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During Advising Fortnight next week, potential sociology concentrators will be told that, “Practically speaking, we are a relatively small department with a generous student-faculty ratio and a strong tradition of commitment to undergraduates.” Unfortunately, the first half of this is no longer true.
The number of sociology concentrators has risen from 88 in 2006-7 to 202 this school year. Additionally, the number of students pursuing a secondary within the department has risen from zero in 2006-7 to 22. For this many students, the Sociology department currently has 19 faculty members (excluding faculty affiliates and faculty from other departments who teach sociology courses). In contrast, at the other end of the spectrum, the Molecular and Cellular Biology department has more than 30 professors for 121 declared concentrators.
There are several reasons to believe that this increase in sociology concentrators is more than just a short-term trend. First and foremost, the number of students enrolled in sociology tutorials has increased along with the increase in concentrators. From 2005-6 to this year, the number of students enrolled in sociology tutorials increased from 125 to 209. Tutorials are intensive learning experiences, where eight to 12 students work closely with a faculty member in some subfield of the discipline. They are not structured for students who want to sit in the back of a large lecture hall and check their email; they are structured for students who want to engage with likeminded peers for an intense two-hour experience. In that sense, this seems to indicate that the increase in sociology concentrators is based on actual interest in the subject matter rather than the perceived ease of the concentration or “herd” mentality—as seems to be the case with economics, in which the increase in concentrators has not corresponded with an increase in tutorial applicants.
Additionally, students across the college are increasingly interested in pre-professional studies—witness the popularity of the global health and health policy secondary and the new interest in a social innovation secondary. Although The Crimson Staff believes that the intent of the College experience is to provide a liberal arts education, sociology is nevertheless the best way to explore pre-professional interests within that framework. In the concentration, one can focus on topics such as “work, organizations, and management” or “health, medicine, and society,” which are good fits for students with a definite career interest in business or healthcare.
To be sure, Harvard is an institution for both research and teaching, and the need for intellectual mentors for undergraduates must be balanced with the research demands of each field. That said, Harvard College plays a seminal part in building the prestige of the University's brand. When University Hall begins prioritizing which faculty positions to fill and with whom, the needs of undergraduates should thus be taken into account much more than they currently are, lest the sociology department become more than an anomaly.
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