Lost in the frenzy of the recent hunger strike was news that the Task Force on Undergraduate Education has begun to examine the possibility of a merger between Columbia College and the School of General Studies. The idea has been discussed on some level for decades, but recent talks have taken on a more serious tone, focusing on the reality of combining the schools' curricula and administrative services. A move to unify the undergraduate experience and integrate the two administrations would be a smart one, but the differing needs of CC and GS students—both curricular and logistical—should not be ignored if such a proposal is enacted.
In recent years, GS students have raised concerns about the disparity between the school's quality of life, educational experience, and resources as compared to those of Columbia College. By eliminating redundancies between the two institutions, a merger could reduce operational costs and the bureaucratic inefficiencies so familiar to the University, as it did when SEAS and CC joined to form a single Division of Student Affairs.
But more importantly, the merger would correct the considerable differences between the CC and GS curricula. As it stands, GS students hoping to enroll in Literature Humanities or Contemporary Civilization must apply for a limited number of spots in designated sections. The Core, as a central part of the University's identity, ought to be made readily available to its nontraditional undergraduates. There are certainly logistical issues involved in such a change, first and foremost the need to dramatically increase the number of available sections. Likewise, the two schools would need to decide whether GS and CC students should be able to participate in the same seminars, given that the Core may have different meaning to students at different points in their lives.
Consolidating the schools' admissions processes could also present significant complications. Any such system would have to recognize that there are major differences in the life experiences of the two groups. It would not be sensible to compare the application of a student with previous work and college experience against a student still taking SATs and AP tests. But in considering both demographics separately, it would be essential for admissions officers to avoid skewing the population too far toward either side. The composition of a combined student body should maintain a proportion of traditional to non-traditional students relatively consistent with the current ratio, such that the missions of the two schools are kept intact.
Students often complain about the sprawling nature of Columbia's administration, and combining CC and GS would likely combat such decentralization while cutting operational costs. Still, the merger should not be viewed as merely an opportunity increase efficiency, but as a chance to address administrative inequities between the two schools and ensure that Columbia's undergraduates, traditional or otherwise, have comparable access to a world-class education.