I know some students who are happy with (some) requirements, as they provide the necessary 'prod' to get them to do work in other areas they value which they might not otherwise get around to. So this may make the case for so-called 'soft paternalism', i.e. setting things up so that the default path is to do a bit of everything. But it should still be possible for any students who don't appreciate the requirements to opt out of them.
This seems to be the approach favoured by Princeton:
Students who wish to do especially intensive work in one area of philosophy through extra work either in the Department of Philosophy or in related areas in other departments may be granted variances permitting them to do less than the norm in some other areas of philosophy, if this is required to allow them to pursue their special interests. Such variances will require approval of the department.(Though I'm not sure how often such requests are granted.)
Question: what do you think is the educational upshot of distribution requirements? What would you expect a metaphysician to gain from studying ethics, or a contemporary philosopher to gain from studying history of philosophy? Answering this question seems vital for crafting appropriate and worthwhile distribution requirements. For example, if you think it is important for students to have a broad knowledge of the history of philosophy, or to appreciate a whole system of thought, merely requiring them to write a unit paper or two on specific historical topics is not going to serve this end at all. (Better, perhaps, to have them attend a broad survey course and pass a multiple choice exam at the end, as a friend of mine suggested.)
I know a lot of people - including myself - who are especially unsure about what they can expect to gain from doing history of philosophy. But I also know that many readers of this blog are very sympathetic to historical philosophy. Do you think that everyone should be doing it? If so, I ask you: why? What good is history to me? In particular, why might you expect it to be better for me than doing additional work in contemporary ethics or metaphysics?