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Minor Additions

October 17, 2005

Students at Rice University may soon be able to minor in a subject, an option that does not currently exist, and that  could broaden academic offerings and provide an alternative to accumulating two or three majors.

Last week, the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum at Rice discussed a proposal by Robin Forman, dean of undergraduates, that would add other minors to Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, the only minor currently available. Intricacies of the proposal aren’t worked out, but the committee was interested enough that a new, more detailed draft will be presented to the committee in coming weeks.

Forman said the impetus for the proposal was a similar project that sought to create a business minor. Rice has no undergraduate business major. Forman said the primary goal is to “give us a way of offering some certification to our students who are taking part in studying subjects in which we don’t have sufficient resources to offer a major,” Forman said.

Some students and professors also hope minors would alleviate the pressure that some students feel to “jump through hoops,” said Bill Wilson, a professor of computer and electrical engineering, and chair of the committee, in order to get an additional major or two. Wilson said he thinks there have been more double and triple majors in recent years, and that students will take several extra courses beyond their interest just to get another major on their transcript instead of broadening their studies. Many colleges and universities have reported similar trends.

According to Carol Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, anything that will encourage students not to accrue extra majors just to bolster their resume is a good thing. "I’ve never heard an employer say, ‘I’m looking for a student with two majors,’” Schneider said. She said a report that AACU will release next month documents the fact that graduate school recruiters and potential employers don’t typically care if a student has multiple majors, or minors, for that matter. “They want to see that students have done theses or research, and can make connections across disciplines,” Schneider said, adding that students are mistaken if they think employers want a focus to see a focus on one or two subjects.

Though everything discussed so far is preliminary, some faculty members hope that most or all of the minors that would be offered would be interdisciplinary programs that would not overlap with current majors.

According to undergraduate representatives, some of the programs that have been batted around include medical humanities, legal studies, African-American studies, and legal studies.

Pareen Bathia, a sophomore on the committee, said that “it you’re premed and majoring in biology, then medical humanities could be an excellent addition for you.” But she isn’t convinced that students would be persuaded to ease back on the majors. “If there’s no overlap, students that are interested in Spanish and biochemistry are still going to major in Spanish and Biochemistry,” she said. The committee will also discuss putting a cap on the number of minors that a student can have, in an effort not to transform the multiple-major fervor into oodles-of-minors fervor. “I really think to alleviate triple majors,” Bathia said, “they should put a cap on majors.”

An editorial in The Rice Thresher last week criticized the idea of adding minors, saying minors would exacerbate one of the problems they would be meant to mitigate. “Minors, like any unnecessary certification,” the editorial read, “will pervert the supply and demand for classes. Students will take classes in which they are not interested in order to get an extra word on their transcripts or resumes.” The editorial went on to say that academic advising should be used to dissuade students from needless majors, and that more majors should have areas of concentration.

Bathia still said she thinks the business minor is a great idea, because so many students eventually go into business. William Glick, the dean of the business school at Rice, said he thinks the business minor, which, if approved by the committee and the Faculty Senate, could be available next fall, would be very popular. He thinks it might dissuade students from picking up multiple majors “with no real focus,” he said. “The big question is, ‘Will we have the capacity to satisfy demand?’”

Megan Gray, a senior majoring in biology and policy studies, said she does not think a minor would have afforded her the depth of study she wanted in her majors, but that she would have considered minors in environmental studies and anthropology. “As it is, I just took a few classes in those [subjects],” she wrote in an e-mail. She added that she does think minors will be “helpful in reducing some of the push for multiple majors, while still allowing students the official recognition of a specialty area.”

Eugene H. Levy, the Rice provost and a professor of physics and astronomy, said he thinks minors would offer a degree of flexibility to academic departments that would be encouraged to work together to create interdisciplinary programs. Levy said that, though some faculty members would not want minors to overlap with majors, he would not mind, but still said the greatest benefit would be “to add opportunities to the curriculum, short of having to create new majors.”

 

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