The History Major is Back at Gordon College

Gordon College

I received this today from Gordon’s office of Marketing and External Relations:

The Political Science, Philosophy and History departments will be merged into one administrative department, and all department faculty worked over the summer to revise their curriculum to better meet the needs of incoming students across these three disciplines. Gordon will continue to offer majors in these disciplines as part of a comprehensive liberal arts education. The philosophy major will now include four concentrations (of which students must choose one): political theory; justice, peace and conflict; law; and language and linguistics.

It appears that the stand-alone History Department at Gordon is gone, but the major will remain.  Some of you may remember that Gordon announced last Spring that it would be dropping the major.  We wrote about that here and here and here and here and here.

Kate Shellnut mentioned this in a piece at Christianity Today earlier this month, but I missed it.

Gordon College Gets a $75.5 Million Donation

Gordon College

Will the Christian “liberal arts college” use the money to bring back the history major?

It does not look like it.

Here is a taste of Kate Shellnut’s reporting at Christianity Today:

The historic investment in Gordon comes as the school undergoes what Lindsay called its most significant academic restructuring in 50 years. Last spring, the college announced plans to consolidate certain majors and departments to better match student demand. For example, political science, philosophy, and history were combined into a single department, though each will remain a distinct major.

In addition, the school said it would expand graduate programs, partnerships, and online education. A $10 million donation made in May helped fund Gordan Global, a platform for online education through its new School of Graduate, Professional, and Extended Studies.

As a result of the changes and budget cuts, 17 faculty members and six staff members were laid off, and more than a dozen other unfilled positions were eliminated.

While some alumni as well as outsiders questioned the move, worried the school was losing its liberal arts distinctives, Lindsay and fellow Gordon administrators saw the adjustments as a proactive way to avoid financial strain in the future, to set the school up for sustainability.

Read the rest here.

I recently mentioned Gordon College in a talk I gave to the Lee University Symposium on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Here is what I said:

…The liberal arts, and the intellectual skills that the liberal arts provide, are at the heart of this kind of truth-seeking enterprise. We need the liberal arts more than ever in the age of Trump. Christian colleges are doing a nice job of training professionals and skilled workers to help sustain our capitalist economy, but I worry that we are not investing as much as we should in the kinds of people essential to sustain a democracy. Liberal arts and humanities programs around the country are under attack at time when we need them more than ever. Administrators and Boards of Trustees are eliminating these programs and majors at a rapid clip, all in the name of “prioritization.” All of us at Messiah College got a wake-up call when we learned this year that our sister school in Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College, a flagship evangelical college with a rich history of liberal arts education, dropped majors in history, philosophy, chemistry, French, and physics.  I have heard stories of other schools who have made cuts or eliminated humanities and liberal arts programs with very little conversation about the purpose of college or the way in which the sustained study of the humanities (not just general education, I might add) raise questions that go to the heart of the mission of a Christian college or university.  What are we prioritizing in prioritization?

24 Hours in Cleveland, Tennessee

lee U

This past weekend (Friday and Saturday) I was spent some time at the beautiful campus of Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I was there for the Lee Symposium: A Conversation on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Retired Calvin College history professor Ron Wells founded the symposium at Maryville College and Lee took it over four years ago.  This year’s theme was “Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.  You can read the program here.

The organizer of the Lee Symposium,  history professor Jason Ward, caps registration at fifty or sixty people in order to allow for maximum conversation and fellowship. Most of the attendees come from faith-based colleges in the Chattanooga area, but there are a few who travel from longer distances to participate.

The symposium centers around four plenary speakers and respondents.  These keynote addresses set the stage for about an hour of questions and conversations.  I got the ball rolling on Friday afternoon with a talk titled “Christian Liberal Arts in the Age of Trump.”  I suggested a few ways that thinking Christians might counter the divisiveness of the Trump era, the undermining of facts, evidence, and proof in the Trump era, and the general anti-intellectualism of evangelical congregational life.  Historian Lisa Clark Diller of Southern Adventist University offered some excellent commentary and feedback.  The discussion was rich and several students participated in the conversation.

On Friday night, Lee University political scientist Ana Shippey reminded us that most of what the Trump administration tells us about immigration is wrong and feeds into what she described as “Christian nativism.” On Saturday morning, University of Oklahoma historian Wilfred McClay suggested that Christian liberal arts should be about liberation (using Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”), the pursuit of the good, true and beautiful (using Philippians 4:8), and the celebration of the teacher in the classroomChrista Bennett of Community Well in Charlottesville, Virginia shared her journey from the conservative daughter of a Pentecostal minister to a Christian who is liberal, pro-choice, and pro-LGBTQ.  Much of her talk challenged us to think about how “power” plays-out in everyday political and social life.

