Jessica Elfenbein - University of Baltimore

Jessica Elfenbein
Response to History Program Reviewers, Alan Lessoff and Cynthia Brandimarte
May 30, 2003
Our reviewers were Alan Lessoff, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Illinois State
University, and Cynthia Brandimarte, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for Historic Sties, Texas
Parks and Wildlife Department. Each offered us a written assessment of our
undergraduate B.A. program in History.
Dr. Lessoff’s review was very comprehensive, offering many thoughtful insights. We
concur with his recommendation that “the main goal of the Yale Gordon College with
regard to its History program, therefore, ought to be the simple one of keeping the faculty
strong and facilitating the faculty’s ability to work closely with students.” (2).
He points out that UB’s History program offers two main foci – legal history and
Baltimore. On the topic of legal history, Lessoff reminds us that “at a time when history
departments often neglect legal history, it is noteworthy that two of UB’s five full-time
faculty are legal historians.”(2) Lessoff is interested in knowing how many UB history
majors apply to the law school and programs like CNCM. While we have not fully
tracked that data, we do know that for next year’s first year law school class, there were
29 UB undergraduates applicants, the majority of whom are likely Jurisprudence and
History majors. Of these, ten were admitted, six were waitlisted, and 13 were denied. Of
the ten admitted, eight will attend UB and two are going elsewhere.1
The History program’s second focus, Baltimore, plays out both in the Public History
specialization and in the new major in Community Studies and Civic Engagement. To
Lessoff’s knowledge, “no other history faculty in the Baltimore area so deliberately
structures itself around interaction with the city.”(2) This is a particular strength of UB’s
history program and is likely to mesh well with the University’s strategic planning
Lessoff wishes for more information regarding the Coppin-UB collaborative. While we
have collaborated since 1995, the nature of the collaboration has been uneven. One of
our faculty members has twice team taught with a Coppin colleague. Another one taught
a course at Coppin once as part of her UB load. A very small group of UB students has
availed themselves of courses at Coppin and an even smaller group of Coppin students
has taken classes at UB. One historian here reports having, on average, one Coppin
student in her classes per year for the last 5 years. Another historian has not had a single
Coppin student successfully complete one of his UB history courses.
The issue of teacher certification is of particular interest to Lessoff. He believes that the
absence of such a program is “perhaps the major difference between the UB History
program and analogous programs” elsewhere. While we explored the possibility of
creating such a program in the late 1990s, we found it to be unrealistic at a university that
. E-mail message from Gary Wimbish, Asst. Dean for Admissions, UB Law School, to Tom Carney, 26
May 2003.
does not have a school of education. Further complicating the issue is the presence of
schools of education at many of our University of Maryland System sister institutions,
including Towson, UMBC, Morgan and Coppin. Given our new administration and its
strategic planning priorities, it is worth the faculty again reflecting on this issue.
The final matter on which Lessoff wishes more information is the relationship between
the History program and other parts of the College’s curriculum. He suggests collecting
data to examine the aggregate credit hours or FTE generated by the History faculty in
teaching students from other majors. The likely finding is that despite a major population
that is consistently between 40 and 50 students, History faculty teach many, many more
students for whom History classes satisfy either general electives or simply intellectual
curiosity. On average, no more than 1/3 of students enrolled in a History class are
History majors. More often History students comprise ¼ or fewer of those enrolled. For
example, in the spring of 2003, there were 241 students enrolled in History classes at UB.
Of these, 68 (28%) were History majors and 52 (22%) were Jurisprudence majors.
Lessoff makes several suggestions we will consider when our History faculty is reunited
early in the fall. On the topic of assessment, he suggests comparing papers written early
and late in the program, a rubric he says provides “a rough measure, especially when
combined with student self-assessments and alumni surveys.”(4) In the area of
curriculum, he suggests a capstone research seminar, or, at a minimum some formal
research requirement. He also suggests a requirement in non-Western history be added.
Dr. Brandimarte was especially interested in our Public History concentration. She
suggests revising the content of the program. We will seriously consider her two-part
suggestion to first reduce the concentration to feature 9 rather than 15 credit hours, and
then to open it to non-history majors. Dr. Lessoff found the Public History specialization
to be “admirably straightforward.”(4). He suggests that we use enrollment data to gauge
the health of the related courses.
Overall, our reviewers found UB’s History program to be satisfactory and in line with
standards in History programs nationwide. Their comments provide important food for
thought for our faculty as we continue to refine our program.