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Departments study the results of new minors

The 2017-2018 academic year marks the first year that Carleton is offering academic minors in the place of concentrations and certificates. The decision to offer minors on campus was finalized during the 2016-17 academic year, after going through an approval process by the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) as well as two rounds of review by faculty, followed by a faculty vote. A minors subcommittee on the ECC had been working on the possibility of minors since fall of 2015.

History Professor Bill North, who acted as chair of the minors subcommittee, said that the decision to consider minors was influenced by the increasing prevalence of minors at Carleton’s peer schools, a rise in the number of Carleton students who are pursuing double majors and concerns that students who study extensively in a department outside their major may be unable to convey the importance of this experience to potential employers without the formal title of a minor.

The new structure allows any department to choose to submit a proposal for a minor. This stands in contrast to the previous format of concentrations, which were required to be interdisciplinary in nature, and certificates, which were offered only by language departments. Previously existing certificates and concentrations have been converted to minors for this academic year, with few or no changes to their structure.

 Several departments, including classics, philosophy and music developed minors in time for the beginning of this academic year.

Students planning their academic careers may wonder whether other departments will follow suit. North said that the few departments that have already implemented new minors “had been working ahead” in expectation that the proposal to introduce minors would be passed.

North pointed out that these departments “knew what they wanted” and “knew they had the resources to add a minor while still maintaining the major courses.”

 For other departments, the question of whether or not to add a minor is more complicated.
According to Professor Serena Zabin, director of the American Studies department, one important concern is how the addition of a minor might affect a department’s enrollment.

This effect could be an increase in enrollment as students pursuing minors join the program, or alternatively, a decrease in the number of departmental majors as students choose to pursue a minor in that subject instead.

North suggested that for many departments, the question of resources plays an important role. For example, if departments with minors open additional sections of an introductory course in response to increased demand, they may be forced to move faculty away from higher-level courses that would otherwise have been taught.

In other cases, departments simply have not yet addressed the question of whether or not to develop a minor. Zabin said that when it comes to the possibility of a minor, “the biggest issue for American studies is that honestly, we just have not had time to talk about it.”

Carleton’s switch to minors last academic year left departments with little time to develop a minor in time for it to be reviewed and approved by the beginning of this school year.

Zabin said that the issue of a minor will likely come up at the department’s December retreat. She cited the development of a coherent intellectual framework for a minor as one of the main challenges.
Given the department’s interdisciplinary nature, said Zabin, “Our majors already complain that they’re not always sure how coherent the major feels.”

She worries that “with even fewer pieces,” it could be difficult to come up with a good intellectual framework for a minor. However, she also points out the possibility of following the example of other departments that offer minors focused on a particular aspect of a discipline, such as the American music minor.

 Some departments that do not currently offer minors, such as history, have already come a long way in the process of developing one.

Last week, the history department faculty approved a proposal for a history minor. The proposal will now go to the ECC for approval, a process that may include recommendations of revisions to the minor. If the minor is approved, it will then be voted on twice by faculty.

Although the approval process is far from complete, if everything goes smoothly, the history minor could potentially be in place by the beginning of next academic year.

According to Professor Seungjoo Yoon, the Chair of the history department, the proposed minor would consist of one methodology course and at least one 300-level seminar, with the remaining classes distributed to cover multiple regions of the world as well as both premodern and modern history.

One of the main concerns expressed by the department about a minor, according to Yoon, was how to ensure that students minoring in history would gain a deep understanding of the discipline’s rigorous approach to historical study, despite their smaller course load.

The history department formed a subcommittee to work on the issue of a minor last academic year, although the fact that many faculty members were on leave limited how far the discussion could move forward, according to North.

Yoon said that, since then, the history department has been “proactive” in responding to the opportunity to develop a minor as part of an “ongoing effort on our part to reach out to a broader and changing audience.”

Yoon believes that a history minor is a good fit because history as a discipline is especially equipped to cater to students who are interested in other disciplines. “Whether we like it or not, we cover everything,” he said.

 Zabin stressed that “absolutely no one should assume that the curriculum we have now is the curriculum that we’re going to have in the future,” as many departments have not made a definitive decision about whether or not to offer a minor.

She said that students who are interested in pursuing a minor that is not currently being offered should talk to Student Departmental Advisors and faculty, as well as attend departmental events.

“I’d absolutely advise and urge people to find out who the student departmental advisors are and go talk to them,” she said.

North agreed that if students have questions about where departments stand in the process of considering a minor, they should ask. “I don’t think departments will be shy about saying just where they are,” he said.

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