2009-2010 University Catalog 
    Jun 23, 2018  
2009-2010 University Catalog archived

Majors and Minors Policies


The Major

The “major” is defined as a group of no fewer than 30 credits and typically no more than 50 credits required and/or optional credits designated by a department or an individual and subject to the approval of the Committee on Courses and Degrees. The “major subject” is the group   of courses within the specific discipline(s) named by the major and submitted to satisfy degree requirements for the major (e.g., economics courses satisfying requirements of the economics major).

Once a major is declared, it must be completed or removed prior to graduation.

Permission to substitute courses in major requirements may be granted, in exceptional circumstances, by the department or interdisciplinary major advisory committee through its head.

The requirements for majors are described in the appropriate section of the Degrees, Majors, and Minors  section.

Students may major in more than one area by completing the requirements of each area. Those who find a double major more attractive should recognize the costs in constrained breadth of education (i.e., fewer electives) and consider the option of a secondary emphasis without fulfilling formally the requirements of a second major.

One of the many requirements for receiving the degree is to complete at least one major leading to that degree. Any additional majors completed are a “bonus” added to that same degree. For example, a student may earn a Bachelor of Science degree, with majors in chemistry and art, or a Bachelor of Arts degree, with majors in music and business administration. When a double major includes a major from The College and a major from the Williams School, or two majors in two separate degrees, the University Registrar must be informed of the student’s preference as to school and major for official listings. The first major listed by the student is used in determining both the degree to be received and the order of march at Commencement.

Independent Work Major

Students, who have achieved a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 2.750 by the end of the sophomore year and who believe they would benefit educationally from a major not outlined in this catalog, may prepare a proposal for a major of independent work, for approval by the Committee on Courses and Degrees. The Dean of the College has guidelines and forms for preparing such a proposal. Working with faculty advisers from at least two disciplines, the student should develop a clear and coherent plan of study that promises benefits unobtainable from an established major. Such a major may be used for either the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. The program should consist of 30 to 50 credits and must be the only major the student is pursuing. An “independent work major” program application should be submitted to the Committee on Courses and Degrees prior to the beginning of the junior year, but in no case later than October 15 of the junior year. Once approval is granted, any subsequent changes must be approved by the Committee on Courses and Degrees.

Students majoring in independent work are allowed to apply for an honors program. The major will be noted on transcripts as, for example, “Independent Work (International Affairs).”

The Minor

A minor is defined as a group of at least six courses designated by a department or program and approved by the faculty. Students are not required to declare a minor and may declare no more than two minors. Once a minor is declared, it must be completed or officially removed prior to graduation. A student must achieve a cumulative grade-point average of at least 2.000 in the work of the minor. The requirements for minors are described in the appropriate section of the Degrees, Majors, and Minors  section. Students should review the requirements of each minor carefully for restrictions on using credits for more than one curricular area of study.

The following minors are available:

African-American Studies 
Art History 
Computer Science 
Creative Writing 
East Asian Studies 
Environmental Studies 
Latin American and Caribbean Studies 
Museum Studies 
Poverty and Human Capability Studies 
Russian Language and Culture 
Women’s and Gender Studies 

Interdisciplinary Majors


Environmental Studies

An understanding of environmental issues is a key component of a liberal arts education. At Washington and Lee we take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the causes and consequences of environmental problems and the development and implementation of solutions to these environmental problems. Faculty and students from across the campus integrate natural sciences, social sciences, the humanities, and law through study, research, and a variety of cocurricular activities, including numerous public lectures, service-learning projects, monthly luncheon seminars, and outdoor activities. Students develop disciplinary expertise and an understanding of how insights from different disciplines must be integrated to address environmental problems. This process involves both academic experience and expansion of the students’ capacities as citizens, enabling them to become aware of the scientific, ethical, and policy issues they will face in their local communities, their professions, and in the global community.

Students may major in environmental studies, leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree. The major is designed to educate students in a broad class of issues related to the environment and to humanity’s place in the natural world, while supporting a wide variety of career choices (research, government, corporate, non-governmental organizations) and graduate school options.

Those majoring in other disciplines, who wish to focus their course of study with courses on environmental issues, may complete the interdisciplinary minor in environmental studies. Each course of study consists of a sequence of courses in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as specially designed environmental studies courses across the disciplines. Students should discuss their future interests with the director or other faculty to help refine their course selections. (See Environmental Studies major leading to BA degree )

All students have an opportunity to conduct research, interact with local communities, and work with government and industry representatives with respect to environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Also, in partnership with the Federal University of Amazonas, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the Petrobras Center for Environmental Excellence in Amazonia, students may spend six months in Brazil, taking classes and working on research projects related to the environment.

