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Interdepartmental major changes, veto referendum at center of Arts and Sciences Council meeting

The Trinity Arts and Sciences Council is considering changes to the interdepartmental majors creation process and a mechanism by which a faculty referendum could be used to veto council decisions.

At their February meeting, the council discussed both proposals and voted to approve a clarifying amendment to the veto referendum. Council chair Anita Layton, Robert R. and Katherine B. Penn professor of mathematics, noted that each issue is planned to be voted on in March.

Here are three key aspects of each proposal:

Interdepartmental major changes

1. The Curriculum Committee’s proposal regarding interdepartmental majors seeks to change them from being designed by students and approved by departments into being public and department-driven. The change is in response to concerns the committee has about consistency and monitoring of the IDMs and to allow for more curricular innovation from faculty, explained Jeff Forbes, chair of the curriculum committee and an associate professor of the practice in computer science.

2. Substantively, this would mean that two departments would have to coordinate to create any requested interdepartmental major, which would then be publicly available to any student that wanted to do it. This differs from the current procedure, in which students propose a 14-course curriculum that is approved by two departments’ directors of undergraduate studies. Leslie Babinski, director of undergraduate studies and assistant research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, raised concerns that this shift negates the student-driven nature of the program.

3. In response to a question by David Malone, professor of the practice of education, about the number of students enrolled in IDMs, Forbes said that there are about 25 students in the Class of 2018. Ron Grunwald, director of undergraduate studies in the department of biology and senior lecturer of biology at Duke, said the effect of the change could be that it opens up IDMs to more students. Forbes noted that about 0.4 to 0.5 percent of each class follows the IDM route, with more students choosing to do a Program II major. If the proposal is passed and implemented, students could request an IDM created by two departments or do a Program II major.

Veto referendum

1. If the council votes to amend their bylaws to allow faculty to veto their decisions, then enfranchised faculty at large could overturn council decisions that are unpopular. It does not allow the faculty to create new legislation—just return the decisions to the status quo—explained Michael Munger, council parliamentarian and director of undergraduate studies of political science.

2. A key issue raised by faculty was the procedures by which a referendum could be held. As currently proposed, 10 percent of eligible faculty would have to sign a petition requesting a referendum within 10 academic business days—defined through an amendment on Thursday to be days on which classes are held—of the council passing legislation, and then faculty could vote electronically within 10 business days, with 40 percent of eligible voters having to cast ballots to meet quorum. The council voted to reject amendments on Thursday seeking to change the quorum to 70 percent and to take the votes through department meetings.

3. Thursday is not the first time the veto referendum has been discussed by the council; the issue was included in its last three meetings. Munger explained the idea arose in 2013 after a narrowly divided vote on the 2U online class consortium, and stems from the issue of representation for large versus small departments.

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham



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