The Asian and Middle Eastern studies department just wants one graduate program.  

In 2013, the department proposed a new master’s program in Critical Asian Humanities, and they have since fought for its approval against the backdrop of a campus-wide discussion on the proliferation of master’s degrees. If their program is approved by the Academic Council, it will mark the third new Master’s program approved this year alone.

"We kind of had the bad luck of first proposing [the CAH-MA program] right around the beginning of the concern about this proliferation of graduate programs, and so our proposal was viewed with greater skepticism," said Carlos Rojas, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies. 

AMES is currently one of the few departments in Trinity College that does not run its own graduate program. Although its faculty already mentor students in the critical humanities track of the East Asian Studies degree, they wanted to formally move that track out of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute and establish the program under their purview. 

Unfortunately, when Rojas and his colleagues submitted the proposal to the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty in 2013, they found themselves in a tough situation.

The Academic Council approved five new master’s degrees in 2013-14 alone, after approving three in 2011-12 and five in 2009-10.

John Zhu, the Graduate School’s senior public affairs officer, wrote in an email that this swell in programs was caused by the increased demand for American masters programs among international students and the tightened job market for domestic graduates. Rojas, who has served on the Academic Council for seven years, cited the ramp-up of master’s tuition to undergraduate levels as another factor.

Regardless, the proliferation of new programs sparked a concern throughout the faculty for the potential consequences of creating too many programs too quickly.  

“With the creation of a number of new master’s programs, many on campus have started to wonder about not the merits of any individual proposal but rather their cumulative impact on the overall academic milieu on campus,” said Alexander Hartemink, then-chair of the Academic Programs Committee, at an Academic Council meeting on April 17, 2014. 

To counter the growing concern, the Graduate School and Masters Advisory Council published a report in 2015 on the state of master’s programs and students at Duke. The report demonstrated that among peer institutions, Duke is just below average in the number of programs and enrollments, but has an unusually high growth rate for both. 

It also highlighted the possible problems with the rapid growth of master’s programs, including the lack of affordability, strain on resources available to students and challenges facing the international students, who make up a large percentage of master’s students. 

However, the report demonstrated that most faculty view master’s programs favorably. They can be valuable for advancing one’s career and are required to get into certain doctoral programs.

“You have to make sure the programs are high quality, that they are serving a need that exists,” said Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, whose Materials Science and Engineering master’s program was ratified in October 2017. “There has to be positive outcomes for the students that are graduating from those programs.”

Once ECGF sent back the initial CAH-MA proposal, Rojas and his team revised their proposal and resubmitted it two years later. Again, their timing was unlucky—the Academic Council was two weeks away from approving a new template for proposals, so they had to reformat their proposal again. 

Jennifer Francis, vice provost for academic affairs, believed the new template—which has a fixed set of topics that must be addressed, including relation to other Duke programs and market research—has made new proposals much more thorough and consistent across one another.  She also thought that the time it took to craft the template explained the recent uptick in new programs this year.

"Right now we are seeing maybe a couple more new programs than we would normally see, but that's largely because they were kind of stuck in the timing of us not having that template yet," she said.

From 2015 to 2017, the Academic Council approved just one new master’s program per year. Since the template was fully completed in summer 2017, the Council has already ratified two. 

After Rojas submitted the CAH-MA proposal to ECGF for a third time, the program met more support. It then won approval from APC and the Executive Committee of Academic Council before making its way to the Council itself. The Council will vote on it at their next meeting March 22.