Cognitive and brain sciences minor reinstated, will continue to be housed in philosophy department

The cognitive and brain sciences (CBS) minor, which had been on pause since the end of the fall 2015 semester, has been reinstated for the new academic year. 

According to Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Bárbara Brizuela, the CBS minor will now be administered by philosophy professor Brian Epstein, and will continue to be housed in the philosophy department, as it was before it was paused.

Epstein explained that he will serve as the minor’s “faculty backup” and that the administrative work would be handled by staff assistant John Badiali.

Plans to continue with the minor were initially halted following the Center for Cognitive Studies Co-Director Ray Jackendoff’s decision to retire after the 2016-2017 academic year, according to Jackendoff himself.

“Although the CBS major is housed in the psych [sic] department, the minor [was] not, because the psych department has its hands full with running five different majors,” Jackendoff, who created the CBS minor around eight years ago, told the Daily in an email. “Up till now, it’s been more or less my responsibility.”

According to Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Education Committee Chair Nesi Altaras, the effort to preserve the CBS minor began when his predecessor, junior Rati Srinivasan, checked the CBS webpage to view the requirements for the minor, which she planned on pursuing, only to find that it had been put on hold.

“I saw on the website that it was just gone, and we were pretty angry about it. We didn’t realize because there was no notice sent out,” Srinivasan said. “Everyone in Education Committee was very enthusiastic about the project from the beginning because everyone said that it really shouldn’t be paused without giving the students notice.”

Altaras, a sophomore, said that the two of them then spoke to Brizuela, who is responsible for overseeing the philosophy department.

“[Brizuela] was surprised to hear that students were even interested to know these minors were canceled since so few people had done them before,” Altaras told the Daily in an electronic message. “We rushed to get a school-wide email sent out before fall registration ended. Only after that did we even start to work on how to get these restarted. Our first goal was to let everyone know they had been paused.”

According to Brizuela, the initial decision to pause the CBS minor was made so that administrators could evaluate whether there would be sufficient resources to continue offering it after Jackendoff’s impending departure.

“We did not pause with the intention to discontinue the program, but to carry out an assessment,” she wrote in an email to the Daily.

Srinivasan said that the role of the TCU Senate in reinstating the minor was mainly to notify Brizuela that there was student interest in pursuing it, which they gauged using a survey.

According to Brizuela, the final decision to continue the minor would not have been made had the assessment found inadequate resources.

“If we had found that the resources needed to continue to offer the minor would have an impact on other priorities (e.g., other programs, financial aid) then our decision would have been to discontinue the minor permanently,” she wrote.

After helping to draft the email notifying students of the minor’s pausing, Altaras said he and Srinivasan met with the psychology department to ask them to administer the minor, as opposed to the philosophy department.

Altaras said they initially considered the psychology department because it already houses the CBS major and administers most of the courses that would be required for the minor as well. However, Altaras said the department was unwilling to administer the minor. 

“That would mean they would have to assign minor advisers … which the psych department didn’t want to do because they have a ‘no minor history.’ So we convinced the philosophy department to keep [the minor],” Altaras wrote. “The philosophy department chair wanted to help as many students as possible.”

Epstein said that the philosophy department was happy to be of assistance.

“We got a lot of interest from students and people were a little unhappy that [the CBS minor] was being suspended,” he said. “The philosophy department also has a commitment to the cognitive sciences program, and I thought that it would be a shame not to preserve the continuity.”

Epstein was pleased that the CBS minor was reinstated because of its interdisciplinary value. 

“I think that the idea of a minor allows students who are specializing in another discipline to still get a very solid grounding, and I think that minors can be extremely important for broadening students’ capabilities and their understanding of different fields,” he said. “So I think minors in general are a great idea, and this one I think is broad and useful and applicable to students in a lot of contexts.”

While Epstein is confident that the newly un-paused CBS minor can be administered effectively, he said that Jackendoff’s departure “leaves a serious gap.”

“He’s a world-class linguist and replacing him is going to be difficult,” he said. “On the other hand, generations of young scholars are incredible, and it’s not as if they’re less capable.”

Epstein also said that Jackendoff’s retirement is just the beginning of a series of changes that Tufts’ cognitive and brain sciences program is likely to undergo in the coming years.

“You kind of have to test waters in some ways, especially as fields change and people leave,” he said. “So there’s going to have to be student, faculty and administrative attention paid to renewing what this program is going to look like and hiring people of that caliber.”

In addition, Altaras explained that he and Srinivasan are working to convince the administration to un-pause the linguistics minor, which Jackendoff also created, and which was also halted following his retirement announcement. However, Srinivasan said that it would not be as easy to push for linguistics’ reinstatement.

“Though they were paused side-by-side, for CBS we still have all the necessary professors [and] classes, [so] the outline of the entire minor doesn’t actually have to change. The only problem we came across was finding a new home for it,” she said. “[Linguistics] couldn’t be un-paused as it was before, it would need to be changed. They have very different barriers we had to go through.”

Srinivasan also invited students who are frustrated with administrative decisions that affect their education to take the same steps that TCU Senate took to push for change.

“It could’ve been anyone who notified the administration of something like this and achieved the same result,” she said. “So it’s extremely important that any students who see something like this come up, that they step up and do something to help further the education of all students in this manner.”


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