Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Interdisciplinary Major

Although my college is small, it does have a major in medieval and Renaissance studies. As I'm getting settled in here in my second year, students are increasingly coming to ask me about the major, so I've had to get familiar with its requirements.

And its requirements are a little odd. That may have to do with the program's history--it seems to have been somebody's pet program, years and years ago, before being taken over by a committee. One of the oddities is that students have to jump a bunch of hurdles. They can't simply declare the major, but have to write a proposal explaining their course selections and outlining their capstone project, even though as sophomores they're 12 to 18 months away from doing that capstone project.

The major is also explicitly designed to be interdisciplinary. They have to take medieval-ish courses from at least four disciplines, and can't have too many from any one department. The problem is, we're so small that some of those courses aren't taught very often. It is easy for students to get courses in English and history; the courses in religion and music and art history and philosophy are harder to fit into their schedules.

On the one hand, because prospective majors have to go through some hassles and plan carefully, they tend to be good, organized, and highly motivated. Thumbs up! On the other hand, the difficulty of setting up the major certainly discourages some people, and places a burden on even highly motivated students. There's one student who's taken a slew of courses in history and English lit and a couple in art history. However, s/he still needs a course from a fourth discipline, and fitting it into his/her schedule is being harder than it ought to be. Just how interdisciplinary does this major have to be, anyway? Might it be time to think about revising the major requirements?


Anonymous said...

Four departments??? Seems excessive to me. I mean, I understand the thinking behind it, I think, but that does seem like an awful lot.

clio's disciple said...

Good, I'm glad it's not just me. I'm inclined to think three would be sufficient.

Dr. Rural said...

Yes. If the required classes aren't offered frequently enough, then it is definitely time to think about revising the requirements.

Ann said...

Where I have worked (in the UK) there would be a requirement on those departments involved to ensure that it would be possible for a student to meet the course requirements in the minimum time period before they were allowed to enrol. I dread to think what our central quality system would do to us if we didn't.