"There are lots of skills that students need," said Tom Tweed, associate director of the undergraduate curriculum and member of the steering committee. "Our charge as a committee was determining what are the most fundamental components of a general education ... not about identifying all the skills necessary in real life."
But Meg Lanchantin, director of UNC's physical education program and a proponent of the swim test, said most other life skills -- such as driving a car or balancing a checkbook -- are already taught at the primary education level, while swimming is not a requirement.
"I feel as educators we have a responsibility to not only teach students the importance of survival skills but also to ensure that they are able to use those skills," Lanchantin said.
The swim test requirement was first instituted for men at UNC in 1944 and for women in 1946, when the University received federal grant money to help train midshipmen for the U.S. Navy. Originally a more rigorous exam that required being able to swim several different strokes, the test was revised into its current format during the 1970s.
Fred Mueller, chairman of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, is one of many faculty and staff members who has taught UNC swimming courses designed to help students pass the test. He said his experience teaching such classes has made him a strong proponent of keeping the test as a requirement.
"Many of our students never have the opportunity growing up to get in the water," Mueller said. "It's a really gratifying experience to see them learn to swim ... and I bet if you asked those students now, they'd be in favor of the test."
Tweed said the physical education department will continue to offer beginning swim classes and that the committee still hopes students will take advantage of those courses, even if swimming is not a requirement for graduation.
"We certainly are not saying whether learning to swim is important," Tweed said. "The question is whether swimming should be a part of a good educational framework."
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