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STANFORD -- Despite some concerns that the addition of a minor could diminish the number of students majoring in certain departments, the Faculty Senate on Nov. 30 unanimously approved a recommendation to give students the option of minoring in an academic subject.
Beginning next year, all three of Stanford's undergraduate schools will offer minors, consisting of at least six courses but no more than 36 units in a particular department or interdisciplinary program.
Departments will be allowed to design their own programs under the guidelines outlined in a recommendation by the Committee on Undergraduate Studies and the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement.
“It is widely felt that minors will be a very popular option,” said Anne Fernald, associate professor of psychology and chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies. “Students have broad interests when they come here. The minor will give them the opportunity to specialize in a particular field . . . but also to purse in some depth their interest in another field without burdening them with fulfilling all the requirements of a second major.”
Students who double major tend to spend so much of their time fulfilling the minimum requirements for each major that they may wind up losing depth for breadth, Fernald said.
Biological sciences Professor Patricia Jones agreed, saying that honors projects and research projects often take a hit when students double major.
“What we find is that students who are trying to do two majors and do a research project actually shortchange their research,” said Jones, who voiced strong support for adding the minor as an option for students with multiple interests.
But English Professor John Bender disagreed, saying that in his experience, students who double major have no problem handling both majors and research projects. “The logic that doing more leads to superficiality is confusing,” he said.
Bender said he was particularly concerned that the institution of the minor would have a negative effect on departments by causing the number of majors in those departments to drop.
“It really troubles me that some of the wonderful students we have who are majoring in chemistry, physics and engineering will actually come and take fewer courses with us and do a less comprehensive study in the English department than they would have had they double majored,” he said.
About 25 percent of all Stanford students elect to double major, said Dean of Humanities and Sciences John Shoven, who tried to allay fears of departments that are concerned about losing majors at the expense of minors.
“A department's contribution is not defined by how many majors you have, necessarily, how many minors you have, but by the total teaching contribution. If the composition of majors and minors shifts around, I don't think that necessarily diminishes the perception in the Dean's Office of what the departments are doing,” he said.
The recommendation approved by the Faculty Senate doesn't include a provision to make the minor a universal requirement for all departments, but Shoven said that would be his preference for the School of Humanities and Sciences.
“I support that, from the student's point of view. They should be able to get a minor in any subject they so choose. A secondary benefit is that it would make advising a lot easier,” Shoven said.
But philosophy Professor Michael Bratman said exceptions should be made for departments with a small number of course offerings. In these cases, he said, a minor in the field “might not be significant enough” to attain “an adequate threshold of knowledge.”
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