Tisch College expands campus role with new civic studies major, other changes

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

The Jonathan M. Tisch College for Civic Life will be implementing a new civic studies program starting next fall, according to Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tisch College.

Levin explained that the interdisciplinary Civic Studies major will include classes from a variety of departments, including history, philosophy, sociology, economics and religion. 

The program will require students to have at least one co-major in addition to civic studies and will be co-chaired by Levine and Erin Kelly, associate professor and chair of the philosophy department.

Levine said the civic studies major will teach students “how to improve the world.”

“Many of us, including most people at Tisch College, have been working for decades to improve civic education at the college level,” Levine said. “It has been important to try to develop a really intellectually challenging version of that for students.”

Jennifer McAndrew, Director of Communications, Strategy & Planning of Tisch College acknowledged the importance of not only engaging in community service but also studying civic engagement within an academic setting.

“Having a major in civic studies has been a long-term goal of Tisch College and Tufts because we believe that civic engagement and civic studies are linked, that we need to embed civic thinking across the academic footprint of the university,” McAndrew said.

Levine also spoke about the difference between civic engagement and civic studies.

“Civic studies is more theoretical and more academically oriented,” Levine said.

Levine said that he has taught at a civic studies summer program for adults at Tisch College for the past 10 years. The program inspired Tisch College to create a similar one for undergraduate students, he explained.

“At a time when so many of our civic institutions and norms are strained, [the civic studies] program will further encourage our students and faculty to pose and grapple with tough questions, examine institutions and systems, act for social change, and deliberate and reflect on how we work together to address big challenges,” Alan Solomont, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of Tisch College, told the Daily in an email.

Levine and McAndrew said that Tufts is the only university in the nation to have a college devoted to civic life and further state that it is the first in the world to offer a civic studies major.

The creation of the civic studies major comes at the same time as the cancellation of the peace and justice studies (PJS) major, a controversy that sparked heated student responses.

Abigail Alpern Fisch, a rising junior who pushed for the creation and retention of a PJS minor at Tufts, said that though the minor will maintain the study of PJS, many courses will be cut. She mentioned Intro to PJS and Intro to Conflict resolution, characterizing both as formative courses for students.

“I hope that the minor will be advertised and promoted to students by departments in fields that contribute to the interdisciplinary program,” she said in an email. “It has been very sad to me though, especially considering the current climate of our world and the increasing need for changemakers who are prepared to take on issues of social justice, that Tufts has not chosen to continue and even expand its investment in Peace and Justice Studies or deemed the program as an asset to the University and the students they wish to support.”

Levine and McAndrew both acknowledged this controversy but shared their beliefs that the two academic fields should be integrated. 

“We see the essential elements of the peace and justice studies … as an essential component to civic studies … I understand the students’ point of view who … don’t want those important themes being lost or diminished, and my view is that they won’t be,” McAndrew said.“They’re being incorporated into another program.”

Levine stated that the major will also include a peace and justice studies track available to students.

“I think we’re serving the peace and justice community well, because we’ve got the minor and also a track within the major, so if you were a peace and justice person, you could get peace and justice through civic studies, and so I don’t think of it as replacing it, but preserving it,” Levine said.

Fisch expressed a dissenting opinion, stressing that Civic Studies and PJS are radically different fields.

“While Civic Studies focuses heavily on the theory aspect of change-making and active citizenship, often within a system of government but also within civil society, I don’t believe from my understanding that it fully goes into the depth and breadth of PJS and its focus on identifying problems that exist within our world’s given systems and discussing ways to improve those systems and injustices in order to make positive change,” she said.

Levine added that the civic studies major, like the peace and justice studies major, will include a course with an internship requirement.

Elie Levine contributed reporting to this article.