Internships for Credit Debated

By Alex Edel

Members of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Educational Affairs Committee will meet with the faculty Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) today, Nov. 21, to discuss issues surrounding credit-bearing internships. The talks occur amidst extensive conversation within the committee and the administration regarding awarding credit for summer internships.

Last spring, members of the EAC began discussing the possibility of credit bearing summer internships. Through these discussions, members of the EAC wrote a working document that was sent out to members of the faculty last summer. With faculty and student feedback, the EAC hopes to expand the working document to an official piece of legislation that would put forward the policy necessary for students to receive credit. When such a document is complete, a majority of the faculty must vote in favor of the policy for it to be effected. Right now though, the EAC is still in what Dean of Faculty and chair of the EAC, Andi Lloyd describes as an “information gathering stage.”

For the first two months of school, the EAC focused on identifying College-wide learning goals, a topic not unrelated to the committee’s new top priority – internship credit.

“I think the question of internships is not unrelated to those questions about the point of a liberal arts education because part of the question we are trying to answer here is what is the relationship between an internship and the curriculum?  Are they separate?,” Lloyd asked. “Can they be connected? Should they be connected? What are the advantages of giving credit to these internships? What are the advantages of connecting internships to the curriculum? What are the disadvantages?”

Dean of the College Shirley Collado believes that these internships are advantageous and should be tied to the College.

“I’m an advocate for credit for internships because I see the value in what’s happening within the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) – I see the value in student led projects and the work that students accomplish during the summer,” said Collado. “If they were able to pursue a more structured way of tying it to their experiences at Middlebury and having their work be acknowledged in a particular way, credit for internships makes sense.”

Several reasons prompted the EAC to begin seriously considering the issue last spring including the fact that some internships are open only to those students who will receive credit from their institution.

Another reason comes with a discrepancy that has plagued many students, like SGA President Rachel Liddell, in the fact that students may be awarded credit for internships taken over J-term as well as some internships completed abroad. Internship credit awarded over J-term may be used only as a credit for that term and may not be counted towards fall or spring credits, while internship credit assigned abroad is taken only in lieu of a class taken while abroad. However, the question still looms in the minds of many – what is different about an internship during the summer than an internship during the winter?

“If you do an internship over J-term you can receive a credit and if you do it during the summer, you don’t” said Liddell. “That kind of low-hanging fruit is an inconsistency, and there are many other examples like that.”

In attempts to describe why this inconsistency exists, Lloyd cited the fact that J-term was originally a time for more experimental learning.

“Why in J-term and not the summer is one essential question. Historically Winter term was conceived of as a more experimental place in our curriculum — a time when things happen that didn’t happen during the fall and spring,” said Lloyd. “Although maybe an unsatisfying answer, that history explains why students can take internships for credit during J-term but not during the fall or spring semesters.”

However, she echoed Liddell’s feelings towards the seeming inconsistencies with this type of policy and explained that this is something the EAC will take into consideration when drafting the legislation.

“The why winter not summer question has a less clear answer and that’s one of the things the EAC is talking about – is there any rationale for saying yes to something in winter and no to the same thing in the summer?” Lloyd said.

These are just a few of the wide sweeping questions that the EAC has been asking while considering the possibility of awarding credit. Professors from a wide range of disciplines have argued on both sides of the issue, discussing various complicated issues such as faculty compensation for summer work. The EAC seeks to foster these debates while finding a middle ground with a policy that would meet both student and faculty needs.

“We want to be confident though that we aren’t setting up for a conflict in the legislation where students have a reasonable expectation to be able to do a new program and get credit for internships, but faculty say, ‘well why is this getting added to my responsibilities when my summer is already planned to be working on research or traveling or something else,’” said Associate Professor of Physics and EAC Member Noah Graham.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Spears also saw the importance in a discussion that resolved many of the complications of the issue, pointing towards the major advantages students would gain from legislation on this topic.

“We want to have a good conversation about this proposal and we want the conversation to reflect all the complications that come with the topic, but I hope we can have the conversation in a positive spirit, keeping our eye on the advantages that can be gained from expanding educational opportunities for students,” Spears said.

One of these issues has to do with assessing the quality of an internship and the academic relevance that such an internship might hold.

“Internships vary widely in the type and depth of learning opportunities they provide.  I’m open to the idea that some might be worthy of credit, but I think the challenges are how to identify the worthy subset reliably, and how to demonstrate their substance, rigor, and congruence with our goals.  If we can find a way to do those things, we can provide students with exciting, novel opportunities to apply their liberal arts education outside the classroom, while still preserving the quality and integrity of a Middlebury education,” wrote Associate Professor of Psychology and fellow EAC Member Suzanne Gurland in an email.

To award credit for internships many professors feel the need for students to make a connection to the academic realm. This may come in the form of a paper, journal, or even a class. Graham acknowledged that pigeonholing internships into certain academic fields might be problematic.

“We wouldn’t want to get too narrowly constrained to say that a certain course corresponds with a certain internship because tomorrow a new startup may start in some new area,” Graham said. “I think we need to be wary about micromanaging too much, so we want to create an environment where that can kind of happen but where the unexpected can come in. An opportunity may arise and we hope to give a student that nimbleness to grab that opportunity.”

However, Spears stressed the fact that a strong connection between academics and the work experience must be made in order for the internship to be counted as a credit, which could effectively replace a class.

“I don’t think we are going to move into a situation where students are going to get credit simply for completing an internship. There will have to be something associated with the internship that we can identify as being academic in nature for a student to get credit,” Spears said.

Beyond issues of connecting internships to the academic world, there looms the question of finding a way to make internships equal to all students, an issue echoed by many faculty, staff and students.

For Russell J. Leng ‘60 Professor of International Politics and Economics Allison Stanger, this matter holds the utmost importance when deciding if the College should give credit for internships. As the number of unpaid internships throughout the U.S. climbs, the question of forced labor and widening inequality has come to light. Stanger and many others feel the College must address inequality when looking at internships.

“There is a major inequity in the current system that we need to address at Middlebury College,” she said. “I think that it is problematic to expand the possibilities to get credit for internships until that inequity has been addressed, and everybody who wants an internship can actually afford to have that experience.”

If the EAC were to grant credit to internships, many consider their support contingent on whether all students at the College will have equal opportunities to access these internships.

“It puts some students at a profound disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers. I wouldn’t want to support any policy that would exacerbate that divide, even though knowing that for some students in a more privileged position, it would be really helpful to get credit for the internships that they are able to do,” Stanger said. “There is a broader issue at stake.”

Liddell spoke similarly about the grave need for more funding within the CCI in order to make this a fair process.

“I’m really committed to ensuring that internships for credit don’t become one more way that a lack of financial means disadvantages students,” said Liddell.

Lloyd also sees the issue of equity as an important topic to discuss when writing legislation.

“I think that equity and access issues are huge, and EAC has certainly discussed them. As this discussion moves forward, I hope that we can provide some clarity to the broader faculty on what those equity and access issues are. The reality that there are internships that our students can’t participate in without earning credit is an important element of this discussion that we need to grapple with.”

With all these considerations in mind, the EAC hopes to get legislation out to members of the faculty within the next few months. Then, depending on the amount of feedback from faculty, it will hold open meetings in which faculty members could introduce amendments and air issues they may have with the policy. With approval of a majority of the faculty, the legislation will go into effect, although the logistics of such a complicated issue may take longer to actually be enacted.

While Liddell feels that this may be her most “optimistic campaign promise,” she feels that the implementation period may go far beyond this academic year.

“If the policy is implemented, I would say it will probably be three to four years before it’s really accessible to students,” she said. “We all have this four-year concept within our brains, and it will be hard for me to just walk away and never reap the benefits of this change, but I think it’s still powerful to leave a legacy.”

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Internships for Credit Debated