MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
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
But to get things started today...
DR. ARTI MEHTA
Okay, so everybody's seen chapter two and has read it or will have read it by the quiz, let's say on Friday.
Let's head to the classroom.
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.
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.
What is it that makes a city-state?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
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.
As they say, location, location, location, right?
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
Ancient Mediterranean Studies.
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.
And then sort of figure out which were going to be viable, which were going to be important for the future of the university.
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.
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.
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
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.
A prime example, Frederick says, is the proposed reorganization of the School of Communications.
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.
And remind me what it was like before in the undergraduate program.
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.
Frederick says when people ask him about academic renewal, they often pose the same question. Namely...
Would there potentially be some financial gain?
And the answer, he says, is maybe.
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.
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...
Are we still getting a lot of applicants in?
Are we putting out a lot of graduates that are doing great things in the different fields, et cetera?
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...
I'm associate professor and chair of the Department of Classics. Soon to be Ancient Mediterranean Studies.
Well, obviously, he's full of hope that the vote will pass.
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.
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?
I always bite my nails, just compulsively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.