In the past seven months, the University of Massachusetts Boston's faculty and administration have successfully proposed establishing six new graduate programs to support the university’s commitment to enhancing faculty and student research, innovation, scholarship, and creativity.
In various stages of discussion and approval, the following new PhD programs will soon be available: counseling and school psychology; developmental brain sciences; global governance and human security; applied linguistics; and business administration. A new master's program in applied economics will also soon be available.
“What you are seeing unfolding is a university with more comprehensive academic offerings, a university that is more programmatically inclusive—and we need this inclusivity, if we are going to serve our diverse student population well,” said UMass Boston Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Winston Langley at the November 2010 meeting of the Faculty Council.
Langley believes that universities, private and public, can and should play a role in mitigating socioeconomic disparities. These new programs can be seen as part of that effort. They are built on the belief that a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning is needed now more than ever to effectively prepare students to understand and act in a complex world.
Similar programs already exist at many well-established private as well as some public institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, admission, or access, to those institutions is often beyond the reach of those minority and ethnic groups likely to benefit the most. In contrast, UMass Boston serves the most diverse student body in New England, and because of its outstanding faculty and mission finds itself uniquely positioned to inspire and prepare these students to achieve professional success and personal fulfillment.
All institutions need to do their part to address socioeconomic disparities because, as described by Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology at University College London, their effects are profound. "If you catch the metro train in downtown Washington, DC, to suburbs in Maryland, life expectancy is 57 years at the beginning of the journey. At the end of the journey, it is 77 years. This means that there is 20-year life expectancy difference in the nation's capital, between the poor and predominantly African American people who live downtown, and the richer and predominantly non-African American people who live in the suburbs....The social determinants of these two individuals’ lives are different, and we must acknowledge this and think of poverty in a different way. It is about opportunities in life and control over one's life.” Langley agrees.
“We speak of diversity a lot on campus, but its meaning too often is restricted and restrictive,” Langley said. “We cannot, on the one hand, speak of the diversity of our students without also speaking about the diversity of their academic and other interests; and we cannot in good faith speak about those interests, while limiting our students to the relatively narrow range of existing programs, as distinct from courses.”
These new graduate programs by themselves will not make for a healthier and more fulfilling train ride. But perhaps they can serve as important ties upon which might rest the rails for a train ride that leads to a future developed in part on the principles of social justice.