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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Concentrations are indeed not a minor issue

<ecent editorial about academic concentrations appearing in The Carletonian had a number of factual inaccuracies and misunderstandings underlying its main premises. I feel that I have a responsibility to correct the mistakes so that students can make their own decisions based on accurate information. I decline to publicly agree or disagree with the final conclusion of this editorial, only make sure that false rumors do not get started.

First of all, a concentration is NOT the equivalent of what many colleges and universities call a “minor.” A major is designed to give students a depth of knowledge not just of the academic content of a major, but of the process of that major—the methods, tools, and modes of inquiry employed by practitioners of that discipline. A minor is designed to provide some basic supplementary knowledge in a field without giving the same in-depth treatment of a single discipline’s methodology. Carleton specifically prohibits minors, on the grounds that as a liberal arts college it is not the school’s mission to “credentialize” certain skills. The major, with its methodological focus, is a crucial part of a liberal education; the minor has historically been deemed entirely unnecessary to what we do at Carleton.

A concentration, on the other hand, is Carleton’s way of recognizing that many of the problems facing our world today are not confined by the bounds of a single discipline. A concentration should provide students with an opportunity to explore specific thematic issues (the environment, specific regional/racial/gender issues, etc.) using the methods of many different disciplines. Thus, unlike minors, concentrations are specifically designed to NOT overlap with majors. This is why you will never see a concentration in, say, geology or English. There is some gray area here because, over time, interdisciplinary fields do evolve into major-worthy modes of inquiry in their own right, and the College recognizes this when it happens by creating an interdisciplinary major. In general, however, when interdisciplinary majors come to exist, their associated concentrations disappear. In part this has to do with financial limitations, but it is also consistent with the philosophical differences between major and concentration. There have been a few exceptions to this but for the most part (with CAMS, ENTS, etc.) this has been the usual procedure.

Beyond these basic misapprehensions, a few statements made in the editorial were either misleading or simply wrong. Carleton did approve an ENTS major, but contrary to what the article stated the concentration no longer exists as of the Class of 2011. Furthermore, it is untrue to state that concentrations are listed on students’ final transcripts—they do not have official transcript designation (Certificates of Advanced Study in foreign language do appear on the transcript, however).

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