In recent years, the College has introduced a number of majors and minors in response to student interest, but many academic departments find themselves unable to accommodate the growing demand. Administrators are struggling to keep these programs as inclusive as possible while managing limited resources and attempting to preserve the hands-on academic rigor they feel might be lost with indiscriminate growth.
African American Studies
Earlier this month, University President John J. DeGioia announced the creation of the African American studies major, which will open to students in the fall of the upcoming academic year. DeGioia also announced the establishment of a working group, which has yet to be formally assembled, to prepare for the implementation of the major.
The African American studies minor was first opened to students in 2004 and has since grown to offer approximately 20 classes per semester and graduates about 25 students per class.
College students have been calling for an African American studies major since 2001, accruing the support of faculty, alumni and over 1,000 student signatures on a formal petition.
Currently offered through the English department, the minor strives not only to rectify exclusion and marginalization, but to expand epistemological frameworks and broaden conceptions of the human condition.
Associate professor of African American studies in English and Director of African American studies Robert J. Patterson explained the process of expanding the minor into a major, a process he and his peers have been discussing over the past three years.
“There is a critical mass of faculty that can make a major more viable. So the recent hires over the last four or five years including mine have provided additional classes, additional expertise that would afford Georgetown the opportunity to help the minor transform into a major,” Patterson said.
Along with many of the College’s other new majors and minors, African American studies is highly interdisciplinary. Patterson said he sees the institution of the major as an opportunity to increase collaboration with other departments.
“[I hope] that we will see departments either trying to collaborate with African American studies through their own faculty lines to hire specialists in their disciplines that also could contribute to the research and teaching missions of African American studies,” Patterson said.
Patterson called this a critical moment in Georgetown’s history.
“It’s still important that Georgetown is entering this conversation, and that it will do it in such a way that’s intentional, that’s committed, that will provide the students, faculty, the greater Washington, D.C. area, the United States and the world the opportunity to engage in this important body of work and thought and culture,” Patterson said.
First offered in 2010, the business administration minor is the only way for College students to be guaranteed up to six courses in the McDonough School of Business. Students not part of the minor generally face slim chances of enrolling in MSB courses, as they are placed at the bottom of what are often long add-drop waitlists.
All minors must apply the fall semester of their sophomore year and, in addition to having a minimum GPA of 3.3, all applicants must complete four prerequisite courses by the end of their sophomore years. A joint committee of College and MSB deans select a maximum of 50 students from the application pool, which has been growing steadily each year.
Around 75 students applied in fall of 2015, a jump from last year’s 60 applicants. The coordinator of the minor, Assistant Dean Jessica Ciani-Dausch, attributes the larger applicant pool to greater student awareness of the program.
“It’s clear that part of having more advanced notice earlier on [is that] the word gets out among peers,” Ciani-Dausch said. “[That], as well as just having time to get all the prerequisites done has made for a more robust application pool.”
According to College Dean Chester Gillis, the primary reason for limiting the number of minors is to protect the course capacity of the MSB.
Gillis, who created the minor, anticipated the demand because of the career skills the program offers non-MSB students.
“You can be a biology major and maybe eventually be a doctor working in a practice that’s going to require some quantitative skills,” Gillis said. “Having some of those requisite skills that the business school can provide is a good idea for a College student.”
However, Ciani-Dausch said the minor may not be as helpful as some students might expect.
“Ultimately businesses know they are going to be training you on whatever skill-specific things they need to train you on,” Ciani-Dausch said. “And therefore it’s not as important as you may feel at first about labeling yourself because they’re almost expecting you to be a blank slate they need to train.”
Education, Inquiry and Justice
Enthusiastic student response has been positive, but accommodating a large influx of interest has been challenging for Associate Dean Tad Howard, the coordinator of the education, inquiry and justice minor.
“I don’t like having to turn people away, but we’ve had more interest in the minor than we’ve been able to accommodate,” Howard said. “At least in that sense it’s a successful program.”
Howard said the minor, introduced in the fall of 2011, examines K-12 education in urban environments through both theoretical and practical lenses.
“I think one of the key, signature features of this minor is to bring the theory behind education to light through actual work inside classroom environments,” Howard said. “So students do both work in traditional classrooms here on campus, but also go out into the city and experience the reality of what they’re studying.”
Student interest has grown to the point where only half of the roughly 30 students who apply each year get into the program.
Rising demand is pressing the administration to expand the minor, but according to Howard, there are equally important reasons to keep it small.
“Right now we want to make sure the program is really good for the students who do it, and if it gets too big too quickly it could become too diffuse, the experiences in those schools could be less powerful,” Howard said. “So making it much bigger than it is right now would take more than just adding a section of a class, it would be a much bigger commitment that we’re not ready to make yet.”
