By: Avi Strauss | News  | 

Yeshiva College Faculty Vote in Favor of Shaped Majors

After an electronic vote over the course of one week, Yeshiva College faculty voted to approve the creation of a “Shaped Major” track on the Wilf campus. The vote took place a week later than originally scheduled, after the Curriculum Committee and Dean’s Office sought to fine-tune the proposal. This was the conclusion of a months-long process that began in November by the faculty.

The vote outcome means that students interested in forming an interdisciplinary course load as opposed to the more classic majors offered by Yeshiva College can now submit a proposal to “shape” their own major. Proposals will draw from courses already offered on campus and will be subject to approval on a case-by-case basis.

The 700-word Proposal for Shaped Major at Yeshiva College details the purpose of creating such an option for students, as well as the expectations and requirements of a student looking to pursue such coursework. “[T]he Shaped Major is meant to move beyond the shared ‘general’ education experience of the Core, and to provide students with in-depth, intensive work in a particular area of intellectual interest,” reads the proposal’s introduction.

The proposal further emphasizes that “some students’ intellectual goals cross the boundaries between liberal arts disciplines and their departments—and we would like the College to be able to provide the conditions for meeting those goals, which can be equally rewarding and legitimate.”

Yeshiva College Associate Dean Joanne Jacobson steered the proposal through faculty sessions up until the vote, reflecting that the process involved suggestions and input from Yeshiva College faculty to strengthen the proposal. “I am very pleased that we are now able to offer students the option of a Shaped Major” she said. “From initial discussions with members of the Yeshiva College Curriculum Committee, in November, to two discussions on the YC faculty floor, in December and in February, a substantial number of my faculty colleagues have had the chance to make suggestions to improve the proposal, and to express their enthusiasm for the idea.”

Professor Will Lee, an Associate Professor of English at Yeshiva College, decided “to vote in favor of Shaped Majors with academically responsible guidelines for applications and strong advising for individual students once they are approved. Like interdisciplinary minors, they give students with special interests opportunities to pursue them and expand the range of students' choices.”

“I am very pleased that we are now able to offer students the option of a Shaped Major.”  --Yeshiva College Associate Dean Joanne Jacobson

The faculty ensured that the Shaped Major at Yeshiva College would be overseen with a series of academic guidelines and advisory procedures.

Students interested in pursuing a Shaped Major will be required to submit a “proposal packet” which must contain a 500-750 word narrative describing the focus of their major. The narrative must also include an explanation as to why it does not fall within the framework of already established majors. Any such application would require at least eleven courses already offered at Yeshiva College, drawn from at least two distinct departments, with at least five courses taken at the advanced (2000-level and above) level. Additionally, students will be required to propose an “anchor” course that will address the central question of the proposed Shaped Major, to be taken early on in the student’s coursework.

Dean Jacobson said the initiative, in part, was prompted by student suggestions in her time here. “Over the decade or so that I have served as Associate Dean and as chair of the Department of English,” she said, “a number of students have come to me with the request that we offer students such a major here.”

Yeshiva Student Union Vice President of Clubs Tai Miller was one of the students who had suggested Shaped Majors to Dean Jacobson. He was pleased to learn the result of the vote, as it will expand campus offerings for students interested in disciplines outside of the current departmental offerings. “I believe this really opens up an opportunity for students to explore and hone their academic interests at Yeshiva College,” he explained. “I’m excited this change was made while I was on campus.”

Dean Jacobson described that “many other colleges and universities [offer Shaped Majors],” which are often described as “independent majors.” In fact, the proposal was modelled after Shaped Major offerings at other universities like the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis College. “[A]t a (very) small college like ours,” Jacobson said, “this is a great way to expand the reach of our faculty and our departmental majors.”

Although Dean Jacobson said that the Shaped Major will not be a fit for most students, she said that she is “excited to see what those students for whom this really is the right academic choice are able to put together, and to see them explore more fully and deeply areas of intellectual interest that the conventional majors may not be able to address for them.”

Interested students will be expected to apply for a Shaped Major, according to the proposal, by the end of their second semester, although applications during a student’s third semester will be considered as well.

Other requirements include earning at least a 3.4 GPA in a student’s first two semesters on campus, as well as a letter of support from a full-time faculty member who will serve as the student’s Shaped Major advisor.

All Shaped Major proposals are to be submitted to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and members of the YC Curriculum Committee for approval.

Although the inclusion of Sy Syms Business School courses wasn’t addressed in the proposal, Dean Jacobson said that thoughtful coursework proposal requests that include relevant Syms courses may be considered, as the overall framework for the Shaped Major was designed to be open to ideas not otherwise considered.

Miller, who would have pursued a Shaped Major if it would have been available earlier in his college experience, added, “I think interested students are thankful for Dean Jacobson’s efforts to make Shaped Majors a reality on campus and I think future students will benefit from this for years to come.”