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Poll: Undergrads say U. should offer minors

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

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.



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