U Offers DIY Majors


(Photo by Dane Goodwin)

(Photo by Dane Goodwin)
(Photo by Dane Goodwin)


If you don’t like your major, you can create a new one.

The U has offered this interdisciplinary program, called a Bachelor of University Studies (BUS), since 1971 for students who can’t find the right fit with existing tracks at the university.

Ed Barbanell has coordinated the BUS program since 2000. Barbanell studied economics and systems analysis as an undergraduate, spent a few years on Wall Street and then came to Utah to study philosophy and be a ski bum.

Students propose an individualized major — such as anatomy and physiology, queer spatial process studies or religious studies — that the U doesn’t offer, to a faculty advisor. Proposals are reviewed and approved by a rotating committee of faculty.

“The students are smarter than we are,” Barbanell said. “Students can see [all the departments and disciplines] and organize them a different way. The colleges, in a way, are artificial constructs.”

The program often anticipates the creation of new majors. The architecture degree is an example. In the 1990s, before the U had an architecture program, students created their own in BUS.

“All else being equal, students should be in a department,” Barbanell said. “This should fill the little cracks in the system.”

Other examples include environmental studies, Asian studies and the design major. More recently, students have been interested in new electronic arts and engineering emphases.

“We have a good EAE graduate program,” Barbanell said. “We could expect that there would be an [undergraduate] major there soon.”

One program with continued interest that still does not have a major is anatomy/physiology. It seems to fit under biology, but Barbanell said, “the philosophy of the program is different than what the student is interested in.”

“The vast majority of [proposals] we get are students that want to do a degree that other schools have, and we just don’t happen to have it, but we do have the courses,” Barbanell said.

Micah Johnston, ​sophomore in computer science, did not create his own major but considered it at one point.

“It seems intimidating to go figure out,” Johnston said. “Also, I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like a straight [computer science] or math degree would be more solid credentials.”

Kinzie James, a senior, created her own major and enjoyed doing so.

“I blended writing, photography, graphic design and music. I called [the major] journalistic design,” she said. “The reason I picked BUS is I had finished most my generals, and I didn’t want to follow a track in any one major. It made me feel trapped. I did BUS in order to give myself freedom so I could take what I felt like semester to semester.”

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