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As the Herald reported Friday, student involvement in Group Independent Study Projects (GISPs) is well past its heyday. GISPs were most popular in the earliest years after they first became an option in 1969 as part of the New Curriculum. The 1974-75 school year saw 50 GISPs, but more recently, the number of GISPs in a given year has generally been closer to 20.

One reason GISPs have become less prevalent is that more students are now organizing group independent projects through individual academic departments. To enroll in a departmental independent study course, students need only find a willing faculty adviser and perhaps consult with the department chair. By contrast, GISPs require students to go through a more rigorous process that involves submitting a proposed syllabus, bibliography and evaluation plan to the College Curriculum Council for approval.

The GISP approval process is modeled after the process professors go through in creating new courses, and it gives groups a unique opportunity to engage with pedagogical questions about a course's scope, methods and objectives. Students participating in approved GISPs get to have the title of the GISP noted on their transcripts. The departmental independent study option requires far less paperwork, consistent with Brown's policy of minimizing administrative obstacles to students' academic choices.

While GISPs and departmental group independent study projects have very similar goals, this two-tiered system crucially allows groups of students a wider range of experiences. We don't believe that reduced student involvement in GISPs is necessarily a cause for concern. However, because the goals of GISPs and departmental group independent projects are so similar, we believe that each could stand to learn a little from the other. 

Because the approval process is considered an essential part of the GISP experience, additional students are currently not allowed to join a GISP once it has been approved. We appreciate the concern underlying this rule but believe that it is overly restrictive. A student, especially one who goes abroad for a semester, might have a deep interest in the subject matter of a GISP but might only find out about the GISP after it has already approved. If the student can demonstrate his commitment and interest to the GISP's creators and faculty sponsor, he should be allowed to enroll. Students not directly involved in the initial approval process could offer additional, unique viewpoints on a course's pedagogical effectiveness.

The formal GISP process is advantageous from a publicity perspective — the Curricular Resource Center helps get the word out about GISPs in the making. Students doing independent studies in departments should have similar options available to them. If a student wants to pull together a group for a departmental independent study project, the department should help that student find interested peers, perhaps through an e-mail announcement or a posting on a departmental bulletin board.

GISPs also benefit from a certain level of institutional recognition; current courses (such as ENGN 0090: "Management of Industrial and Non-Profit Organizations") have evolved directly from GISPs. The possibility of a transition to a full course should also be open to departmental group independent projects. Department chairs should at least be aware of the content of recent independent projects so that they can get a better sense of what the current course offerings might be lacking. 

We like the current system and aren't advocating anything radical. We only think that a little minor tweaking could enhance both of the group independent study options available to students.  

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials (at)



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