Penn State to host CIC colloquium on graduate programs in the humanities

Justin McDaniel
October 29, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Leading faculty members in the humanities from member institutions of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the academic arm of the Big Ten Conference, will convene Nov. 5-7 at the Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State’s University Park campus for a colloquium on graduate programs in the humanities.

Hosted by the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, the meeting is designed as a “working conference.” CIC member universities will discuss ways they can work together to share best practices, innovations and resources to further enhance their collective prestige within the humanities disciplines.

“This is a grassroots effort,” said Jack Selzer, Paterno Family Liberal Arts Professor of Literature at Penn State, who initiated and is planning the meeting. “It’s not organized by deans but by faculty. It doesn’t have any institutional sanction, though deans have been supportive and the CIC office knows what is going on. It arises from a sense that, first and foremost, we have really outstanding humanities graduate programs in the CIC institutions. And second, we would like to get better, and by sharing ideas and cooperating in certain ways, we might add to our competitive advantage.”

Comprised of the 14 member universities of the Big Ten plus the University of Chicago (an original Big Ten member school that left the athletic conference in 1946), CIC institutions account for 17 percent of all humanities doctorates awarded annually in the United States, representing a powerful voice in the national academic conversation.

“When you think about the humanities, nationally they’re most often associated with the Ivy League schools and the other prestige privates,” said Selzer. “We (the CIC schools) actually perform at or above those levels, and we want to make sure that we continue to do so because we’re interested in making sure that our graduates have outstanding opportunities. That’s what it’s all about. We are leadership institutions, and this sort of get-together enables us to fulfill our leadership mission.”

As a working conference organized mainly around conversations, not presentations, the meeting will focus on big-picture questions, such as how CIC member schools can work with — instead of competing against — one another to ensure the success of today’s graduate students, recruit additional talented minority doctoral candidates, and share resources in an effort to keep costs down while providing an unmatched student experience.

“A lot of it has to do with preparing graduate students to have outstanding careers, whether they go into academic life or not,” Selzer said. “Traditionally, the idea is if you get a doctorate in philosophy, or history, or English, or Spanish, you would go on to an academic teaching career. But now, more people are interested in preparing people to be great, whether they go into an academic teaching career or a career outside of the academy. And so there are a number of sub-questions about how we can expand the skill base of our graduates within our current degree schedules.”

One of those sub-questions will tackle the challenge of helping graduate students attain marketable skills in things like new media and digital humanities, and how internships, minors and certificate programs in such fields would fit into the existing, already rigorous, framework of graduate study.

“Then there’s a whole series of questions that have to do with the conduct of graduate programs,” Selzer said. “Things like the nature of the dissertation in the age of new media, in an age when people aren’t necessarily going to go into an academic career. What should a leadership graduate program in the humanities do about the dissertation? Or time to degree: What’s the appropriate time to degree from bachelors to doctorate? And how can we ensure that once people enter our programs they’ll finish?”

“We already have some of the most respected graduate programs in the humanities in the nation and in the world. We want to build on that prestige. We want to build on that reputation. We’re looking for innovations and ways of cooperating that will distinguish us as the leading producers of humanities doctorates in the nation.”

-- Jack Selzer, Paterno Family Liberal Arts Professor of Literature

A key component of the CIC’s mission is helping to share expertise and resources, and a major theme of the conference will be cooperative ventures between member schools. These might include sharing postdoctoral experiences or visiting assistant professorships; exploring CIC CourseShare, which places classes, especially those taught by faculty with particular expertise, online so students from other institutions can enroll in them; and developing cooperative programs in the various humanities disciplines in order to increase the pool of talented minority applicants.

“Who knows — we might come up with summer programs that are directed to rising senior minority college students who might be thinking about graduate school but might not know what all is involved,” said Selzer. “These things could be passed around the CIC schools, so one year Illinois would have one for potential minority students in English, while Spanish, philosophy and history, for example, would be having similar programs at other schools. They would rotate around, but the cost could be shared.

“If there was a talented minority undergraduate thinking about graduate school from Ohio University, for example, we would want to bring him or her into our orbit, so to speak, to a summer, two-week enrichment program in which they’d buff up their skills. But we’d also teach them about what graduate school is like, how to apply, how to get financial support, and what careers are open to them. If we pool our resources, we can run a lot more of these types of programs.”

Distinguished guests slated to be present at the conference include Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones and Dean Susan Welch and Associate Dean Eric Silver from the College of the Liberal Arts. More than 75 attendees from nearly every Big Ten/CIC public institution will be in attendance, giving weight to both the conversation and the conference’s outcome. 

“This is a faculty-led thing, and the people who are coming are outstanding faculty members, many of them named professors, or they are in leadership positions at their schools — directors of graduate studies, department heads or associate deans — but a large number of named professors with national reputations will be among us. And so whatever we do come up with will have a certain prestige value because these folks will be associated with it,” Selzer said.

“We already have some of the most respected graduate programs in the humanities in the nation and in the world. We want to build on that prestige. We want to build on that reputation. We’re looking for innovations and ways of cooperating that will distinguish us as the leading producers of humanities doctorates in the nation.”

The CIC colloquium on graduate programs in the humanities is sponsored by the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, the Michigan State College of Arts and Letters, the Penn State Graduate School, the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture, the Paterno Family Liberal Arts Professorship, and Robert D. Hume’s Penn State Evan Pugh Professorship.

Last Updated November 05, 2015