ER&M becomes stand-alone major

Students who wish to major in ethnicity, race and migration will no longer have to pursue it along with a second major.

Faculty voted at a Thursday Yale College faculty meeting to make ER&M a stand-alone major, as well as to split the biology major and modify the degree options in environmental engineering. Molecular, cellular and developmental biology and ecology and evolutionary biology will become separate majors, rather than tracks within one major, and environmental engineering has combined two different bachelor’s of science degrees.

The change to the ER&M major leaves only one major, South Asian studies, that must be taken as a double major. Previously, Yale has offered such majors in international studies, organismal biology and studies in the environment, according to data from the Yale College Publications Office.

“The faculty who propose new majors sometimes look upon this second-major-only status as a necessary phase to establish the major and ensure that there are enough courses and a sufficiently robust and well-structured curriculum to justify a student’s taking the program … as her or his only major,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said in a Tuesday email.

Just as ER&M is now a stand-alone major, global affairs was approved as a stand-alone major in 2010 to replace international studies, and studies in the environment became the stand-alone environmental studies major in 2001.

As a stand-alone major, ER&M will require all juniors in the major to take a new junior seminar. Pitti said the seminar will deepen students’ knowledge of the different methodologies used to study ethnicity, race and migration and also create a “cohort effect” so that students in the major get to know each other before senior year.

In another change, students in the major will have the opportunity to fulfill their senior requirement through a senior seminar paper rather than a senior thesis, he added.

Students could first major in ER&M major in 1997, but it remained on a trial basis that required regular review until until 2008, said Ezra Stiles College master Steven Pitti, who directs the ER&M program. Since then, its faculty and monetary resources have grown: Several faculty members have been tenured, and the program moved into a new location at 35 Broadway this year. Pitti said these changes made faculty in the program “feel confident” that they could sustain the program as a stand-alone major.

“We’ve been careful [in the past] about not promising a service that we were unsure we could actually provide,” Pitti said.

EB Saldana ’14 said she was “thrilled” to learn of ER&M’s new stand-alone status and intends to pursue it as her only major.

“[ER&M] was something I was interested in, but I wasn’t willing to continue it as a second major,” Saldana said, adding that she would have majored in American Studies if she was unable to do ER&M on its own.

Two other sophomores who are majoring in ER&M said they still plan to double major and will not be affected by the change. A fourth sophomore, Angelica Calabrese ’14, said she is considering double majoring in ER&M and anthropology but that having the option of doing ER&M by itself could be useful.

Faculty at Thursday’s meeting also voted to officially separate molecular, cellular and developmental biology and ecology and evolutionary biology into two majors.

The areas were made into two tracks within the biology major in 2001 but still operated independently, said Paul Turner, chair of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.

Turner said separating the two majors will simplify the process of changing requirements for degrees in biology. Currently, faculty in both the MCDB and E&EB departments must approve any changes to the biology major, he said.

In addition, the new E&EB major is likely to increase the flexibility of its requirements, Turner said. Within the biology major for current juniors and seniors, the E&EB track requires more courses than the MCDB track, but the number of requirements in the new majors will be more simlar, he said. Biology faculty are also discussing altering the introductory biology sequence and collaborating with the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Department on the course..

In environmental engineering, which currently offers two B.S. degrees — a B.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in engineering sciences (environmental) — and a B.A. degree, the two B.S. degrees will be merged into one.

Paul Van Tassel, chair of the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, said having two rather than three degree options will “more closely match the career goals” of students in the major. The new version of the B.S. degree will also align more closely with internationally recognized ABET-accredited engineering degrees, which may allow the department to pursue accreditation for it in the future, Van Tassel added.

Because there are less than four faculty members in environmental engineering, having fewer degree options also ensure that there will be faculty available to teach all the required classes, said Jordan Peccia, director of undergraduate studies for environmental engineering.

The votes approved changes endorsed by the Committee on Majors earlier this year.


  • JoNathan

    This is good news. The world needs more sociology majors.

  • Quals

    A BA in Basket Weaving will be more useful.

