New enrollment in linguistics and cognitive brain sciences minor programs halted

Bárbara M. Brizuela, Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences, Associate Professor, Director of STEM Education Program, photographed on July 31, 2014. Courtesy Alonso Nichols for Tufts University

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, the administration has sent an email out to the student body announcing that these two minor programs have been paused until further notice. The story has been updated accordingly.

The lingustics and cognitive brain sciences (CBS) minors have been suspended indefinitely, following an administrative decision made at the end of the fall semester. Faculty members involved with the linguistics minor are planning to discuss potential steps to revive the programs next week and TCU Senate is scheduled to release a survey today to gauge student interest in the minors.

According to the Department of Philosophy’s website, students who declared these minors before December 15, 2015 will not be affected by this decision, but the programs have paused new enrollment in the minor programs “for the forseeable future.”

Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Bárbara M Brizuela said the decision was undertaken due to changes in staffing, which raised questions about whether Tufts could feasibly sustain these programs in the future.

One upcoming staff change is that of Ray Jackendoff, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, who said he is planning on retiring at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. Jackendoff said his retirement creates uncertainty for the future of the two minors because he serves as the the advisor for the majority of the students in the minor programs.

Jackendoff explained that he established the linguistics minor program around seven years ago and the CBS minor program around eight years ago.

Previously, the linguistics minor required students to take two of three courses offered in theoretical linguistics, according to Jackendoff. Because Jackendoff personally teaches two of these linguistics courses, he said the continuation of a linguistics minor would necessitate a curriculum shift or the hiring of a new individual to teach the courses upon his retirement.

“There’s really nobody in the philosophy department who is going to take over the administration of this program, so we have to figure out where it’s going to live, if its continues,” he said.

Because of this, Jackendoff said that he spoke with Brizuela, along with the psychology and philosophy department chairs, who collectively decided at the end of the fall semester that pausing the programs would be the best plan of action.

“We thought that the best way to deal with it for the moment is not to be committed to any [new] students because we didn’t know if there would be enough courses for them to complete or if there would be somebody to administer these programs,” he said. “We don’t want people signing up and not be able to fulfill our obligations to students who are signed up.”

However, he said that he called a meeting next week with several faculty members involved with the linguistics minor to discuss potential next steps to revive the programs.

“We’re talking to the psychology department about whether they might administer these majors, or at least the CBS one, we don’t know what’s happening with linguistics, but there’s a meeting next week with the faculty involved with the linguistics minor to start chewing over what’s going to be done,” Jackendoff said.

Jackendoff said that the programs’ websites were updated a few weeks after the decision was made, and he that he had explained his retirement plans to his students when classes ended last fall.

While the CBS major program is offered through the psychology department, the subject’s minor had been offered through the philosophy department until now because according to the psychology department’s website, it does not offer minors. Additionally, Tufts does not have a linguistics department, so Jackendoff said that the linguistics minor ended up part of the philosophy department because he teaches there.

Brizuela said the administration had few doubts about putting the CBS and linguistics minor on pause due to the low numbers of graduating seniors who minored in these fields. Last year’s senior class had approximately five or six students minoring in CBS and linguistics, according to Brizuela. She said she felt comfortable suspending the minors due to the low number of students choosing that path because she felt there would not be many students affected by the change.

She also said that students who have reached out to Teresa Salvato, the program coordinator for the philosophy department, explaining that they have been affected by the change have been allowed to continue their desired minor programs.

There is student concern, however, about the lack of communication regarding these changes, according to TCU Senator Rati Srinivasan.

Srinivasan, a sophomore, explained that she discovered this change while browsing the CBS minor program website last week. She said she had been on track to declare a CBS minor before graduation, and was surprised by this decision and upset that it was not communicated by the administration.

“This is especially a problem because during the fall semester as registration was going on for the spring semester, the minors were available on the website with no indication of anything happening…Students need to be aware of this,” she said. “I personally think the department should have informed the students, in order to make it fair for the students.”

After a discussion on Monday about the discontinuation of the minor programs with the Education Committee of the TCU Senate, Srinivasan and TCU Senator Nesi Altara approached Brizuela to discuss these changes during a meeting on Tuesday morning.

Srinivasan and Altara, a first-year, both told Brizuela that they felt that an email detailing the situation and explaining to students how to proceed if they had intended to declare minors should be sent in a time-sensitive manner to allow students the opportunity to add or drop classes as necessary. The last day for undergraduate students in the School of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering to add classes this semester is today and the last day to drop classes without record of enrollment is Feb. 25, according to the academic calendar.

Brizuela explained that her office deals solely with faculty and is therefore not in charge of sending out emails to the student body. The task of informing students was left up to the respective departments, she said.

Brizuela explained that an email to alert students has recently been drafted, and was supposed to be sent out between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4 following the meeting with the two TCU senators.

An email announcement about the suspension of the minors was ultimately sent out to the student body at 12:28 p.m. on Feb. 4 by Carmen Lowe, the dean of academic advising and undergraduate studies.

In the email, Lowe explained that the minor programs will be on pause “until further notice,” and that individual accommodations may be possible for students who have not yet declared the minors, but have already completed relevant coursework.

Jackendoff said before the email announcement that he felt it unnecessary to notify the entire student body about a change that affected just a “handful of people.”

“[Maybe] there should have been an email to everybody that this was happening,” he said. “We were a little bit tentative, we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and maybe that was a mistake.”

According to Altara, he and Srinivasan are continuing to work to increase student awareness about this change. The two TCU Senators hope to gauge demand for the programs to see if it is possible to demonstrate student interest in the minors. He said that they hope to meet with the chairs of the Philosophy and Psychology departments in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the TCU Senate is scheduled to release a survey today to students to gauge interest in majors and minors that are not offered at Tufts. The survey, created by the Student Outreach Committee branch of TCU Senate, will be released with the weekly “Two Minute Thursday” video clip created by TCU Senate, Srinivasan said. She explained that the goal of these efforts is to collect new data to ensure that the administration does not rely on old numbers to determine interest in certain majors and minors. This survey will be the first of its kind to ask students about their interests in specific majors or minors at Tufts, she said.

Srinivasan said that the TCU Senate will continue discussions with the administration and with students in order to better represent what they want. The TCU Senate hopes to continue this process of holding the administration accountable and ensuring transparency throughout the coming semester, she said.

“If we show there is student demand for this…then we [hope we] can have the departments reinstate at least one of [the minors],” Altara said.

Jackendoff explained that i
f there is enough student demand, there is potential to convince administrators and faculty that the minor programs are worth preserving at Tufts.