Officials in the School of Foreign Service announced last month that they were again considering the addition of a math or science requirement to the SFS core curriculum. Eliminated following a proposal by then-Dean Peter Krogh in 1972, the school also considered adding a math or science requirement in 2002 and is currently reconsidering the addition as a way to make the curriculum more competitive and adaptive to changing trends in education.

Math and science are indisputably relevant subjects for study, and a well-rounded education is beneficial to students of any major. But adding a math or science requirement into the SFS core curriculum would ultimately limit students’ options and be counterproductive to the specialized nature of the SFS education.

SFS students are already required to complete a core curriculum of 17 classes in addition to attaining proficiency in a foreign language. This curriculum, although intensive and sometimes rigid, is designed to provide students with a focused overview of chief aspects in the study of international affairs, a very broad field. Each class in the program, from an economics core to regional history courses, directly relates to the study of contemporary international relations.

A math or science requirement which would come at the cost of another core course, as SFS officials have said, would not be beneficial. The classes that are already in the SFS core are more relevant and add more to the SFS education than a math or science requirement would. Adding a math or science class to the core curriculum without dropping another requirement would overburden students who are already required to take many classes. Many SFS students do not finish their core requirements until their junior years, and students must juggle their schedules to accommodate electives and classes they are interested in outside of the core.

While math could arguably, if required, be applicable in all areas of international affairs, science classes may prove only marginally useful for SFS students majoring in international history or culture and politics. Students who are interested in exploring the connections between science and international relations can already major in science, technology and international affairs, a multi-disciplinary program which has four to six math and science requirements and can be tailored for pre-med students. The international economics and international political economy majors also have a calculus requirement.

Although a math or science requirement should remain outside of the SFS core, SFS students must not complacently revel in the “safe from science” mindset and downplay the importance of these subjects to their broader education. From encryption to bioterrorism to third-world development, knowledge of math and science is increasingly important in the international arena, and SFS students are encouraged to build their knowledge of these subjects beyond a high-school level. The SFS should consider incorporating math into its existing core classes, perhaps by making calculus-based economics classes that can be taken as some of the school’s four economics requirements. SFS students will also benefit from taking classes in subjects like statistics, calculus and chemistry as electives.

The SFS is renowned for the well-developed, highly-specialized international affairs education that it offers. Instead of adding new classes to its already-comprehensive core, the school should concentrate on further enhancing its unique curriculum while allowing its students the flexibility to explore the areas that interest them most.

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