By Dana Amihere
The Board of Trustees approved the proposal presented by the Academic Strategic Planning Committee (ASPC) last week. The details of this proposal were shared with students for the first time in an open meeting on Tuesday. Vivia Fowler, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, led the meeting and answered students’ questions about the curricular changes.
Dean Fowler prefaced the specific changes by explaining what brought them about and how the proposal was drafted. Last year, cuts in salaries, benefits, and department budgets were made in response to the sudden economic downturn. “The goal of the ASPC was to provide the best education possible while managing the economic curveball we were thrown,” said Fowler. With less than 400 traditional day students but 32 day majors and five evening majors, Fowler emphasized the importance of finding a balance. “Rather than reacting to the economy, [however], we chose to create an academic program which better fits the number of students at this institution.” The ASPC met at length numerous times during the summer to evaluate the curriculum and overall enrollment trends. They examined the number of students in each course and the number of graduates from each major, paying close attention to majors which graduate fewer than three students per year.
Fowler described the ASPC proposal as a short term plan geared towards long term results. Its immediate purpose was to streamline the curriculum to fit Wesleyan’s needs while building enrollment in the coming years.
Goals of the plan include:
In working towards these ends, four day majors were eliminated and recreated with “stronger liberal arts components”. The current Environmental Science major will become Environmental Studies, offering students a more interdisciplinary approach. Computer Information Systems will be removed and replaced by Digital Humanities. According to Fowler, this will “eliminate a [solely] scientific approach to computers” in favor of a “liberal arts approach to applied technology”. This major will be a transdisciplinary look at how technology and new media fit into society today.
The History/Political Science double major will also be eliminated. It will not be replaced by anything new but the individual majors in History and Political Science, as well as International Relations, will remain. Similarly, Physics will be no longer be available as a major but classes in Physics will still be offered. For those worried about the removal of this program, Fowler reminded students that Wesleyan has a partnership with several institutions, including Georgia Tech, in which pre-engineering students can earn dual degrees in five years. Self-designed majors and cross-registration at Mercer for some classes may also fill the void left behind by the defunct Physics major.
The Education programs will undergo extensive changes. Middle Grades Education will no longer be offered. Early Childhood Education will remain, and an Educational Studies major will be added. The purpose of adding a more general Education major is to allow flexibility in teaching. The new major would require fewer course credit hours to complete (30 hours versus the current major’s 72 hours) and a reduction in required hours of supervised student teaching. Dr. Mae Sheftall, Education Department Chair, and Fowler agreed that this reduction in hours would allow students the ability to specialize in another area but still earn an Education degree. The evening Education major will not be offered after Spring 2011, leaving two options (Business, and Advertising and Marketing Communication) to choose from. Additionally, the graduate education program will begin offering a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree, phasing out the two current Master of Arts degrees in Early Childhood Education and Middle Grades Science and Mathematics. The M.Ed.’s first cohort will begin in June 2010.
How will these changes affect current students? For the most part, they will not. “Only fourteen students have declared these four majors [which are being eliminated]. Of them, nine are seniors,” explained Fowler. “Most of the remaining sophomores and juniors will be able to complete their majors [as they are now]. [However], we will work with them individually to blend into new majors or take classes elsewhere.” As of October 16, no new students can declare majors which are being phased out. However, the new majors cannot be declared yet either. These majors do not actually exist yet. The student-faculty Curriculum Committee will review proposals and be instrumental in shaping what these programs will be like.
Fowler hopes that these changes will have a positive impact on the college and make it more appealing place to learn: “We [administration] hope that we don’t lose students because of the deletions. [On the contrary] we hope these creative solutions will attract students. We want to do better with what we do well.”