The main goal of the Core Working Group during its October meeting was to finalize curricular changes suggestions for sharing with a wider faculty audience in various Graduate Center humanities Ph.D. programs. The meeting served as a continuation of the August discussion on curricular changes, as well as a response and synthesis of the inaugural September meeting of the Project Steering Committee.
Discussions centered on two main topics: (1) rethinking the dissertation and (2) creating alternative programmatic pathways.
Rethinking the Dissertation
In order to rethink the possibilities of what a dissertation in the humanities might be, the Working Group first set out to analyze the purpose of the dissertation. A key question that arose during discussion was the relationship between the dissertation and alt-ac careers: How much do (non-academic) employers care about the dissertation? Is the research process, subject matter, form, content, or mere completion of the dissertation most important for obtaining and advancing in alternative careers? Multiple committee members commented upon the credibility that having a Ph.D. provides even if no one knows the form or content of the dissertation itself.
The discussion then turned to alternatives to the dissertation monograph. Within many humanities disciplines, the possibility of curating some type of exhibition and then submitting an accompanying essay seems to be a likely monographic dissertation alternative. For students interested in such projects, a practical project might better align with particular non-academic careers because it demonstrates field-specific abilities.
The main dissertation alternative discussed was the creation of digital projects. One committee member commented upon the flexibility already in place within some Graduate Center Ph.D. programs for digital projects, although evaluation criteria for such projects is still unclear, as is the digital dissertation archival process. Specific, digital components of this new dissertation have yet to be identified, although committee members generally agreed that the most meaningful components of any dissertation are those which demonstrate career-oriented skill sets.
One major concern that the planning committees will need to address is faculty discomfort in accepting dissertations without print components.
Although the possibility of alumni sitting on dissertation committees was discussed, most committee members felt that such a change would be additive. While some alt-ac participation might be beneficial and add something of value in specific circumstances (notably the inclusion of musicians within the Music Program), there is no clear preparation for such inclusion.
Creating Alternative Programmatic Pathways
The second topic of discussion for the Core Working Group was alternative programmatic pathways. Various committee members addressed pre-existing conditions at place in the Graduate Center and higher education at-large that hinder progress towards the development of non-academic skill sets. Two major hurdles are (1) the ongoing myth perpetuated by students and professors alike that all current students will have future academic careers and (2) the fact that students come mostly into contact with academics and don’t know anything else. Along with these hurdles, the academic career-path is perpetuated by many humanities courses that use a final seminar paper as the only assignment.
One suggestion under serious consideration was the creation of a public humanities certificate program, which, in addition to core coursework centered on the public humanities and alternative career paths, could have an internship component. While there is some enthusiastic support for this idea amongst a few committee members, others fear that all certificate programs at the Graduate Center are additive, meaning that the program would add additional requirements to willing Ph.D. students rather than open up new programmatic pathways for all students. Additionally, the structure of certificate programs at the Graduate Center is already problematic as most rely on multiple doctoral programs for course offerings and are therefore under serious threat due to ongoing budget cuts.
Spurred on by the discussion regarding the creation of a public humanities certificate program, the conversation turned to ways of embedding the same ideas into every doctoral program, such as by pushing for a professional development module as part of every first year class. The first step in initiating this would be to gather course syllabi from each program in order to see what information they already present about professional development.
Ultimately, though, it’s yet unclear how such changes could be incentivized for individual programs.
In moving forward, it’s become apparent that any changes to curriculum will require support from a network of people. The committee will need to make the argument to programs that providing students with reengineered training will benefit both them and their students.