escape from after they finish class. CGS needs to communicate with the rest of the colleges so that students all have the same opportunities
- Proposal to improve CGS’s status within the BU community and to change pre-conceived notions
i. How to connect with other colleges: through communication b/w CGS clubs and other colleges
ii. Communication b/w teachers of different colleges
iii. Even though a subculture is different from the prominent culture- we should not simply seclude ourselves from the dominant culture ( other colleges at BU)
Research Paper #2
I am going to be doing research on the College of General Studies. I will be doing the main research on CGS at BU. But, I will also extend my research to Colleges of General Studies in other Universities as well ( e.g. Columbia, Penn State). I will examine its origins. I will also ask these questions: Should Universities keep CGS, what is the purpose of CGS, does it actually help students in any way (if yes, then who exactly is affected by it), and does CGS play any role on the entire BU community. I was also thinking of creating proposals (depending on my conclusions) to improve CGS’s status and change people’s pre-conceived conceptions of the college. I especially want to interview professors from other colleges in BU and ask them on their conceptions of the college if they even know of its existence. By doing this, I am able to get a clear understanding of how recognized CGS is within the BU community. I am hoping to interview both students and faculty around BU to get a better understanding of CGS. I will also emphasize the idea of liberal arts in my essay because it is a key component of CGS