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Sociology course selection sees rise in BEO offerings

Sociology concentrators cite lack of course options with increase of BEO courses in department

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 9, 2017

With the growing popularity of the business, entrepreneurship and organizations concentration, there is increasing concern among sociology concentrators that the number of sociology-specific classes offered each semester is decreasing.

Multiple sociology concentrators, some who chose to stay anonymous, spoke to The Herald about concerns over course selections for the concentration.

Hans Britsch ’18, a sociology concentrator, said he has already taken all of the classes he found interesting, but course listings have “stayed the same” and haven’t offered anything new to concentrators. Clem Aeppli ’18, a sociology concentrator, cited similar concerns over finding new sociology courses to take.

In fall 2014, five out of 22 classes offered by the sociology department — about 23 percent — were foundations courses or electives for organizational studies, a track in the BEO concentration. This semester, eight out of 19 courses — 42 percent — were organizational studies courses, according to data obtained by The Herald. Sociology concentrators may still take BEO courses for credit.

Patrick Heller, chair of the sociology department, said the course offerings over the last six or seven years have been consistent in terms of the range of undergraduate courses and enrollment numbers.

While over 100 students in each year concentrate in BEO, with around 40 students in the organizational studies track, sociology usually has around 20 to 30 concentrators, said Daniel Hirschman, assistant professor of sociology.

“Part of that is just a numbers game, because there aren’t that many concentrators, … and you can’t offer that many classes that are just for sociology concentrators,” Aeppli said.

The Department of Sociology has partnered with the Department of Economics and the School of Engineering for the past 10 years to support the organizational studies track of the BEO concentration, wrote Mary Fennell, professor of sociology and director of the BEO program, in an email to The Herald.

While the concentration of BEO has grown in popularity with students and Brown has developed new resources such as the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, Dean of the College Maud Mandel cautions against assuming that the university is “pushing” or “promoting” entrepreneurship.

“I would say it’s a positive response to student interest and excitement,” Mandel said. Due to the lack of  general education requirements, Brown lacks a mechanism to push students toward certain classes, “so if something is surging here, it really is based on student choice,” she added.

Additionally, sociology’s ties with BEO have only been beneficial, Heller said. “It’s been entirely an add-on, as opposed to a subtraction,” he said, adding that the sociology department has been able to expand, receiving new resources and faculty members. “So the faculty that we provide to teach (organization) courses did not come at the expense of existing faculty capacity.” Organizational studies is also “one of the core areas of sociology,” he added.

While the department has “some work to do in terms of strengthening our course offerings with things students most want to take,” it remains unclear what is causing this perceived lack of course selection, Hirschman said. He attributed part of the problem to the layout of Courses@Brown, noting that there is an overrepresentation of BEO courses classified under sociology because BEO is not centralized within a specific academic department.