News’ View: Yale should not add minors

As reported by the News earlier this week, the YCC on Tuesday submitted a report to the Committee on Majors suggesting the creation of secondary concentrations with fewer course requirements than majors. As few as six credits in a second field should, the YCC proposed, allow students to add minors to their diplomas — and their résumés.

Explaining the council’s recommendation, YCC President Rich Tao ’10 told the News, “We are recommending secondary concentrations not necessarily just because of high student demand, but also because we’ve taken a systematic look at the state of the liberal arts education at Yale University and there are gaps in the current system.”

If one theme were to be distilled from Yale College’s most recent across-the-board review of its academic program, the 2003 report by the Committee on Yale College Education, it would be that a broad-based liberal arts education is sacrosanct. Writing that academic minors would “compound the forces of specialization,” the CYCE explicitly warned against them — and for good reason.

A liberal arts education, from which few at Yale would suggest we stray, is not at odds with a concentration. Since Harvard introduced majors in 1910, official concentrations have been a staple of American secondary education. Universities that have instituted no course requirements across fields, as well as those that have maintained strong core curriculums, have asked students to pick a major — to study one subject seriously before graduating.

A major is meant to be a student’s academic occupation during college, at least for a year or two. It demands a significant percentage of the courses a student will take because it must lead him or her through a serious academic process of exploration and creation; in short, it is to teach a student the life of an academic.

Minors do not — and at Yale would not — do this. They would occupy students for the equivalent of one and a half semesters, and they would amount to certificate programs. Though each department could set its own requirements, surely few if any would include senior requirements, and they would not involve the practical and personal association a student makes with the department of her major. Though resembling majors in name and concept, minors are not fundamentally similar.

The argument has been and will be made that minors would allow students who currently choose to double major to select a major and a minor, thereby diversifying a curriculum otherwise dominated by two subjects. But only between 10 and 15 percent of Yale students have double majored in recent years, and many more who are not tempted to do so would find themselves encouraged away from single courses in many departments and toward the half-dozen courses in one department that would allow them to add more qualifications to their diplomas.

Minors would not enhance the liberal arts education Yale has always valued, nor would they allow students greater ability to concentrate in a field of interest in a meaningful way. Instead, they would allow and encourage Elis — competitive as many of us are, practical as most of us hope to be — to rack up additional résumé items, and at the cost of a truly diverse, liberal education.

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