In addition to the curriculum in environmental studies, Washington and Lee offers several cocurricular programs. The A. Paul Knight Memorial Program in Conservation provides financial support to students who undertake internships with nonprofit environmental and outdoor recreation programs. The Outing Club organizes several recreational and educational programs that enable students to become familiar with the local environment. Opportunities exist for internships with environmentally oriented consulting firms, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local environmental organizations and for working in the environmental area in public schools.

Work in environmental studies at W&L involves faculty and courses in biology (Cabe, Humston, Hurd, Hamilton, Marsh); business administration (Reiter); chemistry (Tuchler); economics (Casey, Guse, Kahn); English (Smout, Warren); ethics and philosophy (Cooper); geology (Greer, Harbor, Knapp); history (Carey); law (Drumbl, Osofsky); politics (Harris); and sociology and anthropology (Cintron, Markowitz). Collaborating Professors in Brazil include Alexandre Rivas (Universidade Federal do Amazonas), Carlos Rezende (Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense), and Fernando Pellon de Miranda (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro). Professor James Kahn is the current head of the major.

Medieval and Renaissance Studies

The major in Medieval and Renaissance Studies allows students to engage in examinations of the history and culture of European society from the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the 17th century. Majors develop an understanding of a broad range of topics and the ability to consider the era from a variety of perspectives. This interdisciplinary major includes the examination of art, economics, history, law, literature, music, philosophy, politics, religion and social structures, leading to a broadly based understanding of specific problems within the context of an entire society.

The requirements for the major are described in "Medieval and Renaissance Studies major leading to BA degree " and involve faculty and courses in art (Bent); classics (Johnson); English (Craun, Gertz, Jirsa, Pickett); French (Frégnac-Clave, Radulescu); German (Crockett, Prager); history (Hatcher, Peterson, Sanders); music (Spice); philosophy (Sessions); physics (Boller); religion (Brown, Hatcher, Kosky, Marks); and Spanish (Bailey, Campbell).

The head of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies major is Professor David Peterson.


An interdisciplinary major in neuroscience leading to a Bachelor of Science degree is available to interested students. The central theme of neuroscience is an understanding of the structure and function of the brain and how it is involved in controlling behavior. Thus, the area draws heavily from biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics and the computational sciences. The major in neuroscience is intended to prepare students to pursue graduate studies in the biomedical sciences, including graduate training in neuroscience, biology and psychology, as well as the health professions.

The requirements for a major in neuroscience are described in "Neuroscience major leading to BS degree " , but generally involve courses from the departments of biology, chemistry, computer science, physics and engineering, and psychology. An essential element of the neuroscience program at Washington and Lee is the opportunity for the student to become involved in laboratory research with a faculty member. While the areas of research may differ from year to year, they generally include neurochemical research on development and function of sensory systems, involvement of the brain in learning, attention and memory, effects of teratogenic agents on vertebrate brain development, reproductive neuroendocrinology, evaluation of electrical activity recorded from human brains, computer modeling, artificial intelligence and animal behavior.

The neuroscience faculty includes I’Anson and Wielgus (biology), Lorig and Stewart (psychology), and, as affiliate faculty, Marsh (biology), Levy (computer science), Jarrard (psychology, emeritus), and Whiting (psychology).

Further information concerning the major can be obtained from the head of the neuroscience major, Professor Tyler Lorig, or from any of the above faculty.

Russian Area Studies

The Russian Area Studies major is interdisciplinary and offers instruction in Russian language and literature, both in Russian and in translation. Students may also take courses focusing directly on Russia, or containing significant Russian content, in the disciplines of anthropology, art, history, politics and sociology. The requirements for the major are described in "Russian Area Studies major leading to BA degree " . Students should begin Russian language instruction as early as possible, preferably in the first year, since thirdyear language proficiency is required for the major. Language courses are taught by two core faculty members, who are assisted by a visiting Russian scholar.

Majors are encouraged to study the Russian language in Russia for a spring term or a longer period. A six-credit course is taught during the spring term at a Russian university when there is sufficient student demand and departmental resources permit.

Other features of the Russian Area Studies program include: a state-of-the-art language laboratory, computer-aided language instruction, various library collections for faculty and student research, guest lectures, Russian-language lunches, a Russian film series and daily television transmission from Russia.

Further information concerning the major and opportunities for study in Russia may be obtained from the head of the Russian Area Studies major, Professor Anna Brodsky.

Honors in the Major


In order to encourage independent work and scholarly investigation by students and to foster their intellectual curiosity, a number of departments have established programs leading to a degree “with honors” in the major. Such programs provide an enhancement of the regular program for departmental majors and also for interdepartmental and independent majors. Featuring a special profundity and intensity, and characterized by a close rapport between student and mentor, the honors programs are designed as an enrichment opportunity for students who demonstrate superior aptitude and self-discipline in the pursuit of their major study.

