Professors submit proposal to replace PJS major with civic studies

Erin Kelly, the director of Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, poses for a photo for the Tufts Daily on Feb. 5, 2018. (Erik Britt / The Tufts Daily)

Faculty and administrators are proposing to cancel the peace and justice studies (PJS) major, retaining the PJS minor but replacing the major with a new civic studies program. PJS has been under continued review since last semester, when the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences considered canceling the major on account of dwindling support from faculty.

Associate Professor of Philosophy Erin Kelly, who currently directs the PJS program, explained that the faculty is reviewing the program’s requirements and consulting with students to design a more viable program going forward.

“We developed a proposal to change the major to civic studies, which broadens it in some ways, while still retaining connections with the PJS curriculum,” she said.

Kelly told the Daily that the aim of these reforms is to bring together more faculty from different departments in order to make the new major a more interdisciplinary one. On Feb. 2, Kelly, along with Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tisch College Peter Levine and Professor of political science and Classics Department chair Ioannis Evrigenis, have submitted a proposal calling for revisions to the civic studies major to the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, according to Kelly. The proposal outlines the new civic studies major, suggests that a PJS minor be retained and lists the requirements for both.

Faculty will vote on the matter on March 7, according to Kelly. If approved, the new major will begin next fall in place of PJS.

Kelly also noted that the PJS program has held four or five open meetings with students who wanted to express their thoughts about the proposed changes.

“We have been gathering input, shaping the proposal and [increasing] interest in the student body through ongoing … conversation,” Kelly said.

According to Kelly, the new civic studies program, if approved, could include a PJS track within the major.

“The new program will help students get an angle on dimensions of social change and action, some pieces of which are missing in the current PJS major,” she explained.

Abigail Alpern Fisch, a sophomore majoring in PJS, said she is disappointed that Tufts is moving away from PJS as an independent academic discipline, despite support from current students, alumni and faculty who feel strongly that the major is valuable.

“I am disappointed that future classes will not have the opportunity to focus their education at Tufts with a major in Peace and Justice Studies,” Fisch told the Daily in an email.

According to Fisch, though current sophomores and first-years can major in PJS, future classes will not have such an opportunity if the faculty votes to drop the major on March 7.

Fisch, along with junior Marissa Birne, created the Peace and Justice Society last semester. Fisch said the group plans to brainstorm ways to continue the society despite the potential replacement of the major.

“I believe that there can still be a place where students on campus who are interested in focusing on issues of peace building and social justice within our local community and further can be supported,” Fisch said.

Fisch also created a collection of testimonies that makes the case for keeping PJS as a major.

Fisch is not alone in this sentiment. In a recent article in the Tufts Observer, seniors Maya Pace and Colette Midulla argued that the university should be supporting, not defunding, programs like PJS.

“[Civic studies and PJS] … differ in their pedagogies and how they frame learning. PJS works within a concrete framework of lived experiences and case studies that exemplify theory within the conversation of change-making. Civic Studies will be based primarily on theory,” Pace and Midulla wrote.

Levine and Kelly discussed their plans for civic studies.

“PJS mainly involves sociology, however now we want to incorporate philosophy, political science, anthropology, religion and history to an extent. We are also working on including child development, psychology and economics,” Kelly said.

The subject areas Levine and Kelly are considering for civic studies fit with the interdisciplinary nature of the major.

“There will … be a new introductory course on civic studies, which will be co-taught by different departments,” Levine said.

He went on to mention that if approved, the major will be the first of its kind to exist.

“We are hoping to highlight strengths of Tufts and distinguish Tufts as a university at the forefront of such an area of study,” Kelly said.