Major or minor issue?

In light of the survey data that clearly show students are taking a narrower breadth of classes and double majoring more frequently, we at the Record applaud the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) for investigating the possibility of introducing minors to the College’s curriculum. The standard argument against minors at a liberal arts institution assumes that a major is a concentration among classes from a broad sampling of the curriculum, but the steep increase in double majors suggests that this ideal liberal arts vision is not being realized with the current system in place. According to CEP data, students who double major take on average a narrower breadth of courses than students who pursue only one major. Furthermore, the recent rise in double majors at the College creates a misconception among the student population that if they do not double major, they are falling behind their peers who do. Even more troubling is the perception that students whose primary academic focus is considered “impractical” must mix it with a more “useful” major in order to find employment.

Though it might seem a corruption of the liberal arts, many students choose to double major because they want to be credentialed in more than one area of academic interest. Many faculty members may disagree with the desire to amass credentials; however, we believe it is important for the CEP to recognize the importance to students that their degrees contribute to their professional lives. Résumé building is important for developing professional interests, and the option of minoring in a second academic area would allow students to explore classes of interest that would otherwise be hindered by the need to take a second major’s requirements. We at the Record urge the CEP to discuss whether the desire and necessity to cultivate professional skills are inherently in conflict with the liberal arts, and whether implementing minors might help reconcile these notions. Furthermore, we think that implementing minors would likely facilitate deeper interactions between students and departments; currently, students who dabble in non-major subjects have little impetus to reach out to professors for guidance in their study. There would, of course, have to be well-thought-out requirements for minors, but we applaud the CEP for pledging to investigate further this potential curricular change that could have a positive impact on academic life at the College.

We at the Record acknowledge that a less extreme solution to this problem could include improving the advising system, which many students feel (according to survey data) fails to engage them with the question of what the liberal arts really means, and rather seems more geared toward checking off distribution requirements. It is clear that the advising system deserves a close evaluation, especially in regards to how professors are trained to most effectively serve their advisees. The CEP should also investigate how to reinforce advisors’ standards and accountability, as currently faculty advisors vary widely in their level of engagement and communication with students. And given that oftentimes students are paired with advisors outside of their academic interest, Junior Advisors and the Dean’s Office should make it clearer to first-years that they can easily switch advisors. That being said, part of the reason advising often fails is that students do not take full advantage of the system. Students should be encouraged to demand more of their advisors. Improved guidance on putting together a coherent curriculum – perhaps facilitated by a retooled online course catalog, which students feel is frustrating to use – might deter many students from double majoring.