Baccalaureate Degree in Animal Studies Believed to be First In World

Eastern Kentucky University’s new baccalaureate degree program in Animal Studies is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Housed in EKU’s Department of Psychology, the cross-disciplinary program will concentrate on non-human animals, their interactions and relationships with people, and the mutual influences that humans and non-human animals exert on each other’s existence, evolution and history. A growing field in academia, Animal Studies has garnered increasing attention lately and was the subject of an in-depth article last fall in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Creature Consciousness: Animal Studies Tests the Boundary between Human and Animal ... and between Academic and Advocate.”

Incorporating applied fields, science and the arts and humanities, EKU’s Animal Studies major “will provide students with a means to become knowledgeable about animals and their relationship with humans from diverse perspectives, and simultaneously experience and learn from a strong, traditional liberal arts education,” said Dr. Robert Mitchell, professor of psychology, who developed the program and will serve as coordinator.

“Students are engaged by animals, and the program has the potential to draw students from all over the U.S., and perhaps the globe. With this program, EKU has the possibility of starting something intellectually challenging, novel, and on the cutting edge of academia.”

Courses in the program, which begins this fall, include Animals in History, Animal Ethics, Sociology of Animal-Human Relations, Animals in Literature, General Zoology, Comparative Psychology, Ecology, Animal Behavior, Principles of Animal Science, Primate Conservation, Animals and the Law, Wildlife Law and Law Enforcement, Principles of Biology, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Introduction to Physical Anthropology, among other requirements and electives.

In addition to their broad-based liberal arts background, Animal Studies majors will be able to concentrate on specialized areas for particular careers they wish to target. “The program allows a student to bring Animal Studies into whatever their area of interest is,” said Dr. Bob Brubaker, chair of the Department of Psychology. “To me, that’s a strength of the program.”

Because of the appreciation for multiple perspectives they’ll gain through the program, graduates should be highly valued in a variety of work environments, Mitchell said. For example, students who focus on biology or wilderness studies, or on agricultural studies, would be well suited for employment in more applied fields. Students eyeing animal advocacy careers can examine journalism, photography, art and other areas for support. Those who wish to develop skills in writing about nature and animals can elect to take courses in literature to maximize their potential.

“Students in Animal Studies should be able to apply their knowledge and experience with many disciplines to answer diverse questions,” he added.

Mitchell, who hopes to bring an international conference on Animal Studies to EKU, recently organized (along with Julie Smith of the University of Wisconsin and Marg Schneider of the University of Toronto) a conference in Toronto on “The Minds of Animals” that Columbia University Press has expressed interest in publishing in their Animal Studies series.

Mitchell is quick to point out that the establishment of EKU’s Animal Studies program has been a collaborative effort from the start, involving the cooperation and support of several academic departments and University administrators.

Brubaker added, “It took one person willing to spend the time to organize the program, academic departments willing to step outside their disciplines and cooperate, and University administration from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, through the Provost, and up to the President to get behind it and support it.”

For more information about EKU’s Animal Studies program, call 859-622-1105.

Published on August 19, 2010