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The Journal Gazette

  • Abe Schwab

Saturday, May 14, 2016 10:01 pm

A liberal dose of publicity

Abraham Schwab

I can’t imagine a public institution that has been more studied over the past four years than IPFW has been. The most recent report (by the University Strategic Alignment Process) was released on May 6. This report suggests, among other things, the "restructuring" of 13 departments, nine from the College of Arts and Sciences. If IPFW’s upper administration follows these suggestions, they will be putting IPFW on a familiar path to eliminating some or all of these programs. The departments from the College of Arts and Sciences that have been targeted: physics, history, political science, anthropology, international language and culture studies, women’s studies, sociology, philosophy, and geosciences.

The move to eliminate the liberal arts from higher education has been a movement long developing. My favorite example: A Florida task force recommended charging higher tuition rates to liberal arts and social science majors because these were "nonstrategic disciplines." It’s even rumored that the USAP committee itself joked that a philosophy degree isn’t good for anything other than fishing. As a fisherman myself, I can tell you that my degree in philosophy hasn’t been helped me fish one bit.

Importantly, this stubborn view that the liberal arts and the degrees associated with them are useless is out of step with the state of the world. The current CEOs of Starbucks, YouTube and HBO all have liberal arts degrees. As does the prime minister of Canada.

And a liberal arts education is valuable for the less ambitious as well. A survey of CEOs by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 74 percent recommend a liberal arts education. Finally, professional societies have returned to the need for the liberal arts in their training. A liberal arts education fosters better, sharper and clearer thinkers. These are skills needed in the rapidly changing landscape of the American workforce. And yet some to cling to an ideological refusal to acknowledge the value of the liberal arts. And the USAP report has put this ideological refusal front and center at IPFW.

As I’m sure you are aware, most IPFW students and graduates are from northeast Indiana and work in northeast Indiana. You are IPFW’s community. If IPFW discontinues these programs, these areas of study, and the advantages they offer to the individual and to the workforce, will no longer be easily available to the people of northeast Indiana. The public of northeast Indiana will be offered less.

Faculty and staff have been pushing back against the attempt to diminish or eliminate the liberal arts from IPFW. We have explained the value of critical thinking, the need for broadened horizons and the value of challenging given wisdom. We have referenced the business leaders who want employees with an education that does more than job training. And this report suggests we have failed.

So we need your help. If you believe the programs in history and political science, or sociology and anthropology, are an important part of IPFW, contact IPFW’s administration and tell them. If the programs in international language and culture studies or women’s studies have positively changed your perspective, contact IPFW’s administration and tell them. And if the philosophy, physics or geosciences programs have given you a different understanding of the world, contact IPFW’s administration and tell them. Finally, if you agree with John Shoaff, when he wrote in his April 24 op-ed that IPFW should not be changed in ways that ignore its commitment to "higher education’s traditional values," contact IPFW’s administration and tell them. You can send an email, make a call, post on Facebook or tweet at them.

We have told them these programs are important, and they are not listening to us. I hope they will listen to you.