Real majors are hard to come by at U

When you stare out at the real world long enough, it starts to stare back. Graduating seniors face the prospect of finding those dreaded real jobs in the coming weeks. For the rest, this brutal part of life may be years off, but it will come.
Do not believe what your advisers have been telling you. When you send out your rÇsumÇ or go on that interview, it does matter what your major was. A valid major can be the difference between landing a job and having a human resources representative snickering as the door closes behind you. Careful selection of a major is important even on campus. With a reasonable course of study, you can hold your head high; while a ridiculous degree program will only bring mockery from your peers.
Fortunately, the standards for determining a “real major” are straightforward. Follow a few simple rules and you will avoid the pitfall of leaving the University marked by a degree that will haunt you for the rest of your life. It all boils down to seven simple rules.
1. It is not a real major if it has the word “studies” in the title.
Because the subject matter itself normally carries no serious academic value, a department attaches “studies” to the subject’s name in a futile attempt to give the discipline an air of legitimacy. Such programs are normally not sciences, liberal arts nor any other traditional majors. One is hard pressed to find any department that existed prior to 1960 and had “studies” in its name. Indeed “studies” are manufactured subjects created to satisfy political pressures or validate some obtuse field that has no business existing on its own within the ivory tower.
Some will argue this is an empty, ad hoc requirement — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. A department could easily change its name to avoid the stain of being a “studies” subject, these people will claim. Yet making such changes is not as easy as it might sound. To what could “women’s studies” change its name? Would people suddenly be majoring in “women?” While this might prove to be a popular degree among some male students, it certainly no longer even sounds like a real major — more like a facetious declaration made by a drunken fraternity member. Moreover, most departments stigmatized with the “studies” name fail to meet some of the other requirements and therefore cannot so comfortably validate themselves.
2. It is not a real major if it is “pre-” anything in which one could otherwise be majoring.
One cannot be a medicine or law student as an undergraduate, so declaring a major intended to prepare oneself for advanced study is acceptable. But being pre-business or pre-journalism just means you have not settled into a major. Maybe you are not good enough to get into the program of your choice; maybe you are just waiting to finish the requirements for admission. Whatever the reason, concede that you do not yet have a major. There is no shame being undecided or undeclared, unless you are a senior. That John Schlecht, a defensive end on the Gopher football team, can call pre-kinesiology a major lessens the worth of all our degrees.
3. It is not a real major if it is predominantly chosen for political reasons rather than for serious academic work.
You attend a university to pursue academic study and broaden your horizons, not live out a political agenda. If you have selected your major based solely on your moral convictions or because you like to wear black, hang out in coffee shops and smoke clove cigarettes, you are missing the point — a major is not a lifestyle decision. You should not enter a department only because you agree with its agenda. Departments should not even have an agenda! University-level study is about knowledge, not furthering political ends. African-American studies, women’s studies, cultural studies and comparative literature and many others are populated by students who are simulacra of each other, working to shape the world into conformity with their own narrow conception of utopia, not to further our understanding of the universe and ourselves.
4. It is not a real major if the discipline takes Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault or Ayn Rand seriously.
These three writers represent everything that can go wrong with genuine academic study. By overemphasizing the role of social forces in the construction of knowledge and advocating impractical political systems, they demonstrate a severe misunderstanding of the way the world works that any scholar should recognize as wasteful. When an entire discipline judges these writers as significant, however, they confirm their own inability to distinguish between valid and invalid arguments.
Contrary to Derrida and Foucault, most knowledge is not relative. Not everything should be deconstructed, reconstructed and analyzed ad nauseam. Some worldviews are better than others.
As for Rand, those who read “Atlas Shrugged” and believe an objectivist society would be utopia are usually the same who would be first against the wall in such a society, devoured by their individualist ideals made manifest in others.
5. If two or more majors significantly overlap to the extent that they could be covered by a single department, at most one is a real major.
Attempting to garner an excessive amount of University resources, it has become commonplace for departments to splinter into multiple programs. They claim they are researching radically different ideas and training students to follow distinct avenues of knowledge. How much difference is there between environmental science; ecology, evolution and behavior; and natural resources and environmental studies? Do we need three departments to cover basically the same thing? Do we need a Russian area studies and a Russian degree? No, we do not. It is little wonder the University faces constant budget difficulties when it spreads its funds so fruitlessly. Consolidation should be administrators’ guiding principle. A degree in Russian can easily accommodate Russian area studies, just as one environmental sciences department can readily handle all ecologically minded students.
6. It is not a real major if it is a studio or performing art.
Universities are about academic study, not entertainment. If one wishes to be a dancer, painter, actor or pianist, there are superb arts schools devoted to the mastery of these vocations. Ever hear of the Juilliard School? Studying the arts in a degree like art history is one thing. But learning how to wield a paintbrush is not the sort of thing for which people should come to the University. That the dance department was able to siphon $4.3 million from the University’s budget for the Barbara Barker Dance Center was a slap in the face to students and faculty in serious, underfunded departments.
7. It is not a real major if three or more University men’s basketball players or four or more football players are majoring in it.
If the basketball scandal has accomplished anything, it has affirmed the long-held suspicion that athletes on the whole are not too bright. Any discipline in which these academically challenged exemplars of physical prowess can succeed must be too simplistic to be considered a real major. Acquiring knowledge is not easy. If it were, a degree would not take four years and everyone would attend college. When one finds out four football players are majoring in applied economics, four in sociology, six in kinesiology and nine in sports studies, one must doubt the seriousness of these programs and the intellectual ability of others pursuing the same degrees.
It is surprising that our teams’ coaches have not started padding their rosters just to bring up their overall grade point averages. Gophers football coach Glen Mason would do well to sign a couple straight-A physics majors as third-string kickers to make the team look better. Coach Clem Haskins could certainly give up a spot on his bench to a 4.0 English major.
Obviously meeting any one of these seven requirements will immediately make a major illegitimate. Some degrees, though, are clearly more illegitimate than others — the more ways one fails, the worse it is. A program like religious studies can repair its bad image by changing its name. Departments like women’s studies and cultural studies are so far gone — each satisfying at least three of the rules — that they are beyond help. The University would do well to adjust its funding plans, paring out the non-real majors, thereby removing the temptation for students to seek degrees from these nonsensical programs.
If you are a graduating senior leaving the University without a real major, I extend my sympathies for having wasted several years of your life in the name of a worthless piece of paper. Others still have time to avoid your mistakes. If you are an undergraduate and you are in a non-real major, make a change. Choose a subject that has some worth. Do not throw away your college years, let them count for something.

Chris Trejbal’s column appears on alternate Mondays. He has bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and math, two master’s degrees in philosophy and is a two-time dropout of the philosophy Ph.D. program. He welcomes comments to [email protected]