Descriptions of the honors programs of individual departments may be obtained from the department heads. Interested students should make inquiry by the time of declaration of major, in order to identify any special admission requirements or related standards that have been set  by the department for its particular honors program.

Participants in the University Scholars program, in meeting the requirements of that special program, are encouraged to undertake honors work in their chosen major.

Admission Into Honors Work

A prospective honors student applies in writing to the departmental head or major adviser. In general, application must be made by May 1 of the junior year; in certain departments, earlier application is required (often to accommodate special course work in the junior year).

In all departments, admission into honors work is subject to availability of advisory staff and assessment of the individual’s ability to profit significantly from the program’s special demands.

Minimum eligibility for honors candidacy is a 3.000 cumulative grade-point average by the time of enrollment in the honors thesis courses (numbered in the 490s). Many departments have established additional eligibility requirements for their own honors programs, such as special academic standing within the department, and these criteria must also be met.

Requirements for Honors in the Major

All honors programs require an honors thesis during the senior year, involving six credits (no more, no less) of independent work, such as a significant report based upon field or laboratory research, a creative accomplishment in the arts, or a comparable scholarly undertaking, demonstrating more than simply a mastery of subject matter.

The student must begin work on the thesis at the start of the fall term of the senior year. Background work on the thesis topic normally is expected to be in progress by the end of the junior year, and the subject and approach for the thesis should already be established before the start of the senior year’s thesis work. Work on the thesis is to be accompanied by periodic conferences with the adviser and the submitting of interim reports showing the progress achieved to that point. (Only under extraordinary circumstances—not general practice—may the thesis work be assigned entirely to a single term, and in such an instance the student must be prepared to begin intensive work on the thesis itself by the first week of the term, the subject and approach already having been established in preliminary study.)

The final draft of the thesis is due by May 1 (or by the end of the winter term in certain departments). A permanent copy of the thesis must be deposited in the Leyburn Library.

Remaining credits in the major are gained in regular course work, honors seminars, internships, directed individual study or tutorials, or a combination of these as prescribed in the department’s program. Many departments require a comprehensive examination (written and/or oral) and/or a formal oral presentation and defense of the completed thesis.

Upon successful completion of an approved honors program, the student is awarded a bachelor’s degree “with honors” in the major, and, for those also participating as University Scholars, the additional citation of “University Scholar.”

An honors program may prescribe no more than three-fourths of a normal course load for a student in the junior and senior years, so that adequate time for free electives is permitted.

Credits and Grades

Degree credits and grades for the thesis work will be awarded on completion of the thesis and any honors examinations, in the manner customary for completed projects and courses. These credits will be spread over the fall and winter terms of the senior year, under the rubric 493 (3-3), Honors Thesis.

A student’s continuing eligibility as an honors candidate will be determined by subjecting that student’s work to periodic review based on the level of work to that point.

A student who resigns or is dropped from an honors program will not ordinarily be readmitted; completed work would in such cases be translated by the student’s advisers into alternate course credits, with grades, appropriate to a regular major. In this manner, a student not successfully completing all the requirements for the honors citation might still be able to graduate with the class, but without receiving an honors citation.

Interdisciplinary Programs


A “program” is an interdisciplinary group of courses with a common theme. Most interdisciplinary programs offer a minor; however, some also offer a major. The current programs are African-American Studies, East Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Poverty and Human Capability Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

African-American Studies

African-American Studies is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on the experiences of Africans and African-Americans in North America. This program incorporates courses that have long been an integral part of the Washington and Lee curriculum and includes such areas as  art, history, music, literature, politics, and sociology. A minor in African-American Studies requires students to complete seven courses (see African-American Studies minor ). Students who complete this minor will develop a broad understanding of the African-American  experience within the larger context of American culture and history.

East Asian Studies

The Program in East Asian Studies is interdisciplinary and involves seven departments of the University. It includes course work in Chinese or Japanese, as well as courses in a wide variety of fields to introduce the student to the civilizations of Asia. A minor is offered and students focus their formal study on either China or Japan.

East Asian Studies students are strongly encouraged to participate in Washington and Lee’s study and exchange programs in China and Japan or in another approved study abroad program. Information and applications for these programs are available through the Center for International Education. Currently, a Washington and Lee spring term language program is offered in Kanazawa, Japan; no prior study of Japanese is required for this program. Spring term non-language programs may also be offered in China and Japan, pending faculty availability. Opportunities for study abroad in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the People’s Republic of China are currently being explored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures.

The program draws faculty from art (O’Mara), East Asian languages and literatures (Fu, Ikeda, Robinson, and Ujie), economics (Smitka), history (Bello), politics (Le Blanc), and religion (Lubin).

