Brown Approves Controversial Major

Following the approval of a controversial concentration, students at Brown University will be able to major in the field of "Media/Culture."

The Educational Policy Committee (EPC) approved the new major early last week, and students will be able to pursue the new concentration, which some faculty members have accused of illegitimate scholarship, by next fall.

The basis of the concentration is examining the role that media play in our culture, said Brown Provost Maurice Glicksman.

"This is not going to be a passive major. [Students] have to define it themselves," said Professor of English Roger B. Henkle.

The fact that students have to define the concentration for themselves is "what is unique about the Brown design and what makes it difficult," Henkle said.

The Media/Culture concentration consists of a total of 12 semester courses, some required in fields ranging from semiotics to "historical concepts of culture," and various writer courses

Within the major itself, students must choose a specific area of study, such as Latin American or Environmental Studies, Henkle said, and take four courses in that area. The EPC approved the concentration by a one-sided but controversial vote of 13-3.

Prior to the vote, committee member David H. Hirsch, a professor of English, wrote a memo to other EPC members in which he lambasted the proposed concentration.

Hirsch attacked the proposed major for representing an overly vague plan of study. The people who approved the concentration said they failed to fully understand it, he said.

One proponent of the new concentration said that the meaning of the major "was beyond language," Hirsch said in an interview. If this is true, Hirsch said, "We are in the realm of faith."

Hirsch called the concentration proposal "a masterpiece of incoherence," and added that "the people who propose to teach journalism and education show a rather limited ability to do so in their own writing."

Hirsch also assailed the concentration for representing a turn from "humanist individualism toward radical collectivism" in undergraduate education, according to The Brown Daily Herald.

"That's a ridiculous statement," Henkle said yesterday response to Hirsch's charges of "radical collectivism," which Henkle defined as a "buzzword for Marxism."

Henkle said that possible reasons for the uproar include the concentration's focus, which, he said, includes exploration of issues of race and gender which many find too controversial for scholarly pursuit.

"I think American universities have been reluctant to study media," Henkle said. "I don't think that media has been taken seriously, [which is] a mistake.

Faculty in the concentration are hoping to have between 10 and 15 concentrators graduate each year, Henkle said.