Media Trackers previously reported that UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson proposed that the university cut thirteen majors from the program in response to a recent enrollment decline and to deal with a $4.5 million dollar deficit. But critics see another motive: an attack on liberal arts education.
The proposal would cut thirteen majors in the humanities that have record low enrollment rates (declining demand for the product), and add others that Patterson said, “will create new opportunities to meet the evolving needs of our students and a more responsive, sustainable future for UW-Stevens Point.” In other words, the changes appear to be market driven.
While the move may seem drastic, those now in the programs to be cut will be able to finish and graduate with those minors and majors. Still, many question the cuts. Writing in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss sees the move by the university, not as a way to manage the decline in enrollment and the deficit, but as a political move by Governor Scott Walker:
“Critics see something else: a waning commitment to liberal arts education and a chance to lay off faculty under new rules that weakened tenure.
“The plan to cut the liberal arts and humanities majors (see full list below) is in line with a failed attempt by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2015 to secretly change the mission of the respected university system — known as the Wisconsin Idea and embedded in the state code — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”
“The push away from liberal arts and toward workplace skills is championed by conservatives who see many four-year colleges and universities as politically correct institutions that graduate too many students without practical job skills — but with liberal political views.”
Despite the belief that the move is somehow political, in the school’s full message quoted in the same article it’s stated that the university will “remain committed to ensuring every student who graduates from UW-Stevens Point is thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, as well as prepared for a successful career path.” And that in cutting those programs with low enrollment they will expand and offer new majors to students:
“UW-Stevens Point proposes expanding academic programs that have demonstrated value and demand in the region, including:
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Information Systems
- Conservation Law Enforcement
- Fire Science
- Graphic Design
“These programs have existed as options and would expand to majors. In addition, new bachelor’s (or advanced) degree programs are proposed in:
“Aquaculture/Aquaponics, Captive Wildlife, Ecosystem Design and Remediation, Environmental Engineering, Geographic Information Science, Master of Business Administration, Master of Natural Resources, Doctor of Physical Therapy”
It is true that Walker has put an emphasis on vocational education in Wisconsin. But rather than an attack on the liberal arts, Walker’s intent is to create qualified workers to meet the need for skilled trade labor in Wisconsin:
Walker said he will focus on improving Wisconsin’s economy by making sure more people receive training to fill a worker shortage in skilled manufacturing.
“This year our big challenge is not just creating jobs but filling jobs and making sure people have the skill sets they need,” Walker said Thursday after touring PDQ Manufacturing Inc.
The tour was one of several Walker did across the state to promote October as manufacturing month in Wisconsin.“Working with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College or others like them across the state is now more important than ever,” he said.
Neither Walker nor anyone else is forcing the UWSP decision. The chancellor’s statement suggests it is, in fact, market driven.