Wilson School revamps courses
Described as an effort to make the concentration more interdisciplinary, the revamped Wilson School major will include a number of new requirements intended to diversify the undergraduate course load, the school announced on Monday. The major will notably include a new Science for Public Policy requirement, a new cross-cultural or field experience requirement, the scrapping of the core class WWS 300: Democracy and the replacement of one of the junior policy task forces with a new policy research seminar.
The prerequisites for admission to the major will remain the same as announced in April. Members of the Class of 2015 will be required to take four prerequisites: ECO 100: Introduction to Microeconomics, one history course, a new Wilson School statistics course and one course in politics, psychology or sociology.
The new undergraduate program was crafted by an implementation committee of 18 professors affiliated with the Wilson School and chaired by Wilson School Vice Dean Stephen Kotkin. No students served on the implementation committee, though the School’s Undergraduate Program Student Advisory Committee was consulted throughout the process. The Committee on the Course of Study will vote on the final details of the major this spring.
“This is what we think a policy school major should look like in 2012 and moving forward. This is what we think we would do if we were starting now, which we [are],” Kotkin said. “We were able to reinvent the major as it could be and should be,” he added.
However, Wilson School professor Stanley Katz, the former chair of the Wilson School’s Faculty Committee on the Undergraduate Program, said he opposed the revamped curriculum, calling the effort to make the program more disciplinary “unfortunate.”
“What made our program distinctive and valuable was that it was not disciplinary,” he said. But he added that he thought the changes weren’t as drastic as the Wilson School initially intended.
Perhaps the most significant change to the major is the addition of a new Science for Public Policy requirement that every concentrator must take. Current students in the Wilson School are not required to take any courses in a similar area. Despite the change, Kotkin said he did not think the new requirement would drive away students from the major who lack an interest in the sciences.
“We’re looking to attract people to our major and these courses are going to be taught by some of our best teachers,” Kotkin explained. “We think this is an attractive part of the major.”
Brandice Canes-Wrone, the current chair of the Wilson School’s Faculty Committee on the Undergraduate Program, said that any students dissuaded by the new Science and Public Policy requirement are ones who probably should not be majoring in public policy in the first place.
“I think that someone who is really interested in understanding public policy in a serious way would find taking one class from Science for Public Policy something that is not very constraining,” she explained.
The Wilson School major will now have a cross-cultural or field experience component which requires undergraduates to undertake formal study abroad or gain policy experience in the real world by the fall of their senior year. Possible experiences that would fulfill the requirement include policy-related field work or ROTC military training, and can be undertaken either during the academic year or over the summer. Most students already complete the requirement, Kotkin said.
Kotkin said that he was aware that the funding could potentially be an issue for low-income students, who may be unable to dedicate time to completing the new requirement.
“We’re fully aware of the necessity of paying attention to [the funding issue],” Kotkin said. “We don’t believe funding will be an obstacle.”
Additionally, the new major will require an additional language course beyond the University requirement. Kotkin said that nearly two-thirds of Wilson School majors already complete an additional course.
Kelly Roache ’12, a member of the Wilson School’s Undergraduate Student Advisory Committee, said in an email that she applauded this additional emphasis on foreign language skills specifically and regional studies more broadly.
“This welcome change reflects an appreciation for the study of cultural politics and related fields that I think is consistent with the School’s interdisciplinary flavor,” she said.
The other students on the Student Advisory Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
The junior year experience in the Wilson School will change significantly with the termination of WWS 300: Democracy. This will affect current sophomores as well, since the course will not be offered in the fall of 2012. A new course, WWS 300: Microeconomics for Public Policy, will take its place. Undergraduate majors are not currently required to take an intermediate course in microeconomics.
Juniors will also no longer be required to take two policy task forces. Instead, juniors will take a single task force along with a new policy research seminar intended to instruct juniors in research practices. Each policy research seminar will include a 3-hour Methods Lab where juniors will use research methods to evaluate policy options. Kotkin explained that the new research seminar is intended to better prepare students for the senior thesis.
Canes-Wrone noted that a key strength of the new program was the policy research seminar’s emphasis on independent research. Previously, she said, rising seniors occasionally felt unprepared by the two task forces.
“I think that the new program will provide students with a much more solid foundation upon which to start writing their senior thesis,” she explained.
Katz, however, said that the elimination of one of the task forces would harm the quality of the program at the expense of making the program more disciplinary.
“The policy task force is the basic mechanism for training students to do public policy analysis,” he explained.
The new changes, along with the decision to remove admissions barriers to the undergraduate program, may significantly change both the size and type of the applicant pool to the Wilson School. No matter the number of students in the Class of 2015 that choose to apply to the Wilson School, Kotkin said, the program will be prepared.
“We have no idea what the students in the future will choose to do,” he said. “If a lot of students choose our major, we’ll be ready for that. But we also have other options in the social sciences on the Princeton campus and we think students will continue to choose those options as well.”
Kotkin said he could not predict the number of total students in the Class of 2015 that will choose to major in the Wilson School.
The Wilson School will hold a briefing for sophomores on Thursday and begin a series of briefings for freshmen about the changes starting on February 16.