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Defunding Justice and Peace

Opinion | February 5, 2018

In August of 2017, Peace and Justice Studies majors received an email from the recently appointed PJS Program Director Erin Kelly informing them that their major was undergoing changes and that she would be their new departmental point person. Rumors of these changes had begun to circulate in the spring semester prior to when Tufts fired the program’s Associate Director Dale Bryan due to budget cuts. Since then, the University has presented multiple reasons for the disappearance of the major, most recently indicating that the new Civic Studies major within Tisch College will serve as a replacement for PJS.

While the rationale for defunding the PJS major isn’t entirely clear, money has always been central to Tufts’ justifications. This narrative continued through the past semester, during which “restoration of PJS” was listed as one of the “requests for funding” at the Budget Transparency Town Hall on December 5. This appeal for restoration was placed next to other “requests of our community in recent years” such as need-blind admissions, increased Pell Grant students, all-gender bathrooms, and part time faculty union demands. In placing these requests for funding side by side, the University implies that only some can be funded, and pits the continuation of the PJS major against other critically important requests for funding that would make this campus safer and more accessible for students of all identities.

The Dean’s Office has recently cited lack of faculty interest, instead of funding, as the primary reason for cutting the major. The fact that no faculty stepped up to direct the major, says Dean Bárbara Brizuela, is a testament to this disinterest. Paul Joseph, a professor in the PJS and Sociology departments, agrees that there has been less energy in recent years for the major; he added that, “the visible participation of the faculty in the program has not been what it has been in the past.” Dean Brizuela says, “the reason that the deans’ office approached PJS last year was that over the course of several years we could not find any faculty interested in directing or providing leadership for the program.”

Steve Cohen, senior lecturer in the Education department and teacher of the Senior Seminar for PJS, says that he was offered the position of Director of PJS, but would have had to stop teaching his only PJS class to take on the role. “The fact that I turned down the directorship had nothing to do with lack of interest,” he said. Current PJS faculty simply don’t have the capacity to take more on. “It’s one thing for faculty to be supportive of a program,” says Joseph. “It’s another thing for tenured track faculty to have their primary research and work in the program…I am the only tenured faculty whose research and teaching lies squarely in the field.” Joseph continued, “In my opinion the Arts and Science administration should show its support for the program by making a joint program/department hire of a faculty member with the appropriate background.” Without new hires, the PJS program does not have the number of faculty it needs to teach its core courses. Faculty hires are slim this year across Arts and Sciences, and only happen as a result of departmental requests. Since PJS is not a department but a program, they cannot request new faculty. The framing that lack of faculty interest has spurred these changes is unfair and scapegoats current PJS faculty. Abigail Alpern Fisch, a sophomore in the department added, “The idea that there are not ‘invested faculty,’ for PJS is not a fair evaluation of the many individuals who have been dedicated to the program for over 20 years.”

Student interest in PJS has remained strong and even grown in recent years, but student needs do not seem to be playing a role in this decision. The reason for Tufts’ move away from the major “certainly wasn’t that the number of students in PJS was dwindling,” says Cohen. The number of graduating majors in PJS is larger than many majors at Tufts, including all of the Arts majors and around 75 percent of the engineering and math/science majors. Alpern Fisch recently created a project that includes testimonies speaking to the importance of PJS—it demonstrates that, in fact, students come to Tufts directly because of the PJS major. Alpern Fisch notes that, “After collecting and organizing insights through either in-person interviews or an online Google-form, a consensus exists among members of the Tufts community, both past and present, that Peace and Justice Education is a thematic and academic discipline that warrants study in higher education.” Seemingly, student interest would be able to overcome monetary and hiring obstacles. Cohen says. “I don’t yet see the precise reason that there wouldn’t be a PJS major going forward.” That’s where Civic Studies comes in.

Tufts is $161 million in debt, and while Tisch College can’t directly fund a major, they can provide “in-kind” donations by way of programmatic support and support for new hires. Peter Levine, a faculty member at Tisch College who has been heavily involved in the visioning of a Civic Studies major since 2007, says that the Political Science department, with help from Tisch College, recently hired the Newhouse professor of Civic Studies. This position will involve joint work between the School of Arts and Sciences and Tisch College. “There are a bunch of faculty who are interested in the Civic Studies angle,” notes Levine. “We are already committed to bringing people to Tufts who are involved.” Tisch has the money to seek out and hire faculty that are excited about the program, whereas Arts and Sciences in general has chosen not to prioritize this type of commitment for PJS and has instead transferred responsibility to Tisch in permitting the replacement of PJS with Civic Studies.

Civic Studies and PJS are intrinsically different studies and cannot be collapsed into one. Levine says that Civic Studies “start[s] with the active citizen” considering the question of how “active and responsible people [can] change the world.” The term active citizen and the Civic Studies proposal as it currently stands rest on several antiquated and harmful notions of engagement—first, that all “citizens” can actively and equally engage with their government if they just try hard enough. Second, that government will respond accordingly. Third, while Tisch might seek to redefine it, the term citizen still carries the weight of immigration status. In contrast, in this year’s Disorientation Guide, a PJS major wrote, “Does the major seek to critique the status quo? Every goddamn day. But my professors, advisors, courses, materials, readings, and peers have asked me—even required me—to not stop there, but to go further, to create positive alternatives, and hopeful spaces.” Civic Studies looks to established frameworks of democracy to create change; PJS looks to disrupt and break those frameworks to create change.

The majors also differ in their pedagogies and how they frame learning. PJS works within a concrete framework of lived experiences and case studies that exemplify theory within the conversation of change-making. Civic Studies will be based primarily on theory, and on philosophical conversations about what active citizenship should look like. In the Intro to PJS class, students consider Palestine, Abu Ghraib and the war in Iraq, the Holocaust, post-conflict reconciliation in Rwanda and South Africa, LGBT asylum and international refugee law, and mass incarceration in the US. This learning style has benefited us tremendously and shaped our experiences in PJS. This will not carry over in Civic Studies. These are two different intellectual spaces: one designed around engagement with and exploration of questions such as “what is justice?”—as Levine notes—and one for those who learn better by looking at a decolonized version of history grounded in real world examples of injustice. The latter is the kind of learning that Tufts should be supporting, not defunding.

Let us be clear, then, that PJS is being cut—that we are indeed losing the major. Let us not soften the blow by saying that it is merely being reborn as Civic Studies. Let us do our job as students and as “active citizens” and fight for what we care about. Let us continue on the work of Peace and Justice Studies in an institution, and often a world, that seems to think it is replaceable.