    • edm2012

      There’s no need to hate…

  • penny_lane

    No interdisciplinary major should stand alone. Students in these majors often come to lack discipline (pun intended). The kinds of “methodology seminars” described above gloss over the finer points of statistical analysis and literary criticism alike. Majoring in a real field requires students to become experts in a single methodology, which is critical for pursuing further study. A methodology seminar would be useful to help students learn about other methodologies used in related areas of study.

    Also, this story should have a different headline. It devotes substantial space to changes in three majors, not just ER&M.

    • edm2012

      Have you ever taken a class in ER&M? Then don’t criticize something you don’t know anything about.

      • River_Tam

        You don’t need to take a class in ER&M to know it’s full of you-know-what.

        • desch

          again, River_Tam, you make blanket statements without any basis or experience in the matter.

          • River_Tam

            I took ERM 282.

        • alum00

          “You” don’t?

          Speak for yourself. Obviously _you_ don’t need much knowledge about anything to know all you’re ever going to know about it…

          • River_Tam

            I took ERM 282. So I really wasn’t (believe it or not) talking about myself.

  • ldffly

    Oh well. Unlike a couple of earlier posters, I’m not worried their employment prospects. I’m worried about how this is a proper course of study for a B.A. Certainly, as a specialization at the graduate level, but it’s questionable that this actually belongs in the college menu of degrees.

    In the old days, the faculty used to get proposals for new courses or courses of study that didn’t belong in the Yale College curriculum. It was easy for them to hide behind “We just don’t have the money.” (Very common talk in the 1970s.) Horace Taft made severe cuts in the philosophy department based on that rationale, though, like it or not, philosophy is a core discipline within western civilization. Hannah Gray cut the graduate program in History of Science on the same rationale. Almost makes me yearn for a much tighter budget! (Only kidding, folks.)

  • theantiantiyale

    Isn’t “race” just a faster version of “migration?” I’m glad they are consolidating this confusing major.

    • River_Tam

      I laughed out loud.

  • desch

    The students working in ERM now are among some of the most driven people I know. Their passions and stories are incredible. While ERM was a second major it allowed many of us to explore a topic more deeply and really get to know professors who worked in fields of our interests. While I know that people like River_Tam and others are quick to criticize, my research is already highly applicable and I get paid/recruited to do research in the field I work in, which is related to migration.

    • penny_lane

      I can’t speak for others, but I’m not doubting the worthwhileness of the subject matter or the people who take interest in it. I’m a radical feminist, but I take the same stance on WGSS. I think it makes far more sense to choose a discipline (literature, history, psychology, biology, anthropology) and use that discipline and the skills that come with it to do meaningful work surrounding subjects of importance. I also think that having an interdisciplinary second major can be a really great way to learn about other disciplines that go into scholarship on the subject.

      I am aware that some people have been able to do meaningful and relevant research within an interdisciplinary major. One of my best friends was an American Studies major and did some really fascinating work. However, I have to stand by my principle that real scholarship comes with a discipline. To some extent it’s a question of epistemology: you need to pick a method of coming to know what you know, and be able to defend it. It’s one of the fundamental elements of a liberal arts education, and it is too easily lost these days.

      • grumpyalum

        I think you’re giving those disciplines too much credit. There’s so much into what counts as “history” that I’m not convinced it’s one coherent discipline. Same with anthropology. I can’t really comment on the other ones you listed, having not had that much experience in them.

        Point being, I think claiming that there’s a specific discipline strikes be as a bit of narrative formation. I found it much more useful to have a concept or something to study and find the tools that fit studying that, rather than using the blunt force of a particular discipline, which isn’t necessarily coherent.

        • penny_lane

          >claiming that there’s a specific discipline strikes be as a bit of narrative formation

          That is not an argument; that is sophistry. You’re using esoteric, jargony phrases that don’t really mean anything in this context to divert attention away from the points in my argument that you don’t want to contend with.

          You also don’t demonstrate the validity of the portion of your argument that claims that certain disciplines are incoherent, and yet you use it as the crux of your final point. Your reasoning is certainly dizzying…and I don’t mean in a good way.

