November 26, 2018
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At Kenyon, there are several ways in which students can satisfy broad and substantial interests that cut across departmental and disciplinary boundaries. Students may undertake a double major. They may combine a major in one department with a minor in another, or with any one of several interdisciplinary concentrations. Many will find their needs met by one of the interdisciplinary programs listed in the Course Catalog.
A great deal of care and hard work has gone into the formulation of the College's majors, minors, and concentrations, so that almost all students choose to major in one of these established departments or programs.
In exceptional cases, however, a student may have a well-thought-out and strong interest in coherent studies that do not quite fit into existing programs. In such cases, it is possible for the student to propose a synoptic major. It is the responsibility of the student to initiate such a proposal, gather faculty advice, and write and justify the proposal for a synoptic program. The proposal must be approved no later than the end of the sophomore year.
Developing a synoptic major program will require the student to do considerable synthesis in thinking through how material from the selected courses fits together. Consultation with faculty (advisor or others) should initially consider whether one or more of the established programs could not meet the needs of the student. A meeting with one of the associate provosts at an early stage will most likely be useful. A synoptic major is likely to prove more demanding to carry out than a major chosen in the ordinary way from existing programs. Therefore, a student proposing a synoptic major must have a cumulative GPA at or above the average GPA of Kenyon students.
A synoptic major program must be deep as well as broad. It must be coherent. The program must consist primarily of courses that are offered in the established programs, together with a limited number of independent-study courses when such courses are really needed. Normally, not more than 2 units of an 8-unit synoptic major program should consist of independent-study coursework. Faculty members from at least two of the departments in which the student will work must agree to serve on the advisory committee for the student's synoptic major. Since each department may designate the core course or courses it deems necessary for all synoptic majors choosing work in that department, the student's proposal for the synoptic major must also be approved by the chairs (or members designated by chair) of the departments of the faculty advisors.
The final form of the student's proposal for the synoptic major program is the responsibility of the student and should be submitted to one of the associate provosts, who will engage with the student and the faculty advisors in a discussion and review of the proposal. Final approval of the program will be made by the associate provost in consultation with the chairs of the departments of the student's faculty advisors (or with senior members of the departments designated by the chairs).
The purpose of a synoptic major is to enable students to explore coherent and focused areas of knowledge that combine work in several disciplines. Successful synoptic majors in the past have involved interdisciplinary work in a historical period, a problem-centered topic, the interactions among several disciplines, or a liberal arts subject organized differently from the departmental structure at Kenyon. A great range for creativity is thus available to the student.
It is necessary to forewarn students and their advisers, however, that the development of a synoptic major is usually much more demanding than the choice of a normal disciplinary major, and it usually takes more time and effort than the participants anticipate. The standard of achievement must be at least as high as for more conventional majors; students should expect to reach the same degree of depth in a synoptic topic as they would in any discipline. A student may not undertake both a synoptic major and a departmental major; in other words, students doing a synoptic major may not double major.
In order to declare a synoptic major, a student must have at least a 2.75 GPA and must have completed at least one academic year of work at Kenyon.
Development of the synoptic major proposal should take place during your sophomore year. The first step should be informal discussion with potential advisers. Once you have a topic you should follow the procedure outlined below, noting the appropriate deadlines.
A. Select your advisers, discuss your topic, and draft a two page synopsis of your proposal with the help of your advisers.
B. Submit the synopsis of your proposal and a list of proposed courses to the Office of the Associate Provost. An appointment with the Associate Provost should be set up at that time.
C. The Associate Provost will read the proposal and may suggest areas for possible revision at your meeting.
Submit two copies of your complete synoptic major proposal to the Office of the Associate Provost. The proposal should include all of the following elements:
A. A properly complete Synoptic Major Proposal form, obtainable from the Associate Provost's office. Signatures of the student and of the advisers and their department chairs should appear, as well as that of the former advisor, if any. The Associate Provost's signature will be added later.