Finally, Jason Ward summarized the weekend and challenged us to continue the conversation.

I enjoyed the weekend at Lee and learned a great deal from the robust conversation.  It was so good to see old friends (Lisa Diller, Bill McClay, Ron Wells) and make some new ones (Rondall and Pamela Reynoso, some of Lisa Diller’s amazing students, some of Jason Ward’s amazing students, Ana Shippey, Krista Bennett, Don Bennett, Drew Bledsoe, Randy Wood, Richard Follett, and the ever-hospitable Jason Ward!)

I also saw some familiar names on campus:

DeVos

The DeVos family (as in Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos) does not just give money to Calvinist schools in Western Michigan.  Sometimes they also fund recreation centers at Pentecostal universities

Graham at Lee

In 1936, Billy Graham spent a semester as a student at Bob Jones College (now University) when the Greenville, South Carolina school was located in Cleveland, Tennessee.  The old Bob Jones College campus is now the site of Lee University.  Apparently there is at least one building left from those days.

 

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University campusI will be at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee this weekend to give a plenary talk at the Lee Symposium: Conversation on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  This year’s theme is “Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.”

Here is the program:

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University, October 4-5, 2019

Friday, October 4

2:00 pm

Registration

3:00 pm

Welcome and Opening Remarks

3:30 pm

Presenter: John Fea, Messiah College

Responder: Lisa Clark Diller, Southern Adventist University

5:45 pm

Dinner

7:00 pm

Presenter: Ana Shippey, Lee University

Responder: Richard Follett, Covenant College

Saturday, October 5

9:00 am

Presenter: Wilfred McClay, University of Oklahoma

Responder: David Broersma, Lee University

11:00 am

Presenter: Christa Bennett, Community Well

Responder: Mark Scully, Lee University

1:00 pm

Lunch

2:00 pm

“Summing Up: What Have We Heard?”

Presenter: Jason Ward, Lee University

 

What Colleges and Universities Can Learn from the Silicon Valley (Ironically, its not what you might think)

Neem 1Today we recorded Episode 54 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Our guest was Western Washington historian Johann Neem, author of What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to listen to our conversation,  but let me offer a teaser.  At one point during the interview I asked Neem about his passage from his book:

…forward-looking companies try to emulate traditional colleges by building large, idyllic campuses where people can interact and be creative. “There is something magical about sharing meals,” said former Google CFO Patrick Pichette on why Google discourages telecommuting. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?'”  That sounds a lot like the traditional college experience, but, in new model universities, fundamental aspects of traditional ones–such as personalized teaching, green lawns, academic freedom, shared governance, meaningful exposure to the liberal arts and sciences, and time and autonomy for reflection–are deemed irrelevant.

Oh the irony!

As Silicon Valley tries to promote face-to-face interaction in real places that resemble the traditional college campus, universities seem to be moving away from such a model through its increasing commitment to displaced online education and a delivery system that makes human connection more difficult.

See how Neem developed his thoughts in Episode 54.  It will drop in a week or so.  Stay tuned.

University of Tulsa is the Latest University to Drop Liberal Arts Programs

Tulsa

The University of Tulsa will reorganize the Harry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences by reducing 15 departments and 68 degree programs to three divisions and 36 degree programs.  Undergraduate degree programs in philosophy, religion, and Russian and Chinese studies were cut.

Undergraduate minors in Ancient Greek, Classics, Latin, Linguistics, Russian, Digital Studies, Classical Studies, and Medieval and Early Modern Studies were cut.

Graduate programs in history, women’s & gender Studies, and anthropology also bit the dust.

Read more here.

Here is a taste of Inside Higher Ed’s coverage:

“The overarching objective … was to focus and pivot around student success as the core of what the university is about,” [provost Janet] Levit. “Objective one of our strategic plan is for us to focus on retention and graduation rates, which frankly look similar to rates at a school like University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University rather than a small private university that attempts to distinguish itself from public schools.”

According to College Scorecard, Tulsa has a graduation rate of 71 percent and an 89 percent first-year retention rate. Levit said the alterations made will allow the university to refocus some resources toward retention programs through a student success center opening this summer, including an academic entry point for all incoming freshmen called “university studies,” in the hopes it will decrease retention risks….

Levit had previously said during a presentation to faculty and staff members that Tulsa had tried for too long to be “everything to everyone” and had spread itself too thin, making part of the strategy to determine what kind of institution Tulsa will be.

However, the decisions have been met with resistance from some members of the faculty who aren’t fans of the new direction.

“Tulsa is essentially becoming a sort of pre-professional school,” Tulsa philosophy professor Jacob Howland said. “The writing’s on the wall — they’re just destroying the liberal arts, natural sciences and humanities at TU.”

