Off-Third: Keep the core classes, get rid of majors

NYU needs to champion the well-rounded individual. The best way to do that is by getting rid of majors entirely.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Majors inhibit a well-rounded academic experience that is essential to all human beings. NYU should do away with concentrating in a field of study. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Jules Roscoe, Deputy Opinion Editor

Core requirements have always mystified students. Why do we have so many? How do professors come up with these topics? From a Texts & Ideas course on doubling in French literature to an anthropology course on our complete evolution from proto-primates to humans, NYU’s offerings cover a wide range of topics in just enough depth that a quarter of the information will stick in your brain for the next three months. They range from mathematics and science to literature and philosophy. They teach you random facts you can pull out as conversation starters at parties. 

Did you know that the scientific name of the western lowland gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla? Well, I did. Because I take core classes. 

That kind of in-depth understanding of the scientific nomenclature of African great apes is something I would never get as the measly journalism and linguistics student I am. Core classes make me interesting, and full of mystery. “Where did they learn that?” people say. “How could they know that?” I explain to you what the “medieval grotesque” is, and I instantly become alluring, the Platonic ideal of intelligence. With core classes being so fulfilling, it’s a wonder we have major classes at all. 

The fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t. We should get rid of majors entirely. 

Majors perpetuate the idea that you can only be good at one thing at a time. Thus, by limiting us to one field of expertise, they cut off incredible potential for interdisciplinary innovation and forging new lifelong friendships. We obsess over one field of study, and lose our global open-mindedness which NYU so prides itself upon. NYU is a global university, and its whole energy revolves around communication. If we have majors that make us specialize in such different fields, how will we ever communicate? 

Minors or double majors are no solution either. Studying two things, especially if they are similar — biology and chemistry, for example, or journalism and linguistics — is a poor attempt at compromise. It perpetuates a cycle of jumping between topics without even being able to delve deeply into one of them. 

In addition, majors force us to choose a career at an age where our brains aren’t fully developed. In doing so, they engage in psychological manipulation, literally gaslighting us into believing we’re smart enough to determine the rest of our lives at 18. They convince us we are ready to decide what we want to do, but when our brains fully mature, we realize we’ve been deceived. It is neither responsible nor trustworthy for an institution like NYU to allow people with undeveloped brains to be making life-changing decisions. Having majors perpetuates the abusive power dynamics that educational institutions hold over us.

But core requirements do nothing of the sort. Core requirements make us versatile, well-rounded people. Why is that useful? We can communicate. We can engage in witty banter on almost any obscure subject. We can rattle off fun facts at parties — mine are about gorillas, so I obviously get invited to a lot of parties. (Trust me.) Core requirements teach us the basics of everything important there is to know in this world. We attend one of the top schools in the country in order to become educated. Isn’t the best way to be educated to know a little bit about everything? 

“Jack of all trades, master of none,” is an oft-cited saying. But what most people don’t know is that it doesn’t end there. If you were well-rounded enough to have learned the full phrase, you’d know that it goes “A jack of all trades is master of none, but often better than a master of one.” Majors never stood a chance.

Off-Third is WSN’s satire column. Views expressed in Off-Third do not necessarily reflect those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Contact Jules Roscoe at [email protected].