Liberal Studies Policy for Students Entering Fall 2019 and Earlier

The liberal studies requirements for engineers below are for students who entered Cornell University in fall 2019 or earlier.

The College of Engineering distribution requirement in Liberal Studies:

  • At least six courses chosen from at least three of the thirteen categories listed below totaling a minimum of 18 credits;

    • Students may have taken a course in the past that had one designation, such as SBA, and now that course has multiple designations, such as both SBA and SSC.  In these cases, students are able to use either designation even if the course did not have both designations during the semester it was taken.  However, please note: the course still must have been approved as a liberal studies course in some category at the time it was taken.  Courses that did not have a liberal studies designation at all at the time it was taken cannot later be used as liberal studies even if they become designated in the future.

  • No more than two from the CE category;

  • At least two courses must be at the 2000 level or higher.

Category CA (Cultural Analysis)

Courses in this area study human life in particular cultural contexts through interpretive analysis of individual behavior, discourse, and social practice. Topics include belief systems (science, medicine, and religion); expressive arts and symbolic behavior (visual arts, performance, poetry, myth, narrative, and ritual); identity (nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality); social groups and institutions (family, market, and community); and power and politics (states, colonialism, and inequality).

Category HA (Historical Analysis)

Courses in this area interpret continuities and changes--political, social, economic, diplomatic, religious, intellectual, artistic, and scientific--through time. The focus may be on groups of people, a specific country or region, an event, a process, or a time period.

Category LA/LAD (Literature and the Arts / Literature, the Arts and Design)

Courses in this area explore literature and the arts in two different but related ways. Some courses focus on the critical study of art works and on their history, aesthetics, and theory. These courses develop skills of reading, observing, and hearing and encourage reflection on such experiences; many investigate the interplay among individual achievement, artistic tradition, and historical context. Other courses are devoted to the production and performance of art works (in creative writing, performing arts, and media such as film and video). These courses emphasize the interaction among technical mastery, cognitive knowledge, and creative imagination.

Category KCM (Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasoning)

Courses in this area investigate the bases of human knowledge in its broadest sense, ranging from cognitive faculties (such as perception) shared by humans and animals, to abstract reasoning, to the ability to form and justify moral judgments. Courses investigating the sources, structure, and limits of cognition may use the methodologies of science, cognitive psychology, linguistics, or philosophy. Courses focusing on moral reasoning explore ways of reflecting on ethical questions that concern the nature of justice, the good life, or human values in general.

Category SBA (Social and Behavioral Analysis)

Courses in this area examine human life in its social context through the use of social-scientific methods, often including hypothesis testing, scientific sampling techniques, and statistical analysis. Topics studied range from the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes of individuals to interpersonal relations between individuals (e.g. in friendship, love, conflict), to larger social organizations (e.g. the family, society, religious or educational or civic institutions, the economy, government), to the relationships and conflicts among groups or individuals (e.g. discrimination, inequality, prejudice, stigmas, conflict resolution).

Category FL (Foreign Language, not literature)

Courses in this area teach language skills, including reading, writing, listening, and spoken non-English languages, at beginning to advanced levels.

Category CE (Communications in Engineering)

Courses in this area explore communication as a way of acting in the world. The primary aim is to provide students with the opportunity to practice performing a range of engineering-related communication skills within specific genres (e.g. proposals, reports, and journal articles, oral presentations). Each of these genres potentially engages a wide variety of audiences and, depending on the particulars of context, each may have multiple purposes. The secondary aim is to enable students to be aware of the choices they make as communicators and to be able to articulate a rationale for those choices.

New categories as of Fall 2020:

Arts, Literature, and Culture (ALC)

Courses in this area examine arts, literature, and culture in various contexts. Students gain insights into the interplay of individual or collaborative creativity and social practice, and understand the complexities of the expression of the human condition. Topics include the analysis of artworks and literary texts, and the belief systems of social groups, cultures, and civilizations; they also focus on artistic expression itself (in creative writing, performing arts, and media such as film and video).

Social Difference (SCD)

Courses in this area examine social differences relevant to the human experience. Social categories include class, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, nationality, language, religion, gender, sexuality, and ability as objects of study. Students develop a deeper understanding of these categories and their intersections. Topics may include: how hierarchies in power and status shape social differences; how social, economic and political systems can impact the interpretation of social differences; and how differences attributed to various groups are explained.

Historical Analysis (HST)

Courses in this area train students in the analysis of documentary, material, and oral evidence about social phenomena, institutions, events and ideas of the past. Students learn to evaluate and critically assess differing analyses and interpretations of former times so that they may acquire a better understanding of the origins and evolution of the present. Questions addressed in HA courses include why and under what circumstances changes have occurred in how people have interacted with one another and with the environments in which they live.

Ethics and the Mind (ETM)

Courses in this area investigate the human mind and its capacities, ranging from cognitive faculties shared by humans and animals such as perception, to language and abstract reasoning, to the ability to form and justify ethical values. Courses investigating the mind may use the methodologies of psychology, linguistics, or philosophy. Those focusing on ethics explore ways of reflecting on questions that concern the nature of justice, the good life, or human values in general. Many courses combine these topics and methodologies.

Social Sciences (SSC)

Courses in this area examine social, economic, political, psychological, demographic, linguistic, and relational processes. Topics include understanding how different social contexts, for example neighborhoods, families, markets, networks, or political organizations, shape social life. Students learn to identify, describe, and explain the causes and consequences of social phenomena using quantitative and/or qualitative evidence based on systematic observation of the social world. They also learn to link evidence to theory through rigorous and transparent reasoning, and/or reflect critically on the concepts through which people make sense of the social world.

Global Citizenship (GLC)

Courses in this area examine the history, culture, politics, religion, and social relations of peoples in different parts of the world, as well as their interactions. They encourage students to think broadly about the global community and their place within it, beyond the boundaries of their particular national or cultural group, and cultivate skills of intercultural engagement that are vital to their role as global citizens. These courses introduce students to global challenges such as war and peace, social and economic inequalities, international migration, and environmental sustainability, and encourage students to think critically about international responses to these challenges.