Howland has been outspoken in his displeasure with the university’s decisions, and he said students will suffer from a lack of liberal arts on campus.

“You’re not giving students an education that allows them to adapt to changing economic circumstances. You train people for these jobs, and if there’s technological development in five years and suddenly the jobs are gone, what have you done to these kids?”

Read the entire piece here.

I hope everyone sees what is happening here.  The Provost defines “student success” in purely economic terms.  These cuts will, to use her words, “determine what kind of institution Tulsa will be.”  Exactly.

When the Way of Improvement Can’t Lead Home: A Brief Review of Tara Westover’s *Educated*

Educated Tara Westover

Sometimes the way of improvement leads home. It did for Philip Vickers Fithian, the eighteenth-century son of New Jersey farmers who got an education at Princeton and spent the rest of his short life wrestling with what that meant for his relationship with friends and family in his “beloved Cohansey.”  Fithian eventually returned home, but since he died in the American Revolution we will never know how long he would have stayed.

Wendell Berry left home to become a writer.  He eventually returned to Port Royal, Kentucky and never left.  The conservative writer Rod Dreher went back to LouisianaBruce Springsteen came back to New Jersey.

Sometimes the way of improvement does not lead home, but the newly educated traveler finds ways to stay connected and deal with the psychological and emotional challenges that come with displacement.  Richard Rodriguez’s education led him away from home on a variety of levels, but he spent the rest of his career writing about his family and his “hunger for memory.”  Sarah Smolinksy, the fictional character in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, got educated and left the tyranny of her father’s immigrant Jewish household in New York City.  Yet she figured out a small way to honor her father and sustain a relationship with him, even inviting him to live with her.

But sometimes the way of improvement can’t lead home.  When Frederick Douglass learned how to read he was exposed to a world of abolitionism and anti-slavery that he never knew existed.  Education led to liberation. (This is why we call it “liberal arts education”). There would be no going back to the tyranny of slavery.

We see all three of these models in Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up among fundamentalist Mormons on a mountain in Idaho.  Westover had no formal schooling, but managed to educate herself well enough to score a 28 on the ACT and win a scholarship to Brigham Young University.

At first, Westover never imagined that her education would take her somewhere beyond the mountain.  She came home every summer and seems to have fully expected a return to her family.  But education changes a person.  Sarah learned that she was becoming something different–something very unlike her physically abusive older brother, her spiritually abusive father (in this sense, her story is most similar to Smolinsky in Bread Givers), and her mother who rejected science and medicine in favor of “essential oils.”

Through the study of psychology Westover learned that her father and brother might be bipolar.  Through her study of history she learned that her father’s conspiracy theories were built on a very shaky historical foundation.  With the help of roommates, boyfriends, and a Mormon bishop in Provo, she learned that doctors and medicine are good things.  With the help of BYU history professor Paul Kerry (a professor who once showed me around Oxford University), she encountered a world of ideas and learning that she never knew existed.  Kerry, with the help of Cambridge historian Jonathan Steinberg, convinced her that she belonged in this world.

Westover not only survived in this world, but she thrived in it.  She won numerous academic awards at BYU, including a Gates Fellowship to Cambridge.  Her way of improvement led her to a visiting fellowship at Harvard and a Ph.D in history from Cambridge.

Yet the longing of home–of family, of place, of roots–continued to pull her back to the mountain. She spent long months during her doctoral program in a state of depression as she came to grips with how education was uprooting her.  When she to tried to bring light to the dark sides of her childhood, address the tyranny, abuse, and superstition that took place everyday on the mountain, and somehow try to bring the fruits of her liberal learning to the place she loved, her family ostracized her.  The way of improvement could not lead home.  There would be no rural Enlightenment.

Westover’s story is a common one, but rarely do we see the tension between “the way of improvement” and “home” play out in such stark contrasts.

The University of Providence is the Latest School to Cut Liberal Arts Programs

Providence U

The Catholic (Sisters of Providence) university in Great Falls, Montana has closed the following liberal arts programs:   Art, English, History, Sociology, and Theology.  The university also cut programs in Accounting, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education,  and Theater and Business Arts.

If I am reading the university website correctly, the school will now offer the following majors:  Addictions Counseling, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Education, Forensic Science, Exercise Science, Math, Legal and Paralegal Studies, Psychology, RN-BSN Completion, and Applied Science in Surgical Technology.

Here is the press release:

After hours of conversation and extensive consideration of all the factors involved in a decision of this magnitude, the University of Providence Board of Trustees voted yesterday to approve the recommendation to close several of the university’s programs. As a result of the decision, the following programs will close: Accounting (including the graduate program), Art, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education, English, History, Sociology, Theater and Business Arts, and Theology. All students in the affected programs will be given the opportunity to graduate from their program and their scholarships will be maintained. Students and faculty are already engaged in teach-out plans, which are individualized transition plans utilizing existing faculty, adjuncts, resources at other universities, and independent studies.

