In the past decade, the University has demonstrated a commitment to improving academics by hiring a president from Johns Hopkins University and a provost from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Universities like Harvard will always be acclaimed and revered by virtue of their prestigious history. But for other academic institutions looking to distinguish themselves among a crowded field of universities, the key to success is to pursue cutting-edge disciplines. For the English department, disability studies could be that subject.
The department is expanding its focus on the disability studies program through a new faculty hire, presenting a chance for it to redefine itself. This addition to the existing course offerings is a tremendous step in the right direction.
And hiring a professor with expertise in the field is only the beginning. Minors in disability studies are offered at schools like University of Washington, Ohio State University and University of California at Davis. More and more programs are slowly emerging across the country. Still, the field is largely in its genesis, so it’s wise that GW has chosen to act now, and that it has left the door open to eventually build a minor.
Honing in on disability studies is a tangible way for the University to make a name for itself – especially for a department that is sometimes overshadowed by other areas of study like international affairs and political science. Instead of merely touting GW’s D.C. location to lure students, the disability studies program, a relatively new academic field, could attract burgeoning scholars.
And with new professors who are passionate about their field come enthusiastic and high-caliber students with diverse academic interests that would not only benefit students in the disability studies program, but across the University.
There’s a precedent for success in higher education when it comes to the creation of new programs. For example, the University of Iowa, renowned for its writer’s workshop – the master’s of fine arts program in creative writing – was the first in the country to create such a degree. Colleges are the birthplace of new ideas, and bolstering the academic disability studies program can help the school attain prestige through a unique expertise.
The opportunity to innovate in an emerging academic discipline is not a chance that reveals itself often, and the University should take advantage of it to the fullest extent.