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Graduate liberal studies may end

The administration may slash the graduate liberal studies program because of dwindling enrollment and a lack of advertising funds.

The interdisciplinary degree has progressively lost the interest of prospective graduate students in favor of new programs such as the Master’s of Business Administration program, said Marianne Sheldon, director of graduate studies.

The number of liberal studies program applicants began decreasing a few years ago and has dropped to single digits in recent years, she said.

According to the director of the graduate liberal studies program, Carlota Caulfield, the drop in enrollment is due to a lack of visibility.

“In the last three years, there have been very limited funds for advertising the program, resulting in a lack of visibility and less enrollments. Funding uncertainty made it almost impossible to plan. But we kept receiving inquiries about the program until Fall 2001,” she said.

The Executive Committee recommended that the program be closed unless at least three full-time faculty members made a strong commitment to participate in both teaching and providing administrative support, and until the graduate council agreed to provide sufficient funds to publicize the program, said Caulfield.

“The bottom line is resources. In order to bring in new programs, the ones that are not as well received might need to be removed,” said Sheldon.

“If the program becomes history, it will be a pity and a loss for Mills as an independent liberal arts college,” Caulfield said.

The program appealed to students interested in life-long learning, she said. She added that other colleges’ liberal studies programs are successful even though they are not, according to her, as good as the program at Mills.

According to Sheldon, the idea to cancel the program has been considered on various administrative levels. In January division meetings, she said there was not a large enough core of faculty who desired to pursue the program further.

“There has been a shift in the interests of the faculty teaching the [graduate liberal studies] classes,” she said.

A proposal to close the program should be submitted to all faculty members by the end of this March.

Caulfield said that although she disagrees with the decision to cancel, if it must be done, now would be an appropriate time. Three years have already passed without funds for advertising, the graduate studies office stopped accepting students for the program almost 2 years ago and Ted Thomas, one of the key professors teaching in the program, retired last year, she said.

Sheldon said the cancellation of the program would not create any drastic change. Most of the classes in the department are offered to graduates and undergraduates and will continue to be taught.

According to Ron Clement, associate director of graduate studies, students already admitted into the program will be allowed to finish the degree if they choose to.

“They are not having a rug pulled out from under them,” Clement said. “We are no longer accepting new admits, so, the program will phase out as the current participants graduate.”

According to Sheldon, efforts are being made to establish timelines of completion with the nine currently enrolled students.

Though advertisement for the program has ceased, Sheldon said the reference to it on the Mills graduate studies website is still there because “no formal decision has been made.”

Clement said the liberal studies entry will remain in the catalog, according to policy, as long as there are any active students enrolled in the program.