Film and Media Studies
Gillis said the College first realized it needed a film and media studies program when it risked losing students to other universities with film programs.
“I was hearing from students [who] said, ‘Well, I was tempted to go to Northwestern or Brown or Yale or the University of Maryland,’ because they had a program in film and media and we had nothing,” Gillis said. “We should not be losing students to these other competitive institutions for this particular reason.”
John Cuhna (COL ’16), a senior minoring in the program, said Georgetown’s film program was a substantial factor when he decided between New York University and Georgetown.
“I really wanted to go to Georgetown, but if it did not have this minor — because I’m so passionate about film [and] because I wanted that to be my life’s career — that would’ve been a deal-breaker for me,” Cuhna said.
Gillis implemented the minor in the spring of 2011, and his decision has been validated by positive student response. In recent years, around 20 students per class are accepted into the program; administrators declined to disclose how many applications they receive.
Film and media studies program Coordinator Lily Hughes explained that the size of the program is constrained by both limited resources for expensive equipment and the need to preserve a tight-knit, creative community.
“We try to create that community and create that group mentality, and I think that’s something we’ve been very successful at,” Hughes said. “And I think part of that comes from the fact that we are a smaller group. It can feel like a family; it’s harder to instill creative community in 100 students than it is in 18.”
Launched in the fall of 2012, the journalism minor has quickly become one of Georgetown’s most competitive. Limited resources restrict the program to around 20 students per class, but in recent years the number of applicants has climbed above 30.
Students must apply by the spring of their sophomore years and have a cumulative GPA of 3.33. Every journalism course is offered to non-minors except for the senior capstone course, which allows seniors to produce their own piece of professional journalism.
Complementing Georgetown’s Jesuit mission, social justice features prominently in the program as well as journalism broadly, according to journalism Director and professor of the practice Barbara Feinman Todd.
“Shining a light on issues that otherwise might go unnoticed by voters, by citizens, is what the best journalism does,” Feinman Todd said. “If you take, for example, what’s going on in Flint, Mich.: So how do we find out what’s going on there and how do we put a face to the people who are harmed by it? That’s through journalism.”
As an example of the journalism minor focusing on social justice, the Pearl Project was launched as a seminar taught by Feinman Todd and, from 2007 to 2010, examined the kidnapping and death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
Justice and Peace Studies
The program on justice and peace began offering a major in the fall of 2014. According to Director Randall Amster, the major has experienced exceptional growth in its first three years..
The major includes a community-based learning course, similar to the practical element of the education, inquiry and justice minor. Kendall Banks (COL ’16), who is pursuing a JUPS major, said the course was critical in her choosing to come to Georgetown.
“The JUPS program really drew me to apply here because it’s pretty unique,” Banks said. “[It] had an emphasis on both social justice and also community-based learning … so I could actually be learning in a classroom but also be out in the D.C. community actually contributing.”
Amster said the community-based learning allows for students to have substantial connections with their course material.
“So for instance, students might be working in an educational capacity such as with D.C. Reads or D.C. Schools or the After School Kids Program, and they’re working with students and mentees and tutees and they’re seeing connections between the kinds of structural issues that we’re talking about in the classroom in those experiences,” Amster said. “That’s the moment that we’re looking for pedagogically, and it often comes to fruition.”
Philosophy and Bioethics
According to Gillis, the impetus for creating the philosophy and bioethics minor in the fall of 2012 arose within the administration.
“We could do this better than most places. We have good biology, we have excellent ethics both in the philosophy department and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics,” Gillis said.
With approximately 15 minors in the past two classes combined, Head of Academic Programs for the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Dr. Laura Bishop said, despite its modest size, philosophy and bioethics has received interest from a range of students, such as those in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, humanities, sciences and even language studies.
“It’s a small minor but there’s definitely student interest, and what I appreciate most is that students come from across the university,” Bishop said. “It’s really drawing students from a range of backgrounds.”
The fundamental question raised by the minor is the role that ethics ought to play in rapidly evolving fields of scientific inquiry and practice.
“Bioethics and ethics is really about how we should treat people, how we act, what are our obligations to other people, how can we create just and fair institutions and work within them,” Bishop said.
The Future of the College
Gillis said evaluating the need for new majors or minors requires three steps: identifying what needs to be done to stay current among academic institutions, identifying what students will realistically want to do and filling an academic void that does not require a huge investment of infrastructure.
Although Gillis said he has been delighted by each new minor’s popularity, he cautions against the College promoting aimless innovation.
“I don’t feel like I have to create these programs just to say I’ve done innovation, no. I think that’s a bad idea, actually,” Gillis said. “We’ll do things that make sense, and make sense for us. Where we don’t need to do it, I won’t do it just to say I did it.”
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