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Katz '14: Why Brown should have minors

Like most Brown students, before arriving on campus for the start of the semester, I spent time playing around on Banner. With two concentration requirements set, I had two courses to choose from among over 40 academic departments.  

The freedom to choose exactly which courses to take is an exhilarating process and one of the reasons why I came to Brown. In fact, prior to the start of my freshman year, I had compiled a list of academic departments in which I hoped to take courses before graduation.

Yet as I stared at a confused, chaotic shopping cart, I wished that in addition to the freedom to handpick my own courses, Brown would provide students the freedom to choose how to structure their degree programs in the form of majors and minors.

Minors would give students the opportunity to organize a portion of their non-concentration courses into a coherent program of study. Minors were eliminated with the implementation of the New Curriculum. Susannah Kroeber '11 noted in 2009 that the designers of the New Curriculum feared allowing minors would limit students' desire to experiment with classes outside of their concentration in "which they did not have sufficient interest or experience to eventually declare a minor" ("Kroeber '11: A minor change, a major difference," Oct. 4, 2009).

In the absence of minors, Brown students can pursue a concentration and take other courses that interest them, or they can double or even triple concentrate, a task made easier without the burden of distribution requirements.

But doesn't double concentrating also limit students' ability to take courses in a variety of departments? Why, then, does the New Curriculum allow students to double concentrate, but take the option of minors off the table?

Minors would allow students to pursue a second field of interest without the burden of taking on a second concentration, which would undoubtedly reduce the amount students could experiment with courses in other departments. Especially for students who consider double concentrating after their sophomore year, having the ability to minor would allow them to more easily pursue another academic passion. Instead of simply taking a cluster of courses in a given field, a minor could function as a way for students to structure their secondary interest and to earn a degree while doing so. At Harvard, "secondary fields" - which are equivalent to minors - "provide the opportunity for focused study (four to six half-courses) outside of the primary area of concentration, but they are entirely optional and are not required for graduation," according to the Harvard Student Handbook for the 2012-13 academic year. 

Because minors are not simply a jumble of electives strewn about a student's transcript, they would also serve to more easily showcase a student's acquaintance with disciplines other than his or her concentration to employers. Kroeber argues that a resume, not an academic transcript, is the paper tool that helps you get a job." In the fiercely competitive job market beyond the walls of Brunonia, minors would allow Brown students to present relevant credentials and demonstrate their interests and expertise in multiple disciplines. Without minors, students have fewer avenues through which they can display their academic interests other than their concentrations, since employers rarely read a full list of coursework.

Of course, a Brown education is not about accumulating a list of credentials for future employers. This would not be the purpose behind a minor, either. A minor would simply allow students to organize a second field of interest, if they have one, as an alternative to double concentrating. And while it is possible that some students may "pick up" a minor for the sake of enhancing their resumes, this is already the motivation behind why some students double concentrate.

Furthermore, minors might encourage students to pursue advanced coursework in fields other than their concentration. Instead of dabbling in a multitude of introductory classes, minors would provide students an incentive to challenge themselves in upper-level courses while still allowing enough room in their schedules to reap the benefits of the New Curriculum. For example, a student who might otherwise stop language instruction at the 400 level may continue onto more advanced levels if Brown offered minors or their equivalent for completing a certain number of courses.

It does not go against the integrity of the New Curriculum to provide students the tools to highlight their qualifications and pursue a secondary field of interest. If the University permits double concentrations, which hinder a student from taking a wide variety of courses more so than minors would, then it should also allow students the option to complete a minor.

 

 

Jaclyn Katz '14 has no idea if she would minor if given the option and can be reached at jaclyn_katz@brown.edu.


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