Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 4.

1) We should get rid of some majors. Removal is just as important as addition to the health of an organization. History of Ideas might have been a useful major 30 years ago. Yet Williams was correct to remove it in 2011. Indeed, any major that doesn’t regularly win over at least 10 students over, say, a decade should be removed. Start with astronomy, most of whose require courses are in physics anyway. I am also not sure that astrophysics is different enough from physics to justify its current major status. Maybe time to give up on German? And Classics?

2) Are Asian Studies and American Studies worthwhile majors? I doubt it. They are grab-bag collections of courses in actual academic fields like History and Political Science. Some students like them, to be sure, but student preferences in what majors are offered is not that important. (Student preferences in what classes they take are sacrosanct. It is up to the faculty to decide what is an academic field and what is not.)

3) Williams would be better off with fewer majors. There is a certain critical mass that you need, at a small school, in terms of size for departments/majors. Of course, you don’t want them to be too large, like economics, but they shouldn’t be too small either. Did splitting Art History into three parts — Art History, Art Studio and Art History and Practice — really improve things? I have my doubts. The department could just as easily give majors different options for fulfilling their requirements.

4) Is it too soon to judge the split up of Environmental Studies into Environmental Science and Environmental Policy a failure? Oh, wait a second! The College fixed this in 2016 (pdf). You can now major (or concentrate) in Environmental Studies. This seems a much better organizational structure. I do, however, object to the major requiring 11 courses. Majors should be tighter, with no more than 9 courses. (If you can’t design a major in 9 courses, then you don’t have a well-enough defined academic field to offer a major in the first place.)

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