Center for Interdisciplinary Studies fills academic gaps

Melanie Reimer

Staff Writer

Davidson students often speculate whether the college plans to develop its academics to provide more majors and minors that are in high demand by students. In fact, faculty members at Davidson constantly strive to support student interests, and have already made great gains in recent years with the addition of majors such as Environmental Studies, Africana Studies, and East Asian Studies. Prior to the establishment of these programs as official majors, students pursued these subjects through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS).

CIS is a valuable resource for the school because it allows students to develop their academic interests and curiosities despite the lack of a fully structured program at Davidson. Dr. Fuji Lozada, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, and Director of CIS, refers to CIS as a “playground” and considers it an effective way to combine studies across disciplines without having to double major. Lozada explained that bioinformatics is essentially the study of computer science and biology and hopes that the CIS can be home to other interesting combinations in the future.

Some majors, such as neuroscience, benefit from the CIS major format because research is at the core of the curriculum, whereas other CIS majors have the potential to develop into independent programs outside of the Center. According to Dr. Shelley Rigger, Brown Professor of Political Science and Chinese Studies, and Assistant Dean for Educational Policy, student interest catalyzes the formation of new majors, but “changes are made with real deliberation.” Rigger further stated that investments must be made to ensure that a program can maintain its structural integrity as well as further the liberal arts mission of the school before it can transition out of the CIS.

One of the greatest obstacles to creating a new major or minor is providing sufficient faculty to support the number of students who pursue it. The Africana Studies major took a long time to finalize because the college did not have a historian of Africa and could not form a department until it hired one. The Russian and Arab Studies Departments are also limited by faculty resources. Both programs only offer minors because their departments are not large enough to ensure that students can complete their major requirements within four years. Furthermore, Rigger and Lozada agree that it does not make sense to “major in a professor”. Lozada explained that students who wish to study Russian or Arabic often combine study abroad with a CIS major in order to fulfill their major requirements.

Professor availability and course value also impact a department’s ability to staff a minor. The Political Science Department already experiences a high student-to-faculty ratio, so it cannot facilitate a minor without detracting from the major advising program that is currently in place. The Economics Department, on the other hand, has the resources to support a minor, and has incorporated a set of substantial courses into the minor that serve as a great value to student.

Another critical reason some studies exist only as minors and CIS majors is that Davidson faculty have not figured out how to fit the program into a liberal arts curriculum. According to Rigger, the benefit of a liberal arts education is that it allows students to “broaden their minds and develop a comprehensive understanding of the world”. In order to preserve this mission, Davidson does not train students to enter a certain profession such as business or education, but, instead, gives us the skills we need to become lifelong learners and leaders. Public health is considered a professionally focused area of study, so there remains no option to major in it despite the great amount of student interest it receives. According to Rigger, the Medical Humanities Department which encompasses public health is reevaluating its program in order to better serve students.

Both Rigger and Lozada emphasized the value of the Davidson education and the effort that goes into meeting the students’ academic interests. Ultimately, the quality of the liberal arts curriculum found at Davidson allows students to choose from or create a wide range of majors and gain the skills to succeed in the future.

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