A study in asymmetry

By Matthew Stone

The face and maxims of Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan ’61 have peppered the admissions materials seen by an entire generation of Macalester students drawn to the college in St. Paul, Minn., that prides itself on internationalism and its role in shaping one of the world’s most prominent diplomats.
In the fall of 2002, five years into Annan’s tenure as Secretary-General, Geography professor Bill Moseley arrived at Macalester and quickly discovered that the college had no prescribed course of study that focused on Annan’s native region, Africa.

“I was shocked that at this school that prides itself on internationalism, that produced Kofi Annan, there was no African Studies program,” Moseley, who specializes in the geography of West and Southern Africa, said in a recent interview. “It’s not like the administration ever thought it had been a priority.”

By the fall of 2003, Moseley had founded the college’s African Studies concentration, employing a then-new academic structure at Macalester that allowed for more depth than a minor and emphasized an interdisciplinary approach to a particular area of study.

By “pure luck,” Moseley said, he was able to find about six other faculty members on campus with academic interests in Africa who were needed to begin the concentration and offer the requisite courses.

Four years later, African Studies is the most popular of the three concentrations offered on campus, with 19 students enlisted in the course of study, according to Institutional Research figures. Yet, Moseley said, the African Studies program struggles with a lack of resources. The concentration is too dependent on a small corps of faculty members whose absence one semester, a sabbatical, for example, might jeopardize the African Studies program’s offerings.

“There’s a lot of interest in African Studies, but there’s a lack of resources. There are semesters when we have no courses to offer,” Moseley said.

Indeed, the number of students who have declared a concentration in African Studies exceeds the number of students who have declared majors in some of the area studies programs on campus that offer majors.

According to Institutional Research statistics published at the beginning of the fall semester, 15 students had declared majors in Latin American Studies and 11 students were Russian Studies majors. Ten students had declared majors in Asian Studies; 23 students were listed as Japanese Language and Culture majors, another course of study offered by the Asian Languages and Cultures department. German Studies recorded 25 majors.

At 19 students, enrollment in the African Studies concentration sets the program in the middle, or even toward the top, of the other area studies programs on campus in terms of popularity.

At the start of October, one student had declared a concentration in Macalester’s newest area studies program, Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization, which the college began to offer this fall semester. According to Sociology professor and Middle Eastern Studies coordinator Khaldoun Samman, the new concentration is already attracting wide student interest. Most of those interested have yet to take the steps needed to officially enroll in the concentration.

“I really see [the program] as one that’s going to be a success story at Macalester, one of the big ones, is my assumption,” Samman said recently.

For African Studies, and perhaps for Middle Eastern Studies in the near future, enrollment figures comparable to area studies programs offered as majors do not ensure access to comparable resources.

Macalester’s current curricular structure assures concentrations no resources of their own, faculty or financial, according to Provost Diane Michelfelder.

In essence, concentrations like African Studies have no budgets to themselves and cannot make formal requests that the college hire faculty for specific, Africa-related positions.

Academic departments can, however, make such allocation requests, forcing concentrations to be largely dependent on the traditional departments to offer the courses and the faculty that allow concentrations to carry on.

Some area studies programs at Macalester-Asian Studies, German Studies and Russian Studies-are offered as majors and have access to the resources of departments. Others-African Studies and Middle Eastern Studies-remain concentrations.

“If you look at the area studies, the landscape is fairly uneven,” Moseley said.

The structural disparities between Macalester’s area studies programs are the result of what Moseley calls the lack of a strategic plan for the development of area studies programs.

“I’m looking for a plan. What I see is it’s been a haphazard approach. Some area studies programs are stronger than others, and others don’t exist,” Moseley said. “It may be a great time to explore these issues.

This fall, faculty committees are considering two key academic initiatives-the strategic expansion of the faculty over time and revisions to the academic concentration structure. Some on campus are starting to see the considerations as opportunities to further develop area studies programs.

An ad-hoc faculty committee has formed and begun the preliminary stages of determining how the college should strategically add positions to the faculty in the foreseeable future. As the resources become available, Michelfelder said, the college expects to add 15 full-time faculty positions.

In order to expand the faculty, the ad hoc committee may designate a particular faculty position to specialize in the study of China, for example, but not specify the discipline from which the professor who studies China should come. Academic departments would submit proposals, vying to add the faculty position to their ranks. Depending on which proposal wins out, the faculty member who specializes in the study of China could take a position in virtually any department that can craft a suitable proposal, according to Political Science professor Andrew Latham.

Latham, as chair of the faculty’s Resources and Planning Committee, was involved in assembling the ad hoc committee, which includes three members each of the RPC and Educational Policy and Governance Committee and two department chairs.

“We haven’t been adding faculty in a systematic way,” Latham said in an October interview, indicating that the committee could generate the proposal to do that.

Latham acknowledges the reality that adding faculty positions could turn into a political process that pits departments and intellectual camps on campus against each other. Ultimately, how the college adds faculty positions can be understood to reflect the core objectives of the college.

“There’s no way to completely de-politicize this,” Latham said, “but there are ways to make it more rational.”

The prospect of adding new faculty could force area studies programs into this competitive mix, as administrators have not yet determined a systematic method to use to develop those programs.

“There’s no strategic plan at the moment that would do that,” said Michelfelder, who also sits on the ad hoc committee considering faculty expansion. “That could be a question that would come up and I imagine it would come up in that discussion.”

The success of the college’s $150 million fundraising drive will play a key part in determining Macalester’s ability to add faculty positions. By the beginning of the fall semester, the capital campaign had netted more than $9 million for endowed faculty chairs and lectureships.

