Professors upset over psychology grad cuts

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December 4, 2008

11:48 PM

Over the next three years, the College of William and Mary will phase out its graduate doctorate psychology program.

The move has professors in the department worried that cutting the program will have a negative effect on research, teaching and counseling.

The psychology department announced Tuesday to students that it will no longer offer the Doctorate of Psychology as a part of its program and is pulling out of the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology, the collaborative program of which the College is a part.

The Doctorate of Psychology, commonly known as a Psy.D., is a professional doctorate developed in 1973 by the American Psychological Association as a degree alternative for psychologists, distinguishing it from a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. The difference between the two is mostly found in the method of training as the Psy.D. tends to focus on clinical work while the Ph.D. tends to emphasize research.

The College has offered the doctorate as a part of a consortium with three other schools: Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University. The program receives about 250 applications each year vying for only 10 spots. The first three years of the program are spent taking classes on the four different campuses, and the final year is spent working at a paid internship in the area.

“There is a continuum [of clinical work and research] and every program is a different mix. We are about 40 percent research and 60 percent practice,” said psychology professor Janice Zeman, one of the consortium council directors. “We are very close to a Ph.D. program as it stands now.”

The consortium recently conducted a serious evaluation of the degree and concluded that changing the emphasis to research and offering a Ph.D., rather than a Psy.D., would be more beneficial considering the similarities that already exist between the programs. The increased competition from other universities overproducing Psy.D.s and devaluing the degree also tipped the scales in favor of changing the program.

Although College Provost Geoff Feiss agreed the program needed to change last spring at a meeting with the provosts from the other schools, he and other College officials later decided the new Ph.D. program would be too difficult for the College’s limited resources.

In late September, after spending the summer planning a new curriculum based on the change, the psychology department received a notice stating that the administration would not support the College’s membership in a consortium Ph.D. program.

Feiss said the resources spent on a Ph.D. program would be better spent on areas more central to the College. Further, with only 10 students receiving the degree each year — a number that is divided among the four schools — the program makes up a small portion of the overall graduate education mission at the College, Feiss said.

Zeman disagreed with the provost.

“This is a highly successful program that’s run with these four universities quite well for 30 years,” Zeman said. “It becomes unwieldy when you stop having a cooperative attitude and when you stop working together as a team. [When] you have the spirit of putting the consortium first and everyone working together, it has worked out fine.”

Current Psy.D. students will not be affected by this decision, as the College is obligated to continue providing stipends and classes until the students receive their degree.

“My best judgment, based on the information at hand, was and remains that the institutional benefits far outweigh any costs,” Feiss said. “That isn’t to say that there may not be some hardships; but, in my mind, I see these as neither serious nor irreversible. I do not concur that termination of the Psy.D. will threaten either the quality of our undergraduate program or the ability of faculty to conduct significant research.”

However, psychology department Chairwoman Constance Pilkington said the effects of this change may be more widespread than they initially seem.

“This is going to have an impact not just on the students in the Psy.D. program and the clinical faculty, but also on our faculty in the department. The Psy.D. students, as a part of their financial support, get research assistantships to work with faculty on their research,” Pilkington said. “[Now] none of the faculty will have the opportunity to have a doctoral student working with them on their research.”

Often times, doctoral students also mentor the master’s students and undergraduate students, especially those interested in going into clinical psychology.

The effect may also be felt in the local community; the program places doctorate students in clinics such as the William and Mary Counseling Center and Eastern State Hospital.

“In the immediate community, we are providing clinical services that may or may not continue after we are out of [the program],” Zeman said. “Even though this administration likes to think that this is just a little core of impact, the impact is much broader.”

__[Editor’s note: The College will continue to offer a Master’s in Psychology. The M.A. program has not been cut.]__

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