May 6, 2003

Minor program approved

The College Council Committee approved the establishment of a minor degree program in several language concentrations last week. Next fall, students will be able to earn a minor in Classics, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages, and Germanic Languages. East Asian Languages and Civilizations is the only language concentration that will not have a minor degree program next year.

Until now, the University of Chicago has never allowed an official minor degree in any subject. Recently, however, the University addressed the concerns of students who wish to study languages intensively but are often hindered by another major, and therefore do not enter into language concentrations.

"We have had a great increase in the amount of students who wish to study languages, but many of these students worry about other majors; this would allow them to receive credentials in their language studies, and still pursue another major," said Larry Norman, dean of the Humanities Collegiate Division and an associate professor of Romance Languages and Literatures.

In recent years, the University has been encouraging more foreign study in the College, with the addition of several new study-abroad options. According to Norman, the minor program was established, in part, to allow those who are interested in these opportunities to get credit for further study in languages.

Although the debate over introducing a minor concentration program usually brings much opposition from alumni and members of the Board of Trustees, the foreign language minor program received virtually none.

"Although there was discussion over the particulars of establishing a minor degree, there was overwhelming support for the program," said John Boyer, dean of the College.

Since this is the first program of its kind at the University, many of the finer details needed lengthy discussion, such as how many credits a student would need to fulfill the minor requirement.

"There was discussion over possibly having five to nine credits needed for a minor, but it was finally decided that six to seven, half of most major credit requirements, would work best," Norman said.

Another point of discussion was whether a second year of language study would be considered credit towards the minor. For some languages, the second year can prove to be quite intensive, and for others, it is merely the start of the language study. The College Council reached the conclusion that neither Romance nor Germanic languages would count the second year of study as credit. All other languages will, however, give minor credit for a second year of language study.

Norman said that there is no universal template for how the minor program will work but, rather, that it will be up to each department to determine on its own.

"It requires each department to think carefully about how to adopt the structure of the major concentration to the minor," Norman said of the new program.

According to Norman, the introduction of the minor program is in part an attempt to discourage students from having two concentrations.

"This [program] really allows students to build on a second interest without double majoring," Norman said.

Those students who do wish to include language study in their curriculum often add it as an additional major, which is discouraged by the College. Others choose to take the proficiency exam, which appears on their transcript, but then they often discontinue their language studies, Norman said.

Some, however, are suspicious of the new program, and cast doubt as to what effect it will really have.

"What does a minor degree accomplish for accreditation on your transcript that the proficiency exam does not?" said Benjamin Gage, a first-year in the College. "The exam is much more valuable than a minor degree, and has much more clout on your transcript."

Others worry that this will allow other departments to ask for a minor degree component. Every department will now be able to request a minor, but would need approval by the College Council and the curriculum committee.

"Each department must decide for themselves if they want a minor degree program," Norman explained. "We neither discourage or encourage either option."

No other departments have indicated yet that they are considering asking for a minor program.