A common concern heard among the undergraduates on registration day these past few terms is “there aren’t enough hums!”. Broadly referring to all Humanities and Social Science (HSS) courses offered in a given term by the word ‘hum’, what specifically does the statement mean? That there aren’t enough advanced humanities courses being offered in any given term (i.e. not enough_ total HSS courses)? That there isn’t enough breadth of courses to satisfy their interests (i.e. not enough “interesting”_ HSS courses for any given student)? That there aren’t enough courses that fit into their schedule (i.e. not enough HSS courses at a given time)? The Academics and Research Committee (ARC) has compiled the following data to understand the source of the concern.
**Current Humanities and Social Sciences Requirement for Undergraduate Students: **Students are required to take 108 units (equivalent to twelve 9-unit courses) in the Division of HSS. Of these, 36 units (four 9-unit courses) must be taken in the humanities (English, History, History and Philosophy of Science, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, and Visual Culture), 36 units (four 9-unit courses) must be taken in the social sciences (anthropology, business economics and management, economics, law, political science, psychology, and social science), and the remaining 36 units can be drawn from either humanities or social sciences, including language courses, Wr 1, and Wr 2, but not freshman humanities courses nor BEM 102. These remaining 36 units will hereafter be referred to as “miscellaneous HSS” courses.
Of the 36 units of humanities courses required, 18 units (two 9-unit courses) must be freshman humanities courses defined by catalog numbers <= 60 and 18 units (two 9-unit courses) must be advanced writing-intensive humanities courses defined by catalog numbers >= 90. The two freshman humanities courses must be taken in two different departments (e.g. English and History) and completed before any advanced humanities courses are taken.
Of the 36 units of social science courses required, 18 units (two 9-unit courses) must be introductory social sciences taken from the following list: An 14, An 15, An 16, Ec 11, PS 12, or Psy 13. 18 units (two 9-unit courses) must be advanced social sciences defined by catalog numbers >= 100 in the same department as the student’s introductory social science courses. Notably, courses in the business economics and management (BEM) department correspond to the introductory course Ec 11. For instance, a student who has taken Ec 11 and Psy 13 as their introductory social sciences could take 18 units of advanced Psy courses, 18 units of advanced Ec/BEM courses, or 9 units of advanced Ec/BEM and 9 units of advanced Psy courses to fulfill the advanced SS course requirement.
Additionally students are required to take three 9-unit writing intensive courses on grades. A writing intensive course in the humanities is defined by catalog number >= 90 and in the social sciences it is one from the following list: An/PS 127, BEM 109, Ec 105, Ec 109, Ec 129, Ec 130, Ec 140, PS 99ab, PS 120, PS 123, or PS 141. Two of these three writing intensive courses are automatically satisfied by fulfilling the advanced humanities requirement. The third writing intensive course is typically satisfied within the four miscellaneous HSS course requirement.
There is a flowchart for HSS course requirements on the ARC website to help guide students through these requirements: arc.caltech.edu under the Resources → Registration tab.
**Assumptions: **Let us approximate that there are 1000 undergraduate students on campus in any given year with 250 students per class and that it takes the average student 4 years to graduate. Based on the requirements described above, this means that there must be a minimum of 500 seats in introductory social science courses, 500 seats in advanced social science courses, 500 seats in freshman humanities courses, 500 seats in advanced social science courses, and 3000 total seats in HSS courses per year. This does not take into account fluctuations in class size year to year but should serve as a good approximation of the minimum number of seats needed per year for students to graduate on time. Please note that having the minimum number of seats available in a given term does not take into account scheduling conflicts, student interest in certain courses, or department-specific course offerings that might restrict which courses students can actually take. This is therefore likely a significant underapproximation_ _of the true number of seats that need to be offered.
The number of advanced social science courses and miscellaneous HSS courses has largely remained the same in the period surveyed (2018 → present) and is not discussed below. Please see the full data set on the ARC’s website.
Figure 1: Estimated Seats Available in Introductory Social Science Courses. The number of seats available in intro SS courses declined sharply last year and is projected to stay at this level unless additional intro SS courses are added. Prior to last year, there were 6-8 introductory SS courses offered per year. Last year there were 4 courses offered. The current number of seats in introductory social science courses is well below the minimum number needed for students to graduate on time unless the few introductory social science courses offered are substantially over-enrolled this year.
