Self-Designed Majors: A Pointless Pursuit

April 13, 2013 Op-Eds, Opinion

Last week I received the dubious honor of having my proposal for a Self-Designed Major rejected by the Academic Affairs Committee. An idea can be born dead or can be born to be fruitful. But for me, ideas are born strong.

The idea of designing my own major had its inception during Discover Rollins back in November of 2011. At a panel with some professors, I indicated that I was not interested in the traditional disciplines – something that comes from my irreverence – and asked if I could design my own major. The crowd looked back at me in amazement. Original ideas, after all, can be dangerous.

Two professors I met while being a Freshman (Edge and Russell) were present at that panel, and answered that it was an available option for students at Rollins. I decided to come to Rollins because of many factors; one of the crucial ones was to create my own major.

Please don’t tell students that they should be clearly focused in their interests if you are going to rule out a proposal for being too focused.

The product was sold and I came to Rollins to create a major. However, as I heard, it was – and clearly still is – a historical trend for the Academic Affairs Committee to reject the Self-Designed Majors. Nevertheless, I dared to propose one. My major was titled Philosophy of Language and Literature.

I’ll ask a question: If Rollins doesn’t really believe in the idea of a Self-Designed Major, then why bother advertise it? This is a completely sound and important question to pose, specifically knowing that self-designed majors had been proposed before, and will continue to be; however, they are rarely approved. Why do you announce that there exists a possibility to do something if, in most cases, you will condemn it from the moment of its inception?

I did a lot of research developing the major. I saw the minutes of the meetings of the AAC of past years. I knew which arguments could be raised against a major. With the help of professors D’Amato, Boguslawski, and Vander Poppen I developed a thorough and intellectually challenging proposal of more than five pages in length and a well researched bibliography. What did I receive in reply? A short paragraph filled with clichés and a simplistic statement informing me that my self-designed major – that was to consider why and how humans use language and literature – was rejected.

All language is itself metaphoric; I have to point that out. So let´s use a metaphor. Does someone remember the “Rainbows and Pots of Gold” tale? The story goes that if you go to the end of the rainbow you’ll find the leprechaun’s pot of gold. The written form and guideline for this type of proposal – the Rainbow – says: “Self- Designed Majors are intended for disciplined and highly motivated students who are clearly focused in their interests.” And instead of finding a pot of gold I receive this metallic-like quote from the chair of the AAC and professor of History, Claire Strom: “The most important sentiment was that it [the major] was too focused.” My competence felt completely vulnerable and violated.

So now I would like to suggest how to conduct this process better, AAC. If Rollins is going to continue permitting students to propose Self-Designed Majors, they should give much clearer guidelines regarding what would be required for one to be passed. It would seem more rational and organized if the students presenting the majors had a meeting with a delegate of the AAC committee who would be willing to show what is an acceptable proposal so that ambiguities can become better statements. Or even better, the AAC should appoint someone as a liaison between the student and the committee so that the student would have the possibility of revising the proposal before submitting it for final approval, just as AAC allows for revisions for a newly proposed major before it is finally submitted for a vote. I’m part of this student body and I’m voicing a carefully thought advice for the rulers of the senate. If you are going to create forms and guidelines, please make them crisp and clear. And please, don’t tell students that they should be clearly focused in their interests if you are going to turn down a proposal for being too focused.

Never underestimate a searcher of knowledge. Why did you feel entitled to take the magical pot of gold out of the rainbow of knowledge sought by the highly motivated students? I don’t know. All I know is that I will continue to be what you call “too focused.” And as a wounded Roman centurion who received a serious wound in a battle, I have to tell you that my wound has become a scar. This is my sign of being right and this article is my testimony of having given sound advice for the greater good. Closure. A mark of honor.

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