Majors and Departments

Why are something like 90% or more of our majors bound to departments and disciplines?

Answer: lots of reasons, some of them good ones. But the biggest one is probably the simplest one: because that’s the way it’s been for a long time.

But is this list of concentrations built around disciplines really the optimal menu for the students we are training for the coming century? Should I, as a professor at a liberal arts college, design my undergraduate curriculum around the question of how I best train a sociologist? Only a tiny percentage of the students who major in sociology will become sociologists. And few who do will be trained in rigorous graduate programs in which they’ll more or less repeat every discipline based course they’ll take while studying with me.

Of course, a student can always put together a “custom major” of her own design. But are we really producing the best product we can if we leave it up to the least experienced members of our community to come up with new ideas about majors? Shouldn’t I be thinking about that? All the time?

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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