Recognizing these program changes will affect the future of the university, the Board also committed to lead a substantial and collaborative process among faculty and other campus stakeholders to map a clear vision for the university moving forward that is grounded in the mission and values of the Sisters of Providence. The plan is for this process to begin as soon as possible with final consideration by the Board of Trustees at their May meeting.

“Our goal is to remain a viable, thriving Catholic liberal arts university to serve the changing needs of our community,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We have to think strategically about our offerings. Although we have had to make difficult decisions concerning our under-enrolled programs, including some humanities majors, the university remains committed to offering a strong liberal arts education.”

The faculty’s recent redesign and strengthening of the liberal arts core curriculum, Lumen de Lumine, is evidence of this commitment. The core curriculum is grounded in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the liberal arts, and includes requirements to take theology, philosophy, English, Fine Arts and history courses, in addition to other liberal arts courses. While some majors are closing, many of the disciplines will still be actively taught in the core.

“Students enter UP with the same questions all college students have,” says Aretz. “What’s unique about UP is that students explore these questions in our core curriculum through the lens of faith and reason, leading them to not just a successful career, but truly a life-long vocation. Although some faculty positions will be eliminated going forward, we remain committed to having adequate full-time liberal arts faculty to teach the core curriculum.”

In addition to this enhanced core curriculum, another unique UP strength is that it is a ministry of the Providence St. Joseph Health care system, the largest health care system in the western United States, founded by the Sisters of Providence. While the university sees the opportunity for growth in its School of Health Professions, it will continue to explore opportunities for new programs and growth in the School of Liberal Arts on the Great Falls campus.

“Focusing more on programs with strong enrollments is part of this process,” says Aretz. “The partnership with the health care system also provides unique opportunities for new programs in Great Falls. In fact, the history of the Great Falls campus began with the introduction of a resident nurse (RN) program at Columbus Hospital that eventually contributed to the founding of our university.”

The rich history that precedes UP lives on not only in new programs, but in the strong remaining programs. Investments will be made in the remaining programs in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences including, but not limited to, business, legal and paralegal studies, the sciences and criminal justice. The decisions that are being made to both strengthen existing programs, and sunset other programs, is part of the university’s strategic plan, which launched a program reprioritization process in which each of the university’s programs were evaluated by criteria developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee.

Matt Redinger, the provost and vice president of academic affairs, formed a Program Prioritization Advisory Council (PPAC) comprised of faculty from each division within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences to guide the process. Redinger and the PPAC established criteria, and from that criteria Redinger formed initial recommendations to the president. The criteria included the programs’ numbers of majors, student demand, market competitiveness, operating costs, and contributions to the university’s other programs and to the liberal arts core curriculum.

“The decision to recommend these program closures was very difficult, however, program reprioritization was necessary for the university to progress,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We are one of many universities across the state and country having to make these difficult decisions. These program closures, while difficult, help strengthen our financial health as an institution. This will position the university as one of Montana’s leading healthcare universities and one of the state’s premier Catholic, liberal arts institutions.”

While the university is making strides to grow their remaining academic offerings, the campus community is aware of the hardships these decisions have on faculty, staff and students.

“We are sensitive to the impact these decisions have on our university community, their families and the wider community,” says Aretz. “Our faculty’s dedication to our students is a key differentiator for UP, and we continue to honor that legacy.”

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is working to build new innovative interdisciplinary programs to capitalize on UP’s Catholic heritage and relationship with Providence St. Joseph Health.

“Some have questioned why we are eliminating programs but still building on campus and adding other academic programs,” says Aretz. “We recognized that it was necessary to update and improve basic infrastructure to attract and retain students – the renovated Student Center and new University Center are part of that process. At the same time, the university needs to invest in the state-of-the-art academic and athletic programs that will yield the greatest outcomes for students and result in financial sustainability.”

Thoughts:

  • Can a Catholic school really claim to be a “thriving liberal arts university” without majors in Art, English, History, and Theology?  The University of Providence should probably stop calling itself a “liberal arts institution” and start calling itself a professional school with a liberal arts core curriculum.
  • Ironically, Provost Matt Redinger is a historian. He has a Ph.D from the University of Washington.  He is the author of American Catholics and the Mexican Revolution (2005).  He has been on the job at the University of Providence since July 2018.
  • I would like to know what role the faculty played in this decision and if they are satisfied with that role.

Will the Liberal Arts Survive?

