“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ….” The classic words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities capture the reality of the achievements and challenges of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) during 2012-2013. Since 2011, GSAS has been guided by a set of five-year goals that share an underlying theme: strategic decision making, and partnerships to create and sustain an intellectual community that will achieve the vision of Toward 2016. The context in which these goals are now being realized has shifted dramatically.
Transformation of the Graduate Educational Landscape
Excellence in traditional approaches to graduate degrees in the arts and sciences, particularly Ph.D.s, is associated with financial support built on federal funding for both research and student financial aid. Recent decreases in federal funding and questions about the return on investment for graduate degrees render this funding approach unsustainable. The downturn in enrollment in graduate education seen at the national level was also experienced within GSAS. In 2012-2013, the school focused on forecasting expected enrollments, assisting programs in analyzing their strengths, developing new programs that suit the needs of applicants as they graduate and move into the job market, and engaging members of the school in a re-visioning process.
Re-Visioning Graduate Education in the Arts and Sciences
The GSAS Council and department chairs laid the foundation for both the short-term goal of creating marketable master’s programs and the long-term need for modifications in doctoral programs by revising the guidelines for program development. GSAS also continued to explore alternative funding approaches and is experimenting with new models in some areas.
The Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action has demonstrated the potential of nontraditional approaches to master’s degrees. Using intensive courses taught in locations around the world, the program enrolled 11 students and generated 96 credits in its first year of operations. Another approach to the expansion of master’s degrees is through early admission during undergraduate study, which enables completion of graduate courses during the senior year. Of all GSAS master’s students matriculating between fall 2008 and fall 2010, 21 percent began their master’s as early admission students, and 92 percent of these early admission students completed their degrees.
By reducing the size of the entering cohorts to more closely match University resources for merit-based funding and placement records, the humanities departments are already in the forefront of changes in doctoral programs and are focusing on the nature of the dissertation. GSAS has become a national leader in assessment of graduate programs.
Academic and Professional Development of Students
The student cohort that entered GSAS in fall 2012 demonstrated the quality that has been a hallmark of GSAS for the past decade. With only one out of 10 applicants offered admission, GSAS doctoral programs are the most selective in the University, and the 42 percent selectivity of GSAS master’s programs also shows their strength.
The achievements of GSAS students this past year are a particular source of pride for the University. GSAS students received 85 prestigious national and international awards, including a distinguished Junior Residential Fellowship from Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, three outgoing Fulbrights, two National Science Foundation Fellowships, and four grants from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
GSAS used new media more extensively to publicize professional activities and to help students capitalize on their own achievements. GSAS also continued its merit-based awards for scholarships and stipends, with more than half of GSAS students receiving support. Almost $6 million, 63 percent of the stipends, directly supported undergraduate education.
International Initiatives, Partnerships, and Community Engagement
Global perspective is critical to the quality of scholarship and practice in the arts and sciences, and GSAS faculty and students pursue a variety of activities with counterparts abroad. GSAS has focused its initiatives on work with Jesuit universities abroad, Fordham’s partnership with the University of Pretoria, and interaction with the United Nations (U.N.)—particularly the U.N. Academic Impact initiative.
Other innovative partnerships include the GSAS collaboration with the Bronx Science Consortium (BSC). GSAS received approval for the joint Einstein-Fordham Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. In addition, GSAS developed a course on the business of science for biomedical doctoral students, including students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which will be offered by Fordham business faculty. The Wildlife Conservation Society and Bronx Zoo provided funding for GSAS students to mentor teens in urban ecology and sustainability research projects. With BSC partners, Fordham submitted four institutional grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.
The worst of times, the challenge of decreases in enrollment, should be measured against the best of times, the achievements of GSAS students and alumni. Likewise, the needto react to forces adversely affecting graduate education at the national level has created the opportunity for active consideration of new approaches to old programs and new programs distinctive to GSAS. The re-visioning of graduate education in the arts and sciences constitutes the foundation for bold action in this time of contrasts.