Neuroscience Applies for Department Status at Pomona

Pomona College’s Neuroscience program, which has been lobbying for department status since the 1990’s, formally applied to become a department on Oct. 1.“I don’t think the structure of a program was ever intended to support our numbers,” said Biology Professor and Neuroscience Coordinator Rachel Levin. “Programs are second-class citizens, which is fine until you get to be huge.”Neuroscience, which has been offered as a major since 1994, is currently the second most popular major on campus, consisting of 31 seniors and 29 juniors.Levin said the biggest disadvantages of remaining a program are “the structural inefficiencies and the lack of curricular control.”Programs do not have their own faculty, and the neuroscience faculty currently is composed of psychology and biology professors.Additionally, all of the programs at Pomona share support staff. All programs share one secretary and the Neuroscience Program’s faculty members are housed in several different buildings. Consequently, neuroscience is not “a physical entity,” Levin said.Because the professors teach in other departments, required courses for the neuroscience major are not guaranteed to be offered each semester.“Students experience huge bottlenecks, so they can’t finish their majors in a timely fashion,” said Levin.Programs are also largely ignored when it comes to resources, she said. According to Levin, new buildings are always given to departments.“We’ll be equals [if status is granted],” said Levin. “We’ll have a voice at the table when funding is considered.”The Faculty Position Advisory Committee (FPAC) will review the program’s application and decide whether to grant it department status by Feb. 1.FPAC is composed of several professors and Dean of the College Cecilia Conrad, who could not comment on the application at the time of publication. Three students will be sitting on the committee for this decision. The two who have been chosen already are Grace Larson PO ’10 and Scott Levy PO ’10.Though program members have been talking to the administration about department status for years, they were not optimistic and neglected to submit an application until last spring, when the Dean of the College encouraged them to do so.They withdrew it shortly after submission, because there “was no clear process” for making a decision, said Levin.This year, they decided to submit an official application because FPAC was designated as the decision-making body.“We know that the administration has been negatively disposed to neuroscience in the past,” said Levin.However, she said, two separate groups have recently promoted the transition to a department.In 2005, President David Oxtoby formed an internal task force, and “its first recommendation was that Neuroscience become a department,” said Levin.Additionally, each department and each program goes through an external review every 10 years, and in 2007, it was recommended that neuroscience become a department immediately.According to Levin, much of the controversy stems from the current rule that professors cannot have joint appointments. Under the existing regulations, for example, professors cannot teach in both the Psychology and Neuroscience Departments.Levin said this logistical issue, which she believes can be changed, is “distracting people from whether Neuroscience should become a department.”Neuroscience Major Alec Faggen PO ’10 acknowledged that the issue of joint appointments is not a simple one to tackle.“Would [allowing joint appointments] give these professors too much power by perhaps receiving two votes, and where would these professors’ payment and funding come from?” she asked. If joint appointments continue to be prohibited, however, “professors with their various skills, prestige, and abilities would be re-allocated to the new department.”Like Levin, Faggen believes that figuring out these logistics are secondary to the creation of the department.“The college can no longer dismiss a potential Neuroscience Department with the simple argument that Neuroscience is inter-disciplinary,” she said. “When Neuroscience students feel like their interests are not being adequately represented, a significant percentage of Pomona’s students are fighting each other for senior thesis advisors or to enroll in a class.”

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