The word on the Street is that Princeton academics are as bland as Beast, and Dean Malkiel is a woman on a mission to institute some major diversity.
With sophomores looking at major decisions this spring, Dean of the College Nancy Weiss Malkiel recently clogged their mailboxes with a booklet entitled “Major Choices”. This is the most recent part of her campaign to address the fact that forty-five percent of juniors and seniors concentrate in the departments of English, economics, history, politics, and the Woodrow Wilson School.
This past March, Malkiel waged war on the so-called “major major” problem, a term possibly coined by her toy Schnauzer.
Malkiel argues in “Major Choices” that students concentrate heavily in what they feel to be the most practical majors. Appealing to Frost lovers and romantics, she urges students to take the “path less obvious” and follow their “intellectual passions.” Appealing to money lovers and pre-meds, she claims that Philosophy majors work on Wall Street and Anthropologists become doctors.
Right, Malkiel. I’m a religion major. I suppose I’ll see a six-figure starting salary at the Vatican.
“Major Choices” was also mailed out to parents of sophomores and freshmen, in hopes of opening minds to unconventional major choices. I wish the same had been done when I broke the news to my father. He said, “Oh Christ!’ and I replied, “exactly.”
Malkiel is also engaging in this project to ensure that the wealth of Princeton’s faculty is not squandered. She argues that the 55 percent of undergraduates in 29 departments is “not a very sensible allocation of resources.” Professors who have had the last twenty years off, however, may not agree.
Small departments with fifteen or twenty faculty would probably feel that twelve undergrads are manageable. With thirty, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Religion department has already seen a shift, as for the first time in recent memory, students outnumber faculty.
It appears that reality is the most difficult barrier that Malkiel will have to overcome. While “Major Choices” may drip with success stories of physics-majors-cum-physicians, it is clear that at some point, students have to trade in the pot and poetry for professional school. A closer examination reveals that those philosophy majors on Wall Street were two parts cerebral, one part Finance Certificate.
Junior Amelia Keppel took the “path less obvious” by majoring in Art History. Now she suspects that had she chosen econ, she might actually get a job some day. In reaction to Malkiel’s war on major majors, Keppel suggests that Malkiel should “wake up”, since “money talks, and bullshit walks.”
When asked if she felt that her unique major would earn her respect in the eyes of employers, she responded, “when you say ‘respect’ do you mean ‘a salary’? Hmm…homelessness will be alright for a while, if the climate is nice.” This pitfall of small departments like Art History lies at the heart of the “major major” problem.
Students like Keppel can’t even look forward to the once-forgiving grading policy promised in a department of six. With Malkiel’s new grade deflation policy, getting an A could be the subject of the next Survivor series: The Ivy League.
Unless Malkiel is willing to cut a deal in the next few months, it seems unlikely that there will be any major redistribution between departments. Her newly-created grading policy could yield an answer, if she would consider substituting a Robin Hood tactic instead of all-around deflation. The Near Eastern Studies department, currently with three concentrators, would be more appealing with the motto Everyone Gets an A. In turn, harsher grading policies in economics would certainly boil the department down to the ten students who truly are passionate…enough to graduate with a 2.0.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Dean Malkiel is an independent-minded woman, fearless in tackling the status quo. Having already shown such power twice in the past six months, students and administrators can only hope that she doesn’t start making decisions on a wild hare…
…or is it a wire-haired terrier?