Stevens Point

Adam Harris, education writer at The Atlantic, tells the story of cuts to liberal arts programs and majors in the University of Wisconsin system.  Here is a taste:

For many years, Wisconsin had one of the finest public-university systems in the country. It was built on an idea: that the university’s influence should not end at the campus’s borders, that professors—and the students they taught—should “search for truth” to help state legislators write laws, aid the community with technical skills, and generally improve the quality of life across the state.

Many people attribute the Wisconsin Idea, as it is known, to Charles Van Hise, the president of the University of Wisconsin from 1903 to 1918. “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state,” Hise said in an address in 1905. “If our beloved institution reaches this ideal it will be the first perfect state university.” His idea was written into the mission of the state’s university system, and over time that system became a model for what public higher education could be.

But the backbone of the idea almost went away in 2015, when Governor Scott Walker released his administration’s budget proposal, which included a change to the university’s mission. The Wisconsin Idea would be tweaked. The “search for truth” would be cut in favor of a charge to “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

To those outside Wisconsin, the proposed change might have seemed small. After all, what’s so bad about an educational system that propels people into a high-tech economy? But to many Wisconsinites, the change struck at the heart of the state’s identity. They argued that the idea—with its core tenets of truth, public service, and “improving the human condition”—is what makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin.

Walker ultimately scrapped his attempt to alter the Wisconsin Idea, claiming that his administration hadn’t meant to change it, that it was just a “drafting error.” And so the Wisconsin Idea was preserved—at least in an official sense. But though the words survived intact, many Wisconsinites believe that in the years since, the change Walker had proposed has taken place nevertheless. And one of the state’s institutions, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, is the epicenter of that change.

In mid-November, the university announced its plans to stop offering six liberal-arts majors, including geography, geology, French, German, two- and three-dimensional art, and history. The plan stunned observers, many of whom argued that at a time when Nazism is resurgent, society needs for people to know history, even if the economy might not. But the university said it just was not possible: After decades of budget cuts, the most extreme of which came under Walker, Stevens Point no longer had the resources to sustain these six majors.

Read the rest here.  We are educating for our capitalist economy.  But are we educating for a thriving democracy?

Gina Barreca on the Importance of the Liberal Arts

Boyer Hall

What’s an education for?

University of Connecticut English professor Gina Barreca answers in her recent op-ed:

An education is about learning things you don’t know. Just as we need to try foods we’ve never eaten before, we need to approach unfamiliar subjects. Life’s menu can be innovative, varied and delightful, but without outside influences, it can too often be limited, boring and unappetizing.

Curiosity, like originality and delight, has to be nurtured. But if we keep emphasizing the notion of familiarity and security at the expense of new and potentially challenging experience, then we’ll be stuck with the intellectual equivalent of a 1968 Swanson’s T.V. Dinner.

Authentic education demands that students learn, and not merely that they are taught. It’s not about simply offering access to information or data. What happens in classrooms is not the same as what happens at UPS: it is not like transferring an unexamined parcel of information from one person to another. It must include, as all reputable teachers know, instructing students in academic discipline and personal responsibility.

This is one reason that students should be required to take classes from outside their area of specialization. Their futures are under construction. While they may have blueprints in place, perhaps handed down through their families or fantasies from glittering daydreams, there are many architectural models from which to choose. That way they won’t end up with the academic equivalent of a five-story one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen and a bathroom on the roof.

Read the entire piece here.

I appreciate Barreca’s point about students taking courses outside of their area of specialization.  At Messiah College, students are required to take a 100-level history course (a United States history survey course or a Western Civilization survey course) to fulfill their general education requirement in History.  But there are also other opportunities in the curriculum to take a history course.  A student can take World History to fulfill their Non-Western Cultures requirement.  Or they can take Native American History, African American History, the Historical Study of Peace, Immigrant America, Urban History, Women’s History, or Pennsylvania History  to fulfill their Pluralism requirement.  They can also take a history course to fulfill their Social Science requirement.  So, if I got this right, it is possible for a Messiah College business or nursing major to take four history courses to fulfill general education coursework.

But every now and then we have students who take history courses purely out of intellectual curiosity.  This semester in my colonial America course I have two students–an accounting major and a sustainability studies major–who are not required to take the course, but just find the subject interesting.  I applaud them and regularly tell them how much I appreciate them, but students like these are becoming increasingly rare in this age of specialization.

Liberal Arts on the Farm

b1651-fithian2bmark2bup

The teachers who attend the Gilder-Lehrman Princeton seminar on colonial America read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  One teacher took the assignment very seriously.

