Is it time to create an ENTS major? ENTS concentrators and ENTS faculty have been discussing that question, largely independently of one another. I think it's time for a common conversation.
So far, I’ve heard three strong arguments in favor of a major:
Marketing: Let's face it, marketing matters. Offering an ENTS major may help attract talented students to Carleton. Of our peer institutions, Oberlin, Pomona, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Wellesley and Brown already offer a major in environmental studies or something similar.
Strengthening the concentration: Redesigning the curriculum to support a major might make it easier to fulfill the requirements of the concentration. In addition, the majors could provide leadership and bring their expertise to ENTS classes.
Faculty development and pedagogy: Designing and administering a major would probably require even more conversation about curricular goals and pedagogy among faculty. The ENTS program is pioneering two major curricular innovations: interdisciplinary education and project-based learning. Designing a major centered on those goals would give students an education uniquely suited to help them deal with the challenges of citizenship in the twenty-first century--or so we hope. This project would also help faculty figure out the challenges of these pedagogies.
On the other hand, there are two compelling reasons not to go this route:
The depth/breadth issue: Most programs pair a disciplinary major with an interdisciplinary concentration, with good reason. Disciplines are designed to give students an in-depth understanding of a particular methodology and theoretical approach. At the moment, we can’t offer that in environmental studies; we risk giving our students a superficial understanding of a variety of different disciplines, but no experience with the rigorous training in a particular methodology that disciplinary majors offer. This could put students at a disadvantage, particularly when applying to graduate school.
On the other hand, many disciplines (like my own, political science) began their lives as a hodgepodge of different methods and theories. They’ve evolved a degree of coherence and depth over time—usually after being institutionalized in the universities. Maybe we need to create an ENTS major as an essential step toward creating a more coherent environmental studies discipline.
Workload: This is a big issue. We could probably staff enough courses for a coherent ENTS major (provided we bolster our staffing in the humanities). But we would have to find a way to advise comps; this is the main sticking point, in my opinion. Most majors offer students the optin of doing supervised independent research projects. Both students and faculty usually find this a very valuable learning experience, but it’s the most labor-intensive approach to comps. And it poses special challenges when we expect such projects to be interdisciplinary (American Studies has a long experience with these challenges). In my view, we would have to design a different comps experience, perhaps following Bio’s problem-based model.At this point, I'm leaning toward the pro side, but I think we need to hear more perspectives and arguments.