Professors discuss cross-departmental perceptions of Whitman academics

Alyssa Fairbanks

As pre-registration approaches and finals loom, those students ready to declare may be questioning their choice of major. Though it is impossible to represent every major on campus, professors from each division speak to the uniqueness of their own field and the competition between departments on campus.

Professor of English Theresa DiPasquale  attributes her devotion to teaching and studying poetry to the satisfaction of deciphering a difficult and layered text.

“Poetry is so delightfully difficult and complex. I find the overcoming of obscurity thrilling,” said DiPasquale.

According to Associate Professor of Psychology Melissa Clearfield  the psychology major presents an interesting mix.

“Well, for a class in psychology, I suppose it’s a pretty average [difficulty level]. We also require nine credits outside of psychology. When you add those on, it’s a fair amount,” said Clearfield.

Those nine credits, including chemistry and biology, overlap significantly into the sciences.

Emeritus Professor of Physics Craig Gunsul  recognized this overlap, noting that psychology is often included in the sciences at other fields. Professor Gunsul was also quick to point out the significant importance math has in his own field.

“Physics is basically applied math,” said Gunsul. “For us, math is an art form used as the building blocks of science. Much like the vocabulary of the humanities.”

Professors interviewed in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences all agree that they personally hold no hard feelings against other majors, but some commented on the experiences of their students.

“I have overheard conversations where other sciences seem to dis other major programs. Probably because we don’t understand what they are exactly doing,” said Professor of Geology Patrick Spencer.

Spencer assumes that the lack of understanding is what causes this disconnect, as “understanding is the goal of our field”.

The need to understand isn’t relegated alone to the sciences. It’s at the heart of every major at Whitman, even if these energies are directed at different sources and problems.  In Geology, Spencer empathizes with the “dissing” the humanities and social sciences can receive from science majors.

“Historically, geo has been relegated to a backseat position primarily because we rely on a more descriptive explanation than the other sciences,” he said.

He does acknowledge that the geology field is moving towards a more quantitative level, and that it is a field based science. But between the sciences, and even the other divisions, he is adamant that we all have the same fundamental goal.

“We are coming up with what we think are facts. It’s a different type of understanding.”

Professor of Classics Dana Burgess discusses the different approach of his department compared to other majors.

“Many programs at the college are directed toward problems in the present and the future, and that is a good thing. Classics has its energies directed toward the past. I don’t believe any of my colleagues deny the importance of the study of the past.” said Burgess.

According to these professors, there really is no hardest major. Each requires a different type of analysis, and though each is focused on a different goal, they clearly intersect, especially at a college like Whitman.

“The real skill is whether or not they can communicate,” said Spencer. “That is the essence of a liberal arts education.”