Back in 2003 I coined the phrase “rural Enlightenment” in an article in The Journal of American History.  Five years later, I defined this phrase more fully in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (now available at Amazon at 68% off with free shipping). In this article and book I tried to show that “rural Enlightenment” was not an oxymoron in eighteenth-century America.  I traced Fithian’s attempt to pursue an intellectual life amid the rural confines of his southern New Jersey home.  Fithian managed to combine the pursuit of an educated life in the midst of harvesting grain, making apple cider, and building sluices along the Cohansey River.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Samford University history professor Anthony Minnema reflects on the relationship between Christian colleges, the liberal arts, and farm work.  He asks: “If perhaps we’ve too long looked at the liberal arts as coffee shops and quads, what about the farm?”  Here is a taste of his post:

Work colleges and programs come in many shapes and sizes, but all offer discounted or even no tuition in exchange for a commitment of 10-15 hours of work per week. The exchange of work for tuition would go a long way to address the perception of elitism. The need to create work opportunities for these students also led these colleges to create majors in agricultural science and sustainability before these programs became popular, which undermines the accusation that LACs are impractical and divorced from the working world. The more successful work colleges, such as Berea College and College of the Ozarks, emphasize their working environment as a recruitment tool and describe themselves as a place to learn and work. A quick perusal of statistics indicates that work colleges enjoy near-parity of men and women (45-55), likely because the rhetoric of a work program and the majors that sustain it have historically been more appealing to men. More speculatively, I suspect that the work-program creates a sense of ownership for students and alumni that most LACs’ advancement offices would envy, since it changes the narrative of the ask from “Please continue giving to the college on top of your debt” to “How much was this education worth to you?” The donor base of the Christian liberal arts college (to say nothing of the corporate world), which tends more toward conservative values, might donate gladly to an institution that requires some or all of its students to work.

How might a work program interact with the liberal arts and Christian mission of a college? The relationship to both is surprisingly close. All colleges within the Work College Consortium describe themselves as “liberal arts colleges” and many retain a Great Books program. (Indeed, students might be more apt to discuss virtue ethics if they’ve just come in from a morning of work.) All but one of the work colleges I found possess a Christian history or tradition and still use the language of Christian service in their mission statements. Several couch their sustainability efforts in terms of stewardship. Thus, the work program might help Christian LACs make good on their claims to be places that foster faith, learning, and service.

So how to create the Christian liberal arts work college from scratch? What I would like to see exists as a two-year program in California at Deep Springs College. It’s a very small program (20-30 students) that boasts an impressive track record for its graduates according to a 2017 Economist article. It emphasizes rigorous liberal arts with a work college component, and until recently was open only to men, but lacks the faith component.

Read the entire piece here.  Interesting.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Saves 7 Liberal Arts Programs, History is Not One of Them

University-Wisconsin-Stevens-Point-1024x622

Back in March we covered the goings-on at the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point.  See our coverage here and here.  At that time the university proposed cuts to the following programs: American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Eight months later, it looks like seven of these departments avoided the chopping block.  History was not one of them.  Read all about it here.  A taste:

As for the history department, it has seen a 48-percent drop in the number of majors over the past five years, from 146 to 76 students, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The department remains on the list of cuts to help meet budget reductions, said Lee L. Willis, a history professor and department chair.

The history department has 14 full-time faculty members, including 11 who are tenured. The department will most likely be reduced to 10 faculty members, and at least one tenured professor will be let go, he said.

The changes are ultimately a response to the evolving demands of career-oriented students, Summers said.

“Our students are laser-focused on the cost of higher education and the return they’re going to get on their investment,” he said. “They’re looking for careers with multiple pathways and the skills they know they need to succeed in those careers.”

Read the entire piece here.

Of course I don’t know the details of what is going on at Stevens Point, but I have a few comments/questions:

  1.  If I am reading this correctly, it looks like American studies, sociology, political science, English, philosophy, and music literature survived the cuts, but not history.  Why?  Was this merely an issue of numbers (of majors)?  I would love to hear from a member of the history department.  (You have an open invitation to explain what happened at this blog).
  2.  I am saddened that Stevens Point is dropping history, but I am not surprised.  Universities now operate on a completely business-oriented model in which students are consumers.  Universities no longer give students what they need to contribute to a healthy democracy.  Instead, they provide students with professional skills to contribute to American capitalism with minimal commitment to the development of citizens.  While we certainly need people with professional skills, we also need educated women and men who can contribute to our democratic life together.  And we need them more than ever in the age of Trump.
  3. What will all of this mean for liberal arts colleges or colleges with distinct missions to prepare students for life in church and society? How long before these kinds of colleges start dropping humanities programs?

“Critical Thinking” and the University

College classroom 3

Over at his blog Blue Book Diaries, Jonathan Wilson reminds us that the teaching of “critical thinking” skills is not the primary purpose of a college education. (Neither is job training). Here is a taste of his piece “The Most Understood Purpose of Higher Ed.”

