Dal considering degree changes

The Dalhousie University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is discussing creating new minors and changing the number of credits required for degree programs

If proposed degree requirement changes are approved, future Dalhousie FASS students may have more degree options. Photo: Allison McCabe

New students to Dalhousie University are often taken aback when told by their faculty adviser that they cannot obtain a minor in the program of their choice. The Dalhousie Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) currently doesn't offer minors in their subjects despite considerable demand from students.

Shirley Tillotson, Associate Dean of Arts and Social Sciences, says it is this deficit that inspired her to begin brainstorming a solution.

The actual proposal for changes is being tweaked constantly as Tillotson receives feedback from members of the faculty, but the idea behind it is constant.

Students who would have to take a double major in order to specialize in two FASS subjects would have the option of obtaining a minor (4 credits above 1000-level) and major (6 credits above 1000-level) instead.

"The basic degree system will be more recognizable. It will be simpler," Tillotson says.

This change would mean that the requirements for double majors and combined honours would also have to be modified.

Currently, students can obtain a double major or combined honours with fewer credits in one field of study than the other -- the secondary subject being what is considered in many universities to be a minor.

The proposed changes would narrow that gap, ensuring that students who achieve double majors or combined honours would receive equal education and expertise in both of their chosen subjects.

Specialization and variety

Laura Stephens, a combined honours student specializing in english and history, says she likes the system of combined honours the way it is. However, she thinks that it would be good for Dal students to have the option of getting a major and minor rather than being restricted to taking a double major or combined honours.

"It's nice to have an option that's not as stressful," she says. "In the combined honours you get a different perspective in each. It depends how broad your interests are, but having two is a nice way to learn."

Tillotson agrees that the joint degrees are valuable for students but says the proposed changes would allow for a much wider variety of subject combinations, especially between FASS subjects and subjects offered by other faculties.

"It's seen as something that could unleash a real kind of creativity in the kinds of minors that are offered," Tillotson says. "It would be possible for a social work major to minor in history in a way they couldn't in the past."

Tillotson says the basic issue being addressed by these proposed changes is the idea of both studying a subject intensively and sampling a variety of academic areas.

"We want to make it clear that when someone comes out of Dal with an honours concentration or a major that they really know quite a lot about that subject," she says.

"But they should also have a chance to play, take a few classes not in that area."

Consultations are ongoing

Tillotson believes that it is possible draft a proposal to be presented to FASS that pleases all parties involved. She is consulting with administrators and academic coordinators at both Dalhousie and University of King's College in order to get more input into the proposed changes.

"We don't want to innovate at the price of something that's working now that doesn't need to be fixed," she assures. "That's part of the reason for the really wide consultations."

Christopher Elson, vice-president of the University of King's College, is optimistic about the FASS initiative to create minors.

"We think that's very interesting," he says, "There's all kinds of creative ideas both on the FASS side and the King's side."

King's presents a unique administrative challenge to the process because of the way its combined honours programs are interconnected withDalhousie. Despite this, Tillotson says that the current proposal would have no effect on the specialized King's degrees.

While King's has been involved in the consultation process, Elson says it is not until the FASS finally votes on the issue that King's will be asked to endorse the changes.

"There's been preliminary consultation with us so that the motion that goes forward will not be coming as a surprise to King's, but we'll have helped to shape it."

On Feb. 9, FASS will have an opportunity to vote at the faculty meeting on a version of the proposal that has not yet been finalized. If a consensus is not reached, consultations will continue and FASS will have a second opportunity to vote in March. If the changes are agreed upon this winter, students would be able to take advantage of the new system beginning in 2011.



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