He opened the discussion of his goals for the College with a request for student input and discourse. Marx answered questions posed by the audience related to the possibility of a curricular experimentation, an honor code, admissions and the role of the College in the greater community.
A core curriculum
Marx was disinclined to make any firm statements on the question of a core curriculum. The first of his two initial thoughts on the subject concerned faculty opposition to teaching subjects in which they are not interested, something he saw as one of the major arguments against a core curriculum and distribution requirements. He said that he thought it was against intellectual learning.
Marx went on to say that personal experience had taught him the value of having at least some guidance in course selection. “I know that when I was 18, I didn’t have a filled-out sense of what I needed to know, and I appreciated the help of my professors,” said Marx.
Marx said he could not imagine that faculty and students would make any sudden or extreme curricular changes, and he did not propose that they do. Instead, he suggested experimenting with and assessing sets of courses and different types of programs, all of which would still be “in keeping with the spirit of the place.”
Marx added that although it is not his position to force a solution on the College, he is responsible for closely examining the issue.
An honor code
One of the first issues a student raised was that of an honor code and the recent rise in cases of plagiarism. Marx said that he was not yet sure about any specific plan of action, but that he would like to find ways to avoid getting into a “police-state mode.”
“By plagiarizing, you are only cheating yourselves � Students must take responsibility for this issue for themselves,” Marx said.
The balance the admissions office strikes when making admissions decisions was an issue about which Marx expressed some concern. “I am not yet convinced that we have answered the admissions question to our satisfaction,” he said. He cited statistics on financial aid and the income levels of students at the College in supporting his concern that the College may be biased in admissions towards students in upper income levels. Marx said he did not know what the College could do to address the problem, or even if the College could afford more costly alternatives, but he expressed an intention to investigate the issue further.
One student asked Marx about the role of athletics and faculty support for it. “[Athletics] are and should be an important component of the education that we provide here in its fullest sense,” Marx said. “[Coaches] are teachers and educators as well as trainers.”
Marx, however, also emphasized the importance of balance. “There are some natural limits based on the kind of institution we are. [The College] need[s] to find a balance. And I think we have found that balance,” said Marx. “Every student on this campus deserves to be on this campus and should be treated with respect. I believe that is the case. I have no reason to believe otherwise.”
The world outside
Marx also talked at length about the College’s role in the local community, the nation and the world. “It is my job at the moment to raise these questions,” he said, referring to questions about the College’s role in the wider community.
“[Amherst has] a social responsibility that we have largely ignored [toward] the education system below us,” Marx said, referring to public education.
Marx said this concern was not irrelevant to the College. “[Working towards improving public education] is of importance to us in a very self-interested way,” said Marx, emphasizing the College’s heavy enrollment of students from public schools. Marx also said that students should be encouraged to engage in more community and national service.
Marx’s personal plans
Asked whether he planned to continue writing and teaching, Marx said that he was quite eager to teach, though he had chosen not to this year in order to get acquainted with his new job. He said that if he was serious about curricular experiments, he felt he ought to “be a guinea pig” by possibly teaching some new courses. “Or I’ll pick a topic I’m really interested in learning about, because teaching is the best way to learn,” said Marx.
Marx does hope to continue his writing in the future. “I do suffer from the complete self-delusion that in some years, I will be able to write again,” he said.