Science, medicine may link with History Dept.

Students enrolled in the University’s interdepartmental History of Medicine and Science program may soon have closer ties to the History Department, as a proposal to integrate the two graduate programs awaits approval.

Drafted earlier this semester by History of Medicine and Science chair John Warner and history professor Daniel Kevles, the proposal will integrate the free-standing program into the History Department. The proposal seeks to expand course offerings for the program’s graduate students, increase student interaction with members of the History Department, and give the students a competitive edge in the job market, Kevles said. Approved by the History Department Sept. 21, the proposal is currently under consideration by the medical and graduate school deans, as well as the provost’s office.

The History of Medicine and Science program experienced moderate growth over the past few years, Warner said. While it previously accepted two to three students annually, it now accepts about five a year, an increase Warner said was “considerable” for such a small program. Deputy Provost for Biomedical and Health Affairs Stephanie Spangler said she thinks the proposed initiative will help sustain this level of growth.

“I think it’s a very good program that is continuing to grow and improve, and the larger history program can help it to grow and improve,” she said.

If the proposal is adopted, students enrolled in the program will be awarded degrees in history with the option to specify a history of medicine and science affiliation, Warner said.

But, Warner said, even with the partnership, the program will be “semi-autonomous.” The program’s faculty will not be required to teach courses in the History Department and the program will maintain control over its budget. The program’s requirements, which differ from those of standard history programs, will remain the same, Warner said.

“[Students] will more freely interact with and see themselves as part of the History Department while preserving their separate identities,” Warner said.

The measure will be mutually beneficial, Kevles said. Under the proposal, more history of medicine and science classes will be open to history students, he said.

“Anyone who studies the history of the modern world will be benefitted by close interaction with members of the History of Medicine and Science program,” Kevles said. “We think it’s a win-win move.”

While Warner said he thinks it is unlikely that the proposal will be approved in time to attract this year’s stock of prospective grad students, he said he has received encouraging responses from the administration, including Medical School Dean Robert Alpern.

“He has been a very good and patient listener,” Warner said.

One issue the proposal raises concerns the nature of faculty commitments, Warner said. Because the program’s core faculty is comprised of professors from both the medical school and the Faculty of Arts and Science’s History Department, if the measure passes, department heads will have to determine the commitments of medical school professors and the allocation of resources to the newly designed program.

“You should always be addressing the roles of the faculty, the appointments of the faculty and which existing faculty in other departments should teach in the program,” Spangler said. “I think the program faculty are going to continue to explore the nature of appointments across schools.”

Matthew Gunterman, a first-year history of medicine and science student, said he thinks the proposal will not greatly affect him.

“It will not change the fact that I’ve worked with Dan Kevles and John Warner,” Gunterman said. “If I still get the chance to work with these brilliant people, then all the power to it.”

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