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2013 Fall Issue 4 (October 18, 2013)

Decreasing IR Majors: A Departmental Concern?

October 18, 2013
By Perrin Stein

“Today, it is impossible to consider the United States without looking at other countries,” said Al Montero, Political Science department chair.

“This is because of the increasing interconnectedness of our world.”

Despite the relevance of International Relations in the 21st century, however, over the last two years there has been a significant decrease in the number of international relations majors.

International Relations is a track within the political science department. Typically, the number of international relations majors hovers around 40 total, but currently there are only 26 majors in the class of 2014 and 19 in the class of 2015. In contrast, in the class of 2013, there were 62.

Montero sees three primary reasons for the decrease in International Relations majors.  First and most importantly, there is greater competition from other majors.

“Ten years ago, International Relations was a great major because you got to choose what you wanted to study, and it has training in quantitative methods,” he said. “Today, other majors, such as psychology, environmental studies, and linguistics, have expanded to include these components.”

Second, four professors in the international relations department are under 40, showing that “we are growing and bringing in new people with new ideas and up-to-date teaching techniques,” Montero said. “However, it also means that these professors are less experienced and haven’t had time to develop a following and reputation among students.”

A third reason is the recent passing of Professor Roy Grow, a beloved Political Science and International Relations professor, last spring. Prior to his death, he had already been teaching a smaller course load.

“Grow was a legendary professor who added about ten new majors each year,” said Montero, “so we felt a loss when he passed.”
Similarly, Professor Dev Gupta, international relations track coordinator, agreed. “Roy was a very popular professor, and his leaving left a gap in the department,” she said.

Last year, the international relations department hired a new professor, and currently, the department is in the process of hiring a professor for next year. Candidates give lectures, students can fill out evaluations to help the department decide whom to hire.

Yesterday, Maren Milligan from the University of Maryland spoke; on Tuesday, Benjamin Acosta from Claremont Graduate University will speak.

In addition to these three department changes, the off-campus study program is in transition. According to Montero, “the department no longer has a trip to Beijing because [Professor] Grow used to organize it.” Meanwhile, Montero’s Madrid and Maastricht program and Steven Schier’s Washington D.C. program are being turned over to new professors, while Prof. Tun Myint is trying to start a Southeast Asia program.

“I’m not sure the changes in off-campus study necessarily affect our major numbers, but it does show that we are in a transition phase,” Montero said.

Dilara Akgunduz ’15, an international relations major, cited a different reason for why the number of majors has decreased. Because international relations has an elective requirement, different electives are taught each year.

“I don’t think the department has necessarily changed,” she said “but I think every class year brings students with different interests, which might be why the number of international relations majors have decreased.”

She said she appreciates that the department is trying to expand its offerings by hiring professors who are knowledgeable about specific areas of the world. “I really know many people will appreciate that a wider range of political science classes will be offered in the coming years,” she said.

Although the number of majors has decreased, Montero and Gupta stressed that this may not be a significant change.

“I am not sure this dip is noteworthy overtime because major numbers do fluctuate,” said Gupta.

Montero agreed, calling the decline in majors is “notable, but not scary.” In addition, he noted that International Relations majors are “only one part of our department. Plenty of students who don’t major take our 100-level and 200-level classes.”

Montero believes that the reduction in major numbers may in fact be positive.

The IR department only has 10 professors, so when there are over 40 majors, some professors end up with seven or eight comps students. “This is too many for the professors to be able to work as closely as they would like with students,” Montero said. “With the number of international relations majors hovering around 30, professors have a much more sustainable number of comps students.”

However, Montero cautioned that if the number of majors dropped below 20, the department would have enrollment problems, especially in higher-level major requirements.

“We want to fill 70 to 80 percent of seats, and we have been doing that for the last few years,” he said. “Filling less than 70 percent of the seats [means that the class] can be a waste of college resources.”

On the whole, though, Montero said he is not concerned about fewer students majoring in international relations because “I firmly believe that you can major in anything at Carleton and do anything afterward.”

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