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The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is seeking University Senate approval for a new interdisciplinary master's program.

The proposed program would allow students to individualize their courses of study in consultation with a committee. It was first approved by the GSAS Executive Committee in December 2010, and the senate's Education Committee took up the proposal in February 2011, before requesting more information about the program in February of this year.

“We are still working on addressing those [questions] because other matters have taken precedence,” GSAS Dean Carlos Alonso said in an email.

Alonso said that he appeared before the Education Committee to answer some of its questions in December, and that additional details are still being ironed out.

“Dean Alonso is concerned with these master's programs because we charge serious tuition for them, and in order to do that, we need to ensure that they are of the highest quality for the people who pay this money,” pathobiology professor and GSAS Executive Committee member Richard Kessin said.

The consulting firm McKinsey and Company also recommended the creation of an “interdisciplinary individual study” master's program in a report on the Arts and Sciences last summer, after GSAS had already begun developing one.

A summary of the McKinsey report advises Columbia to increase enrollment in master's programs, which generate substantial revenue because there is little financial aid for master's students. The summary suggests the creation of the interdisciplinary master's program and an economics master's program and also says that administrators should “focus enrollment increases on six high-demand programs with marginal additions in smaller programs.”

Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini, one of three members of the new executive committee for the Arts and Sciences, said that while “money's always a consideration because we need money to operate,” the development of new master's programs and curricular offerings for undergraduates is first and foremost an academic issue.

“If we decide to do something, the first thing we decide is, ‘Does this make sense intellectually?'” Valentini said. “Then naturally, you're going to ask, ‘Is this going to cost me money, or is this going to earn me money?' And if it's going to cost me money, you want us to make sure there's a benefit somewhere else.”

“And if it earns you money,” he added, “you're going to want to ask, ‘How can I use that to improve other parts of the operation?'”

Alonso, who became interim GSAS dean in August 2010, said that the interdisciplinary master's program was one of the first initiatives he took on as dean and that it was “inspired in the existing, long-standing, and successful program at NYU's Gallatin School.”

Varun Char and Sammy Roth contributed reporting.
university senate Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Master's McKinsey report
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