Cultural Life Struggles
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 22:03
The Cultural Life Program needs to be changed.
That’s not a new idea, no matter who you’re asking. You can hear people wondering about CLP status in the DH and club meetings alike. This section has made a habit of critiquing CLPs over the years. At the start of this school year, the administration changed the way that CLPs are handled and submitted.
So when I say that CLPs occupy a tenuous position here at Furman, I hope you will agree.
Like all other judgments that are made on the grounds of total subjectivity, there is a lot of room for interpretation of the rules engendering those judgments. On Furman’s official website, there are four basic qualifications to decide what’s culturally significant. All of them are relatively straightforward.
CLPs must: 1) have some level of special relevance, 2) they can’t be solely demonstrative (for example, cooking classes by themselves won’t be CLPs), and 3) they shouldn’t be personal testimonies or discussion of “college life” without noting some broader cultural impact.
The fourth qualification almost goes without saying: CLPs should honor “differences of belief.”
These are purposely vague directions. It is at once the great strength and the great weakness of the Cultural Life Program.
Too much specification means we risk a stagnant program which loses its imperative ability to be user-friendly. Too little specification means that the program becomes valueless. This is a difficult line to walk, and a near-impossible line to walk well.
I don’t advocate ending CLPs. (Now is a good time to mention that I work for the program; I’m one of the people who swipes your Palacard at the start and collects your blue card at the end.) I think, despite the unceasing problems the program has, that there is real value in forcing students to expose themselves to unfamiliar ideas or experiences.
There is a lot to like about CLPs in theory, but there are a lot of bugs to work out in practice.
Removing the controversy, as well as the majority of CLPs that simply do not fulfill the qualifications of the program in practice, can be achieved. But it will take a rethinking of the way the program currently works.
CLPs should be for students, not by them. No student group should be allowed to submit an event for CLP credit. No student group whatsoever should be allowed to contribute a CLP.
It’s not as if student groups can’t keep putting out their product. Pauper Players will keep producing musicals. The Student Democrats, CSBT, and Amnesty International will still bring in panels.
There are over 200 student groups on campus, and many of them manage to make at least one CLP happen every year. In order for CLPs to become consistently meaningful and productive, none of them should be able to submit their lectures/performances/panels/etc. as CLPs.
There’s just too much variation in quality. Too much controversy. There’s hardly that much variation in class quality or controversy. Why, for a different type of academic requirement, should there be so much leeway?
From my seat, the most consistent CLPs come from the Riley Institute, the Tocqueville series, and of course, from programs that students play a real part in. By this I mean the performances that the Theater and Music departments effect. While these feature students, they are directed by faculty. There is obvious expertise here, and more importantly it is expertise recognized by a community of scholars.
The reform I have in mind would result in two obvious changes in Furman student life. First, the number of CLPs required for graduation would need to be slashed considerably, and second, the role of campus groups would have to change.
This first change appears to me to be an administrative problem with easy solutions. A student needs to average four CLPs per semester to graduate, which is already an arbitrary number. All the administration and CLP Committee would have to do is pick a new arbitrary number that’s easier to reach. This is eminently manageable.
It’s the second change that will be difficult for campus culture to deal with. We have to find a way to redefine the role of student groups here at Furman. Right now, student groups are all about putting out CLPs to educate or pontificate, depending on what you think of what they’re selling. Student groups are made for public consumption nowadays. Without CLPs, their program attendance sags. Quite simply, attendance is hardly a good indicator of academic rigor or cultural significance.
CLPs are a Furman tradition, and one that I think we ought to take some pride in. Yet the way we do CLPs now leaves a lot to be desired. To make sure that the products are at a consistently high level, we have to make sure that student roles are limited solely to attending and learning from the experience.