Figure 2: The Percentage of Social Science Courses Listed in Economics (Ec) or Business Economics and Management (BEM). While the total number of social science courses offered has largely remained the same over the past 5 years, the percentage of which are BEM or Ec courses has increased. While it is good that more economics courses are being offered to students interested in the field, a greater breadth of social science course offerings is important to broaden students’ perspectives and expose them to new ideas.
Over the past five years, the size of the undergraduate class body has increased, most notably with large incoming frosh classes in fall 2023 and in fall 2021.
Figure 3: The Number of Estimated Seats Available in Freshman Humanities Courses. The number of freshman humanities courses was increasing to accommodate the larger class sizes for the past few years until the 2022-2023 school year, where the total number of seats fell by almost 150 spots. More seats will be needed to accommodate the large freshman class this year.
Figure 4: The Number of Estimated Seats Available in Advanced Humanities Courses. The number of advanced humanities courses has stayed relatively constant over the past few years. However, with a growing undergraduate student body, more courses need to be offered to match the increase in the number of students. Fall 2023 marks the lowest number of seats available in advanced humanities courses since at least Fall of 2018. If the number of advanced humanities course seats stays at the current level, it will be well below the minimum number of advanced humanities courses needed for students to graduate within four years.
There is not a deficit in the _total _number of HSS courses being offered
The number of advanced social science courses and miscellaneous HSS courses has largely remained the same in the period surveyed (2018 → present)
By this estimate, there are not enough introductory social science courses being offered currently for students to graduate within four years (without substantial over-enrollment of these courses)
There is decreasing breadth of the social science courses being offered, with very few anthropology and law courses being offered and an increasing number of economics and BEM courses being offered
There is a declining number of advanced humanities courses being offered, despite a growing number of undergraduate students
The humanities department is doing an excellent job offering a broad variety of language courses every term (not depicted above)
The social sciences department is doing a great job offering a variety of economics and BEM courses
Discussion: This analysis is in no way intended to disparage the HSS division. The professors in the HSS department do amazing work each and every day to expand our perspectives on the world and help us to think critically about our place in it. This article is merely an analysis of the courses that have been offered over the past few years and a recommendation that more courses be offered in key areas, as described above. I would like to stress that the issues highlighted above are not even necessarily the ‘fault’ of the HSS division and that students should not cast aspersions towards the wonderful faculty and administrators of the HSS division. Between the pandemic, several faculty leaving the HSS division over the past few years, and several faculty having other commitments (e.g. on sabbatical), the course offerings in a few departments have declined over the past few years. It is often a long and difficult process to hire new faculty. Therefore, the main recommendations of this analysis are twofold: first, to temporarily increase the number of visiting faculty able to teach courses in the areas discussed above, and second, to begin or continue the process of hiring new faculty to fill the vacancies described. The HSS division, along with the ARC, has been working diligently to understand the source of students’ concerns about HSS course offerings and to find solutions to these issues.
Methodology: The number of humanities and social science classes offered by department over the past 5 years was counted using the archived schedules published on the Registrar’s website (https://registrar.caltech.edu/schedules/previous-terms). Courses listed with the titles “undergraduate research in…”, “reading in…”, “senior research”, “thesis”, and “senior tutorial for…” were omitted from the count, as they are taken by relatively few students and are therefore not representative of the whole undergraduate body. Additionally, courses that were <6 units or only open to graduate students were not counted. No courses that were canceled were included in the count for that term. BEM 102 was also omitted from the total count as it does not count towards the 12 HSS course requirement. To count the number of available seats in courses where an enrollment capacity was not listed explicitly, 20 seats were assumed to be open in humanities courses and 75 seats were assumed to be open in social science courses. This is an approximation of ‘average’ humanities and social science courses and is not an exact representation of how many students were physically in the class during that term. Every effort was made to avoid double-counting or missing courses. If you have questions or concerns about the methodology or our findings, please contact us at email@example.com.
**Acknowledgements: **I would like to express my gratitude to President Rosenbaum, Dr. Tracy Dennison (HSS Department Chair), many individuals in the HSS department, and other administrative offices on campus for listening to our concerns about the HSS course offerings and for all their ongoing work to find solutions to them with us. Special thanks to Jena Alsup (current ARC Secretary) and Gabi Twombly (previous ARC Chair and current ASCIT President) for their help in compiling these numbers and interpreting them.