Let’s be realistic. Most of the time, in most institutions, both the notion that the academy is a free-for-all of critical thinking and the notion that it’s a re-education camp for the politically incorrect are myths. This is not to deny that ideological abuses of power do happen, nor that many students have rational awakenings in college, but neither is a realistic description of most people’s experiences in practice. And I don’t think they’re good descriptions of the academy’s behavior in theory either.

So what kind of thinking does the academy promote when it’s doing its job especially well? (For simplicity, let’s stick close to undergraduate applications.)

The key to provisional collective best thinking practices is that knowledge means something special to scholars, including successful college students. For scholarly purposes—and I believe this is true across disciplines—professional knowledge consists not simply of true beliefs, but of true beliefs reached in a valid way. And validity is judged not by the individual, but by a community of scholars in an ongoing conversation.

Here’s where things get truly scary: For rigorous scholarly purposes, knowledge includes in its implicit definition the possibility that it might ultimately be proven false. That’s the “ongoing conversation” part. The only thing that scholars, as such, know for sure (however certain they may feel) is that their knowledge hasn’t been discredited by valid scholarship yet.

Wilson argues that colleges and universities do not teach “that certain ideas are ‘true’ in an academic sense–as far as we know, according to the best available evidence so far–because we have worked them out in a collective process of examination.”  He adds,  “We teach truths that are provisional but have been reached through the collective best thinking.”

Amen.  This is a great argument for the communal nature of higher education.  Wilson concludes: “…the mark of truly well-educated (as opposed to well-trained or well-spoken) people is their grasp of the way knowledge is collectively created….”

Two quick responses from where I sit, as a history professor at a private liberal arts college:

First, this is yet another argument for why the liberal arts classroom must not be a place of indoctrination.  Our job is not to tell students what to believe, but to teach them how knowledge is created so that they can make their own decisions about what to believe.  This is something that those on the Left and the Right must understand, but in the context of academia it is something that is more pertinent to the Left.  The classroom is not a place for preaching.

Second, Wilson seems to be making an indirect argument for the disciplines.  Each liberal arts discipline offers a different way of examining the world and the human experience.  Each discipline provides a different set of skills and thinking habits for arriving at knowledge.  This is what makes me nervous about introducing “interdisciplinary” learning to college students so early in their college and university experience.  How does one learn to think in an “interdisciplinary” fashion without first learning the thinking skills and practices associated with the individual disciplines?

The Education of Frederick Douglass

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Elizabeth Stice of Palm Beach Atlantic University (and a Messiah College history graduate!) has a nice piece at History News Network on Frederick Douglass and liberal education.  Here is a taste:

The slavery that Frederick Douglass knew was not a metaphor. It would be wrong to suggest an equivalency between his condition and that of American workers or university students today. And there was much more than The Columbia Orator on Douglass’s road to freedom. But the power of the humanities in his life speaks to their significance. He was born into adversity but learned the value of reading at a young age. He was a boy who could not put a book down, even when owning that book might cost him dearly. He grew into a man who could hold and defend his convictions. As a master of oratory, he became a powerful and influential voice for the truth, distinguished both nationally and internationally. The liberal arts alone did not liberate Frederick Douglass from slavery but they gave him mental access to the world even while he was enslaved and, after he escaped from slavery, they propelled him to a speaking role on the world stage. 

Read the entire piece here.

The Association of AAUP and AAC&U Defend the Liberal Arts

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The Association of American Colleges & Universities and the American Association of University Professors have issued a joint statement in defense of a liberal arts education and liberal arts disciplines.

Inside Higher Ed covers it here.

Here is the statement in full:

In recent years, the disciplines of the liberal arts, once universally regarded as central to the intellectual life of the university, have been steadily moved to the periphery and increasingly threatened—by some administrators, elected officials, journalists, and parents of college-age children. The study of the history of human societies and forms of human expression is now too often construed as frivolous, and several colleges and universities have recently announced the wholesale elimination of liberal arts departments. Politicians have proposed linking tuition to the alleged market value of given majors.  Students majoring in literature, art, philosophy, and history are routinely considered unemployable in the technology and information economy, despite the fact that employers in that economy strenuously argue that liberal arts majors make great tech-sector workers precisely because they are trained to think critically and creatively, and to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. 

The American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities are not disciplinary organizations, but we believe that institutions of higher education, if they are truly to serve as institutions of higher education, should provide more than narrow vocational training and should seek to enhance students’ capacities for lifelong learning. This is as true of open-access institutions as it is of highly selective elite colleges and universities. The disciplines of the liberal arts—and the overall benefit of a liberal education–are exemplary in this regard, for they foster intellectual curiosity about questions that will never be definitively settled—questions about justice, about community, about politics and culture, about difference in every sense of the word. All college students and not solely a privileged few should have opportunities to address such questions as a critical part of their educational experience. And the disciplines of the liberal arts are central to the ideal of academic freedom, as well, because the liberal arts, by their nature, require free rein to pursue truth wherever it may lead. As a result, they provide an intellectual bulwark for academic freedom.

