Did You Know? UNC’s Minor in Social and Economic Justice Doesn’t Require Economics Courses

Time for a curriculum rewrite.

UNC-Chapel Hill offers a wide variety of major and minor programs to its undergraduates, and each student’s résumé carries the authority of the first public university in the United States. However, if one peers beyond the grandiose titles of some students’ undergraduate programs, one is liable to find the contents rather vacuous.

For example, UNC’s list of undergraduate programs includes a minor in social and economic justice. Given its name, one might expect such a program to provide students with insights into economics, public policy, and issues of rights and justice from a social-science perspective. Perhaps such a program could help students prepare for careers in law, politics, or journalism, or generally nurture the development of sharp and politically engaged young adults. However, in stark contrast to an outsider’s likely expectations, the minor’s course list is primarily composed of classes concerning intersectionality and social activism. It exhibits a startling lack of economics coursework.

A graduate with an economics or economics-adjacent minor should have skills in economic analysis.To wit, UNC graduates may be awarded a minor in social and economic justice without taking a single course in economics. As a result, the program’s name is highly misleading. How can a prestigious university place such a phrase on the permanent transcript of a student who may never have studied economics? This not only weakens UNC’s reputation but demonstrates an abdication of the institution’s duty to provide a strong liberal education. A graduate with an economics or economics-adjacent minor should have solid skills in economic analysis and should be able to engage thoughtfully in discussions concerning justice and public policy. Instead, students are able to complete UNC’s minor with classes in political activism and critical theory alone.

For instance, the social and economic justice minor can be completed by taking the following courses:

  • Space, Place, and Difference (GEOG/WGST 225): a gender-studies course focused on analyzing gender, race, and class in “spatial patterns of everyday life.”
  • Race and Ethnicity (SOCI 122): a sociology class that “examines race, racism, and privilege” and the “many manifestations of racism and privilege.”
  • Gender and Imperialism (WGST 583): a gender studies class that focuses on “feminist perspectives on imperialism.”
  • Hate Speech (COMM 624): a communication-studies course about the ways that “interactants manipulate hatred to accomplish a variety of social and personal goals.”

While there is no problem with students showing interest in these subjects, it is not clear why UNC considers the completion of these courses to be sufficient for the recognition of proficiency in social and economic justice.

As such, UNC should consider revising the course requirements for the social and economic justice minor and other poorly designed programs. More broadly, the university should ensure that its graduates are prepared to actively and knowledgeably participate in their degree fields and that the courses required by undergraduate programs are both relevant to the alleged topic and sufficiently rigorous. Until then, what follows will likely be increasing skepticism regarding the true value of UNC graduates’ degrees.

Harrington Shaw is a summer ’22 intern at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and a rising junior studying economics and philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill.