Professors are split on minors

Although the Yale College Council released Tuesday a proposal for academic minors, University faculty are split on whether to support the issue.

Seven professors interviewed by the News on Tuesday responded to the concept of academic minors with varying degrees of interest. While some praised the idea — which the YCC claims will encourage intellectual exploration among undergraduates — others warned against the move, attributing their concerns to personal feelings and departmental characteristics such as enrollment.

“Faculty opinion on minors depends on what department you’re in,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said.

Miller said language departments had expressed enthusiasm but added that she would be surprised if departments with large enrollments — such as history, economics or political science — showed the same interest. Ultimately, the decision to implement a minors program will rest with the Yale College Faculty, which votes on major academic issues affecting undergraduates. The Committee on Majors is independently researching minors, and expects to deliver a report in March.

Committee chair Mark Mooseker said the committee would base its recommendations on input “from all sources,” including the YCC’s report and a survey of directors of undergraduate studies. The committee commissioned the survey to gauge departmental interest in a minors program, he said, but cannot comment further on committee proceedings.

The YCC’s report takes its philosophical underpinning from the University’s 2003 report by the Committee on Yale College Education, which established today’s distribution requirements to encourage academic breadth. But that report, which sought to make requirements “starting points,” and not “goals,” has largely failed, the YCC’s report claims. Academic minors, the YCC claims, would better facilitate such goals.

The CYCE recommended “secondary concentrations” in the report’s Undergraduate Science Education section. The document explicitly advised against the concept of a minor, which it called “a smaller version of a major” that would “compound the force of specialization,” though it did not elaborate further.

“[A] secondary concentration is a broad course of study encompassing many disciplines, and so supports large liberal arts ambitions,” the CYCEreport reads, citing international studies and ethnicity, race and migration as examples.

Charles Bailyn, the DUS of Astronomy, served on the CYCE and said he opposes an academic minors program, although he described his views in an e-mail as “a bit complicated.” Bailyn said he disagrees with the YCC’s argument that minors would encourage greater intellectual exploration among undergraduates.

“I think that the Yale mentality is so geared to piling up credentials, that if more credentials were available to pile up, students would want to complete as many as possible,” Bailyn explained, “So much more of students’ schedules would be devoted to completing some requirement or other, and much less would be free choice.”

In response, YCC President Rich Tao ’10 claimed students seeking career-oriented double majors face constrained choice now because of the major requirements. A minor, Tao said, could better suit the “career-oriented” student while leaving more time for liberal arts.

Anthropology DUS David Watts said he has found faculty in smaller departments tend to favor minors. The anthropology department has not extensively discussed the issue of minors, Watts said, and will withhold final judgment until they know how enthusiastic students would be about such a program. But Watts said he, personally, thinks the idea holds promise.

Watts said minors could allow for broader interdisciplinary programs. Watts said he has discussed a program in animal behavior with some of his colleagues.

Maria Trumpler, DUS of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, said her department also had mixed feelings about the idea. Many of the department’s students are double majors, Trumpler said. She said she suspects that if a minor were offered, students would choose to enroll in that rather than the major. Doing so would mean missing out on the program’s year-long senior essay, Trumpler said.

“It would be a kind of a shame for people to not have that kind of opportunity,” she said. “Because it basically takes away that crowning experience of being a scholar yourself.”

Yale and Brown are the only Ivy League institutions currently without minors programs.

Comments

  • ~

    confused on professors arguing that having more options means you miss out on opportunities? this gives students more opportunities, doesn't take them away. if they do something for credentials rather than out of their genuine intellectual interest, that's their problem/fault.

  • yale '09

    Minors are a horrible idea. What can you do with a minor that you can't do without a minor? If an interviewer asks you why you didn't minor in Econ, it's simple: "Yale doesn't offer minors".

    If minors had been available, I probably would have taken one INSTEAD OF taking courses in a variety of departments that have ended up being some of my favorites. Minors will cause more specialization and less 'liberal-artsiness', except instead of a single specialization, students will have a specialization and a half.