Anthropology department re-evaluates program

Posted by Julia Leef

As part of a self-study that each academic department and program must conduct every 10 years, the college's anthropology program is evaluating its faculty and curriculum in an attempt to improve student academic experiences.

Proposed changes include eliminating several elective courses, including North American Indians and Applied Anthropology, shifting 300-level research methods courses to the 200-level, and altering 100-level courses from four credits to three.

"These are exciting moments because they are opportunities to stand back and consider what does work and what doesn't work," said Rik Scarce, associate professor and chairman of the department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.

Michael Ennis-McMillan, an associate professor of anthropology who was on sabbatical for the past academic year, said he has been with the anthropology program for 13 years, and has witnessed many changes to the staff and curriculum.

Throughout the past few years, McMillan said, several professors have passed in and out of the anthropology program, bringing with them new ideas and inspirations for students, which, in turn, determine what courses students respond to and help shape the future curriculum of the program.

"I can see how, from a student's perspective it's news that professors come and go and programs change, but it's actually the way the program works," Ennis-McMillan said.

Based on recommendations from evaluators based on contemporary anthropology programs in other colleges, the anthropology program has strived to incorporate a broader range of training for its students.

According to Scarce, 90 percent of anthropology majors go abroad, so there is a lot of interest in studying non-western cultures.

There are also many opportunities for students to conduct research in Saratoga Springs, allowing students to study both locally and globally.

"What can we learn, literally in our own backyard, in the U.S?" Ennis-McMillan asked.

During the next couple of years, anthropology majors will be required to complete a research methods course in Saratoga Springs, McMillan said.

In 2001, the college applied for a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to broaden knowledge and encourage high standards of service and leadership.

The grant sponsored a fifth teaching position for four years, with the understanding that this position would focus on non-western areas, particularly east Asia, after which the college funded the position.

Both Scarce and Ennis-McMillan said professors' areas of specialization are highly relevant to students' lives, especially for those interested in interdisciplinary work.

"The college has asked us when hiring people to have people who can actually contribute to other majors," Ennis-McMillan said.

According to Scarce, although the anthropology program is small, it is essential to student education.

"Anthropology has a really important role in this globalized future to bring understanding and to bring us together in very positive ways," Scarce said.

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