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?

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

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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?

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.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Superior?

This decree from the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Superior has been making the rounds today:

Superior 2

Superior

How can you claim to be a college without programs in Math, History, Economics, Chemistry, Social Science, Politics, Sociology, and Visual Arts?  Is the University of Wisconsin-Superior now appears to be little more than a professional school.