McBride change continues to move ahead despite concerns

Change is one of the few constants on the Mines campus. New buildings are constructed and the course requirements for degrees are tweaked. Usually, the changes are gradual, a new building here or a new parking lot over there. However, there is an important exception to this trend of gradual change, the McBride program. The present proposal would see all but one of the program’s present classes replaced or removed and has many McBride students up in arms over the nature of the changes and the lack of student and alumni involvement.

In response to low enrollment, retention rates, and a host of institutional challenges, the school has launched an effort to revitalize McBride. Provost Castillo created a committee to “take a fresh look at all aspects of the [McBride] program and make recommendations for securing its future viability.” This committee, the McBride Futures Committee, released its Final Report on May 3, 2010. The committee recommended that the McBride program should remain “an interdisciplinary honors program” and “be tightly focused on public affairs.” However, the committee recommended significant changes to the operation of the program.

McBride is being moved back into LAIS, though it will retain some independence and a director who reports to the LIAS division director. The first class, Paradoxes of the Human Condition, is being cut without a replacement reducing the total credits from 24 to 21. Steps are planned to hire some full time professors, including the director, for McBride and to reduce McBride’s reliance professors volunteering their time. Many departments are reluctant to give up their distinguished professors’ time to a McBride class, so McBride has trouble obtaining professors at times.

The most significant, and most controversial, change to McBride is the complete redesign of the curriculum. Over the summer, a curriculum committee devised a new curriculum for McBride. The proposal, which is currently being reviewed by the school, seeks to replace every McBride class except Leadership and Power. Students have strongly objected to removing some of the more popular classes, such as Cultural Anthropology. A faculty member cited students asking “why fix what isn’t broken?” with regard to some of McBride’s well liked courses that are being cut.

The revised McBride curriculum has added a strong focus on sustainability. Several class representatives and some faculty members brought up the concern that this focus will further narrow the appeal the of McBride. The reasoning is that an excessive focus on sustainability at the expense of other areas of public affairs will limit the appeal of McBride to people who are interested primarily in this particular piece of public affairs. This narrowed focus would be in the opposite direction of the vision of McBride adopted by the McBride Futures Committee: “The McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs will provide opportunities for exceptional students to explore the political, cultural, economic, environmental, and ethical contexts in which science and technology operate in the world.”
A major source of contention in the revision process is the lack of student and alumni involvement. Until recently, many students were unaware that there were major changes in store. Naturally, these stakeholders did not like being left out of the the loop on the future of their program. Students complained that the curriculum committee had done nothing to notify any of them of the upcoming changes or invite them into the process. To the credit of the curriculum committee, the changes take effect with the next class and will not affect any of this year’s sophomores or above. This is, however, not enough to quell all the discontent over the proposed reforms.

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