Howard University Opens A New Chapter With "academic Renewal" (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Howard University Opens New Chapter With 'Academic Renewal'

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and it's about this time of year that we start hearing a sound most of us haven't heard in months.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:18
That's right, the unforgettable sound of the school bell. School's back in session, folks. And as students across the D.C. region hit the books, we're tipping our hats to them with a show all about learning. Over the next hour we'll find out D.C. public schools are giving physical education a makeover. To make sure all kids are breaking a sweat, we'll explore the increasingly intense competition in local private school admissions and we'll talk with people engaged in other kinds of learning, like learning how to till the land and how to be mobile, culinary entrepreneurs.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:51
But to get things started today...

DR. ARTI MEHTA

00:00:53
Okay, so everybody's seen chapter two and has read it or will have read it by the quiz, let's say on Friday.

SHEIR

00:01:00
Let's head to the classroom.

MEHTA

00:01:02
Okay. So we were talking about ancient Mesopotamia, and these 30 or so city-states that sprang up all around the same time give and take.

SHEIR

00:01:12
In this case, at D.C.'s 145-year-old Howard University, one of the most well-known, historically black colleges and universities in the United States. And in this particular classroom, Dr. Arti Mehta is teaching a course called Cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean.

MEHTA

00:01:28
What is it that makes a city-state?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1

00:01:33
I think it comes down to like the independence and also maybe perhaps it's location and like the villages around it and things like that.

MEHTA

00:01:38
As they say, location, location, location, right?

SHEIR

00:01:40
Cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean is a brand new offering in Howard's Department of Classics, or as the department may soon be known, says associate professor, Dr. Norman Sandridge.

DR. NORMAN SANDRIDGE

00:01:50
Ancient Mediterranean Studies.

SHEIR

00:01:52
And here's why. Not long after Dr. Sidney Ribeau became Howard's president in 2008, he instituted what he called an academic renewal program. He wanted to breathe new life into the university, which had experienced its share of turmoil prior to his election. He also wanted to enable Howard to go toe-to-toe with the nation's other HBUCs. To do this, he created a commission of more than four-dozen faculty members including Norman Sandridge to examine Howard's 180-some academic programs.

SANDRIDGE

00:02:21
And then sort of figure out which were going to be viable, which were going to be important for the future of the university.

SHEIR

00:02:28
Then last summer the commission recommended to the administration that certain Howard programs be merged, transformed or all-out eliminated. The commission zeroed in on the classics department as one in need of some major transformation. So the classics people were like whoa, we gotta do something and we gotta do something fast. And what they did was expand their offerings beyond the usual ancient Greece and Rome stuff.

SANDRIDGE

00:02:52
And study the ancient Mediterranean world in its totality, with all of its fluidity and continuity. And also think very seriously about its relevance for today.

SHEIR

00:03:04
And actually, that relevance for today, Norman Sandridge mentions? That's another key part of academic renewal, says Dr. Wayne Frederick. A Howard alum who now serves as provost.

DR. WAYNE FREDERICK

00:03:14
As the fields change, as technology advances, we have to get to a point where we're doing as many relevant things as is possible. And even the things that we're offering that are still relevant, we have to make sure that we're offering them in a way that's still relevant as well.

SHEIR

00:03:28
A prime example, Frederick says, is the proposed reorganization of the School of Communications.

FREDERICK

00:03:33
For instance, an undergraduate program now puts several of the majors into two groups, one being media journalism and film, and the other being strategic, legal and management communications.

SHEIR

00:03:45
And remind me what it was like before in the undergraduate program.

FREDERICK

00:03:48
All right. So prior to that there were departments of journalism, radio, TV and film and communications and culture, as well as mass communication, media studies and communication and culture. And so they brought those in and developed these two undergraduate programs.

SHEIR

00:04:03
Frederick says when people ask him about academic renewal, they often pose the same question. Namely...

FREDERICK

00:04:08
Would there potentially be some financial gain?

SHEIR

00:04:12
And the answer, he says, is maybe.

FREDERICK

00:04:15
There possibly will be, but it's not one that was a calculated decision in the process. I think what's more important is that the allocation of resources is more attuned to what we feel the contemporary needs are of our students and faculty.

SHEIR

00:04:30
And again, at Howard, some of that allocation has led to program elimination, including many degrees in the School of Education, as well as the masters programs in philosophy and art history. The criteria for the cuts, Frederick says, were things like...

FREDERICK

00:04:45
Are we still getting a lot of applicants in?

SHEIR

00:04:47
And...

FREDERICK

00:04:47
Are we putting out a lot of graduates that are doing great things in the different fields, et cetera?

SHEIR

00:04:52
But despite the program cuts, Frederick says there haven't been any faculty cuts, just few adjunct hires. Now I should mention that at this point academic renewal is in different stages all over campus. The Classics Department, for instance, won't fully morph into Ancient Mediterranean Studies until a final vote by Howard's Board of Trustees. But Rudolph Hock...

RUDOLPH HOCK

00:05:13
I'm associate professor and chair of the Department of Classics. Soon to be Ancient Mediterranean Studies.

SHEIR

00:05:19
Well, obviously, he's full of hope that the vote will pass.

HOCK

00:05:22
We have eight full-time faculty, two of whom are year-to-year appointments. And we just found out that they have been rehired for another year. So I think it's fair to say that if the administration had wanted to send us a bad signal, they would not have reappointed our two year-to-year appointees, nor would they have given his tenure.

SHEIR

00:05:43
Hock is talking about Norman Sandridge, who's feeling pretty good after being awarded tenure in August. But as for how Sandridge feels about the future of his department, are you breathing a sigh of relief right now? Or are you biting your nails? How are you feeling?

SANDRIDGE

00:05:58
I always bite my nails, just compulsively.

SHEIR

00:06:01
He says he's pretty positive. He's also thankful for academic renewal, he says, because it isn't just breathing new life into Howard's academic programs, but into its faculty. Faculty who can be he says, sometimes a bit averse to change.

SANDRIDGE

00:06:14
For example, you know I was trained primarily in ancient Greek you know, reading a lot of different ancient Greeks and trying to figure out how they relate to one another. But now, as part of this academic renewal, I'm taking a much more serious look at the way that Greeks interacted with ancient Persians or modern Iran and so that's both challenging, both exciting for me as a scholar to branch out.

SHEIR

00:06:39
And Sandridge hopes that excitement is contagious. And students will flock with newly restored vigor to the Department of Classics. Or, fingers crossed, the Department of Ancient Mediterranean Studies.

SHEIR

00:06:56
For more information on academic renewal at Howard University and for a link to a video about the commission's academic review process, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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