News | Humanistic studies cancelled

Refashioned program in works in consultation with students

McGill’s Humanistic Studies program, offered through the Faculty of Arts, has been cancelled. The major and minor concentrations are now closed to new students, though those already enrolled will be able to finish their degrees. There are currently 82 students registered in the major, and 18 in the minor. The core courses of the program, HMST 296 and 297, are no longer being offered.

Created in the 1970’s, Humanistic Studies allowed students to build their own liberal arts program out of humanities and social sciences offerings. Students could focus on a theme of their choosing. Through an interdisciplinary lens, the two core courses address the question of what it means to be human. Each student, aside from general area requirements, formed their own “collateral concentration” of three classes in their desired programs at the 300 level or above, in consultation with an adviser.

Philosophy professor James McGilvray, who administers the program, said “the program’s advantages have been the degree of flexibility it offers and the opportunity to explore. The cost was sometimes a lack of focus and depth.”

The program had been reviewed frequently by the administration the past few years, and it finally decided to pull the plug at the end of the 2009 fall semester. Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi stated that, “the Humanistic Studies program was retired because it was no longer serving the purposes for which it had been established in the early 70s. The decision to retire it was made after extensive consultation with faculty and students connected with the program, and after following all of the formal procedures within the Faculty and University.”

Student representatives selected from the Humanistic Studies Students Association were involved not only in the process of reviewing the old program, but in making recommendations for a new liberal arts program that will replace it.

“A department is being cancelled, so to have any student voice or involvement is pretty spectacular. I felt that, as a student ambassador on the committee, my opinions weren’t just tolerated, but actually taken into consideration,” said Liz English, one of the students who took part in this process.

Manfredi confirmed that a new interdisciplinary program is being crafted by a committee led by political science professor Jacob Levy, and is tentatively slated to open next fall if approved by the faculty and administration. According to English, the program in the works may offer honours and joint honours concentrations in addition to the major and minor. The program will also feature a language requirement.

“Undoubtedly, the new program is a step up from Humanistic Studies, if only just because there is more structure and legitimacy to the program as a whole,” said English.