The attempts to boost the number of endowed faculty positions took root in President Brian Rosenberg’s 2005 “Strategic Imperatives” document that outlined the college’s guiding visions through 2015.

“The most responsible way to achieve this growth in faculty size would be through the creation of additional endowed professorships, of which Macalester continues to have too few,” Rosenberg wrote in t
he document.

Samman said he sees the upcoming changes in faculty structure as a time when Macalester can move beyond an emphasis on disciplines as other academic institutions also begin to trend away from them.

“Disciplines are great, but there are limits to disciplines,” he said. “I think for too long we’ve been trapped in these disciplinary modes.”

At their core, concentrations are interdisciplinary courses of study. An EPAG report from 2003 describes them as courses of study “in which courses from a number of departments are organized into a coherent curricular program or pathway.”

The concentration structure can be credited for facilitating the emergence of academic programs that would not have come to exist had it not been for the structure. Faculty will consider during the remainder of the academic year proposals for concentrations in global health, human rights and humanitarianism, and global citizenship.

“The beauty of the concentration concept is it did allow some programs to bubble up organically,” Moseley said. “African Studies probably wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for that mechanism.”

While the concentration structure may help new academic programs emerge, academic concentrations’ lack of entitlement to resources can put their futures in question.

“If there’s demonstrated student interest over time, I don’t think they can continue as under-funded mandates,” Moseley said. “We have majors that graduate three or four people per year and they have budgets and faculty.”

Michelfelder also praised the concentration structure.

“You look at this and it was, I think, enormously well intended,” she said.

However, change may be in the offing, at Michelfelder’s request. The provost has asked EPAG members to reevaluate the concentration structure this academic year. Specifically, she said, EPAG could consider concentrations’ entitlement to resources. A change of the ‘concentration’ name could also be on tap.

“We wanted to review it from a number of angles,” Michelfelder said.

EPAG chair and Psychology professor Kendrick Brown said the considerations of the concentration structure are in their preliminary stages and that no specific changes are yet under special consideration.

How the concentration structure changes after the review process could determine the academic structure’s future importance on campus.

For Ahmed Samatar, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship and former International Studies chair, disparities between area studies programs need to be resolved.

“To me, that’s one of the great intellectual urgencies of the college,” he said. “They have to be done in a way that gives them the kind of muscularity that they need.”

Concentrations might be the structure most appropriate to bridge the gaps between the programs. But the concentration structure needs reevaluating, according to Samatar.

“I think they can be minors or they can be concentrations,” he said of area studies programs. “Concentrations need their own integrity, which means the courses are available all the time.”

Even with a beefed up concentration structure, the concentration concept still has limits when it comes to housing area studies programs.

For Samman, the concentration structure does not allow for the study of language to be required as part of the Middle Eastern Studies program. A major would allow the program’s requirements to grow to include between nine and 14 courses. Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization as a major would provide for the inclusion of a language requirement, either in Arabic-which Macalester is offering for the first time this semester-Hebrew or even French, according to Samman.

“We had to leave languages out [of the concentration] and that’s one of the things I’d like to see change,” Samman said. “As long as it’s still a concentration, it will not be required.”

If area studies programs strive to develop into majors, a struggle to procure the resources could ensue.

“It’s hard to create it at a liberal arts college. You have to share things department-wise,” Samman said. “It’s really hard to do these things.”

To avoid the struggles typically associated with the creation of a new department, Samman said, Middle Eastern Studies may best take form as an interdisciplinary major that draws from a variety of departments without requiring significant restructuring of faculty positions.

As area studies programs consider their futures in isolated contexts, Moseley sees the need for greater coordination between the different area studies programs. A strategic plan is more likely to come out of collaboration rather than isolation.

“We’ve never met in one place and exchanged ideas,” Moseley said. “That’s the kind of exchange that needs to come from a higher level.”

Area studies faculty could have accepted a proposal by Samatar in 2003 that would have incorporated area studies programs under the International Studies department.

“Conceptually, housing area studies in International Studies is so common-sensical that it doesn’t require a great deal of intellectual thinking,” Samatar said at the time, according to a Mac Weekly account from April 2003.

But not all faculty members viewed it that way.

“There were two philosophies that were brought into debate here,” Asian Studies chair Jim Laine said recently by telephone. “One philosophy is that.International Studies would provide the kind of broad intellectual framework in which these studies of particular cultures would take place.”

Faculty from area studies programs, including the then-newly formed Asian Languages and Cultures department, subscribed to another philosophy.

“Some of the area studies programs felt they had a somewhat different agenda than International Studies,” Laine said. “The agenda was rooted in a conviction that the study of particulars in some ways precedes the level of generalization that happens in these broad encompassing theories.”

Moseley and Laine said they agree with the latter philosophy.

“I can’t imagine that there’s a single course that provides a unifying theme that would be theoretically necessary for students of Asian Studies whatever their interests might be,” Laine said.

Without fusing the programs, some coordination to set the stage for strategically developing and bridging the gaps between area studies programs is still needed, Moseley said, suggesting that the Institute for Global Citizenship could step into that role.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be some tension on campus about the role of the Institute,” Moseley said. “If you look at it on paper, then it makes the most logical sense. The Institute would be the logical entity to call that meeting.”

Samatar agreed that an affiliation between area studies and the Institute for Global Citizenship could be a “productive idea” that merits “serious discussion.”

At its core, faculty and administrators said in interviews for this story, needs to be the discussion about how Macalester can successfully offer courses that emphasize the broader global processes while allowing for the in-depth study of particular regions.

Moseley said he sees the latter study as an imperative for the college, due to demand for people who specialize in particular regions.

“The United States is craving graduates with these capabilities.