Deciding that a department is for everyone

Why do so many Williams students major in mathematics? The Williams Alumni Review magazine gives this answer:

The mission of the math department had long been to identify and educate the most talented students, which meant the College graduated about a dozen math majors each year. But new department chair Frank Morgan and some of his colleagues contemplated a more inclusive view of the discipline…. “Everybody deserves a chance to do this,” Morgan says. “It’s like music—people should have a chance to enjoy math.”

Today the reconstituted math department graduates five times as many majors… a third of them women. More than half of all Williams undergraduates complete multivariable calculus [and introductory statistics]. Most impressive of all, 12 percent of the College’s graduates major in mathematics at a time when… the national average hovers around 1 percent.

Has [this] led to a dumbing down of the discipline? There’s much evidence to the contrary. [Professors from elsewhere call the department] “unquestionably the best teacher-scholar math department in the country.”

In other words, the department did not become popular by chance or by working harder at it than other departments. Rather, it made a decision to become a popular department rather than a selective department. The whole design of the curriculum and staffing is different when popularity rather than selectivity is your goal.

Is this related to Dweck’s growth mindset? Does the belief that all students can enjoy and pursue math make it more likely that they will?

The next question is: why have so many departments not made this decision, choosing instead to continue to prioritize selectivity? Shouldn’t everyone also have a chance to enjoy physics and anthropology and comparative literature?

Are academicians too focused on being “serious”? Do they take the fixed mindset, believing that only people with the right “talent” and “drive” can succeed in their field of study?

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