President's Initiative Fund - Projects Approved, Spring 2006

Education and Social Justice

Elizabeth Aries (Psychology)
Kristin Bumiller (Political Science/Women's and Gender Studies)
Rhonda Cobham-Sander (Black Studies/English)
David Cox (Mathematics)
Hilary Moss (Black Studies/History)
Barry O'Connell (English)
Patricia O'Hara (Chemistry)
Rose Olver (Psychology)
Karen Sanchez-Eppler (American Studies/English)

The group designed this project to facilitate a larger conversation among faculty interested in issues of education. By bringing together this intellectual community, we hope to support the research and pedagogical practices of our colleagues, strengthen the visibility of education in our curriculum, expand the number of course offerings with education at their core, and create greater ties to the larger educational community both among Five-College colleagues, and at the local public schools. We have used funds from the President’s Initiative to support an interdisciplinary faculty seminar in which to reflect upon how we, as a liberal arts community, can most productively use our scholarship and teaching to respond to issues of social inequity in American education. The questions about educational justice that are central to national debates over citizenship and opportunity have a particular salience within institutions of higher learning. Liberal arts colleges have a responsibility to take a leadership role in imagining the future of public education in the United States. The advantage of the liberal arts lies in their capacity to sustain interdisciplinary inquiry that can situate present problems in American education within broader historical, political, and socioeconomic contexts. This project will be supported with a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and funding for several visiting scholars to come to campus. The fellow will teach courses in the humanistic social sciences that address issues of educational policy not represented currently in the Amherst curriculum and will provide support for the group’s faculty seminar. He or she will be based in the Department of Black Studies.

Environmental Science and Environmental Studies: New Realms of Interdisciplinary Inquiry at Amherst College

Ethan Clotfelter (Biology) Rick López (History)
David Cox (Mathematics) Anna Martini (Geology)
David Delaney (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Karena McKinney (Chemistry)
Amy Demorest (Psychology) Jill Miller (Biology)
Jan Dizard (Sociology/American Studies) Joseph Moore (Philosophy)
Whitey Hagadorn (Geology) Jessica Reyes (Economics)
Tekla Harms (Geology) John Servos (History)
Robert Hilborn (Physics) Ethan Temeles (Biology)

In fall 2005, this group requested support for 2006-2007 to continue working toward the inclusion of an Environmental Studies program, and ultimately an Environmental Studies major, in the curriculum of Amherst College.A brief history of the group’s work might help put this request for continued support in context. In 2004-2005, PIF support enabled interested faculty members to invite to campus several colleagues from campuses that the group had identified as having particularly impressive Environmental Studies programs. These visitors gave the group many good ideas and made it clear that environmental studies can be very attractive to students, even while maintaining rigorously high standards that require courses in the lab sciences, statistics, and economics. Moreover, Environmental Studies is a field that brings natural science, social science, and humanities faculty together in common pursuit of insight and understanding.

By the end of last fall, the group had a reasonably clear idea of what it would take to start an Environmental Studies program at Amherst. The members continue to refine their thinking, but agree that environmental studies courses should be introduced into the existing curriculum wherever and whenever possible, rather than waiting for the moment when the College has all the staff necessary to launch a full-fledged major. To that end, the group applied for additional PIF support last spring to enable Professors Jan Dizard and Peter Crowley to design and teach a new colloquium (Colloquium 22: The Resilient (?) Earth: An Interdisciplinary Reflection on Contemporary Environmental Issues), which the group hopes will evolve into the introductory course for the Environmental Studies program. The group received support for course materials, for bringing in one or two guest lecturers, and for hiring a professor to teach a sociology course to replace Professor Dizard. The course was taught in the spring of 2006. Late last spring, the group submitted a proposal to the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) for the creation of an environmental studies program.

