April 10, 2014
On Tuesday, March 4 the College discontinued the communications concentration and dissolved the department’s third faculty position. Students will still be able to minor in communication, but the Class of 2016 is the lasat group of students to have the opportunity to major in it. What does this mean for the rest of Hamilton students?
Perhaps if you are an economics or government major, you simply don’t care. This decision does not directly affect you and sets a precedent that is unlikely to lead to the termination of those majors. Some may concur with the administration and cite “lack of curricular merit” as a sufficient reason to terminate a major. However, the evolution of knowledge is continuous, and it was only a hundred years ago that psychology was barely gaining ground in the academic world. Now it is one of the College’s most popular majors. Is the College, therefore, inhibiting the growth of knowledge, and failing to keep up as the world changes?
Another reason the College cited was lack of available resources. Hamilton’s endowment highest of college is currently ranked in the top 25 nationwide. In recent years, the College has spent a considerable amount of money expanding KJ and the Science Center and building a new Museum and Arts Center. Considering these facts, it is hard to see why the College would cite its financial concerns as a sufficient deterrent to a full-tenured professor. It is a tiny investment that would benefit a substantial number of students, especially in comparison to the Wellin Museum, which, in the eyes of many students, is largely unused.
However, even if the previous two reasons are valid—and I am doubtful they truly are—the method in which the administration approached this decision is reproachable and lacks transparency. Taylor LaSon ’17 commented that “[she] felt like the rug was pulled out from under her”, as she had taken communication classes this year. Had she known coming into Hamilton that she would not be able to major in communication, she would have chosen her classes differently. Fain Riopelle ’17 commented that those who intended to major in communication “made a vastly important life decision in choosing Hamilton as their college, and they made this decision based on the college’s representation that it would offer communication as a possible major.” I highly doubt Taylor and Fain are alone in this regard, for I, too, would feel cheated if I had taken classes thinking I could count them towards my major, only for the College to suddenly announce at the end of the school year that it is closing the concentration. Yes, it is true that Hamilton is a liberal arts college that emphasizes taking classes that are outside of your desired major, but I had always thought that this exploration would be made in the context of transparency and reliability and not be tossed up to luck.
Furthermore, there is the issue of the false image Hamilton is portraying. As of April 9, the online college catalogue still lists communication as an available concentration at Hamilton. Prof. Phelan, the chair of the communication department, attempted to have the College implement this decision for the Class of 2018 so that the Class of 2017 that has already matriculated into Hamilton could still major in communication. This would also give the incoming first-years the opportunity to be notified by the College of the change and to have the information they need to make the right choice. The College failed to do either, and this should be worrying to the entire Hamilton community.
The closure of the communication concentration raises issues of transparency, arbitrary behavior on the part of the administration and a lack of concern for students. While I may disagree with the reasons given, I can understand them and see a the logic behind them. However, the process and timeline by which the College made this decision is sufficient for me to doubt the reliability and trust I can expect from this administration. Perhaps if the Office of the Dean of Faculty and the Committee on Academic Policy had a communication major in their staff, they could have handled this decision in a much better way and given students enough time so that no one’s academic career would be negatively affected.