B. A concise descriptive title for your synoptic major.
C. A complete list, by semester, of all courses you have taken or propose to take as part of your synoptic major. At least eight units of credit must be presented. There is no upper limit on the number of credits that may be included in your synoptic major, but you must fulfill the College rule that no more than seven of the sixteen units you need for graduation may be in any one department. To be acceptable, your proposal must contain a balanced mixture of courses from at least two disciplines and several levels of mastery, including some advanced courses with appropriate prerequisites. A proposal emphasizing introductory courses in several disciplines will not be acceptable, nor will a proposal consisting mostly of a subset of the courses in a single discipline.
D. An Independent Study project integrating your major is strongly encouraged but not required. Normally your advisers would be expected to supervise this study. For Honors projects, see below.
E. A list of your advisers and their departments. One of these advisers should be designated as your principal advisor (with his or her consent)
F. A coherent statement setting forth your goals for the major, the context of your interest in the major and a description of the inter-relationships among the courses and topics involved. This is the place to mention those skills and experiences you bring to the major (such as foreign travel, work experiences, and language skills) which may not have been reflected in your list of courses. If your proposed major resembles an established major (such as Area Studies or International Studies), you should clearly explain the difference between your proposed major and the established major, together with your reasons for undertaking the synoptic alternative.
G. A preliminary proposal for your Senior Capstone. It is suggested but not required that your Senior Capstone consist of more than one component, for example, a research paper plus an oral presentation. One purpose of such a presentation would be to include a group component in your culminating experience; students in conventional majors have more opportunities to interact with one another than do synoptic majors. Therefore, it is useful to include something which will be done in company of one's fellow students.
H. The proposal should be typed, with copies of it and the cover sheet distributed to all of your advisers in addition to the copies for yourself and the Office of the Associate Provost. This document will become a permanent part of your College records and should be presented in a form appropriate to that function.
I. If the Associate Provost approves the proposal, the synoptic major title is recorded by the Registrar on the student's permanent record card. Any subsequent changes in the program of study must be approved by all advisors and the Associate Provost.
J. Negative decisions of the Associate Provost may be appealed to the Curricular Policy Committee.
It is mandatory for each synoptic major to meet with the major's advisers each semester and to complete the form "Continuing the Synoptic Major" by October 1st and March 1st each year. Failure to complete this form may result in dismissal from the synoptic major program. Students who are off campus should complete this process by correspondence. It is an opportunity for Kenyon to check on what the student is actually taking.
The student and his/her advisers meet to discuss the plan for the synoptic major and to make any necessary revisions to the proposal. It is exceptionally unusual for a synoptic major proposal not to be modified in some way during the student's years of study at Kenyon. If the list of courses to be included has been modified, the student and advisers should agree on that list. This is also the case if the goals or direction of the major, or the form of the senior capstone, has been revised.
It is preferable that the student meet with the advisers as a group, but it is possible for a student to consult individually with the advisers. (And in some cases this may be necessary, for example, if the student is off campus for a semester or a year, in which case the meeting can take place only by correspondence).
A form, "Continuing the Synoptic Major," may be obtained from the Office of the Associate Provost. All the advisers and the student should sign the form. The form should indicate either that no changes have taken place in the courses to be included in the major, or, if changes have occurred, the complete revised list of courses included in the synoptic, as well as any other changes. This form should be submitted to the Associate Provost by the first of October and the first of March, each semester. The Associate Provost has final responsibility for approving revisions to a synoptic major.
In unusual cases, the Associate Provost may convene a meeting to initiate or revise a synoptic major.
During the junior year you may apply to your advisers to read for Honors. You will be expected to enroll for at least one unit of Independent Study (with a course designation of INDS 97-98, Inter-disciplinary Senior Honors). You and your advisers should develop a plan to have your project judged by an appropriate outside examiner, as is done for departmental Honors projects.
If your advisers support your application, your principal advisor must recommend your acceptance into the Honors Program to the Registrar no later than the second week of your senior year. Such applications will also be accepted from juniors, and if approved will be considered as probationary, to be confirmed by the Associate Provost at the beginning of the senior year, again on the recommendation of your advisers.