Human sciences, geosciences among doctoral programs likely to be axed

University administrators have recommended the closing of the human sciences department, an interdisciplinary psychology program, in an effort to condense the number of doctoral programs at the University.

The human sciences department is one of two programs that may be fully cut, along with the geosciences department. The program has not yet been officially terminated but the human science department faculty will be meeting with University officials to discuss the program’s future.

Donald Lehman, executive vice president of Academic Affairs, assembled a task force last year to condense the number of doctoral programs. He said that the task force has no plans to cut or combine any more programs.

In October, GW’s Board of Trustees, the school’s highest governing body, announced that the number of doctoral programs had been reduced from 52 to 34 over the last year. The board also announced in October that the top five programs would be receiving a collective $1.5 million budget increase next year.

Carol Sigelman, associate vice president for Graduate Studies and Academic Affairs, said the decision to eliminate graduate programs was executed “mainly through the consolidation of programs rather than the elimination of programs.” The only two programs to face complete elimination were the human sciences and geosciences, she said.

Started in 1992 and one of fewer than 20 programs like it in the country, human sciences focuses on the “interdisciplinary, intellectual framework for studying the varied meanings of human social and cultural practices using interpretive and critical methods,” the department’s Web site says. Undergraduate students can take some of the department’s courses.

Lehman said the program will be cut in lieu of developing a broader psychology department.

“We’re going to focus our efforts on more global humanities and try to bring recognition to the university that way,” Lehman said.

Two years ago, the University restricted the amount of scholarships the human sciences program could offer to prospective candidates. The phase-out of the program continued last year when the University informed the director of the human sciences department, Gale Weiss, that no more students could be admitted.

Lehman said the review of doctoral programs found that human sciences did not have the strength or short-term potential to bring recognition to the University. But some professors within the department are perplexed by the cutting of the program.

Peter Caws, a professor of human sciences and philosophy, said the National Doctoral Program Survey recognized the human sciences program for its excellence, ranking it 16th among 302 other doctoral programs across the country in the humanities.

Professors within the human science department said the elimination of the unique program is a travesty.

“People in the administration don’t really understand what human sciences means, so they don’t understand what they want to get rid of,” Caws said.

Weiss, the program’s director, said human sciences is the only interdisciplinary program that allows students to get a master’s degree in a single discipline on the way to their Ph.D.

“The program helped recruit promising candidates in other disciplines due to its exciting opportunities,” Weiss said.

Karen Coats, an associate professor of English at Illinois State University, was a human science department doctoral graduate in 1998, and she continues to teach aspects of the program. She said the program is of value to its students.

“The unique genius of the programs is its forward thinking,” Coats said.

She added, “My students say that while they have learned bits and pieces of cultural theories in their other classes, in my classes they can finally see how it all comes together and matters to them in the way they live their lives.”

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