In a recent opinion piece, the provost at UW-Stevens Point, Greg Summers, suggests that getting rid of 13 majors in the humanities and social sciences doesn't mean those disciplines will go away. But what is the plan to keep them? Who will teach advanced history or English courses if there aren't departments or majors and discipline-specific professors who want to relocate to Stevens Point in the absence of those chopped departments and majors? And if there are to be new interdisciplinary programs, what will they look like?
Chopping 13 majors is one of the few ways to get rid of tenured faculty with seniority and higher degrees and to hire adjuncts at cheaper prices. Like the tenured profs before them, those new adjuncts will have no job protection if the political winds change again.
Yes, careers are important — and so are facts and plans. Given that college grads (and Provost Summers) change careers very frequently because of the changing job marketplace and evolving personal interests, how will narrow trade-specific majors help the graduate whose vocation changes or disappears in the near future? How does this new academic change benefit those students who need to be lifelong learners?
Certainly college costs have changed and the state has drastically reduced financial support for its students and taxpayers. However, the facts in the Summers' piece about 1960's tuition costs in Wisconsin are incorrect. In 1964 I went to UWSP and a year later to Madison and I paid tuition at both schools. It was not free at either place in spite of his claim.
Virtually all the majors headed for extinction today at UWSP existed in 1964 with a campus enrollment then of less than 3,000. So why do those majors need to disappear today with an enrollment of more than 8,000? Is the reason declining enrollment or is it political pressure from some education budget slashers in Madison or from out of state?
The facts involving jobs and job locations for this plan have yet to be explained. How many jobs will there be with the new majors and at what salaries? How many jobs do existing humanities and social science graduates attain currently and at what salaries? Will there be a total net increase in jobs and salaries for UWSP students under the new plan? A decrease in the number of jobs that UWSP students in total will achieve in the future? Given that the departments to be eliminated are some of the least costly to the university, how exactly will this plan pay for the new, more-expensive programs?
As one who knew Lee Dreyfus and had many conversations with him about education, I believe this new plan is the antithesis of what he stood for as chancellor at UWSP and as governor. At UWSP he championed the arts and humanities, social sciences, history and foreign language and semester-abroad programs. He also supported new programs in communication, natural resources and the sciences. He was a voracious reader of books crossing many academic disciplines and his breadth of knowledge made him an appealing candidate when he ran for governor.
Students in all majors change their minds and switch programs. Dreyfus knew that. This new plan takes that flexibility of switching majors away to a large degree and will give all students fewer broad course options. It also might force many to transfer to another school at increased costs to them, a school which has an English or political science major for those on campus who choose it.
The best university education should provide a breadth of knowledge and experiences to create enlightened and responsible Wisconsin citizens first, and then provide some flexible job skills. Are we getting rid of the term and concept of "liberal arts" with this proposal?
Without further details, evidence and thought, this current plan and its rationale deserve a failing grade.
Roger Bullis, Ph.D, is UWSP professor emeritus. He taught at UWSP for 36 years in communication and computer science programs and was associate dean and head of the Division of Communication, and acting dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.
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