Universities should remember their mission

Published 8:26 pm Sunday, November 5, 2017

The University of Wisconsin-Superior became the latest college to try out an education fad while slashing their budget. With such a high-profile notice, it’s clear their administrators were looking to get credit for starting a national trend, which might catch on in the South.  Yet in the end, it’s the students who lose out when universities like this school loses sight of what their mission, while hundreds of millions of state dollars are spent on pro sports in the state.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education article “Plan to Phase Out 2 Dozen Programs Stuns Faculty at Wisconsin-Superior,” by Katherine Managan, the administration announced they would suspend more than two dozen programs at their college, ranging from the arts (Theater) to the sciences (Chemistry: Forensic, Earth Science, Physics), Social Science (Political Science, Geography Sociology), and a variety of fields that would produce teachers in science, psychology, and computer science.

The administrators announced that the moves had nothing to do with cutting costs (the school faces a $2.5 million deficit), but it was designed to “make it easier for students to graduate on time.”  Students “tend to get overwhelmed by too many course offerings, university administrators said.  As a result, they added, students often make bad decisions that cause them to take too many credits.”

It’s hard to imagine a history major getting distracted by a “health and human performance class” (similarly suspended) or a business student accidently taking a legal studies course (also suspended).  If such students are so apt to be distracted, then there needs to be an improvement in teaching and advising.  Moreover, what are the students going to do when they try and conduct a real world job search? There are so many positions and choices!

The University Chancellor tried to defend the decision, claiming it would only affect a few students. “When we look at the percentage of students who were majoring in the suspended departments, it was around 3 percent.”  Well, if the mission was to help students graduate on time, why did they get rid of something that didn’t even affect 97 of students? I would offer courses in logic at UWS, and make them mandatory for those administrators.

The UWS Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor insisted that they made their choices after involving faculty in the decisionmaking process. The truth of the matter is that faculty were consulted, and made other recommendations, which were evidently ignored, since they did not call for shutting down any majors.  Ethics might be another course to start offering at UWS.

The school will allow students to finish their declared major and minors, but won’t allow any student into the suspended programs, according to Mangan.  So much for academic freedom.

What’s crazier still is that no faculty members will be fired.  Those whose programs are to be suspended can still show up to work, but won’t have any students to teach. In the article, sources revealed that the university is hoping that the professors will leave on their own, without any students to teach.  My students didn’t believe this story, and researched it for themselves. They can’t believe a college would do that.

If you want a good idea, you’re more likely to find it from a Wisconsin student. “If the school wished to help us graduate on time they should hire more advisors to help students,” said a History and Political Science major. Students make bad choices from a lack of good advice, not because “Gee…there are just so many classes out there.”

But UWS seems blinded by rushing to the latest fad: “guided pathways,” from groups like “Complete College America,” where the plan is to rush students through the process so they don’t take any more time in school than they absolutely have to.

Perhaps a better model might involve improving the skills of students for when they do graduate, learning how to write, how to do math, how to present, how to use critical thinking skills, which is what future employers want, not someone who rushed the process so an administrator can be a national sensation, or so a governor can slash college budgets to pay $220 million for a new NBA basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.  Hope this doesn’t catch on down South.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.