Major solutions or academic placebos?

On Thursday, for the second time in two years, the faculty gathered to consider adding new majors to the Yale College curriculum. And they did — two, in fact.

The first, Modern Middle East Studies, responds to the demands of faculty and students who have called for a formal structure through which to study the region from myriad disciplinary perspectives. The second, Computers and the Arts, will couple coursework in computer science with one of five different arts fields — architecture, music, theater, art and art history.

But now that the total number of majors has climbed to 78, we have to wonder: Is Yale straying from its liberal arts mission by introducing increasingly specific majors?

The answer, we think, is yes. The mission of a Yale College education is to allow students to dabble in a variety of disciplines, but also — and perhaps more importantly — to teach them to think through the lens of a specific discipline. So while interdisciplinary majors provide the variety central to that mission, they sidestep the grounding that students can get from the broader, more fundamental majors such as political science, English, anthropology or physics.

Instead of continuing to grow the list of majors, the College should invest its resources in bolstering course offerings and faculty appointments where Yalies want them most. Then, the situation will be win-win: students can explore their specific academic curiosities without losing track of why they came to a liberal arts school in the first place.

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