PPE Certificate Reflects Major Problems
story | Elaine Li, News Editor
photo | Rachel Juay
In response to issues with resource pooling and student concerns, a suggestion has been raised to replace the Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) major with a certificate.
“One suggestion is that PPE might become a sort of certificate on top of your major,” said John Driffill, Acting Head of Studies for PPE. Typically, after a major review, which takes an entire year, “any changes that are suggested will probably take another year in order to decide upon, and for the faculty to accept those recommendations might take another year,” said Steven Bernasek, Dean of Faculty. While further details are scarce, the suggestion has refocused attention on the PPE major.
The asymmetry in PPE due to the absence of a politics department presents difficulties for both students and faculty. Students expressed concern for the lack of organization within Politics in the PPE major.
Seow Yongzhi ’18, a student majoring in PPE, said that disciplines are traditionally organized around core content that provide a sense of progression through the fundamental courses. However, the lack of a “coordinating authority” for politics gives students a sense of haphazardness when it comes to politics courses. “It’s as if you are there to gather the whiffs of politics across the academic spectrum in order to forge for yourself a sensible path,” said Seow.
Professor Driffill acknowledged this asymmetry, said that “it seems entirely natural” to establish a degree in Politics because we have Political Science faculty.
Jane Jacobs, Divisional Director of Social Sciences, said that she thinks PPE can effectively stand-in for a politics major at Yale-NUS. “We have enough faculty and enough courses to cover a lot of what a political science department might offer [at other schools],” she said.
Professor Driffill, on the other hand, said that it makes sense in places like Oxford University for PPE to stand in for the other three individual disciplines. At Oxford students exclusively study PPE, while at Yale-NUS major courses constitute a third of students’ course load. “It’s not such a compelling case in Yale-NUS because it’s simply a major,” Professor Driffill said.
One criticism that PPE draws from faculty is its popularity with students. Currently, there are 12% of students from the Class of 2017 and 16% of students from the Class of 2018 enrolled in the major. Seow provided one reason for this, saying that “many potential political science majors [go to] the PPE major.” He said, however, that he felt PPE could not act as a politics major. On the issue of would-be political science majors choosing PPE, Ms. Jacobs replied that “[the division has] not done the survey to find out that data”.
Rakesh Prabhakaran ’17, who switched from Economics to PPE, offered another reason. He said that “our school’s economics doesn’t compare well to NUS’ or even SMU’s economics department”, and that “graduate school […] would have a huge learning curve, primarily in math and advanced microeconomics”.
Students identified the lack of communication from administration as another primary concern with the PPE major. Ajinkya Chougule ’18 said that there has been “zero communication about the major […] from the school in general this past semester.”
Students raised further concerns about the cross-listing of courses related to the PPE major. “There seems to be an unnecessary turf war between […] majors in the school, […] which I think defeats the purpose of a liberal arts education,” said Chougule. He cited International Political Economy as an example of a module that has both politics and economics in the name, yet was only listed under Global Affairs. In response to an email sent by Chougule to Mr. Bernasek and Ms. Jacobs, the courses International Political Economy and India as a Rising Power, 1947- Present, are now cross-listed to the PPE major.
Faculty also expressed concern that students do not know enough about each discipline to write a genuinely multidisciplinary capstone, according to Professor Driffill. However, he wonders “if such fears are not overplayed.” These concerns were echoed by Prabhakaran, who thinks that PPE is a great opportunity because it equips students with skills in both economics and politics, which is the best way to enter jobs like political consultancies. However, he agrees that there is work to be done, and that “[the school] should be making [PPE] more what it should look like.”
Resource pooling between Global Affairs and PPE also presents an issue for faculty members with commitments in both. However, two professors The Octant approached both declined to comment, saying that they had been told “to refer specific questions regarding the story to the Divisional Director of the Social Sciences,” Ms. Jacobs. Professor Nancy Gleason, Head of Studies for Global Affairs expressed optimism about the relationship between the two, saying that “there is a positive synergy between Global Affairs and PPE.” She added, “is there work to be done on messaging the distinction? Yes.”
The Social Sciences Division will meet in the near future to review the matter of inter-major cross-listing, including between Global Affairs and PPE.
This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 28.