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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Programs rules leave room for ‘major’ changes

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: News

Currently, Brandeis offers 43 majors and 43 minors, with room to explore fields that overlap and cover cross-disciplinary issues, but 10 of the majors do not offer minor programs.

Extensive major requirements could turn away students interested in only minoring in the topic. Such students could benefit from the additional course requirements as well as the introduction of new subject material.

Major-only departments are not necessarily based on the number of students who have already declared the major. Academic departments that do not offer a major have limited resources because of their size.

Currently more than 300 undergraduates have declared psychology as a major. As one of the most popular majors at Brandeis, the psychology department has never offered a minor program and according to department chair Professor Paul DiZio (PSYCH), there has been no discussion of this possibility.

“If students brought a petition to the dean and the dean approached us, we would definitely think about it,” DiZio said. “We would probably create a proposal and include students in the evaluation committee.”

DiZio says that it would be most important to include students in this discussion as it directly affects their future. “There would be costs to making a minor and so we have to ask ourselves: What would the students be getting from it?”

He believes that employers and admissions committees do not value students any more for having a psychology minor. Technically, he does not believe that having a minor is a valued cost of students’ education. From a liberal arts perspective, students would have an advantage if they had the opportunity to acquire a basic understanding of human thought and to apply that knowledge to a variety of fields, including business, education and law.

DiZio says that a minor would actually fit quite well into Brandeis’ psychology department but, as a department that is heavily research- and quantitative-oriented, a minor would have to include Statistics and Research Methods as well as a few other elective classes in order to sustain the psychology department’s mission.

“The point would be to uphold the rigor but stay in tune with what the students want,” DiZio said. “I just don’t think students would go for that. From the faculty perspective, students have to be able to evaluate research in order to understand the content.”

The Italian Studies program recently shifted from a major to a minor because of its limited resources. Students can still obtain a major in Italian Studies, but it is now an independent interdisciplinary major, according to Romance Studies department chair Professor Michael Randall.

Students who entered in the fall of 2011 no longer have the opportunity to declare an Italian major without the independent interdisciplinary major option.

“It has always been an independent major, basically, because in order to complete an Italian studies major, students have to take a number of courses in language, literature and culture. Students have also always had the opportunity to participate in an independent study,” Randall said.

But even with the limited resources, there is still a relatively large interest in the program, given its size, according to Professor Paola Servino, co-chair of the Italian studies program.

“The group of students involved is very motivated, lively and engaged,” Servino said. “It’s a very well-balanced program and we do a lot with little resources.”

The program maintains a strong interdisciplinary approach by incorporating films, literature and other media. Servino believes that this encourages many students to participate in independent studies and to engage further their knowledge through extracurriculars and study abroad.

The program currently has 10 students who are Italian Literature majors and approximately 15 students in the minor program. There are only two professors because the program’s tenured professor retired last year and is not being replaced, according to Randall.

While the program cannot financially afford to offer more classes, Professor Randall said that the administration is very supportive of their department.

“Giving the possibility to students who want to do either [major or minor] is the best solution,” Randall says. “With that being said, I think we’re doing a pretty good job of maintaining a strong program for students who show interest.”