Faculty Passes Motion Allowing Academic Minors
A motion allowing academic departments to create minors was passed at a faculty meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The motion, which was written by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) and first submitted to faculty and students for discussion in December, says that departments can now propose minors to the EPC for approval and also stipulates that students can have no more than three curricular designations—including majors, minors, and certificates—on their transcript.
The process to create minors at the University began in the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA); Assembly members sent out surveys last year to gauge student interest in putting minors on the curriculum.
“This is something the WSA picked up last year and in previous years,” said WSA President Zachary Malter ’13. “We’ve been conducting surveys about minors, and every one of them presented us with pretty conclusive and compelling evidence that students were interested in minors.”
According to WSA Academic Affairs Committee Chair Mari Jarris ’14, a survey sent out to students in the fall showed that 87 percent of students were in favor of minors.
“Minors have been something we’ve been discussing on the WSA for at least as long as I’ve been on it, and [it’s] been discussed among Wesleyan students for a lot longer than that,” Jarris said. “Many of our peer schools have them, and they’re pretty standard for universities and colleges, so we started to talk more seriously about it at the end of last year.”
Jarris, who is one of two students who sit on the EPC along with WSA Academic Affairs Committee Vice Chair Aubrey Hamilton ’12, brought this discussion to Andrews Professor of Economics and Chair of the EPC Joyce Jacobsen last year. Jacobsen said that faculty interest in minors began at an EPC-led discussion at a faculty meeting in April 2011; where faculty debated whether certificates should be renamed as minors and ultimately decided that they were not equivalent.
Jacobsen then drafted a memo in November that was sent to faculty so they could discuss the possibilities of minors at a Dec. 6 faculty meeting. The memo, which is nearly identical to the motion passed on Tuesday, included a proposal of how minors would look at Wesleyan, a question and answers page, and information on minors at similar institutions.
“While minors would be allowed under this motion, they are in no way required; departments and programs need not create any minor at all,” the memo reads. “Departments and programs wishing to create a minor would present a proposal to the EPC.”
Students were also consulted about minors at a student forum held on Dec. 6.
“We not only brought it to the faculty, but we also held a student forum sponsored by the WSA so that we could get additional input,” Jacobsen said. “There are always a few people against it, but it seemed more people were willing to have it as an option than to shut that off for other people even if they themselves didn’t think they would do it.”
Jarris also said that student opinions about minors seemed mixed.
“At the forum, opinion was pretty much split, I think because the most opinionated [students] were more likely to show up,” she said. “However, most of the concerns expressed at the forum were later addressed."
The memo outlines minors as consisting of five to seven courses, where no more than two courses should be at an introductory level and no work other than the completion of courses is required. It also includes a section with a proposed change to the University’s academic regulations stating that students “may not declare more than a combined total of three majors, certificates, and minors.”
Chair of the Economics Department and Chair of the Faculty Gil Skillman said that most faculty seemed willing to try out minors after the December meeting.
“At the end of the day I think the sense of the faculty was that it’s an option that people can have—it could well eliminate or reduce unnecessary double majors, and give students a few more options, so let’s go for it and see what happens,” he said. “Lots of other institutions have minors, and it doesn’t seem like it’s created utter chaos there.”
Skillman said that some faculty expressed concerns about feeling pressure to make a minor for their department if every other department started doing one. He said some faculty were also unsure about how minors would affect preexisting certificates.
“This is [something] that causes speculation: could it be that given the option of a minor, it would make unnecessary many of these certificate programs or course clusters?” he said. “What if it makes a certificate [that a department] sponsors go away or become irrelevant? Potentially these are issues.”
Jacobsen said that the minor is intended to be less work than a certificate, as it will just consist of class credits and there will be no capstone projects or a minimum GPA, as some certificates require.
“A certificate could potentially develop a minor option, which might be useful particularly as a fallback for students who might not be able to [complete] all of it,” she said. “Certificates are more things you have to do and minors would be a good fallback point—and for majors [as well].”
The motion that passed at the faculty meeting this week is identical to the memo from last fall except for the addition of a reporting function, which requires the EPC to report back to faculty when new minors are created, and a consultation function, which stipulates that the EPC will consult with academic deans and the provost about new minor proposals. Jarris said that some departments have already expressed interest in creating minors.
“So far [Professor Jacobsen] has guaranteed she will write a proposal for Economics consisting of six courses,” she said. “A few language departments have also expressed interest. It’s unlikely that Government or Sociology will at this time come up with a proposal until after the effects of minors are seen.”
Malter said that the inclusion of minors in the curriculum could help lessen some of the stress on departments with high demand.
“It may affect the type of planning [students] do, it may affect to some degree the course selection process, and it may alleviate some of the pressures on departments where there’s especially high demand right now,” he said. “Some majors will shift to minors and therefore there may not be as much of a strain.”
Skillman said he believes students will utilize minors to prove a competency in an area without having to go as in depth as a major would.
“A lot of students double major when really all they’re looking to do is show the world that they have some investment in and some knowledge in an area,” he said. “So what do you do if you don’t want to be a full-blown major, but you do want to show that you have some core learning in it? Well, minors seem to make sense.”
Jacobsen said that she discussed an Economics minor with Skillman and she has drafted a proposal that she plans to bring to the Economics department in the next few weeks. She said that a few minors might become available by the fall, but that more departments will probably create them as they have the time and resources.
“It will depend on whether people have the time and energy to do it over the semester, so I would think at most there would be less than ten available by next fall,” she said. “Departments don’t have to put them in, so it will take a while to build up more of them, but I would assume that we would have things either in WesMaps or another page. We’re hoping that we will eventually move to having—just as you can now declare majors online—people be able to declare both certificates and minors online, but it’s going to take a while to get that programmed in.”
Jarris said she believes minors will help students better represent their Wesleyan education and will open up new options.
“I think this is a pretty big step for Wesleyan, as it opens up a lot of new possibilities for students [and] this would more accurately represent what students are doing at Wesleyan,” she said. “I think most opposition was philosophical…moving away from certificates, which are seen as uniquely Wesleyan. If anything this will be more widely recognized and will just expand the options for students.”
Assistant News Editor Daniel Greenberg contributed reporting for this story.