Peace and Justice Studies Program under continued review

9/25/2017 - Erin Kelly, the new director of peace and justice studies, poses for a portrait on the Eaton Hall steps on Sept. 25,. (Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily)

The Peace and Justice Studies (PJS) Program is currently under review, after the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences considered canceling the program due to a lack a faculty support in recent years, according to Erin Kelly, the newly appointed director of PJS and an associate professor of philosophy.

Kelly explained that two committees will be charged with reviewing the program: an executive committee tasked with reviewing the major as a whole, and a curriculum committee tasked with reviewing the content of PJS courses.

The executive committee is focused on gathering input from colleagues and students to revise the major, according to Peter Levine, a research professor in philosophy and executive committee member.

Kelly explained that some of the courses in the requirement areas have not been offered in recent years, signaling a need for an updated curriculum.

“I am in the process of updating the list of courses that count under the core requirement areas, adding some courses and subtracting some courses that haven’t been taught,” she said.

Kelly said students currently majoring in PJS have the full support of the program and, if the curriculum is changed, will be able to choose whether to complete the major under the old or the new requirements.

Kelly said that these committees hope to revitalize the major as a whole.

“[The goal of this process is] to solidify the strengths of the major as well as its identity and curriculum,” she said. “[We hope] to update it so that the major connects with current faculty, resources and interests at Tufts, and attracts the current interests of students who could potentially find it a good fit.”

According to Kelly, administrators are re-examining PJS due to concerns that there was no longer enough faculty involvement to make the program sustainable. She added that faculty support for interdisciplinary programs requires dedication.

“The work that faculty do for interdisciplinary programs is on top of much of the work that they do for their own departments, so they have to be pretty motivated in order to make time to do the extra work,” she said.

Kelly attributed the loss of interest to the fact that not enough was done in recent years to motivate faculty members.

“It may be that not enough outreach was done in recent years, and that some of the faculty who were invested in the program [either] retired or had felt they had done their time with the program and were moving on to other interests,” she said.

Students expressed concern when they heard the program faced review at the end of last semester. In particular, Abigail Alpern Fisch, a sophomore considering majoring in PJS, was concerned to first learn about the potential change in the program through an article in the Daily.

“Last semester I … was so excited because I thought maybe there was a major for all my varying interdisciplinary interests … I was starting to plan my courses,” she said. “[When] I did see that article … [I] started freaking out a little bit,”

Olivia Bradley said that, as a PJS major, she felt left out of conversations to review the program.

“Student feedback was neither adequately sought nor listened to during the decision to reorganize the program,” Bradley, a senior, told the Daily in an email.

This semester, however, students said they felt more involved in the review process. On Sept. 25, the PJS program held an executive committee meeting for students and faculty, according to Fisch. She explained that this meeting was centered on student and faculty perspectives regarding the PJS major.

“[We spent time] talking about what do students and faculty believe PJS at Tufts is at its core and what has attracted each of us who were there,” Fisch told the Daily in an email.

Nonetheless, Pace explained that the program has been very responsive to student feedback this semester.

“Throughout this process I’ve been really struck by … how responsive Erin Kelly and Peter Levine, who have been working on this project, have been to student feedback,” she said.

Bradley also noted that professors made an effort to gather as many student suggestions as possible in the process.

“[Kelly] is making the effort to engage students and seek feedback, which is especially appreciated,” Bradley said.

Fisch explained that there is still room for more student involvement, especially for students considering the PJS major.

“I know a bunch of other undeclared, yet thinking to declare, PJS majors who are currently sophomores, but they … have no way of knowing this information,” she said.

In order to increase student involvement and awareness of the PJS major, Fisch said she is working to form a Peace and Justice Society.

“[I want it to be] a place to bring more awareness to the major and also the changes going on with it, [and to] spread the message to people who are still unsure,” she said.

According to Fisch, the Peace and Justice Society has already begun planning its first event. Pace also expressed interest in the society, explaining that it would help PJS majors build community and support one another.

Kelly said the end goal for the PJS review process is to create a structure for this program to last for many years to come.

“My goal is to make it sustainable over time,” she said. “Every program is updated sometimes, but I’m thinking of [this process] as an initiative that will put us in a good position for the coming years.”

Levine added that the program fills an important role at Tufts.

PJS has clearly drawn very strong students over the years and fills a need for them,” he told the Daily in an email. “It combines philosophical questions about justice with strategic questions about how to make social change in fruitful ways.”