          History and literature both follow a model requiring the defense of a thesis through coherent argument and presentation of evidence. There are different schools of thought that amount to variations on the same theme (e.g., the close reading technique taught by our English department), but it all boils down to the same basic methodology. Philosophy is similar, but requires much more attention to the rules of logic. Psychology, depending on what sub-field you’re in, develops arguments through the use of case-study, descriptive statistics and scientific experimentation. Shall I go on? Each of these fields will ask you to spend significant portions of your undergraduate career mastering these kinds of techniques, and graduate study expands on that basis. One “methodology seminar” simply cannot match that level of training.

          • grumpyalum

            No, I mean, I really do think it’s a bit of a narrative we’ve formed where we convince ourselves that there are these pure disciplines in the humanities that have an awesome and coherent methodology.

            If History and Literature are really reduced to a “defense of a thesis through coherent argument and presentation of evidence”, that’s not really a discipline! That’s called doing basically anything that isn’t shooting rainbows out of your butt! Having a thesis or hypothesis and defending it isn’t much of a discipline!

            Really, the difference between a social historian and an economic historian is huge, both in methodology and interests. Partisans in both would discount the other person’s techniques (social historians don’t deal with hard facts; economic historians leave out the person) to the point that it seems silly to claim that in history, there is a methodology that emerges when you sum all of it up. Unless, of course, you mean, history asks you to point to things in the past and come up with a reason why what you think about it is correct.

            Anyway, my point still stands: I think a more valuable exercise is working through different disciplines and finding the tools in each to help prove your thesis.

          • penny_lane

            Except you ARE shooting rainbows out of your butt.

            >”it’s a bit of a narrative we’ve formed where we convince ourselves that there are these pure disciplines in the humanities that have an awesome and coherent methodology”

            This is not a defensible statement. If you had any rigorous training in developing an argument, you would know that. Fortunately for you, it’s not falsifiable either.

            Your comments on history do nothing to disprove the value of mastering a rigorous method of scholarship. All you’ve managed to demonstrate is that there is a methodology that I’ve left out of my non-exhaustive list: that of applying economic theory to past events and using it to draw conclusions about those events. In fact, I don’t doubt that this could be a particularly fascinating method to apply to the study of Ethnicity, Race and Migration. But you haven’t managed to demonstrate a lack of coherence.

            There are pros and cons to all methodologies, which is why I’ve stated above that learning about more than one could improve the scope of one’s scholarship on a particular subject, but as I’ve said over and over, one survey seminar cannot compare to several credits’ worth of work mastering a particular method.

    • River_Tam

      > The students working in ERM now are among some of the most driven people I know. Their passions and stories are incredible.

      The same can be said of people in literally (LITERALLY) any major. There are passionate, driven people majoring in every single major. And if you added 10 more ridiculous non-majors, there’d still be passionate, driven people majoring in all of them. Yale is full of passionate, driven people. To say that a major should remain a major because it has passionate, driven participants is to endorse any major that exists.

      • grumpyalum

        I think the idea was the person was responding to the general attitude, pervasive in your comments and others that agree with you, that the people studying these “non-real” majors are somehow inferior academic beings.

        Quite frankly, just because you aren’t capable of imagining them as legitimate fields of study doesn’t stop the rest of us who don’t suffer from lack of imagination or a little ingenuity.

        You just aren’t being creative enough.

      • Inigo_Montoya


  • RexMottram08

    Student: “Mr. Buckley, here at Yale a Chicano-Puerto Rican concentration was developed under American Studies, which I guess in your opinion qualifies as a meaningless concentration…. I think the history of a people in this country and the progress that they’ve made is very meaningful.”

    WFB Jr: “Well, I think if you study it as history or if you study it as sociology or even if you study it as anthropology it’s interesting. What is not interesting is to study it ideologically, and I have a feeling that an awful lot of ideology is creeping into the study of the progress of Chicanos or blacks or women. That is not only, I think, mischievous intellectually, but I think also it tends to crank up an ideological view of the world that gets in the way of clearer vision after you’ve graduated.”