Drew Rethinks Doctorates in History

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Last week, Drew University informed faculty members and graduate students in English and the department of modern history and literature that it planned a review of the two departments’ Ph.D. programs. That announcement alone would not have been news: Such reviews are commonplace and, at a time of heightened scrutiny of doctoral education and the quality of higher education generally, would seem like sound policy.

But Drew’s approach raised eyebrows and, in some circles, hackles, for several reasons. First, professors in the departments found out about the review only after the fact, in a meeting Wednesday with the provost and interim dean of graduate studies; administrators had neither sought advice nor allowed for discussion ahead of time, which several faculty members said was out of character on a campus in which consultation is, as one put it, a “hyper-norm.”

Second, administrators announced that while the review unfolds, Drew would suspend admissions to the two Ph.D. programs. When that news hit the campus in an e-mail message to graduate students in the programs Thursday, it created a sense of deep concern, raising doubts about the future viability of the doctoral programs.

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Jonathan Rose - 9/20/2006

Thanks, Tim. All this suggests a joke whose punchline involves the Faculty Committee on Changing Light Bulbs....

Tim Lacy - 9/20/2006

Jonathan, it's good to hear from you. Loyolans in Chicago also reacted negatively in 1999-2000 when budget cuts forced the university to take a hard look at all of its programs. The essence of the situation is security: people who long thought themselves entitled began to experience fear. And to your point about stodginess, like you I believe it is conservatives that have the greatest fears about security. Ergo, Loyola's faculty and staff are also quite conservative! Then again, I don't recall any of Loyola's faculty being on Horowitz's most dangerous list.

Jonathan Rose - 9/20/2006

As someone who teaches at Drew, I think this is blown out of proportion. It's certainly not true that "administrators had neither sought advice nor allowed for discussion ahead of time": the History Department has had discussions with our president about our graduate program going back a full year. And the article only quotes faculty who were critical of the administration's decision, not those who think (as I do) that this is a welcome opportunity to make some very necessary improvements in our doctoral programs. Most likely, those programs will become more selective, more distinctive, draw on the talents of a wider range of faculty, and offer more financial support for grad students.

The protests you hear, in my opinion, reflect a reflexive desire to protect one's own turf. I laugh when I hear Republicans say that professors are "tenured radicals". Oh sure, they may be leftish about events happening halfway around the world, as in Iraq. But on their own campuses they're often stodgy reactionaries who instinctively resist change.