In the Fall 2001 FIU’s Department of Sociology & Anthropology implemented a professional masters degree that requires no post-coursework thesis after the completion of coursework. Comparison with other benchmark universities reveals that most have innovated similar professional and/or applied masters programs. Houston and Wayne State offer such programs in sociology (as well as in their separate anthropology departments). Wayne State offers both professional and terminal masters degrees as well as an applied masters degree. George Mason and Illinois-Chicago offer one only in sociology. FIU’s professional track not only meets the needs of the local job market but also is competitive with such programs at benchmark universities. As previously stated, however, FIU should develop a more rigorous professional-track M.A. focusing on evaluation research, for which there is significant demand and which would be comparable to applied programs at Central Florida, George Mason, Houston, Illinois-Chicago, and Wayne State. Proposed new FIU courses in GIS would be relevant to such a program.
FIU’s doctoral program mandates that its students acquire superior skills in two substantive areas by taking at least two courses in each (for a total of 12 credit hours). The areas of concentration are cultural analysis; ethnicity-immigration; gender-family; medical sociology-anthropology; and urban studies-development. Students’ command of these two areas is tested via comprehensive exams following completion of coursework and prior to writing and defending dissertation proposals.
Concerning the benchmark Ph.D. programs, Illinois-Chicago offers several areas of concentration: health-medical; international- comparative; race-ethnicity-gender; and work-labor markets-organizations. Students must take 16 credit hours to form a major concentration in one of these areas and are tested by means of a comprehensive exam. Temple’s doctoral program in sociology requires students to concentrate in two of the following areas: organizations-work; urban; education; race-ethnicity; medical; gender; family; and international development. These fields are comparable to FIU’s. Arizona State requires that students chose two specialization areas, but does not specify particular field options. Wayne State’s doctoral students are offered only two specialization options, both of which stand within the framework of research methods: qualitative or quantitative methods.
The Comparisons in Summary
We have found no programs that are comparable to FIU’s Ph.D. curriculum in Comparative Sociology, which emphasizes sociology in its core requirements but otherwise fuses sociology and anthropology. This precludes the usual comparisons, instead dictating that comparison focus on degree hours, degree concentrations, degree requirements, specialization concentrations, and professional-track programs.
FIU’s requirement that doctoral students develop two areas of concentration is consistent with that of the benchmark programs. FIU’s doctoral program in Comparative Sociology matches up favorably with or surpasses the other programs in every measure: degree hours; degree requirements; and specialization concentrations.
Breadth, Rationale, & Currency 1. Breadth Not surprisingly for a degree called “Comparative Sociology,” FIU’s M.A. and Ph.D. core requirements are strongly inclined to sociology rather than cultural anthropology. In this regard, the Department’s core curriculum matches up favorably with those of benchmark sociology departments. Arguably an advantage for the program’s graduates, however, is that they learn sociology with a strong anthropological bent, since anthropologists (particularly Professors Alex Stepick and Sarah Mahler) have generally taught Research Methods I (SYA 6305) and because anthropologists and sociologists alike teach the substantive seminars. These advantages notwithstanding, the graduate students are inadequately conversant with contemporary issues and debates in anthropology and sociology, including as the disciplines overlap with multidisciplinary comparative/global research.
This deficiency perhaps calls for an additional requirement along the lines of a first-year, second-semester “Issues & Debates in Comparative/Global Research.” The seminar could focus on the nexus of theory and research within the context of major contemporary currents and controversies. The current deficiency also calls for the filling of a serious departmental void: the absence of a colloqium series of national and international scholarly speakers, who the graduate students could interact with on formal as well as informal terms.
There is a related problem of breadth: a much too narrow range of faculty members teaches the core graduate courses, as well as graduate courses on the whole. The narrow range restricts both student access to the gamut of faculty scholarly perspectives and student information about choices of advisers and committee members. The teaching of core courses, and graduate courses at large, should be consistently rotated among a much wider spectrum of faculty members, including the Biscayne Bay faculty. Instituting a pro-seminar series on current faculty research would also foster student exposure to a wider swath of faculty members.
Still another breadth deficiency concerns the practical facets of professional development, to which the program has given little systematic attention. Among the relevant issues are employment trends within and outside academia; considerations in choosing academic specializations and thesis topics; issues in choosing thesis advisors and committees; strategies for obtaining professional employment; vita preparation; conference participation; research, publication, teaching, and service expectations; interviewing; and other features of professional development in university and non-university settings.
Implementing such changes could reduce another, long-standing departmental problem: minimal faculty participation in departmental “public events” such as receptions, special seminars, and so on. This weakness in the Department’s community fabric is ironic among scholars who study society and culture. Overcoming this inertia is essential to creating the socio-cultural capital that, in turn, is vital to establishing a vibrant faculty/graduate student community of intellectuals and scholars.
As for areas of concentration, a specialization in environment and sustainability is notably missing from the graduate curriculum in view of the Department’s strength in that area. This area would connect with the proposed multi-disciplinary graduate certificate in Sustainable Communities, including proposed departmental courses in GIS. As previously mentioned, onother notable absence is a concentration in evaluation research, a specialization with substantial demand in the public and private sectors. Relevant faculty include not only the Department’s regular members but also affiliated faculty such as Dr. Dennis Wiedman (anthropologist; FIU’s Office of Planning & Institutional Effectiveness), Dr. James Rivers (sociologist; FIU’s International Hurricane Research Center), and Dr. Nancy Weinberg (sociologist; South Florida Workforce). Dr. Weinberg is currently at the center of an initiative to establish graduate internships to carry out policy-oriented research for South Florida Workforce. An internship program should become a vital cog in the Department’s graduate program and its ties with the South Florida community.
2. Rationale & Currency The Department’s graduate curriculum coinicides with national standards in providing strong foundations in theory, research methods, social statistics, and two areas of substantive concentration. Its concentrations in transnational migration/race-ethnicity, environment and sustainability, and comparative social conflicts focus scholarly attention on crucial issues for South Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the world. What the program needs in order to attain higher tiers of quality are the replacement of departed faculty with new, generally junior members; much improved departmental and university infrastructure for faculty, staff, and graduate students; more tuition waivers for out-of-state graduate students; enhanced conference/research funding for graduate students; and revisions in departmental curriculum and culture such as those discussed above.