University News

Poll: Undergrads say U. should offer minors

Less than 25 percent oppose the creation of University-sanctioned secondary areas of study

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
This article is part of the series Spring 2013 Student Poll

Over two-thirds of students believe the University should offer minors, according to the Herald poll conducted in March.

Roughly sixty-one percent of students would pursue a minor, while 6 percent said they would not pursue a minor but feel the option should be offered.

Twenty-three percent of students said they do not believe the University should offer minors. Almost 16 percent of students said they would still pursue a minor if given the option. Ten percent of students reported having no opinion.

Females supported both the creation and pursuit of minors at a higher rate than did males, with over 67 percent saying they would pursue a minor and would like the University to offer them, compared to 52 percent of males.

Physical science concentrators, including math and computer science concentrators, were twice as likely to answer they think the University should offer minors but would not pursue one, at 10 percent compared to 5 percent in all other concentration areas.

Seniors were less likely to want the University to offer minors and pursue one if offered, at 55 percent, compared to 69 percent for first-years.

Under the Open Curriculum, the University does not offer minors to undergraduates.

Many students said they are against this policy, citing employers’ inability to recognize students’ varied academic interests post-graduation, a viewpoint that Ira Magaziner ’69 P’06 P’07 P’10 — one of the principle architects of the Curriculum — called “narrow pre-professionalism.” How well a student is educated matters more than what professional fields an area of study can lead to, Magaziner said.

Mathew Kelley ’14 said he does not believe the University should offer minors.

“It goes against the Open Curriculum,” Kelley said. “It’s just an easy way to tack on achievements.”

Kelley added that though he does not believe minors offer benefits, he would support the University implementing language certification, which is similar to a minor in a foreign language.

Students in the sciences, who face more concentration requirements, would probably be more interested in minors because they do not have the time to complete a double concentration, Kelley said. “Humanities concentrators would be able to stack on three or four minors,” he said.

Sha Sha ’15 said she feels very strongly that the University should offer minors. Her pre-medical track influenced her to concentrate in the sciences, though she is also interested in economics.

“If I concentrate in economics, I would have to take a fifth year,” Sha said, adding that she feels minors are good options for students with diverse interests.

Charlotte Kim ’16 said she would probably pursue a minor, though she would have to do more research about the requirements. “I don’t think it would hinder our agendas (to have the option).”

Many students expressed surprise about the disparity between genders.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that,” said Emily Regier ’14. “I would imagine (minors) are pretty gender neutral.”

Magaziner, Elliot Maxwell ’68 and the other contributors to the creation of the Open Curriculum followed the philosophy that “a liberal education has a value in itself,” making minors, or specified secondary areas of study, unnecessary, Magaziner said.

Students should have the option of a minor if they are willing to convince the administration, Magaziner said. “There’s no harm in the University offering (minors).”

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron expressed similar sentiments, noting that of the roughly 80 concentration programs offered — many with multiple tracks — over 40 percent are interdepartmental. Secondary areas of study are often “built-in,” she said.

Bergeron said double concentrations and independent concentrations are ways for students to integrate secondary areas of study into their experience at Brown, and 20 percent of students complete two concentrations.

She added that students’ transcripts show if they have completed significant coursework in an area of study outside of their concentration.

Bergeron said the University is “cautious about building our system in that way, because we already have a lot of choice,” and too much choice may overwhelm students and undermine the academic process.

Director of the Curricular Resource Center Peggy Chang said she feels ambivalent about offering minors.

“I don’t know that Brown recognizing it elevates the accomplishment,” she said. “Students should be able to narrate what they did effectively and make sense of what they’ve studied.”

Chang said she is not in favor of double concentrating, because “unless you are truly invested in two different areas,” a double concentration will limit a student’s ability to explore other studies. The option to pursue a minor would present a similar problem, she said.

“(This issue) merits a much longer discussion among students, faculty and staff,” Bergeron said.

She added that there are significant logistical problems to consider if the University were to add minors to the curriculum.

“Every department who has a concentration would have a partial concentration (or multiple ones),” she said.

Awarding minors to students would be very difficult to organize in departments like the Department of Economics, which is struggling with a lack of resources and too many concentrators, Chang said.

If the University were to implement minors, it would likely reference the secondary academic programs at comparable institutions, Chang said.

Princeton offers “certificate programs” to undergraduates, which require both coursework and a senior thesis to complete, according to the university’s website.

Harvard undergraduates have the option of pursuing one “secondary concentration,” which requires four to six “half-courses” for completion, according to Harvard’s website.

“If this is what students want, there should be a discussion,” Chang said.

Magaziner said a discussion would be a good idea and would support the University’s philosophy that students shape the curriculum.

“It’s always good when students are asking questions about the curriculum and thinking about how to improve it,” he said.

 

Methodology

Written questionnaires were administered to 1,202 undergraduates March 13-14 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.55 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 3.9 percent for the subset of males, 3.4 percent for females, 5.1 percent for first-years, 4.7 percent for sophomores, 5.4 percent for juniors, 5.2 percent for seniors, 3.8 percent for students receiving financial aid, 3.4 percent for students not receiving financial aid, 6.5 percent for varsity athletes and 2.8 percent for non-athletes.

Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.

  • Brownie’17

    I strongly feel that Brown should allow undergraduates the option of minors. While some may argue that introducing minors may narrow a student’s academic exploration prospects – which should undoubtedly not occur – the status quo actually further narrows such prospects for certain students.

    By the time they are halfway through university, students may have identified two academic fields that they are most interested in. While it is satisfactory to take a few classes in both fields and concentrate in one – which is what the Open Curriculum currently allows – it is undeniably more gratifying to be able to be recognized as well-read in both fields outside the University borders. The latter can only be accomplished through certification – in this case in the form of minors. However, right now, since students still harbor that desire of being recognized as versed in two (or three) different academic fields, they must turn to the concept of double-concentrating. Since a double concentration mandates strict fulfillment of all requirements (requirements that amount to over 15 for many single science concentrations), students are necessarily forced to forego being able to explore and dabble in fields of unrelated interest (which should be the spirit of the Open Curriculum). However, with minors, students can still receive recognition of proficiency in two subjects whilst still enjoying taking classes in a whole array of fields.

    The current system limits those who want to pursue two academic interests from truly enjoying the Open Curriculum. It is important to realize that those who want a major and a minor are not taking the ‘easy way out’ nor are they simply job market- oriented. They are students who genuinely want to be internally and externally recognized for talent and ability in two fields and want to preserve the reason many of them may have even applied to Brown for, the liberating Open Curriculum. They too deserve to be academic pioneers.

    • ’13

      I’m unclear that sticking the name minor on it does anything for those students who are academic pioneers, or who are taking advantage of the open curriculum. I was around two courses away from picking up a double concentration, but elected not to because I have no need of validating my education with an extra name on my transcript. And for those who are concerned with post-graduation employment, their presence will encourage taking a few courses specifically for the purpose of a minor. And it is not necessarily evident to me that a minor actually demonstrates much proficiency at all.

      I’m with Peggy Chang on this one. “I don’t know that Brown recognizing it elevates the accomplishment … Students should be able to narrate what they did effectively and make sense of what they’ve studied.”

      • ’13

        But here’s the thing: what you do at Brown has effects beyond your time at the university. I’ve had to explain to lots of people what it means to “Concentrate” (most other places call it “majoring”). Saying that I have done “significant coursework in X” is meaningless much of the time; what did I do? What is “significant?”

        I’ve rarely had to send a transcript when applying for jobs. And even if they were to look at my transcript, some of the course titles are so vague or the department codes so obscure that a recruiter might have trouble figuring out what I did. If I have a line on my resume that says “Minor in X,” then at least someone might be able to make sense of it.

        If your goal is simply to do whatever you want, then it shouldn’t matter what you study. But if your goal is to do whatever you want and make sure it is comprehensible to someone not intimately familiar with Brown, then perhaps we should allow minors.

        • ’12

          It is curious how stating you had “significant coursework in X” is somehow deemed as meaningless, while having a designation of “minor” is meaningful, when the bar for the latter is probably going to be lower than that for the former.

          Come on, employers aren’t stupid. The value of minors to them is virtually nil. If they are looking for a specific skill, they will ask directly for evidence, and not waste time second-guessing what abilities your minor may or may not have endowed you with.

          • ’17

            I have to disagree here. While a minor is obviously known to be less meaningful than a major, there is no denying that there is broader recognition of a minor than the term “significant coursework”. The latter term is not ‘meaningless’ per say, but to me it sounds more subjective and less standardized than an accredited minor.

            No one is saying that an individual with a minor in say, public policy, will be immediately recognized as an expert in the area. But s/he, having passed the certification, is definitely (providing the system obviously does not arbitrarily design minors) entering with a skill set and knowledge pool that is a little versatile and varied. The easiest, and most standardized, way for an employer to recognize this is certification. I highly doubt that employers will spend the time to “directly ask for evidence”. In fact, they would be second-guessing only IF they had no accredited certification that declares your academic ability.

          • ’13

            My point exactly. While employers may disagree on the value of the
            minor, it means that someone –– a venerable, accredited university at
            that –– decided that you know enough stuff to earn that certification.
            Unless someone is familiar with your curriculum, “significant
            coursework” is meaningless. Also, much of the time employers don’t even
            look at your transcript.

    • ’12

      The notion that taking 4 or 5 courses in a department constitutes “talent and ability” in a field is risible.

      • ’17

        I do think that with every additional course a student takes, provided s/he has vested interest in the learning, his/her aptitude in the field will only augment. Perhaps I was a bit too vague in saying “talent and ability”, but I do believe that having a minor in the area reflects a specialized, and deep understanding in a field (granted not to the extent of a concentration).

      • Joe’09

        Why would you say “risible” when “laughable” means exactly the same thing, and doesn’t come off as pretentious?

  • Joe’09

    It’ll be an interesting day when Brown students recognize that the Open Curriculum, while unique, is not absolute perfection.

  • Alumn ’97

    In order for minors to make any sense at Brown, five courses would have to become the expected semester workload. Some faculties only require eight or ten courses to fulfill concentration requirements. Those standards are in the ballpark for minor concentrations at other universities. Minors at Brown would involve other, substantial changes to the curriculum.