Further information may be obtained from Professor Timothy Lubin, the Director of the Program in East Asian Studies.

Environmental Studies

(see “Interdisciplinary Majors”)

Latin American and Caribbean Studies

The interdisciplinary Program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies allows students to explore the diverse concepts of civilization, culture, and society as applied to the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. The program curriculum draws from the disciplines of history, culture, literature, business, economics, politics, and sociology to aid students in their examination of the region shaped by the meeting of Amerindian, African, and European peoples. Students begin with a multidisciplinary approach towards the study of the region in the introductory course (LACS 101) and work towards interdisciplinary synthesis and analysis in the program’s capstone course (LACS 396). The program also engenders a lively research community on campus and hosts colloquia, conferences, speakers, films, and related activities in the Casa Hispánica.

The Program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies offers a minor and complements several majors in a meaningful way, including those in Spanish, history, politics, sociology and anthropology, and economics, among others. Students who complete the minor gain the background necessary for careers in teaching, bilingual education, social work, government or international organizations, business, journalism, and specialized nonprofit organizations, and/or for graduate work in Latin American Studies and related disciplines.

The minor requires completion of seven courses, distributed among the areas of literature, humanities, and the social and natural sciences. Students are encouraged to study abroad and to pursue advanced course work in the target language. (For other program requirements, see “Latin American and Caribbean Studies minor ".)

Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability

This program of study and service learning supplements any undergraduate major or course of study in the law school. Students may take a minor which includes introductory and advanced courses, volunteer opportunities in the Rockbridge County area, subsidized summer internships working with impoverished people and communities, and a variety of lectures and seminars presented by national and international visitors. Students who have completed an introductory course are eligible to apply for a summer internship working with agencies in rural or urban areas of the United States and in the developing world. Expenses are covered by the Shepherd Alliance. U.S. citizens working in the U.S. may qualify for a $1,000 AmeriCorps tuition voucher, and some students are eligible for a University grant. This internship program is  conducted in alliance with Berea College, Middlebury College, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and with Bonner Scholar Schools through the Bonner Foundation in Princeton. Students choose work that will help them develop skills for their future employment or graduate studies. They work in business, education, health care, law, social services, and community organizing. During the academic year, students participate in lectures, seminars and conferences sponsored by the Shepherd Program and engage in service to the local community promoted by the Shepherd Program, the Nabors Service League, the Bonner Leaders Program, the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee, and Washington and Lee’s Campus-Community Partnerships for Research (CCPR).

Undergraduates integrate their course work in poverty studies and their cocurricular learning through service with their major field of study. Students combine interdisciplinary study of poverty and human capability with discipline-based courses, independent studies, or honors theses in their majors, supplemented with related courses from other departments to receive a minor in Poverty and Human Capability Studies. The complete outline of requirements for the minor is found in Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor .

Seniors and recent graduates may apply for the Elrod Fellowship for a one- or two-year opportunity for employment with a public-interest agency that serves disadvantaged populations in the Baltimore, Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. areas. Elrod Fellows are supported by alumni mentors and alumni-sponsored seminars for continuing education.

Made possible through the generosity of Thomas (Class of 1952) and Nancy Shepherd, the Shepherd Program was established in 1997 and is a tangible means by which the University seeks to promote important aspects of its philosophy: to cultivate in its students “the responsibility to serve society through the productive use of talent and training” and the capacity “for self-sacrifice in behalf of their fellow citizens.”

Women's and Gender Studies

This interdisciplinary program focuses on women’s and gender issues, bridging traditional disciplines and fostering Washington and Lee’s liberal arts mission. Students begin formal study with an interdisciplinary introductory course (WGS 120), often cotaught by experts in diverse fields; they continue with course work from a range of majors in the humanities and social and natural sciences; and if they choose to complete the minor, they conclude with a capstone seminar or honors thesis. All of these opportunities involve sustained focus on the experiences, perspectives, and achievements of women, or considerable attention to the role of gender in the arts, science, and society.

Students who pursue the minor in Women’s and Gender Studies minor  must also complete a traditional major; women’s and gender studies courses, independent studies, and the honors thesis may overlap with their major or Foundation and Distribution requirements. Participants will therefore bring special expertise back to their disciplines, enriching their work in their major fields and enlivening discussion in many classrooms across the university. Students discovering courses containing pertinent material and approaches that are not listed in Women’s and Gender Studies may petition the Women’s and Gender Studies Advisory Committee to count such courses towards their requirements. Finally, all students interested in Women’s and Gender Studies are invited to participate in relevant lectures, readings, colloquia, and other events sponsored by this program and others, and, further, to apply their heightened awareness of women’s and gender issues to every facet of campus life.