With some departments exploding in popularity and others struggling to find a single concentrator each year, the administration has acknowledged a problem regarding lopsided distribution of students among majors and has begun to seek a solution.
After being asked this summer by President Tilghman to identify one change the University could make to improve the quality of undergraduate education, Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel has been looking into ways the school could encourage a more even distribution of students among departments, according to the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.
"I think there are ways of strengthening the course offerings and teaching at the introductory level in smaller departments," Malkiel said. "I think there are ways in which departments can reach out more effectively to students who might be interested in concentrating in those fields."
Malkiel's strategy includes providing aid to small departments to help them improve introductory courses. The University will be devoting its curriculum development funds to that end for the forseeable future. In addition, the University will give lists of potentially interested students to smaller departments to help them recruit concentrators, the PWB reported.
The predominance of five majors — politics, history, economics, the Wilson School and English — has been a structural feature for quite a long time, said Jeffrey Herbst, chairman of the politics department. Although the five have switched spots over the years, they have consistently occupied the top-five bracket.
Statistics about current juniors and seniors show that the politics department is leading the pack with a total of 272 juniors and seniors this year, followed by history with 237 concentrators. Economics comes in a close third with 210, followed by the Wilson School with 170 and English with 151 upperclassmen.
Students enrolled in these five departments constitute roughly 45 percent of all juniors and seniors. The only other two majors that surpass the 100-person mark are psychology and molecular biology, with 120 and 116 students respectively.
Despite the emergence of similar trends across the nation, some faculty members are concerned with the large inequities in the sizes of the academic departments.
"I do think there's an issue of intellectual diversity when so many students concentrate in five departments," Malkiel said. "We don't offer students as rich a cross-fertilization of ideas as we might if we fail to take the fullest possible advantage of the range of fields of study available at Princeton."
Of the 35 academic majors offered at Princeton — including independent study — four majors have fewer than 10 student concentrators and nine fail to surpass the 20-person mark.
There are hidden blessings to the small size of many academic departments, however. Students often benefit from an intimate environment in which professors are readily available to answer questions and stimulate original thought. Some students in the monolithic departments say this sort of individual attention is conspicuously absent from their experiences.
"I don't think I would have been as happy in a large department," said Nancy Zeronda '05, who is concentrating in Slavic languages and literatures.
The downside to entering a small department is that good classes aren't offered on a regular basis and class offerings are altered when one professor goes on leave, Zeronda said.
As a result, she added, class selections are often "hit or miss," and students need to plan their schedules far in advance.
The politics department has grown disproportionately with the general increase of the student population, following a national trend of increased interest in the political sciences, Herbst said.
The changes can be attributed in large part to the 2000 elections, which demonstrated how consequential voter participation can be, and Sept. 11, which showed the importance of politics on an all-too-personal level, he said.
This concentration on global issues, especially in the realm of economic, public policy and political matters, might explain in part why economics, politics, history and the Wilson School have persisted in popularity. It also partly accounts for why the English department, still holding on to its top-five spot, has seen a relative drop in concentrators over the last several years.
The English department faculty has not turned a blind eye to these trends. By adding international literature classes and changing the format of introductory courses, the department is trying to reassert the relevance of the study of literature and win over students who might be on the fence about concentrating in English, according to several members of the English department faculty.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.