Thursday, April 29, 2010

Killing the Liberal Arts to

Save CLA (College of Liberal Arts)

at the University of Minnesota

College of Liberal Arts students understand that liberal arts always get the short end of the stick in financial crunches, but an alarming interim report by the CLA 2015 Committee at a town hall meeting Tuesday reveals an unbelievable selling out of the values of a liberal arts education. The report suggests eliminating many CLA programs — possibly more than half of them — to better fund fewer “signature” programs “of distinction.”

[This is called ambitious aspirations and is encouraged by the Morrill Hall Gang.]

The irony of this plan would be delicious were it not so tragic.
A liberal arts education provides general knowledge across a broad range of topics. The report includes an eloquent defense of the value of a liberal arts education’s breadth and applicability to all areas of life, then declares that “CLA will clearly need to reduce the breadth … of its offerings … and focus its resources on a reduced number of programs.” In other words, the college fundamentally based on breadth and diversity of knowledge will sacrifice those qualities in order to specialize in certain “signature” programs.

Even more ironic is that these “signature” programs are designed to attract students specifically to those programs. This means that the college named for the liberal arts will be trying to attract students with the quality of single, specialized programs rather than the quality of a broad, general education.

CLA already has the most undergraduates per faculty member, the lowest cost to the University per student and the second-smallest state allocation — currently $3,350 per student. To put this in perspective, IT students receive $9,000 from the state per student and the College of Biological Sciences students receive $10,000 each. Furthermore, CLA is responsible for instructing roughly half of the student body. Since CLA is already vastly more efficient than other colleges, equal-percentage cuts hurt CLA disproportionately and a larger number of students suffer the consequences.

These failures have forced CLA into a corner where it is now forced to sell out its own fundamental values in order to survive.

Ultimately, the proposed cuts amount to much more than a trim around the edges; they ask the CLA to abandon the fundamental values of a liberal arts education. Make no mistake, the state and University administration’s irresponsible mismanagement of their respective budget crises are now directly damaging the University’s capacity to educate.

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