Concentration or minor? Professors address confusion

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By Faith Oakes 

Staff Writer

The politics department offers two concentrations that are nearly identical to minors, but are also meant to be distinct from the major. - Photo by Elizabeth Kerin
The politics department offers two concentrations that are nearly identical to minors, but are also meant to be distinct from the major.
– Photo by Elizabeth Kerin

The University of Dallas offers concentrations in various subjects, but it seems that students and professors alike are slightly confused about what this term actually means. What exactly is the difference between what UD terms a “concentration” and what many other schools refer to as a “minor”? University provost Dr. C.W. Eaker said that since this past November, a faculty committee has been investigating this vernacular and how best to talk about a course of study and specialization that differs from a major.

Eaker said that although he is not on the committee, his impression of the situation is that students might best be served by referring to some or all of these courses of study as “minors.”

“Most other universities tend to have a higher course requirement for a ‘minor,’ which is typically about six classes, than we do for a ‘concentration,’ which tends to be something like four to six classes,” he said.

For other schools, a minor is a separate course of study that is just short of a major, and totally contained within the major itself. But traditionally, UD concentrations have been interdisciplinary specializations that are not offered as their own majors.

Eaker used Medieval Studies as an example of this original conception of what a concentration ought to be. This course of study requires classes from multiple departments such as English, history and theology, and is not offered as an actual major. Thus, it is a kind of specialization allowed primarily for majors like English, history and theology. It is what the committee may decide to call a true “concentration,” according to Eaker. An example of a more problematic concentration might be those offered by the modern languages department. A concentration in a foreign language is a more viable option for all majors, not just those studying language.

“As a sort of general statement, it seems to me that, originally, the vast majority [of concentrations] were interdisciplinary, rather than a minor in one particular field,” politics department chair Dr. Richard Dougherty said.

The politics department offers two concentrations, one in American politics and the other in political philosophy. Both are completely contained within the department and the coursework required for a politics major.

“Our design of these two programs was designed for non-majors, and so, at least traditionally speaking, they are more like what you might call a minor,” Dougherty stated.

He said that, for the most part, since “minor” is a more universally recognized term, it makes sense to use it. However, according to Dougherty, the reason UD has historically balked at referring to a course of study as a “minor” is because the university takes more seriously the requirements of the major. Thus there has always been an emphasis on making sure that the major remains significantly separate and more difficult.

Dr. Jonathan Culp, director of the international studies concentration, expressed a similar opinion. This particular course of study is another example of what might be called a true concentration because of its specialization and interdisciplinary nature. It requires courses in politics, economics and history, and thus tends to attract those majors. While Culp said he had never even heard of the idea of a “concentration” before he came to UD, he agreed that it made sense in the traditional sense of the term. Yet he also said that because “minor” is the more universal word, especially among employers, he would not be opposed to the solution of using “minor” to refer to everything less than a major at UD.

Eaker said that the committee discussing this particular term and how best to utilize it will report back to him soon, and that he hopes to implement its findings in the coming school year.

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