After months of consideration, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will formally begin discussing the possibility of implementing some form of academic minors at a May 7 meeting.
At the meeting, the Committee on Majors will give a presentation on minors, covering the arguments supporting and opposing the idea and introducing three possible courses of action, but no formal proposal or recommendation will be made. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she hopes the faculty will hold off on making a motion to vote until the fall.
“It’s significant that the committee has not come to a secure and fixed opinion about what the outcome should be,” Miller said. “And I think it’s valuable to open the conversation and to encourage faculty to think and talk about it over the course of the summer.”
Committee co-chairman Pericles Lewis said the three possible ways to implement minors include an open system of minors across the University; an opt-in program, in which the decision to offer one is at the discretion of individual departments; or a concentration or certification program that would be restricted to certain departments which offer students a discrete body of knowledge.
Yale College Council President Rich Tao ’10 said he hopes the faculty eventually votes to approve opt-in minors, which the YCC found in an April report to be the most feasible system. Tao said he thinks student input should be solicited to inform the faculty’s decision. As such, he said he hopes a YCC representative will be asked to be present at either the May meeting or one in the fall.
Although an official YCC representative will not be at the May meeting, Miller said, the student representative to the Committee on Majors — who was nominated by the YCC — will be invited to participate at the meeting. That representative is now a senior, so his replacement, to be appointed during the summer, will be invited to the October meeting.
The concentration or certification option would allow minors in foreign languages, as well as professional fields such as engineering, architecture and computer science.
Stanley Eisenstat, director of undergraduate studies of the Computer Science Department, said his department will establish a minor if allowed to do so. And administrators in language departments said in interviews that a minor would be of particular use in encouraging students to take upper-level language courses.
In 2003, the Committee on Yale College Education report called for a new set of distributional requirements, which were applied beginning with the class of 2009. These new requirements made it impossible for incoming students to place out of the foreign language requirement completely.
Lewis said this has prompted students to take languages not offered at their high schools, such as Chinese and Arabic. On the other hand, he said, because new language students must only take courses up to level three, they often do not take advanced courses. Instituting minors might encourage students to do this once again, he said.
“We have a lot of people who take several courses in French but don’t become majors,” said Julie Prest, the French Department DUS. “It would be nice if they could receive some formal recognition for this.”
Smaller departments are generally more interested in the possibility of minors, Lewis said, because minors might help increase enrollment.
Another argument for minors, Lewis said, is that they might offer professional reasons for students to study subjects they might not otherwise, such as economics. But implementing a minors program would be a “blunt instrument” to achieve this end, Lewis said, as it might lead students to take an increasingly career-oriented view of education.
This perspective, he said, is shared by a large number of faculty members, who fear that students will become too focused on gathering credentials, allowing themselves less time for academic exploration. Lewis said offering minors could increase the enrollment pressure and administrative burden on larger departments.
“The top six majors have more than half the students,” Lewis said. “I would hate for that to be exacerbated.”
Allowing departments to opt out of minors might mitigate such pressures, he added.
While the CYCE discussed the possibility of offering interdisciplinary “secondary concentrations,” the Committee on Majors will not present this idea to the faculty in May, Lewis said.
“They reward breadth more than specialization,” he said of these secondary concentrations. “[But] could you have an effective interdisciplinary major? Does it really add up to a special recognition on a transcript?”
The Committee on Majors began formally considering academic minors earlier this year. The YCC independently launched a student survey to gauge interest in minors in November, followed by a report and formal recommendation that Yale College institute minors, which was submitted to the administration in April.