The Commonweal: Social Philosophy, Policy, and Public Value

Our students’ capacity to engage the world around them in a productive manner will grow as they confront pressures upon the common good. Whether through research that provides a) new ways of deploying and protecting scarce natural, economic, and cultural resources; b) analysis that helps shape effective and just social policy; or c) critical re-­‐ conception of public value and the human condition, our students can become significant contributors to the wellbeing of the world’s inhabitants. We expect, for example, that our students will learn not only that caring about the environment is an abstract “good,” but also how to assess the trade-­offs between competing demands on the environment, and how to evaluate the competing benefits of alternative environmental policies. Likewise, they will learn not only that all people deserve access to health care, but also how to discriminate between competing economic models of health services and to engage in the development of effective policy. And they will learn not only that micro-­‐financing and impact investing have the power to enhance the lives of many poor women in underdeveloped countries, but also to assess where it has been most effective and how to discern where the original ideals have been subjected to potentially corrupting influences.

The diverse yet interrelated endeavors in environmental stewardship, sustainability, health delivery, economic development, conflict resolution, and human rights increasingly require integration of many kinds of specialized knowledge. Recently, Haverford faculty members have worked to develop creative and rigorous programs in these areas, which use both existing courses and newly created offerings, as described below. All of these curricular offerings effectively leverage Haverford’s engagement in the Bi-and Tri-­College community to enhance opportunities in teaching and research for both students and faculty.

These curricular structures/programs include:

  • Environmental Studies. This Tri-­Co interdisciplinary minor aims to cultivate in students the capacity to identify, confront, and analyze key environmental issues through the lenses of multiple disciplines. The Environmental Studies minor encompasses historical, cultural, economic, political, scientific and ethical modes of inquiry. In order to prepare students to participate in a series of interlocking dialogues between the “natural” and the “built,” the local and the global, and the human and the nonhuman, the program requires students to fashion a plan of study incorporating both Environmental Science and Engineering and Environment in Society. The development of this interdisciplinary minor was made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation that provided three tenure lines. It is now in its second year and attracting a variety of multi-­talented students.
  • Health Studies. The Health Studies interdisciplinary minor seeks to inculcate in its students the ability to address questions of health and disease from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Students enrolled in the minor program study the mechanisms of health and disease and learn how to evaluate critically the economic and political realities of the social and political structures that impact health care, both locally and internationally. Further, they address the geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic inequalities in risk factors for diseases and access to health care. As they become more sophisticated in understanding the mechanistic basis of health and disease, they enlarge their ability to take nuanced positions regarding the disbursement or limitation of expensive, live-­saving or life-­enhancing treatments made possible by advances in basic and translational scientific research. This minor was recently developed by a Tri-­College curriculum committee convened in response to a high level of student interest in the field of Health Studies.
  • Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. This interdisciplinary concentration offers students the opportunity to study the history, philosophy and critiques of the rights tradition, to examine themes of human rights and justice in their local and international contexts, and to apply philosophical, social scientific and ethical reasoning to real-­world problems. In addition to taking core courses shared with other PJHR students, concentrators design their own path through the program by choosing an area of inquiry in consultation with the director, working out a plan that focuses the concentration regionally, conceptually, or around a particular substantive problem. Students are encouraged to generate creative new approaches to current problems and historical ways of thinking. Themes include, but are not limited to: human rights, international and domestic justice, peace and conflict, governance, development, applied ethics, social entrepreneurship, technology and politics, global health, and political reconciliation and transitional justice.

Contemporary studies of societies blend traditional discursive inquiry with modes of information gathering and analysis that draw upon the critical literacies highlighted in our first constellation. Projects to renovate key spaces for those modes of research and learning are therefore integral elements of our second constellation’s focus on twenty-­first-­century social issues. Alongside traditional survey and narrative texts, students probing environmental, health, and social justice issues increasingly use data visualization, statistical analysis, and geographical mapping (GIS). Such tools will be honed in the KINSC and the newly designed Magill. Likewise, the planned Visual Culture, Arts, & Media facility (VCAM; see 1.D.3.) will provide the means for students to use cutting-­edge methods of documentary imaging to convey insights about modern social experience.