After eight years of petitioning to be given autonomy as its own department, the Pomona College neuroscience program faced another setback on Jan. 28. After faculty consultation, Dean of the College Gary Kates recommended to President David Oxtoby that neuroscience retain its status as a program rather than become its own department. Oxtoby has yet to make a final decision on the issue.
The neuroscience program was established at Pomona in response to a great student demand for the field of study, said Rachel Levin, associate professor of Biology and coordinator of the neuroscience program. She came to Pomona in 1991, and until neuroscience became a major in 1994, she said it was the most represented subject in special majors. It is currently the college’s secondmost popular major behind economics.
According to Levin, the current status as a program gives neuroscience little control over planning its curriculum and creates an untenable situation where there is not enough neuroscience faculty to staff core courses each semester to accommodate neuroscience majors.
“[The program] has gotten so big that we cannot staff it,” said Levin. “We have students taking our core classes as seniors, at the same time they are trying to write a thesis when they don’t know much neuroscience because they haven’t been able to get into courses until they were seniors.”
Laura Frischer PO ‘09, a neuroscience major and liaison, said that it has been difficult to get into the core neuroscience courses required in the major, especially since she studied abroad. She is taking neurobiology this year as a senior and said it definitely would have aided her in writing a thesis if she could have taken it earlier.
However, Kates said that the college has hired faculty to teach specifically in the neuroscience program to help offset some of the difficulties the program has faced as it has grown. Although Kates said there will be no new hires in the future as long as the current economic crisis continues, the college has already hired current professor Karl Johnson as well as Jonathan Matsui, who will start next year, to teach primarily neuroscience courses. The college has also hired Jonathan King to be the director of neuroscience, which will provide an administrative assistant to help run the program.
Yet, even with the added faculty, Levin said that programs are always secondary in status to departments and are continually overlooked when it comes to budgeting and campus planning. The neuroscience program is also limited because it cannot control its own curriculum even though, according to Levin, it has clearly demonstrated its viability as its own discipline.
Last spring, the curriculum committee produced a list of 14 considerations that they felt the college should appraise when deciding whether a program should be converted to a department. One of the 14 considerations recommended that the college take into account the opinions of neighboring departments before allowing a program to be converted into a department.
According to Levin, Kates invited the neuroscience program to apply for conversion last spring. Around the same time, Kates released two statements regarding conversion from a program to a department. First, if a program were to convert to a department, faculty could not retain joint appointments, forcing them to choose to teach in one department or the other. Second, any faculty who chose to leave the