External study suggests program changes
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 01:10
Tufts faculty are debating the direction of the university’s 23 interdisciplinary studies programs following an external review that began last March and suggested major changes in the university’s curriculum.
The external report praised Tufts’ responsiveness to national trends with the Communications and Media Studies, International Relations and Community Health Programs. It encouraged expanding these programs with regular tenure faculty or joint−appointments between schools like Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine.
However, the report suggested the discontinuation of several interdisciplinary programs, including leadership studies, urban studies, Judaic studies, Asian studies and multimedia arts. The Interdisciplinary Studies major was also put forward for cancellation.
Under the report’s recommendations, the university’s programs that are not cut should undergo an organizational change. These programs should be grouped into clusters like “Transnational Studies” or moved into existing departments, as with the current interdisciplinary science programs, according to the report.
“The university has not taken steps to ensure that these programs can sustain academic strength and develop their potential,” the committee wrote in the report. “Some programs appear to exist almost in name only.”
The review, conducted by Professors Eric Patashnik of the University of Virginia, Mary Louise Pratt of New York University and J. Timmons Roberts of Brown University, sought to provide an outside perspective on what Tufts can do to better support its interdisciplinary studies programs, according to Dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Arts and Sciences Nancy Bauer.
“What the external people do is to come in and make the case for resources for that unit to the administration,” Bauer said. “It’s not a disciplinary or critical thing at all. It’s, ‘Here’s what we see, what’s going on at our universities, what’s happening in this field and some suggestions about what you can do given what we’ve learned.’”
Bauer said this was the first time Tufts’ interdisciplinary studies programs have been externally reviewed in her 15 years at Tufts, and stressed the importance of regularly evaluating all academic departments.
“There was some time when the reviews were not conducted as regularly,” Bauer said. “Some departments and programs have not been reviewed for a very long time, but now we’re getting all departments and units on a regular schedule.”
Before the review committee arrived, each of the interdisciplinary programs conducted a self−study in which they evaluated their own functions and identified potential problem areas, according to Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS) Sonia Hofkosh.
The review committee used the self−studies to focus on the programs’ immediate problems and released an eight−page report on its findings after the visit, Hofkosh said.
The university is currently discussing its response to the recommendations, according to Bauer. Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger−Sweeney in May invited all faculty members to a retreat to discuss the value of interdisciplinary studies.
Bauer noted that faculty at the retreat complained about splitting time between the needs of their departments and the needs of the interdisciplinary programs, which many saw as adding to their existing workloads.
“We have 23 programs with 23 different arrangements of staff,” Bauer said. “In some cases, there’s a staff member who has to support six different programs that are all over campus, because the programs are so tiny. We don’t have any faculty who are hired into [interdisciplinary] programs.”
Bauer said one solution to this problem would be joint appointments between departments and schools, using an agreement called a “Memorandum of Understanding” to lay down explicit rules and expectations about how each faculty member’s time would be used.
In the meantime, the CIS is meeting with the directors of its 23 programs to discuss the data gathered in the external review and the best way to move forward, according to Hofkosh.
“A lot of pieces are going to have to fit together,” Hofkosh said. “It’s a mystery where the undergraduate interdisciplinary work goes.”