Policy statement defining majors and specialized curricula

The basic LAS degree program is the Sciences and Letters curriculum. Departmental programs will normally be majors within the Sciences and Letters curriculum. Thus majors in LAS are not limited to traditional liberal arts majors (e.g., philosophy, psychology, physics, and mathematics), but also include interdisciplinary programs (e.g., Latin American studies, religion) and programs which have evolved  such as actuarial science. In most cases majors should conform to the following guidelines. While some majors may deviate noticeably from these guidelines, proposals that entail deviation must be carefully and explicitly justified.

Guidelines for majors

  1. The major constitutes that part of the student's program which is the study of a particular discipline, area or topic in some depth. In most cases, the major can be divided into those requirements in the major unit and the supporting coursework, which is outside the unit but needed to support the major.
  2. There are three separate categories of majors, with the generally accepted range of hours for the major varying depending on the kinds of requirements in the major:
    1. Majors with requirements in the major unit only: 30-40 hours.
    2. Majors with some courses required outside the major unit.
      1. Majors with supporting coursework required: 30-40 hours in the major unit, with additional hours outside, for a total of 40-60 hours.
      2. Majors with completion of a minor required: 30-40 hours in the major unit, and 18-21 in the minor for a total of no more than 60 hours.
    3. Interdisciplinary majors: Generally, 40-60 hours total.

These guidelines for majors have been approved by the LAS faculty (1987). All of the guidelines follow from the premise that a liberal arts and sciences program should have both breadth of study and sufficient depth. Furthermore, a liberal arts and sciences program should allow sufficient free electives that the student has some freedom for exploration of possible majors, for additional study in depth, or for exploration of additional areas (minor or a second major).

Sometimes, however, a specific educational purpose leads to the design of a program which cannot be accommodated within the guidelines for the Sciences and Letters curriculum. Such a program is called a specialized curriculum. The requirements of a specialized curriculum are typically more constraining than those of majors. Nevertheless, specialized curricula should be designed to approach as nearly as possible the balance of depth and breadth that characterizes majors. Minimally, specialized curricula should involve as much depth of study (therefore, a number of advanced hours) as programs in the Sciences and Letters curriculum.

The various reasons for the establishment of specialized curricula cannot be specified in advance, but recent experience and review of the current specialized curricula suggest some possibilities. For example, the demands of an outside accrediting agency may be such that the program cannot be established within a major. Another need might be for a program with very few electives.

In all cases, the request for establishment of a specialized curriculum must be accompanied by specific, persuasive arguments that the program as proposed is needed and cannot be accommodated within the Sciences and Letters curriculum. For example, if the reason given for a specialized curriculum is the need for specific preparation for graduate work, then the unit must show that this university and other comparable universities expect entering graduate students to have that kind of preparation.