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Program Creep

29 Oct Posted by in Academics | 3 comments

I was meeting earlier this week with the Academic Committee of the Student Senate, a very good group with not only some good questions (why don’t we offer even more foreign languages?) and suggestions. One student asked why, given courses in Administration of Justice and Public and International Affairs (and, he could have added, cybersecurity) don’t we have a minor in security studies. So I asked our Humanities and Social Sciences Dean, for I thought it was a good idea, only to be told that a full major is under development, mainly between his unit and the Volgenau School.

And this in turn prompted some further musing about Mason’s proclivity for advancing new academic programs. There’s no question that, for several years now, we’ve been putting forth more new programs than any other public institution in the state, which probably does not entirely endear us to State Council, for whom we make a lot of work, but which is otherwise interesting. Regularly, each fall, we check on our overall number of programs compared to peer institutions. With roughly 180 programs now, we’re still at the low end of any average (lots of variety, but 220-240 would be a representative figure), but unquestionably we’ve crept up a bit and continue to do so.

The reasons are several, and in my self-interested judgment not only valid but exciting. We’ve obviously pushed up the number of PhD programs, now about 33 in number which puts us in the mix of major research universities — which is what we’re becoming. Developments here reflect an increasingly active faculty and growing research strengths. But we also see a number of new Masters programs — forensics and real estate management would be two recent examples — that take advantage of new labor force needs in the region, as well as faculty strengths. And we’re seeing a surprising number of new undergraduate programs, like the security program currently in gestation, that have as most obvious characteristic a strongly interunit, interdisciplinary flavor.

The bottom line, of course, is an institution that continues to display great and varied energy that almost defies the funding constraints we also continue to face. Lots of work goes in not only to generating but to processing and implementing so many good ideas. And there’s always the danger that this level of dynamism and success will distract from the budget woes — if we can do all this with no money, just keep at it. But ultimately the creativity is not only exciting, but educationally productive, meshing varied faculty strengths, student interests and opportunities in the workplace, often, as already indicated, across the most conventional academic boundaries. One of the several reasons that, as the saying goes, Mason is the right place at the right time.