Justice studies and sociology departments merge but students may not notice

Conner Howard

Kent State’s justice studies program merged with the Department of Sociology, although little will change for students.

Originally a part of the Department of Sociology, the justice studies degree program was split off and made into a separate department in the early 1970s. After many years and many new developments in the program, justice studies is being folded back into sociology.

Richard Serpe, who is in his sixth year as chair of the sociology department, describes the merge as a restructuring of the program, meant to mitigate the issues faced by the Department of Justice Studies in recent years.

“The department had gone through a lot of transition over the past several years; a significant number of faculty (members) had moved to take jobs elsewhere. Four faculty (members) had moved into the College of Public Health, so that left a department of basically seven full-time people, one of whom is the director of Paralegal Studies,” Serpe said. “The seventh person decided to take a job elsewhere as well. At that point, the choices for dealing with justice studies were to go outside to hire a new chair, possibly integrate it into political science or possibly integrate it into sociology.”

With the justice studies faculty depleted, Serpe said the department was left with a logistical and academic issue to resolve. Folding justice studies back into sociology was decided to be the most logical course of action.

“There were a number of reasons that made this a rational decision. Our Ph.D. program has always had an emphasis on criminology and deviance. We also had a building that could accommodate that move.”

Serpe said despite rumors of a major shift in focus for the justice studies program, no such changes are to occur.

“Essentially, nothing changes. The major requirements aren’t changing; the faculty who teach them aren’t going to be changing. If the budget allows, we will hopefully hire some additional full-time people who are criminologists to replace the people who have left over the past several years,” Serpe said. “In the letter we sent to all the majors that were continuing here, the message was basically: The only thing that changes is the name of the department in which the degree sits, and the location of where the faculty will be.”

Although the term merger may imply major changes, the only changes affected by this merger are mostly inconsequential. Students are likely to take justice studies courses in Merrill Hall as opposed to Bowman Hall, but Serpe said students would notice no significant advantages or disadvantages with this merge.

“Some people might think there are more resources there (in Merrill) but I don’t really think so,” Serpe said. “There is some advantage in the fact that now the department is larger, but other than that, I don’t really see any real differences.”

Serpe said the justice studies major is in no danger of being disbanded, and such merges are not uncommon in academia.

“It is a very healthy major with a lot of students with interest, and we have no intention of de-emphasizing it at all,” Serpe said. “I hope we’re able to do the things that make it an even better major as we move through. If any of the students have any questions at all about the future of the program or any issues that they have, they should feel free to contact me directly.”

Contact Connor Howard at [email protected].