Almost eighty years ago, in their joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the AAUP and AAC&U emphasized that “institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good” and that “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” The free search for truth and its free exposition in the liberal arts are essential components of a functioning democracy. Higher education’s contributions to the common good and to the functioning of our democracy are severely compromised when universities eliminate and diminish the liberal arts.

What Does a Humanities Professor Do When a College Cuts the Humanities?

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Check out Nina Handler‘s moving piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Handler teaches English at Holy Names University, in Oakland, California.  The college recently cut several humanities majors, including English and History.  It’s website currently features a student playing golf.

Holy Names claims to be a a university “rooted in Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions.”  The Catholic college has also cut majors in Intercultural Peace and Justice, Latin American Studies, Music, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

Here is a taste of Handler’s “Facing My Own Extinction“:

Disturbingly, after our English major was eliminated, I discovered in conversations that several of my colleagues didn’t realize that there was a distinction between the freshman-writing program and the English major.

Times change, and institutions of higher education must change along with them. If no one wants to study a particular field, if it’s not filling a niche, it will die a natural death. This is evolution in action. I have no choice but to accept that the vast majority of students at my university don’t want to major in English. They don’t want what I have to offer. Instead, they want degrees in the health sciences.

Of course, my students and their worldviews don’t exist in a vacuum. They live in a culture that tells them in every way that STEM fields are where the money’s at and consequently are the only fields worth studying. They want to know — for the return on the gargantuan investment they and their families have made in a college education — that they will be able to get a well-paid job tied directly to their major.

Once education is viewed as a hoop to be jumped through to get somewhere else, people start assigning value to it in a way that privileges direct connections to prosperity and jobs they can easily see. With no sense that being an English major leads to any job but being an English teacher, students are “voting with their feet,” as my provost said when she canceled the major. Social Darwinism speaks of “survival of the fittest,” a victim-blaming phrase that has been distorted to justify socially constructed imbalances of wealth and power. If you can’t make it, it’s your own fault — or it’s just nature taking its bloody course.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Marco Rubio Changed His Mind About Philosophers?

Some of you may recall that Marco Rubio once had some pretty harsh things to say about philosophy and philosophers.  Has he changed his mind?

UW-Stevens Point Students Will Protest Cuts to the Liberal Arts

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We have covered this story here.  Chris Gehrz wrote about it much greater detail here.

It looks the students at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point will be staging a sit-in to protest the university’s decision to cut the following majors:  American studies, art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music literature, Philosophy, Political science, Sociology, Spanish.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Catherine Martin writes:

My son is a student at UWSP and is participating in this demonstration. The university also proposed something similar three or four years ago when my daughter was a student there. The students were up in arms at that time as well and the university system backed down at that time. We’ll see what they do this time.

Catherine also shared this article from Stevens Point Journal.  A taste:

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students intend to stage a sit-in of the campus administration building on Wednesday to protest proposed changes to academic programs.

The demonstration, called Save Our Majors, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.. Participants will gather at the sundial at 12:30 p.m. and then march to Old Main at 1 p.m. to conduct a sit-in for 13 minutes, a minute for each major that is up elimination under a university proposal. 

The student-led and -organized protest is in support of the 13 humanities and social science majors that the university is considering cutting in its proposal.

Outcry from the campus community and surrounding areas continues after UW-Stevens Point unveiled a proposal in early March to eliminate 13 liberal arts degree majors, including English, history and political science. The cuts of 13 majors and the additions or expansions of 16 majors are part of university efforts to deal with a projected deficit of $4.5 million through two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

After the sit-in, students will deliver a list of demands and requests to the university and then march back to the sundial, said Valerie Landowski, a 2014 political science and international studies alumna of UW-Stevens Point.

Read the entire piece here.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point?

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First it was the University of Wisconsin-Superior, now it is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

UW-Stevens Point is expanding its programs in Chemical Engineering, Computer Information Systems, Conservation Law Enforcement, Finance, Fire Science, Graphic Design, Management, Aquaculture, Captive Wildlife, Ecosystem Design, Environmental Engineering, Geographic Information Science, Business Administration, Natural Resources, and Physical Therapy

They are discontinuing their programs in American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Read all about it here.

Let’s just call UW-Stevens Point a professional school.  It is no longer a university or a college.

I concur with philosopher James K.A. Smith’s Twitter warning:

Jamie: It’s already happening.