Tarleton’s first PhD program to enhance Criminal Justice field

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Photo courtesy of the Tarleton Directory
Dr. Alex del Carmen staff photo.

Following the approval from The Texas A&M University System, Tarleton State University will be inducting its first ever PhD degree program in the history of the institution. This Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice is set to begin its first class in Fall 2019 at the Tarleton State University Fort Worth campus as part of the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies within the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. 

This new program carries a lot of significance to the university and to the school, but to Dr. Alex del Carmen, Associate Dean for the College of Liberal and Fine Arts and Executive Director of the school, there is more to it than it being the first of its kind within the university. 

“The PhD is focused towards practitioners, it has the working professional in mind,” del Carmen said. 

According to del Carmen, the planned scheduling of the courses begin on the weekends and in the evenings on the weekdays. This allows for police officers, probation officers and any individual involved in the field of Criminal Justice interested in the degree to enroll in the courses without it interfering with their current profession. 

It is with this notion in mind that gives purpose for the PhD program to be offered at the Fort Worth campus. According to del Carmen, the Fort Worth metroplex houses many law enforcement agencies whose staff could benefit from only having to travel to the Fort Worth campus to attend the courses. 

“The PhD itself is going to have a criminal justice orientation. When the individual recipient of the doctoral program graduates, he or she will graduate with a PhD in Criminal Justice” del Carmen said. “Criminal Justice is…[an] applied science. We wanted to specifically make it a PhD in Criminal Justice because we felt that a practitioner component is important.” 

The practitioner component del Carmen speaks of revolves around the practical field experience the faculty members within the school carry with them. This experience includes faculty members who have acted as probation officers, served as agents and leadership within divisions of the FBI and operated as federal monitors who have overseen police reform cases. 

“We have a lot of field experience and we feel very strongly that the academic side combined with the field experience gives us the unique perspective to better educate our students and to not only talk about the theory [of criminology] but also talk about the application of it. The idea is its going to be about real-life applications using the theoretical framework,” said del Carmen. 

These faculty members also carry with them various recognitions for their published academic work, ranging from recognition within the academic field to being recipients of Fulbright Scholar titles. 

“These are very prestigious awards that are given, recognizing us for the work that we do. People like Dr. [Tara] Shelly, Dr. [Rhonda] Dobs and Dr. [Stephanie] Ryon are the kinds of individuals that will be teaching in our program that are well published, incredibly well regarded and cited in the academic world,” del Carmen said.

While the PhD program is accessible to individuals dedicated to the career field, criminal justice encompasses a unique discipline that ties in the theoretical and the practical and is backed by distinguished faculty who have mastered in such field, the degree is only attainable to the individuals who are able to excel in the program. 

“The doctoral requirements will be very serious. We are essentially going to train somebody to…be a researcher, to be a scholar, to be [able to] go into an academic world where they’re going to be expected to teach, to research, to opine various things, to be a subject matter expert,” del Carmen said. “In order to do that, it’s a very intense three-and-a-half [to] four-year process that takes place where the individual comes in with a master’s level education and leaves with the aptitude of a person with a PhD. 

“A PhD is not a right, it’s a privilege,” del Carmen said. “It’s an opportunity to be a doctor, be a subject matter expert in the area. We expect them to demonstrate to us that they have the aptitude, that they have the time, that they have the commitment and the intellect to be able to finish their PhD.”

While the PhD program will require a lot from himself and his colleagues in the school, del Carmen is grateful to be in the position he is in. 

“It is a privilege to be in a position to educate doctoral students and what we hope to accomplish is to see the fruit of our labor. To see individuals graduate with PhD’s that will go out there and change the world. It’s like I always say to people…We serve those that serve,” said del Carmen. “So we [as Criminal Justice educators] are at the service of those that serve the community. For me, it’s an honor and a privilege that we’re going to be educating america’s heroes. Those that spend Christmas Eve in a patrol car or those that risk their lives [so that we] can be here today. We hope that [PhD graduates] leave our university with not only the spirit of Tarleton but we also hope that they leave the university with the knowledge and the passion that we have about what they’re doing.”

At the end of the day, del Carmen and his colleagues carry the hope that this program will not only make an impact on Tarleton but within the field of Criminal Justice. 

“I think [The PhD program] opens the doors for other programs at Tarleton to seek a PhD. I think Tarleton will continue to evolve as an academic institution under the leadership of Dr. [F. Dominic] Dottavio and Dr. [Karen] Murray. In terms of legacy, I think it allows for our discipline to grow. Often times, we find ourselves in the discipline that is a part of the paradigm of the 21st century. We are at the forefront of the fight to preserve liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we are at the forefront of the preservation of the constitution. We are at the forefront of being able to keep our community safe. There are faculty members that have spent day and night with me and working very hard to get this PhD approved. What drives us to do it was a gift that we will leave behind other generations that are going to have better educated criminal justice practitioners that will hopefully prevent some of these [criminal] events that happen and also help resolve crime,” said del Carmen. “At the end of the day, we are looking for those things that will make a difference to your generation, your children generation and their children’s [and] make it a safer community. If we start at it, start putting people out there with advance degrees that are going to make smart choices, that are going to know where to find the answers, that are not going to be insular in the way that they approach an issue, that are going to be extensive, that are going to be broader, that are going to think with a balanced mind. I think we’re going to be addressing crime in a different way, and therefore be safer.