Moving from Two Degrees to Double Majors

By Gen Filiault, Staff Associate, Office of Faculty Support and Jo Flessner-Filzen, Associate Registrar

In April 2008, the Faculty approved a major change to the undergraduate program as recommended by the 2006 Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons: allowing undergraduate students who wish to earn a Bachelor of Science (SB) degree with two majors to do so by completing all of the requirements for the SB degree as well as those of a second departmental program. The Faculty also voted to phase out the second SB program (commonly known as “double degrees”), under which students must complete 90 additional units beyond the requirements of the first degree. Thanks to the efforts and support of two DUE offices, the Office of Faculty Support and the Registrar’s Office, this proposal worked its way through the faculty governance system for approval on the faculty floor.

During the many discussions that took place concerning the proposal, a consensus emerged concerning the educational advantages of replacing the second SB program with double majors. The review committees, which included both faculty and students, concluded:

  • That multi-disciplinary education has never been more important, especially as more subjects and fields of study are becoming interdisciplinary in nature. MIT’s graduates increasingly face real-world problems whose solutions draw on multiple disciplines, and many new fields of inquiry lie at the intersection of traditional fields of study.

  • That the 90-unit requirement for a second SB has only indirect educational value because there are no clear academic guidelines for those units. The committees
    also felt strongly that inequities based on high school background, such as the absence of substantial AP credit, should not present an obstacle to a student’s
    exploration of multi-disciplinary opportunities.

  • That “two degrees” is not a good description of the current requirement since students do not repeat General Institute Requirements, or any other general graduation requirements, in pursuing the second degree. Thus, the concept of “double major” more accurately reflects the educational content and purposemof the program.

Because the SB with double majors will replace the current practice of awarding two SBs to MIT undergraduates, a transition plan has been crafted to benefit as many students as possible and to minimize any adverse impact on current students. Double majors will be available to students graduating as early as September 2009; a second SB will be available only to students who entered MIT during the 2007-08 academic year or earlier.

The basic guidelines for the double major are very similar to the current requirements for the second SB program, and the Committee on Curricula (CoC) will review student applications for double majors, just as it currently reviews petitions for second SBs. The CoC will begin accepting applications for double majors on Registration Day of spring 2009. Details about the double major, including application deadlines for second SBs and double majors during the transitional period, have been posted on the CoC’s website (http://web.mit.edu/doublemajor), which will be updated as needed throughout this transition.

The DUE will continue our work to implement and communicate details of the change to various offices within the DUE, faculty committees, and academic departments. The Registrar’s Office will take the lead in this process, and a working group consisting of representatives from key offices in the DUE and chaired by Associate Registrar Jo Flessner-Filzen has been charged with facilitating a smooth transition from double degrees to double majors. Members of the working group, which reports to Registrar Mary Callahan, include: Daniel Barkowitz (SFS), Donna Friedman (UAAP), Gen Filiault (OFS), and Anna Babbi Klein (DUE), with Matthew Burfeind serving as IS&T liaison. Please contact Jo Flessner-Filzen (3-4228; jlfilzen@mit.edu) with any questions.