While the group awaits a response from the CEP, the members are eager to maintain momentum. The most recent PIF award will enable Professors Crowley and Dizard to offer Colloquium 22 in the spring of 2007. Since several geologists will be on leave for all or part of the year in 2006-2007 and the department will be short-handed, the group received support for two course replacements for next year, one in sociology and the other in geology, to replace courses taught by Professors Crowley and Dizard. In addition, two visiting faculty positions, to be shared equally by the PIF group and the relevant departments were authorized. One position will be based in the Department of History and the other in Economics. Both visiting faculty members will offer courses relevant to students interested in Environmental Studies. These searches are currently under way. The group is hopeful that the proposal for an Environmental Studies program will be brought to the Faculty for a vote before the end of the current academic year.


Human Rights: History, Theory, and Practice

Amrita Basu (Political Science/Women’s and Gender Studies)

Martha Saxton (History/Women’s and Gender Studies)


With the support of the President’s Initiative Fund, Professors Basu and Saxton offered a new course, Human Rights Activism, in fall of 2005 to a group of about eighty-five students. The course is intended to give students a sense of the challenges and satisfactions involved in the actual practice of human rights work as well as a critical sense of how the discourses calling it forth developed and continue to evolve. Professors Basu and Saxton provided specific historical and cultural context to selected areas in which human rights abuses have occurred and explored how differing traditions facilitate and inhibit types of activism within these areas. The course was divided into three main parts. The semester began by exploring the historical growth of human rights discourse in Europe and the United States, culminating in the emergence of the post-World War II Universal Declaration. The class then turned to the proliferation of these discourses that has occurred since the 1970s, including the growing importance of non-governmental organizations, many of them internationally based; the use of human rights discourse to address a wide range of issues by a wide range of groups; and expanding meanings of human rights. The class also explored criticisms to human rights discourses, particularly the charge that for all their claims to universalism, these discourses reflect the values of European Enlightenment traditions which are inimical to conceptions of rights and justice that are grounded in local culture and sometimes religion. During the final and longest portion of the course, rights workers discussed their own experiences, abroad and in the United States and reflected on the nature of their work and its relation to formal human rights discourse. There were four guest speakers, including a former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, a human rights worker and expert in Rwanda, a journalist who covers human right issues extensively, and a human rights activist working on domestic violence in Massachusetts. Professors Basu and Saxton report that their first experience with the course was positive; they intend to offer it again in 2007-2008.


Miscarriages of Justice

Information to Come


Urban Imagination

Carol Clark (Fine Arts)
Francis Couvares (History/American Studies)
Deborah Gewertz (Anthropology)
Heidi Gilpin (German)
Ronald Rosbottom (French/European Studies)
Nicholas Michiewicz '07

The Urban Imagination PIF group proposes to invite Professor Max Page of the University of Massachusetts to co-teach a course on the world city with Professor Frank Couvares of the History department in 2006-2007. This course, along with others taught by Amherst faculty members during the year, will continue to raise questions of how the study of the urban experience can best fit into a liberal arts curriculum.


Science in Law/Law in Science

Anthony Bishop (Chemistry)

Jan Dizard (American Studies/Sociology)

Catherine McGoech (Computer Science)

Austin Sarat (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought/Political Science)

John Servos (History)

Martha Umphrey (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought)


With the support of the President’s Initiative Fund (PIF), this group brought a series of visitors to the campus to lead seminars in 2005-2006. These visitors included Sheila Jasanoff, Science and Technology Studies, Kennedy School, Harvard University; Lee Silver, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Michael Lynch, Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University; Lori Andrews, Institute of Science, Law and Technology, Chicago-Kent College of Law; and Jennifer Mnookin, School of Law, University of Virginia. They discussed with the group a range of matters, from the difficult problem of regulating the latest developments in biotechnology to the question of how law should make use of scientific expertise. These seminars were very useful in helping the group develop common vocabularies as well in sharpening the members’ awareness of the challenges of crossing boundaries among scientists, social scientists, and humanists. During 2006-2007, the Science in Law/Law in Science PIF group will organize a series of workshops that will tie into the courses that will be offered by a PIF-supported visiting faculty member. These workshops will bring to the campus speakers on themes integral to those courses.