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IR, DS changes earn mixed reactions

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Major changes to the international relations concentration requirements were posted on the concentration’s website Feb. 11, with smaller changes to the development studies concentration announced yesterday.

Sophomores who have not yet declared their IR concentrations were outraged that they will be required to conform to a new set of requirements halfway through their Brown careers. The new requirements themselves garnered mixed reactions, and DS concentrators in particular were mostly upbeat about the changes to their concentration.

“The Dean of the College convened a committee of contributing departments, the director of the Watson Institute (for International Studies) and critical members of the Brown academic community, including student representatives, to enhance the intellectual quality and coherence of these important interdisciplinary concentrations,” wrote Mark Blyth, professor of political science and director of undergraduate studies for IR and DS, in a Feb. 11 letter to the IR community.

Explaining the changes

The core of required courses was expanded from four courses to five, according to the IR website. Both the old and new core requirements include introductory courses in economics and international politics. But while the other two classes for the old core were a modern history course and a “culture and society” course of the student’s choosing, the new core mandates HIST 1900: “American Empire Since 1900,” SOC 1620: “Globalization and Social Conflict” and ANTH 0400: “Anthropology and Global Social Problems,” a new course.

The track system was also changed. Concentrators are required to choose a topical track to further focus their studies. One of the tracks — “politics, culture and identity” — has been eliminated, while the other two — “global security” and “political economy and development” — have been adjusted to become “security and society” and “political economy and society,” according to Blyth’s letter. The number of courses needed to meet the new track requirements has been increased from three to five, according to the website.

The “politics, culture and identity” track was eliminated because it “lacks a clear theoretical rationale and has become a hodgepodge of courses ranging from regional studies to anything containing the word ‘culture,'” according to the report of the committee studying the IR and DS programs.

The new requirements will also include two courses with the same regional focus, whereas previously only one regional course was required.

Students will still be required to reach sixth-semester proficiency in a foreign language.

The old curriculum will remain in effect for students graduating in December 2012 or sooner, according to the IR website. Additionally, sophomores who declared their concentration in the fall will be allowed to use the old requirements, Blyth wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The Watson Institute will hold a “town meeting” tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Watson Institute’s Joukowsky Forum, according to Blyth’s letter.

Claudia Elliott MA’91 PhD’99, associate director of the IR program and its sole concentration adviser, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that she did not want to be interviewed until after Wednesday’s meeting. It “is only fair that the IR directorship … first hold a public conversation about the changes with sophomores and the rest of the IR community,” she wrote.

‘Logistically impossible’

Undeclared sophomores expressed dismay about the new requirements. Some have formed a Facebook group called “IR students against the new IR Program,” which counted 83 members at press time.

It is “not fair to spring significant changes” on sophomores who are in their fourth semester, Jasmyn Samaroo ’13 said. “If I have to take a ninth semester, it will be a financial hardship.”

It will be “logistically impossible for a lot of people in my grade to fulfill the requirements,” Ian Slater ’13 said. “A lot of people are switching to (the political science concentration’s) international (and comparative politics) track.” He said he would have to “give up the rest of liberal learning at Brown” to satisfy the new requirements.

Claire Schlessinger ’13 tried to declare her concentration last semester but was told she could not because a committee was working on changes to the requirements. “I thought I was over halfway done with my concentration requirements,” she said, but the concentration changes ended up being much larger than she expected. “It literally wouldn’t be possible for me to double concentrate or study abroad” with the added requirements, she said.

But first years are not as concerned about meeting the new requirements. “I’m not too worried about fitting anything in since I’m a freshman,” Margaret Tennis ’14 said.

Students had mixed opinions on the IR requirement changes themselves, with many offering positive comments.

Samaroo said she thinks “the changes strengthen the program and are positive.”

“It’s a better set of requirements, a better program,” said Michael Ewart ’11, an IR concentrator and member of the committee that recommended the changes. “Under the old system, you and I could both be IR concentrators and have no more than one or two classes in common,” he said.

Several students questioned the rationale behind requiring HIST 1900, and the eliminated track upset some students. “I was really disappointed because the track I intended to follow” was eliminated, Tennis said. She said the “politics, culture and identity” track was perfect for her interests and was one of the reasons she was attracted to IR.

Developing development studies

Changes to the DS concentration requirements appeared on the concentration’s website yesterday. Students had mostly good things to say about them, though many were unaware of the changes.

“These changes have been made with the intent of offering more choice and guidance to concentrators while strengthening their methodological and language skills,” according to a Feb. 14 letter from Blyth and Cornel Ban, visiting fellow and deputy director of the DS program.

“I thought that (the changes) were overwhelmingly positive,” Ayane Ezaki ’13 said. The changes make DS “a lot more structured” but give concentrators “a lot more choice,” she said.

Perhaps the largest change is the addition of a sixth-semester proficiency foreign language requirement, which would match that of IR.

“I think the language requirement is a really great thing,” Sarah Grimm ’12 said.

Samuel Kinsman ’13 said he thinks the language requirement is not a bad idea, but it would be unfair to apply it to current sophomores.

All students will now be required to take DEVL 1500: “Research Methods and Design.” Previously, students chose from among several methods courses. Only about half of DS concentrators took DEVL 1500 in the past because it was not required, and they later ran into problems when trying to write their theses, said Christina Kovacs ’11, a DS concentrator and member of the committee that recommended changes to the IR and DS programs.

“I think it’s really important to have that course,” Grimm said.

The new DS requirements posted on the website also feature an expanded list of “disciplinary courses,” from which students must select two. There are now 15 choices, compared to seven in the past.

Students praised this move. “It will make it a lot easier to do what I was already intending on doing,” Grimm said.

For the senior capstone project, students will now have more options, such as creating a documentary, Ban said. If students choose to do a documentary, they will need to take two modern culture and media courses, he said. The capstone project must also incorporate each student’s foreign language skills, according to the website.

“I think that the idea to extend the options for
the capstone is definitely a very good idea,” Kinsman said.

The DS program is underfunded, Kinsman said. There is only one adviser for the concentration, who is subsequently very busy, he said. “It’s really important that development studies majors get more opportunities to talk with advisers.” He added that DS would be improved if more courses were offered for concentrators.

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