Few would have guessed that UC Irvine would celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with a student body that is 66% nonwhite. Such are the changing demographics in Orange County and Southern California. UCI's fall freshman class is 43% Asian, 37% Caucasian, 14% Latino, 4% black, .8% American Indian and 5% other students.
Given this ethnic diversity, UCI's faculty wisely decided to begin this year requiring undergraduate students to take two courses--selected from among almost 200--aimed at diversifying their viewpoints. The change comes at a time when UCI is making a laudable effort to make its general education requirements tougher and stronger.
One of the required courses would examine the culture or history of one or more minority groups in the United States, including women, blacks, Asians and Latinos. The other would explore the culture, history, political, economic or sociological aspects of one or more foreign countries.
What's more, beginning in 1992, students will be required to take three quarters of a foreign language. The following year, that will jump to four quarters. Currently, many graduate without any language studies.
The new course requirements have been instituted in response to a different political reality from the turbulent '60s, when black or women's studies programs sprang up. Today, there is a recognition that the world grows smaller daily.
UCI's faculty, by adopting the new course requirements, is signaling that the traditional Euro-American view of history and politics is no longer enough to prepare young people for the complex problems they will face. The administration should also broaden its faculty, now 85% white males, to include more minorities and women.
Still, UCI, with its burgeoning 16,500-student campus and 900 faculty members, could celebrate its anniversary only with hoopla. By adopting the new course requirements, it also takes a step into the future.