Interdept. programs’ futures in question

By
Thursday, March 19, 2009

With institutional budget cuts looming for the next fiscal year and possibly beyond, some concentration programs housed outside of department structures are concerned about their ability to provide consistency to concentrators.

Unlike departmental concentrations, these multidisciplinary programs often rely on the good will of related departments to provide faculty to teach classes or to agree to cross-list their own courses.

Development Studies, in particular, is “unsure” how it will find teachers for core concentration requirements next year, said Associate Professor of Sociology and International Studies Gianpaolo Baiocchi, director of the development studies program.

The program has depended since last spring upon Cornel Ban, a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, to teach core concentration courses and to advise about 10 theses. But Ban’s fellowship ends after this semester, and no one is lined up to replace him, according to Baiocchi.

“As of this moment, we are unsure how we’re going to staff those courses,” he said.

The program receives a $500 stipend from the University each year for small expenses, which will remain intact for the coming fiscal year, Baiocchi said. The concentration program has also received extra funding in recent years from the University as its size has grown – there are now about 80 declared development studies concentrators, Baiocchi said.

But those resources do not cover course instruction and advising.

Since taking over as director of the program last year, Baiocchi has worked to implement a more stringent system of concentration requirements. Those now include four development studies courses, which are “all volunteer-taught,” he said.

“I basically talk people into giving us a course of their time,” he said. “In a concentration of this size, it’s a problem.”

The concentration’s Departmental Undergraduate Group organized a letter-writing campaign to request that a position be made available next year, either for Ban or “someone like him,” to teach and advise theses, said Alison Fairbrother ’09, a leader of the DUG.

The DUG wrote an e-mail to its listserv earlier this month, saying the concentration was “at risk of losing the sophomore seminar, the methods class, the thesis class and the amazing support of Professor Ban.”

“The University never promised us a continuation of the fellowship,” Fairbrother said, but the DUG hopes to “maintain what we saw as being really wonderful productive changes” to the program since Ban’s arrival last spring.

She added that she transferred to Brown because of its development studies concentration, a program few other schools offer for undergraduates.

The campaign to keep the program at its current level has received “overwhelming support” from concentrators, alumni and faculty, Fairbrother said. The DUG collected over 60 letters, Fairbrother said.

Baiocchi said earlier this week that he planned to give the letters, with his own cover letter, to the dean of the College and the head of the Watson Institute on Wednesday.

Baiocchi said he thinks the program will be able to staff the sophomore seminar and methods course next year, but he added that no one has been found to teach the thesis course in the fall. All DS concentrators are required to write theses.

Karen Lynch, communications manager at Watson, said she had no comment about the future of the concentration.

Limited access to resources

Multidisciplinary concentrations like development studies have “less claim to resources” than departments, said Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies Phil Brown, who serves as the interim director of the Center for Environmental Studies.

The science and society concentration, which draws on courses in the departments of Biology and English, among others, is run by the Faculty Committee on Science and Technology Studies. Professor of Biology and Gender Studies Anne Fausto-Sterling PhD’70, who chairs the committee, said the concentration “would be budgeted differently” if it were a department.

But the program does not aim to become a department, she added, because it values its multidisciplinary status. Baiocchi said the same of development studies.

The science and society concentration offers two core courses to concentrators. For the rest, Fausto-Sterling said, she must consult with departments to make sure they are offering classes that can be cross-listed as science and society courses.

“We would like to do more,” she said.

The committee receives a budget directly from the Office of the Provost each year, Fausto-Sterling said, and the program has assurance that it will be protected for the coming year. Though she said the concentration gets “adequate support to do what we’re doing right now,” it “could get cut” if the University is forced to make more budget reductions in future years.

“We’re pretty vulnerable,” Fausto-Sterling said.

Other multidisciplinary concentrations have been discontinued in years past due to a lack in support from faculty and departments. The biomedical ethics concentration, for example, was phased out during the 2005-2006 school year.

Nondepartmental programs are rarely given faculty lines, Brown said, referring to the ability to hire faculty, which all departments have. Programs like science and society and development studies depend on faculty from other departments to teach core concentration courses.

“There’s an irrationality in the allocation of resources,” Baiocchi said. “Faculty lines and resources are administered to departments, but a significant portion of the teaching happens in interdisciplinary concentrations, which don’t have resources.”

Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P’07 disagreed with Baiocchi’s contention that funding was prioritized poorly for departmental and nondepartmental programs.

“Just because something is housed in a department” does not mean it gets special treatment, Vohra said.

The University recognizes that “there are places where (budget cuts) will have a much bigger impact than other places,” Vohra said, adding that no programs will be forced to cut their operating budgets in a way that would harm their “core academic priorities.”