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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 10:01 pm

No need to STEM liberal arts courses

Irv Adler

Recently, I attended a seminar at the Cole Commons on the IPFW housing campus. Before I entered the building, I looked around and saw what a wonderful housing campus IPFW had created for its students. Then I attended the seminar, carried out in conjunction with one of the IPFW Center for Excellence programs, and was impressed by the aesthetics and functionality of the Cole Commons facility. I spoke with students attending the seminar and found out more about the recent events to attempt to downsize IPFW, through what appears to be a major cost-cutting campaign by eliminating or dramatically reducing the liberal arts programs, with the apparent goal of creating a satellite campus of Purdue, focused mainly on STEM courses. This just doesn’t make sense! What makes even less sense, from what I was told, is that the liberal arts program at IPFW is revenue-positive and more than holds its own financially.

Let’s talk about liberal arts vs. STEM, the current buzz in the world of education. I am totally in favor of a strong STEM focus, but I seriously question the intention to achieve a greater STEM curriculum by stripping away the liberal arts curriculum. Besides doing a great service to students by providing a broader range of educational and career-path opportunities, the liberal arts provide intellectual and cultural diversity and strengthen critical-thinking skills. The liberal arts provide students a more well-rounded academic experience that will serve them in many ways as they go forward in their life pursuits. In my opinion, a solid liberal arts exposure during their university years, whether or not they are STEM-focused, will help students in many untold ways, including making them better people who are more able to deal with the complexities, dynamics and uncertainties of the world around them.

As for myself, I went to a liberal arts college and received a bachelor of arts in chemistry and from there a master’s and doctorate in chemistry. My work involved engineering, manufacturing, business development, marketing and sales, basically all commercial. In many cases it involved close interaction with associates, colleagues and clients in other countries. I can say without any reservations that my liberal arts education provided me with a diversity of knowledge that helped me deal successfully with many of the situations I encountered. My guess is that many of the readers of this paper have had similar experiences.

IPFW is a major asset to the northeast Indiana community. It is a beacon for education. It provides an affordable and high-quality education to many students who might not otherwise be able to go to a university to pursue an advanced degree. IPFW provides a host of educational, cultural, social and athletic opportunities to its students. So rather than downsizing IPFW, the focus should be on expanding IPFW and increasing its stature in the community.

Thinking about the various letters and op-ed pieces I have read these past months from those involved in the studies to restructure IPFW, I don’t recall anything that talks about a change in direction – from tearing IPFW down to building it up. My suggestion would be to change course. What would it take to grow IPFW so that it becomes even more of an asset to the community and northeast Indiana? Maybe that is what the chancellor should be spending some more time on, as opposed to how to downsize the university.

Let’s grow IPFW into the great metropolitan public university northeast Indiana deserves and needs.