Faculty Consider Awarding Double Majors, Not Degrees

Current Students Would Retain Double Degree Option

Future students pursuing separate programs in two courses will receive a single “double major” degree instead of double degrees if a Committee on the Undergraduate Program proposal is passed at the next faculty meeting on Wednesday, April 16.

At the Wednesday, March 19 faculty meeting, the CUP proposed to change the way double degrees work. Under the new proposed policy, students would no longer need to complete 270 units beyond the General Institute Requirements, but all other requirements would remain the same. In particular, students would still need to complete the full academic requirements of each departmental program.

“Students are deterred by the number of unit hours,” said Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support Diana Henderson, in reference to the current requirement that students getting two degrees complete an extra 90 units.

Instead of receiving two degrees at commencement, a student studying two courses will receive a single S.B. degree with both courses printed on it. This will have no effect on how minors are awarded. Petitions for triple majors, which were last accepted in March 2000, will still not be accepted.

One justification for the change is leveling the playing field for students who might not come in with Advanced Placement (AP) credits. “There is this equity issue,” said Henderson.

Henderson said that the change would make it simpler and easier to understand what pursuing two majors entails: completing the requirements of two department programs, not completing two separate undergraduate degrees.

Henderson said that faculty responded positively to the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting.

If faculty approve the policy change next month, the CUP, COC, and administrative offices will implement the change. The CUP hopes to offer this option to students in graduating in 2010, said Henderson. Current students will not be prevented from receiving double degrees. Holmes said that double degrees could be eliminated for incoming freshmen starting with the class of 2012.

But not all students approve of the new proposal.

Martin F. Holmes ’08, the Undergraduate Association’s president and a member of the CUP, said that some people see the two degrees as a tradition unique to MIT. Most peer institutions do not hand out two pieces of paper to students who complete two majors.

Others, Holmes said, were concerned that removing the extra 90 unit requirement would make the degree seem less challenging. A related concern raised by student feedback to the CUP is that peer pressure might entice more students to attempt an apparently easier double major.

After various faculty standing committees such as the Committee on Curricula and Faculty Policy Committee reviewed this proposal and these concerns, the CUP brought the proposal before the faculty.

The proposal originated from the recommendations of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, which recommended flexible cross-disciplinary studies in its fall 2006 final report. The idea has been thrown around since 1999, Henderson said.

Members of the CUP hope that more students will pursue two majors under the new plan, said Henderson.

Will getting one piece of paper instead of two change the world? Maybe not.

But by allowing more people to pursue degrees in more than one area that interests them, Holmes and Henderson said they hope that this transition will promote interdisciplinary collaboration that could one day tackle the world’s challenging problems.