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Arrested international development: A certificate program on the brink
Zara Khan (SFS ’07) has had enough. During her 18 months as the program coordinator of the International Development certificate—the most popular certificate in the School of Foreign Service—the SFS deans have repeatedly slashed the certificate’s budget, eliminating student services despite a meteoric rise in enrollment in the certificate. So yesterday, citing the SFS’ disheartening lack of commitment to the certificate, she resigned.
Enrollment in the International Development, or IDEV, certificate has increased substantially each year since its establishment in 2006. Currently, more than 80 seniors plan to graduate with the certificate at the end of this year, nearly three times the number of students who plan to graduate with the next most popular certificate, Asian Studies.
But despite its persistent growth, the IDEV certificate’s budget has continually suffered massive cuts. While the deans are not allowed to disclose exact figures, the SFS cut the program’s budget in half in 2009, even after a 300 percent increase in enrollment over the previous two years. For the current academic year, the budget was sliced another 10 percent.
Since she took the helm of the program, no one has been more important in managing and running the certificate program than Khan. She fulfilled the duties of program coordinator even though the University only paid her as an hourly, temporary worker. This summer and for the first five weeks of the school year, she worked as an unpaid volunteer while the certificate director, Professor Maria Luise Wagner, unsuccessfully attempted to secure a full-time position for her. Since it is clear that no such position is going to materialize, Khan has decided to accept a post with a non-governmental organization in Rwanda that focuses on food security and strengthening agricultural value chains.
“My departure from Georgetown is not related to salary or budget cuts,” Khan wrote in her resignation letter. “I am leaving because the support from SFS which I had asked for did not materialize.”
Khan’s resignation will only increase the doubt surrounding the future of International Development at Georgetown. Student enthusiasm for the program may be high, but with a meager budget, and the departure of one of the two core administrators, the IDEV certificate is facing serious challenges. And unless the University increases its financial commitment to the certificate, it may be headed for failure.
The history of International Development at Georgetown is a short one. Upon returning to Georgetown in 2001 after a six-year stint at the World Bank, Wagner noticed that international development was absent from the undergraduate curriculum.
“I typed development into the Georgetown search engine,” she said, “and there wasn’t really anything worthwhile that was happening here.”
She first proposed an undergraduate certificate in international development to the SFS Curriculum Committee in 2002. Two years later, President John DeGioia became interested in increasing Georgetown’s focus on global poverty after attending the 2004 World Economic Forum. In the spring of 2005, DeGioia established a flagship course with then-Professor Carol Lancaster entitled “Ethics and Global Development,” for which over 100 students registered. Energized by the course’s popularity, Georgetown invited leaders in the field of development as guest lecturers.
As DeGioia initiated Georgetown’s first forays into development, student support for an undergraduate program in international development began to appear.
“This had the potential to be something more than just a student organization,” Jonathan Kirschner (SFS ’05), co-founder of Students for Development Studies at Georgetown, said. “[It was] something that could have a broader impact on the University community.”
In the fall of 2005, to demonstrate to the University that SFS students were interested in an IDEV program, members of a student organization called Our Moment took impromptu surveys of undergraduates on the appeal of a development studies program and held an international development conference at Georgetown to promote awareness of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
During that time, the President’s Office actively engaged with students who were interested in an undergraduate program in development.
“They used to bring us for pizza,” Khan said. “They used to get five or ten of us, sit down with pizza, and have a talk about what we wanted to do about development.” The SFS officially approved the certificate in spring 2006.
In Fall 2007, the SFS, under then-Dean Robert Gallucci, increased the budget of the certificate to the level of a program in light of the increased student interest. In November of that year, DeGioia declared in a speech at the State Department, “Helping to promote human development is one of the most important functions for Universities in this new century. … I’d argue it’s also our most important moral responsibility.”
Since 2007, however, the program’s budget has gone nowhere but down. The latest budget cuts, combined with Khan’s departure, mean that many of the services previously offered to students are no longer feasible. Unless more funding is allocated by the SFS, the program’s networking meet-ups, on-campus events, student résumé evaluation services, weekend skills workshops, career services, and internship placement program—offerings that helped make the certificate as popular as it is today—will all be eliminated for the next academic year.
The program’s budget problems partly stem from its unique status within the SFS. Every other certificate is associated with a larger program, which can help provide institutional support, manpower, and funding. The Arab Studies certificate, for example, is a part of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. But there is no larger program or center for international development at Georgetown.
IDEV’s isolation leaves it more vulnerable to shifts in SFS leadership and financial conditions. Unlike other certificates, the IDEV Certificate receives its funding directly from the SFS, which means its budget is overseen by academic deans who have many other responsibilities.
