Interdisciplinary majors: how obtainable are they?
February 5, 2010
Filed under Archives
Guilford students often find certain obstacles in their paths when seeking a degree in an interdisciplinary major. It is crucial that these obstacles be evaluated and addressed as they could deter students from pursuing potential dreams. The first hindrance is that a degree in an interdisciplinary department can be obtained only as a double major, requiring students to choose a primary major in a non-interdisciplinary department. This requirement could be daunting for students, since it significantly limits the flexibility of class schedules for the rest of their college careers.
There is a second complication. Because classes that qualify for IDS majors are scattered throughout the “stand-alone” departments, these classes may require prerequisites within that stand-alone department. If a teacher is unwilling to waive a prerequisite for students in this situation, then interdisciplinary majors become all the more difficult to obtain. This could discourage students from seeking IDS majors.
The circumstances surrounding interdisciplinary studies pose additional challenges for professors as well. Professors who teach one or two classes towards an interdisciplinary major have a primary obligation to their stand-alone department. When it comes to staying up to date with newly published journals and developments within disciplinary departments, the professor’s primary discipline takes precedent.
Chesapeake First, a junior double-major in religious studies and environmental studies, feels her options within the environmental studies department are limited. She has ended up with numerous independent studies due in part to this inconvenience.
Independent studies are one way to circumvent the system, but students shouldn’t always have to resort to independent studies to fill gaps in their interdisciplinary majors.
The peace and conflict studies major has found itself in a unique position. Two years ago, under the direction of former anthropology professor Vernie Davis, the discipline was developed from an interdisciplinary secondary major into its own academic department.
Peace and conflict studies has experienced a dramatic increase in majors since it became an independent department. Davis speculated that the increase in majors may have resulted from students no longer needing to double major in order to earn a degree from the department. Additionally, by becoming a stand-alone department, the curriculum offered by peace and conflict studies was able to develop internal continuity.
There are many reasons that interdisciplinary majors have not been developed into their own departments. In some cases the professors affiliated with these majors would prefer to maintain focus in their primary department.
I am interested in pursuing a secondary degree in environmental studies and appreciate the interdepartmental approach provided. Often times, my interests are not streamlined to fit conveniently into one discipline. The interdepartmental nature of environmental studies also gives me access to teachers I probably never would have otherwise met.
The world does not compartmentalize itself naturally into the academic disciplines offered at Guilford and other institutions. The interdisciplinary approach is one I believe in strongly, and Guilford could do more to remove the obstacles for students.
Guilford should consider removing the requirement of an additional stand-alone departmental major. If the concern is that the curriculum offered by IDS degrees are not strong enough, then additional measures should be taken to resolve any continuity that may be missing.