Ill Liberal Arts

Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:

IN SEPTEMBER, THE ADMINISTRATION of Marian University, a small liberal arts school in Indianapolis, Indiana, put a proposal before its Academic Policies Committee. The administration stated that it wanted to eliminate the political science department and terminate the college’s only tenured faculty member in that department. “I had no idea this was coming, I was completely blindsided,” Dr. Johnny Goldfinger, the professor in question, told Inside Higher Ed. Earlier in the year, the department’s other tenured professor, Dr. Pierre Atlas, had resigned from the department when his request for a sabbatical was denied. Atlas’s subsequent requests for unpaid research leave were also denied. In Goldfinger’s case, the Faculty Assembly voted overwhelmingly against the proposal in November. The administration, however, was not interested in heeding faculty opinion. Nor were they swayed by the letter that the American Political Science Association wrote to them. Goldfinger, who has decades of teaching experience and a PhD from Duke University, saw his job eliminated last week by the college’s board of trustees. All departments other than political science were left intact.

This is not the story of one department at one college. An hour’s drive to the northwest of Marian, at Purdue University, it is the English department that faced threats. Citing budgetary concerns, the board of trustees halted the acceptance of any new students and proposed cuts to non-tenured faculty. This includes the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, which until recently included the trailblazing Haitian American author Roxane Gay. Other departments at other universities and colleges around the country are facing similar cuts.

…There are innumerable ways in which universities and colleges can create programs that combine liberal arts instruction with other degrees so that students can get the best of both worlds. Chopping off liberal arts education is shortsighted and dangerous and not unlike trying to cure a sprain with a total amputation. It only makes sense if the actual purpose of slicing off departments and professors is part of a larger political project that has nothing at all to do with providing the best education.

More here.