Academic minors to be weighed again

Three years after Yale College faculty members struck down a proposal to introduce academic minors into the undergraduate curriculum, the Yale College Council plans to try again.

After sending out a survey last week to the student body to gauge student interest in minors, the YCC is now finalizing a proposal for the administration advocating for the introduction of minors. Though this move builds on one of YCC President Danny Avraham’s ’15 key campaign platforms from last spring, most administrators and faculty members interviewed resisted the idea of minors, citing fears that minors would look too much like pre-professional credentials and be at odds with Yale’s liberal arts ethos.

“Do we really want to be driving students to more credential acquisition?” Dean of Yale College Mary Miller said, noting that a faculty committee had already answered the question a few years ago with a resounding no.

The last YCC report to petition for minors came before the faculty in May 2009 and resulted in a 2010 report by the Committee on Majors that shelved the implementation of minors at the time.

While the 2010 report recognized that minors might raise enrollment for small departments and reverse a trend towards pre-professionalism, it ultimately concluded that minors would more likely have the opposite effects.

“Although the Committee recognizes the validity and seriousness of calls for a system of minors, it shares the concerns of a large number of faculty members that minors might actually exacerbate some of the trends — towards pre-professionalism, chasing of credentials and narrowness of focus — that they are intended to counteract,” the report said.

Tina Lu, chair of the East Asian Languages and Literatures department, said she believes that minors at Yale could further limit intellectual exploration and experimentation, especially in a climate that is already rife with pre-professional pressures.

Anthropology Professor William Kelly said in an email that students overestimate the importance of minors, concentrations and other certificate programs. When he assesses applications to graduate programs, post-graduate fellowships and faculty positions, Kelly said, he pays very little attention to these smaller academic titles.

“If I were truly cynical — I’m not — I would liken [minors] to the rows of medals on those old Soviet generals in the May Day parades,” Kelly said. “The number of medals seem[s] to bear an inverse relationship to actual battlefield bravery.”

At Princeton University, undergraduates are given the option of obtaining a certificate, which is similar to minors at other universities, in certain disciplines. Although he is pursuing a certificate in neuroscience, Brendan Wu, a senior at Princeton, said he generally does not believe certificate programs are beneficial because they force students to take courses they might not truly be interested in.

One of Princeton’s most popular certificates is in finance, which attracts so many students that it sets a GPA requirement for applicants. Princeton senior Djohan Sutjiawan, who does not plan to pursue a certificate, said that many students feel pressured to graduate with a certificate in finance to boost their career or salary prospects.

But Yale Italian Professor Millicent Marcus GRD ’74 said she believes that minors at the University would provide an outlet for students to explore their academic interests in the face of mounting financial and professional anxieties.

“I think it could help address the crisis of the humanities at Yale,” she said. “I feel that my students face pressure to major in something that might bring them financial security.”

Marcus added that minors could be a “formal and coherent way” for non-humanities majors to pursue their humanistic interests, using art history as an example.

Of 21 Yale students surveyed, 19 said they would pursue an academic minor, but many also said they do not believe minors to be necessary.

Daniel Judt ’17 said he does not think that the addition of another academic structure would enhance the undergraduate learning experience. Concentrating should happen naturally, he said, without the aid of minors.

Ericka Saracho ’14 said she would not want to take on a minor because it is already difficult enough to have to choose and fulfill a major.

Still, some students said they would appreciate the option of being able to minor in a discipline that they find interesting. Cindy Engman ’15 said minoring could serve as a nice intermediate between obtaining a second major and receiving no recognition for an additional academic pursuit at all.

Harvard introduced minors, known as secondary fields, in 2006.

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