Throwback Thursday: University examines physical education requirement amid student protest
On this day in 1972, an opinion piece published in The Sun suggested a compromise for the concurrent raging debate on campus regarding the University’s physical education requirement. At the time, Cornell required all students (with some exceptions) to complete four semesters worth of physical education courses. The classes were often overcrowded and hardly, many argued, enhanced students’ overall health and fitness. A suggestion offered in the October 18 article proposed reducing the requirement to two semesters and adding academic credit as an incentive which, ultimately, the University did do.
The re-examination of the physical education requirement at Cornell began when a petition with over 1000 signatures was delivered to the faculty senate, demanding the abolition of the requirement. It echoed a larger national trend of de-emphasizing physical education in universities. The debate involved faculty senate debates, opinion pieces, and student surveys (managed by none other than current Chairman of the Board of Trustees and student at-the-time, Robert Harrison).
Cornell had created the physical education requirement in 1945, when the faculty voted to require physical training for all freshman and sophomore students. Because the University mandated physical education, it received roughly $260,000 annually from the state of New York to support physical education classes. That money would be at stake if the school unilaterally abolished the requirement.
In October of 1973, the faculty senate voted to recommend abolition of the two-year requirement, but a new mandate had not been established. After the faculty vote, three possible actions could be taken. First, the requirement could be modified; second, the requirement could be abolished with academic credit given only for courses taken voluntarily; third, it could be abolished with no academic credit offered.
In the spring of 1974, the Faculty Council of Representatives voted down a proposal to abolish the physical education requirement as well as a motion to reduce the requirement to two semesters. Instead, the FCR created a standing committee to study and assess the program and report to the committee on statuses every two years. By the end of the mid-1970s debate, proposals to amend or abolish the physical education requirement had been defeated.