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A College for History Only

A College for History Only
June 15, 2009

A non-traditional and sometimes iconoclastic law school has announced plans to create a new kind of undergraduate college -- one focused on history.

The new college will offer only the junior and senior years of instruction, will operate in a no-frills manner to keep costs down, and will offer the single major of history. The American College of History and Legal Studies will start offering classes in August 2010 and has been licensed to operate in Salem, N.H. -- just seven miles from the Andover, Mass., campus of the Massachusetts School of Law. While the law school and the history college will be independent of one another in a legal sense, with their own boards, many trustees are expected to serve on both boards, and the two institutions will start with overlapping administrations.

Lawrence R. Velvel, the dean of the law school, said in an interview Friday that he saw a need to promote the study of history in a way that was affordable and might reach new groups of students. "I have been aware that this country is not only ahistorical, but because it doesn't know history and ignores history, it makes the same mistakes over and over again," he said.

Tuition is planned to start at $10,000 a year -- low in comparison to most private colleges.

Velvel said that all courses at the new history college would be taught through discussion classes, with a small core faculty and adjuncts. He said that for every 50 students, there would be one full-time faculty member in history, several adjuncts in history and several other adjuncts (and possibly an additional full-time faculty) focused on teaching writing (with an emphasis on history). He said that no decision has been made on whether to have tenure, but said that if tenure is not offered, there would be some system of contracts to provide full-time faculty members with job security.

The focus in hiring, he said, would be on generalists in history. While there will be a range of courses on different topics in history, most courses will look broadly at periods or regions (especially the United States) as opposed to highly specialized offerings. The new college will assume that general education has been covered in students' first two years at a community college or elsewhere, and will not attempt to offer a breadth of courses.

He said that the college would start with somewhere between 10 and 50 students, and that he hoped for quick growth.

A number of strategies will be used, Velvel said, similar to those at the law school, to minimize costs:

  • There will be no attempt to build a fancy campus. The area in Salem has "lots of empty space," he said, and while classrooms will be well designed and comfortable, there will be no extra money spent on facilities for the sake of looking nice.
  • No residential or student activities will be offered. There is space in the area, he said, for students to rent apartments.
  • Much of the library will be digital.
  • Faculty members with a common area of expertise will be hired.

The Massachusetts School of Law has had years of fighting with the American Bar Association over accrediting rules, and has opted to go without the ABA's recognition. The law school is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and the new history college will also seek New England accreditation. There are no requirements in the New England association about breadth of offerings, so the single major does not pose a problem.

Velvel said that the new college is starting across the state line in New Hampshire because Massachusetts requirements for starting undergraduate institutions define two-year colleges as those leading to associate degrees or transfer to a four-year institution, not "completion" colleges that offer only the junior and senior years.

 

 

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