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Prepare for trouble, and make it double!
At a meeting last week, about 91 percent of faculty voted in favor of double concentrations, allowing students to pursue two majors simultaneously without having to write a joint thesis. The plan also allows for students to count a limited number of credits toward both concentrations.
In addition to gaining another degree, the program allows students access to the advising systems of both departments significantly more than would be allowed if they were only pursuing a secondary.
This policy change is a major win. The new plan allows students to pursue diverse interests in a much more coherent way than was available before. Many students have a diversity of interests — at a liberal arts college like Harvard, with its diverse distributional requirements and a wide variety of fields available for study, it would make sense that a large section of the population is interested in more than just one academic area.
We understand that there are drawbacks to the new system. Dissenting faculty raised concerns about the possibility of the program incentivizing students to take harder courses than they otherwise would have due to pressure to excel, as well as the effect that pursuing a double concentration would have on their ability to take elective classes. We recognize the value of these arguments, and we appreciate that professors care about our well-being and the quality of our education.
But we are firmly in favor of this plan.
Joint concentrations, while versatile, have a significant drawback: they force students to attempt to combine their two fields of interest rather than pursue both independently. Imagine a student studying, say, English and Computer Science. Harvard’s policy, up to this point, seemed to suggest that the best way to combine these clearly distinct interests would be to manufacture an intersection between the two, maybe a computer analysis of fiction. But such an artificial combination takes away from both subjects, which require very disparate kinds of thinking and analysis.
Interdisciplinarity is, of course, a worthwhile pursuit. It’s the foundation of most real-world research, and the ability to combine seemingly disparate subjects into a cohesive solution to real issues is critical for many careers. However, it cannot be forced. As much as the ability to combine fields is critical to learn, students must first learn the foundations of both disciplines individually to fully grasp the power of an interdisciplinary approach. Harvard’s joint-concentration-only strategy was too eager to teach the skill of combination without showing how that combination arises naturally from the work done in the academic sphere.
The new double concentration program is a huge boon for academic options at Harvard, and fills a gap many believe was long overdue to be filled. Although it might increase pressure on students to pursue multiple degrees, ultimately the benefits of the policy change far outweigh the potential detractions. Joint concentrations, while worthy, encourage students to force together disparate interests and disciplines in ways that detract from both the quality of their work and their ability to meaningfully study multiple fields. Double concentrations fill this hole.
Almost every student at Harvard has multiple academic passions. Thank you to everyone who voted for this plan for letting us follow them to the fullest extent we can.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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