By Katie Zeck
A new academic program that would allow a student to hold three minors instead of a full major has been proposed by a task force within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (SLAS). Upon completion of the three minors and other requirements, a student would receive a Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies (BAMS).
According to Jonathan Millen, Assistant Dean of LAS, the chairs and faculty members of various departments and programs are currently debating the proposal. The proposal will then be submitted for review by the Liberal Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Policy (LASCAP) and, if approved, seek approval by the university and the state of New Jersey. The task force hopes that the new program will be approved by LASCAP by the fall of 2013.
The proposal, which is still in its early stages, aims to allow a student to combine his or her interests for a more multi-faceted and, ultimately, more marketable liberal arts education, Millen said.
Millen feels that this major will help to better qualify students for careers that require a knowledge base that crosses several disciplines.
“The national conversation in higher education is more and more about preparing students for an interconnected world,” Millen said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to prepare students to meet that challenge.”
According to the proposal, BAMS “offers a framework within which creative and independent thinkers can be guided to systematically explore multiple disciplines.” Through the new program, students will essentially be able to create their own major through an interdisciplinary course load.
“A good example would be to have the minors journalism, political science and law and justice,” Millen explained. “They go hand in hand and the student would be informed in multiple areas. With good advising, we don’t think a student is giving up on depth in order to gain breadth.”
The minors would be grounded in liberal arts with only one of the three minors allowed to be chosen outside of SLAS. In these early stages, there is also talk that a student would need approval to enter the program.
According to Millen, it has not yet been decided how a student would receive approval. Hypothetically, it would be along the lines of indication — through a consultation with the faculty — of his or her strong interest in and commitment to the three areas of study. Other requirements of the major would include a senior capstone experience and a “portfolio of intent.” This portfolio, as stated in the proposal, is where a student will describe which three minors he or she wants to pursue and what the multidisciplinary connections are among those minors.
“The portfolio of intent will be approved by the director of the program,” the proposal states. “The portfolio is the ‘contract’ that the student will develop to state intention and purpose for choosing the particular combination of minors. It will establish a concrete advising map for entry into and progress through the BAMS. The portfolio will be revised at least annually to maintain a clear path to the student graduation success. It will also help students if there are any changes in their minor.”
The task force responsible for creating the program includes Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences Patricia Mosto; Millen; Dr. Michael Carlin, an associate professor of psychology; Dr. Roberta Clipper, a professor of English; Dr. Peter Hester, an associate professor of education; Dr. Laura Hyatt, associate dean for sciences; William Larrousse, director of undergraduate admissions; Dean of Freshmen Ira Mayo; Dr. Nikki Shepardson, an associate professor of history; Dr. Gabriela Smalley, an associate professor of geology, environmental and marine sciences; and Boris Vilic, dean of the College of Continuing Studies.
The group feels that the program will help increase student retention, appeal to a student-centered educational experience and better assist students to prepare for careers that may not fit into a standard major.
Despite these benefits, a few faculty members feel differently about the program.
“I don’t believe that three minors in lieu of a major will provide the kind of depth into any one area we would like our students to attain,” Dr. Cynthia Lucia, associate professor of English said. “Right now we offer a wide variety of interdisciplinary opportunities within majors and minors that already exist, and students can select multiple disciplinary majors as well. Students can do a double major and a minor or a major with up to three minors. I’m not sure why we would want to water down what students already are able to access.”
To that criticism, Millen says that BAMS would be more of a four-year strategic plan as opposed to simply picking up a few minors.
“What we’re trying to say is, if you come in with a plan, you have a better chance to take advantage of the full curriculum,” Millen said. “If a student were to do a major and two minors, that’s fantastic, but that usually happens more serendipitously than what we’re looking to do. We’re not saying ours is better, it’s just another option.”
Communication professor Barry Janes said that he thinks the main drawback of the current proposal for BAMS is the logistics.
“A lot of departments are concerned [with] what this means based on the number of students that might be joining the major,” Janes said. “For example, in our department we rely on facilities and computer labs. If an inordinate number of students took this [BAMS] approach and we received a large number of students wishing to enter the minor, we would need larger labs to accommodate the students. But these are all issues that we still need to talk about. We don’t yet know the answers.”
On the other hand, Janes feels that BAMS could be a positive option for many students.
“I think the flexibility would be good on a number of levels,” he said. “We live in a much different society. Today, a variety of resources will make a student much more valuable. Also it’s in the liberal tradition to have a broad approach. That’s why our students take a variety of core classes. I see this as an extension of that broad liberal tradition. In this modern world, it would be an extension that could be very valuable.”
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