“We are living in constrained times in terms of budgets and have lots of priorities,” SFS Dean Carol Lancaster wrote in an email. “We are planning to do a review of the program in the next year and will consider all relevant issues, including budgetary ones.”
The budget cuts have been disappointing to students who were initially attracted to the program’s impressive offering of services.
“I decided to be an IDEV Certificate candidate because it was the most robust certificate in terms of support and programming,” Josh Mogil (SFS ’09), the president of the SFS Academic Council, said. “I liked those requirements because they ensured that while I had a rigorous academic experience, I also had the support of the program and its mentors.”
Student organizations have also been affected by the budget reduction, since the certificate used to sponsor many campus events.
“The cuts to the IDEV budget are having significant effects on the quality of programming put on by student groups related to international development,” said Bridget O’Loughlin (SFS ’11), former President of STAND and an IDEV certificate candidate. Last year, STAND could not hold DarfurFEAST, an annual fundraising event that showcased Sudanese culture and food, in part because IDEV could not sponsor the event.
Sponsored alumni networking events—hugely important for students starting careers in international development—were central to the program. But Wagner has been forced to begin hosting these events informally at her house because there is no space in the budget for them. Courtney Ivins (SFS ’10), an IDEV certificate graduate, had to host an alumni event in her Burleith townhouse last year for the same reason.
“It’s almost getting ridiculous,” Ivins said.
Last summer’s internship placement program was heavily competitive and highly popular because it placed certificate students in fieldwork positions with organizations like the World Bank.
“They were just incredible because of the fact that they were in-country,” certificate candidate Katalyn Voss (SFS ’11) said. “That experience is so valuable for any development work.”
But that program has suffered, too. Because of the budget cuts, Brett Nadrich (SFS ’12) was the only certificate candidate who was able to do a program-sponsored internship last summer. He called the internship, work with a World Bank project in Columbia last summer, “the single best career opportunity I’ve had.” But he may be the last intern IDEV places. There are currently no plans to continue the program in 2011.
“The certificate is going to keep growing even after I graduate, and I don’t want to see people losing the opportunities that I had,” Nadrich said.
In addition, the one-credit course designed to give school credit to students with internships related to development, INAF-303, will no longer be available. All internship assistance, personalized career services, and close student supervision will end next semester.
The certificate’s financial woes will only be compounded by Khan’s departure. Her energetic, engaging personality and over-the-top dedication to helping certificate candidates with everything from their studies to their post-graduation career prospects was a big factor in the program’s expanding popularity.
When he established the certificate in 2006, Gallucci was concerned that the SFS would not be able to provide the institutional support necessary to maintain the program’s staff. With budget cuts, he feared, administrators could be overworked, which would endanger the vitality of the certificate.
“One way to do something interesting in the curriculum at Georgetown or anywhere else is to have people just work harder and do more,” Gallucci said. “That’s not adding resources, it’s adding missions without adding resources, and that is not a good long-term strategy. It takes advantage of people, it exhausts people, and ultimately it doesn’t institutionalize the addition.”
It is unclear whether the university will hire a replacement for Khan, but it is certain that the certificate program will miss her.
“I think that her leaving will drastically shape the direction of the program and its potential for impact,” said Nate Barker (SFS ’12), a certificate candidate and Vice President of UNICEF Georgetown. “Without Zara, all the features of the program that exist beyond just the classes are essentially eliminated or reduced to the point of not being effective. I really have serious doubts about whether the certificate will be able to exist beyond just a collection of classes in her absence.”
Wagner, too, will certainly miss the contributions of her former partner.
“[Khan] has been the soul of the certificate,” she said. “We have been the most wonderful team that I could imagine.
Although Khan meant a great deal to the program, students and faculty expressed confidence in Wagner’s ability to run the program in her absence.
“Professor Wagner is one of the most incredible professors in the SFS today,” Mogil wrote in an email, “She is not just an intellectual powerhouse with the experience to back it up, but also a wonderful teacher, as well as a mentor and a friend.”
Wagner admits that it will be difficult to manage the certificate by herself. She has requested to meet with Dean Lancaster about the program’s financial and administrative future, but no such meeting has occurred yet.
Between continuously increasing enrollment, financial constraints, and the departure of Khan, Wagner said the program will have to undergo a process of “reorientation” to stay afloat.
Khan, however believes the program will survive in her absence. She attributes a large part of the certificate’s success to students themselves.
“The driving force behind the certificate’s growth and success has been the tremendous student interest in international development,” she said. “The certificate is merely a mechanism for students to channel their passion. … So long as the interest is there, the certificate will continue.”