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Professors propose urban studies minor

April 27, 2018

A group of professors has submitted a proposal for a new urban studies minor as result of growing interest in the topic amongst students and faculty. Though this is not the first time an urban studies minor or major has been proposed, faculty believe that there are now enough courses, drawing from various departments and areas of study, to sustain a minor.

“Faculty are [thinking] creatively about how to connect different areas of the curriculum, but are also responding to larger interests in society at large,” said Jim Higginbotham, associate dean for academic affairs and chair of the Curriculum Implementation Committee (CIC).

In the last decade, nine students have declared a self-designed major related to urban studies.

Previous discussions about creating a formal area of study focusing on urban studies occurred in 2004, but there were not enough course offerings to create one at that time. With a growing number of courses that address the topic, and demonstrated interest from students and faculty, the time seems appropriate, said Jill Pearlman, senior lecturer in environmental studies. Pearlman has overseen 12 self-designed majors involving urban studies since 2004, and she spearheaded the effort to produce the proposal, along with Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Rachel Sturman.

“For various reasons it didn’t go through [before], mostly because we didn’t have enough bodies on the faculty to make it work. Now we do,” said Pearlman. “We [now] have 26 classes. It is becoming a field that other universities and colleges have departments and majors and minors in. We have enough people and there is great enthusiasm for it.”

The group believes a minor is most practical because there are currently only enough courses offered to sustain a minor, but not a major. If interest in the field holds, the minor will be a logical step to an urban studies coordinate major or stand-alone major.

“If there is growing interest around a minor, you could imagine where contributing departments might think, ‘Oh it’s in our best interest to offer these courses on a recurring basis.’ That begins to create the underpinnings of what could be a major,” said Higginbotham.

Among NESCAC schools, Trinity is the only one to offer a major in urban studies. Pearlman cited programs at Dartmouth, Vassar and Bryn Mawr as models for Bowdoin’s proposed minor.

The current urban studies proposal outlines a minor that includes five mandatory courses and elective courses from a variety of disciplines, but the specifics of the minor have not been confirmed.

The group is hopeful that the minor will be available for fall of 2018, but the proposal must be approved by the CIC, the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) and the faculty as a whole. The proposal has gone through the first round of committees, where questions such as the necessity or desire for an introductory course arose.

Part of the interest to faculty and students is the interdisciplinary nature of the proposal.

“It’s a great thing for faculty to come together who are from totally different departments and be thinking and discussing the same thing,” said Pearlman. “It also does the same for students studying in all departments or fields who normally wouldn’t come together—[they] will come together around these issues.”

Sturman was impressed by the wide range of departments and professors who will be represented in the area of study, if it is approved.

“We have professors from Asian studies and Africana studies, Latin America studies, history, different literatures,” she said. “We have a lot of different sociology, government [courses]. Seeing the number of different fields which students will be able to approach, study is really cool.”

 

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