Public Policy Program to End in 2016

After over a quarter of a century in existence, the Public Policy Program will no longer be available to students at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, college officials announced to those involved with the program this past break. Current Public Policy minors were notified of the decision via email last Monday.

Interdisciplinary minor and major programs — such as Public Policy, Environmental Studies, and Islamic Studies — are subject to a College review every five to eight years. These reviews are comprised of surveys of alumni who participated in the program, currently enrolled students, and involved faculty members. This review is subsequently analyzed by the Curriculum Committee, which determines whether or not it believes students’ educational needs are being met and the college’s educational philosophy upheld.

The Public Policy academic program underwent a scheduled review during the 2010-11 school year. During this time, the committee ascertained that many of the classes had integrated policy roles into their curriculum. They found that the policy elements of many economics and political science classes had begun to overlap within their respective courses of study, said Provost Tom Stephenson, whose office oversees the committee. “It had become redundant,” said Stephenson. These redundancies were further exacerbated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of classes available to confer credit toward the minor are from the Economics and Political Science departments. In lieu of these findings the program was given a two-year extension with another review when that time was up. As Professor John Caskey, coordinator of the program, put it, “We were almost on probation.”

This past semester, the Public Policy program faced the follow-up review previously ordained by the Curriculum Committee. The results demonstrated that the issue of redundancy had not been sufficiently resolved. According to Stephenson, the decision to end the formal program came down to how the College allocates its resources. With respect to the reviews from 2010 and 2012, the committee thought that the “administrative overhead to keep a formal minor could be put to better uses,” said Stephenson.
Prevailing Public Policy minors need not fear, however, as the program will remain unchanged for the classes of 2013 and 2014.  According to the program website, the minor currently requires a total of at least six credits spanning the areas of economic, political, and quantitative analysis, an internship that is generally completed between junior and senior year, and a senior thesis. These requirements are expected to change for the classes of 2015 and 2016, who will still be able to minor. According to Caskey, there will likely not be a thesis requirement. Nevertheless, the paid internship opportunities will continue to be available even after the program’s termination, as well as all of the core classes, such as Health Economics, Public Economics, and Environmental Politics.

The Provost’s Office has record of Public Policy existing since at least 1985, making it one of the older interdisciplinary programs at the College. Although popularity has fluctuated over the years, interest has been high in the most recent years: there were fifteen minors in the class of 2012 — a fairly large number as far as interdisciplinary minors go, according to Stephenson — and there are eight in the class of 2013.

Reaction to the news has seen little controversy. Senior Meera Oak, a Public Policy minor, said that the end of the program was “a little disappointing,” but that future students will not miss out on too much as they will still be able to take all of the classes involved and will have many of the same internship opportunities. However, according to Oak, the cancellation of the senior thesis will perhaps be a big loss for future students. The thesis offered a solid platform for students to think about and address any policy issues that they cared about without the academic constraints of any specific discipline.

“If anything it’s the only thing that will be lacking,” she said. Nevertheless, those involved with the program seem to understand the verdict.

“Everyone is a little bit sad with the decision, because this is a good program,” said Caskey, “but it was a matter of College priority.”

Photo courtesy of swarthmore.edu.

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