With the introduction of “correlated programs,” Yale’s administration has made an important change in academic policy even before Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead’s new academic review committee has had its first meeting.
There are serious problems with system currently available to students seeking to immerse themselves in more than one discipline, and the “correlated programs” plan is an admirable first step in diversifying the options available to students looking to undertake in-depth study in fields other than their primary major.
Correlated programs will not be minors. They will not be offered in traditional disciplines like English or biology, but rather in specific and often interdisciplinary fields of inquiry, and they will likely require an application process and function only as a supplementary major.
The test correlated program will be Urban Studies, which is still being examined and revised by the Committee on Majors, and likely will begin next fall. Last December, the report that created the Committee on Majors implied that current majors like International Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration could eventually become correlated programs, thereby changing the way students pursue interests outside their primary major.
As it exists now, double majoring is burdensome, complicated, and generally discouraged. Students are rarely as interested in their second major as they are in their first, but they are nevertheless required to complete the full load of their second major. While some students are happy with their decision to double major, the current requirements mean that double majors have to forego almost all electives.
Yale College must push initiatives that increase the ability of those students genuinely interested in serious study in a field other than their major to explore that interest, but that do not make a minor so easily accessible that every student would blindly pursue one. The currently correlated programs proposal is a viable first step toward such a goal, but it is not enough by itself.
Even under a system of correlated programs, students who wish to immerse themselves in a traditional discipline in addition to their primary major must still either double major or not take on another full program at all. As the plan currently exists, correlated programs will also remain unavailable to students who are not concentrating in a primary major related to the correlated program, thus limiting students’ ability to pursue different interests and ways of thinking.
Once under way, Brodhead’s new task force to review undergraduate education must seriously examine this question, and the status quo should remain only if an exhaustive analysis of the current exclusively double-majors-oriented system proves it to be the best one available to students seeking multiple areas of focus.
Given the inherent difficulties, there clearly exists no panacea to the multiple majors dilemma. But if Yale truly seeks to establish itself as the nation’s premier institution for undergraduate education, the current system must be thoroughly examined this year, and if need be found, extensively reformed.