The Yalie's bible, or the Blue Book, states that students should explore and understand that "the College stands behind the principle of distribution of studies as strongly as it supports the principle of concentration." At the heart of the Yale education is an Administration committed to a liberal arts curriculum aimed at encouraging students' personal intellectual development.
In considering a major within this broad liberal arts curriculum, Yalies often consider the type of career they wish to pursue after graduation. This consideration leads many to relish the idea of a minor program to diversify their options. There is currently no minor program at Yale, but introducing one to the curriculum is being considered once again by both Yale's Committee on Majors (COM) and the student-run Yale College Council (YCC) this year. Though the possibility has been explored at Yale before, particularly in the 2002-2003 academic year, the two groups are doing a completely new review of what a minor system would accomplish—not only for Yalies, but also Yale's academic departments. The YCC, COM, and academic departments are currently investigating the potential intellectual benefits of a minor program.
In Apr. 2003, the Committee on Yale College Education released the "Report on Yale College Education," which addressed various aspects of the undergraduate college education. In the report, the Committee recommended that the sciences develop secondary concentrations to encourage non-science majors to go beyond the minimum requirements in the fields. The committee emphasized that these concentrations, including International Studies (IS) and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration (ER&M), were not minors, but rather "broad course(s) of study encompassing many disciplines." That same year, the College considered "correlated programs," interdisciplinary programs that might have served as the Yale equivalent of an academic minor. According to Acting Dean Joseph Gordon, considerations did not develop significantly past this initial suggestion.
In many respects, Yale is often viewed as a vanguard in the Ivy League and for universities across the country. But when it comes to minors, it is one of the only Ivies that has not adopted some sort of program—from Princeton's ban on double majors and its subsequent adoption of a certificate program, which allows students to earn a certificate of demonstrated proficiency in about 40 different interdisciplinary fields, to Harvard's 2006 adoption of secondary concentrations—the other Ivies are already addressing the issue of academic minors.
Would a minor program work for Yale? On this question, students and faculty are split.
To attempt to answer this question, the YCC conducted a campus wide email survey from Nov. 6-12. The survey found that 88 percent of the 1,698 student respondents would be interested in pursuing a minor were it made available. Brian Levin, SM '11, a YCC representative and member of the committee exploring minors, presented the issue at hand: "The issue some people have raised is that if students are encouraged to get minors or some sort of concentration that it will decrease their academic flexibility because they will be tied up taking so many classes, but the obvious response to that is that if you are pursuing a second major, that is the alternative, that it will further reduce their academic flexibility."
According to YCC President Richard Tao, SM '10, Yalies who choose not double major, on the other hand, "take a smattering of courses that often lack depth and that's not really living up to the liberal arts tradition." Gordon, however, said that the establishment of a minor program could lead to the "sacrifice of distribution at the sake of two concentrations." Gordon emphasized that Yale's liberal arts philosophy values both distribution and concentration equally.
While an overwhelming majority of stu-
dents are in favor of establishing an academic minor program, the sentiments among the various departments' Directors of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) are far more split. The language departments, in hopes of encouraging students to pursue higher levels of understanding above just the required minimum, are for the most part largely in favor of establishing a minor program. In response to an e-mail from the Administration sent this past Tues., Nov. 11 surveying the DUS's preliminary opinions on minors, the Italian DUS, Professor Angela Capodivacca, wrote that "the Department of Italian has strong reasons to support the establishment of a minor at Yale."
"Not having the possibility of a minor penalizes the students who develop a special interest in a field that was not already known to them in high school, thus failing to recognize the curiosity that is the very basis of intellectual endeavor and of the mission of our academic institution," wrote Capodivacca in the email to the COM, which is headed by MCDB Professor Mark Mooseker. The Italian Department has only two majors this year, and Capodivacca believes that it is nearly impossible to major in Italian without exposure to Italian prior to coming to Yale because only literature—not language—courses count towards the major. The Committee of Language Study, according to Nelleke Van Deuson-Scholl, Director of the Center for Language Study, is considering awarding certificates of proficiency in languages to students, which Capodivacca feels is not as effective as a minor might be, considering the latter is more widely recognized by the academic community.
However, "more choice does not always mean more liberation," according to Professor Barry McCrea, the DUS of Comparative Literature. He warned that some Yalies might opt for a minor simply because they believe it will make them more competitive among other Yalies. He noted that a competitive spirit brought many students to Yale in the first place, and that spirit does not diminish once on campus.
The issue of academic minors is particularly important in McCrea's interdisciplinary department, as many of the classes that count towards the major are cross-listed with other departments. McCrea has yet to discuss the matter in-depth with the department's faculty, but believes that developing minor requirements would be difficult for his small department. He worries that students will get a "free minor," one that does not display a strong sense of understanding or interest in the subject matter, but is a combination of scattered credits from a variety of classes overlapping between departments.
"A minor should be significant, however, say six credits (half a major) after language proficiency, and not just a taste of a field," said Professor Kenneth David Jackson, the DUS of the Portuguese Department. The issue of gaining too superficial an understanding to merit recognized proficiency is a concern among one of Yale's new majors as well-—Modern Middle East Studies.
"The Modern Middle East major has several requirements for seminars, so which requirements would you leave out for the minor?" asked Professor Colleen Manassa, the DUS of Near Eastern Civilizations and Languages (NELC), which shares many double majors with Modern Middle East Studies. "And would the minor really then represent anything?"
Yales' faculty seems to be as divided on the matter as they were in the 2003, when the topic of academic minors was last brought to the table. Gordon said, "There has never been an overwhelming support for or against it." He emphasized that the process of reviewing the potential implementation of an academic minors program was in its nascent stages and that a comprehensive review was required to explore "unintentional consequences, such as majors with low enrollment losing all enrollment and only having students minor in them."
Mooseker explained that the COM is currently focusing on exploring the possible intellectual benefits that the program might have for Yale students, and is not yet in the later stages of exploring other consequences, such as the amount of extra resources departments might require if a minor program was established or the lack of focus that might result in students' schedules.
Philip Jones, the director of Undergraduate Career Services, noted that implementing academic minors would not greatly affect employment opportunities for graduated Yalies as employers "almost always…do not care one way or the other" when considering double versus single majors. He suggested that this ambivalence would extend to academic minors.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel, also pointed out that he has "yet to see a single individual mention the matter of minors as a reason for selecting a different school" implying that it would not make Yale more competitive with other Ivy League schools in the admissions process either, despite other institutions already offering academic minor opportunities.
The jury is still out on academic minors. The majority of students are in favor of establishing minors so as to receive formal recognition for a developed secondary interest. The Administration is not as certain. Some question students' motives and others worry about maintaining Yale's commitment to a liberal arts education. Although little progress has been made in the past five years, perhaps the Class of 2017 will have the option of graduating with both a major and a minor.