Minor cut ominous for liberal art tracks

The discontinuation of the humanities minor is not part of any budgetary cuts.

Minor cut ominous for liberal art tracks

Adam Daniels

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs humanities minor has become a major casualty of a school effort to make structural changes administrators insist are not part of any budgetary cuts.
âÄúRight now, weâÄôve been making decisions based on academic, programmatic reasons,âÄù Gary Oehlert, College of Liberal Arts associate dean for planning, said.
A recommendation for restructuring goes through a lengthy process that is ultimately finalized by the Board of Regents.
This process can have dramatically different implications for each program it encounters. But for some University professors, word has already come down from administrators.

âÄòIt just doesnâÄôt make senseâÄô
Humanities studies Senior Lecturer James Norwood said he met with Oehlert, CLA Dean James Parente and CLA Associate Dean Jennifer Windsor on Oct. 28, and within a half hour, he was potentially out of a job after the current semester.
âÄúI was simply told that my contract would not be renewed,âÄù Norwood said. âÄúThe meeting went really fast. Their mind was clearly made up, and I was just asking when I needed to clean out my office and turn in my keys.âÄù
Norwood said he was not given much explanation beyond the point that courses in other programs and departments offer the same material as humanities studies.
âÄúThe clear implication was that, âÄòWe want you out of here as soon as possible and we donâÄôt want you to talk about it with other people,âÄôâÄù Norwood said.
Norwood and Assistant Professor George Kliger staff the program and their nine courses have attracted about 300 students each year.
âÄúThere hasnâÄôt been a student who has [declared] this minor in several years,âÄù Oehlert said. âÄúIts once-unique character is not there anymore âĦ It just doesnâÄôt make sense to have a separate program anymore.âÄù
This was the final step in completely abolishing a distinct humanities program.
The process began in 1992 when the humanities department was shut down. It has since been housed under the philosophy department.
âÄúAt one point the department was very well established, but the field has moved to other parts of the University,âÄù Oehlert said.
Norwood said he sensed that his position was in jeopardy for some time, but is disappointed in the way things transpired.
âÄúI think [CLA] should be more forthcoming and provide an explanation of their goals and their plans for what they want to eliminate,âÄù he said. âÄúAt a public institution like ours, there should be more accountability rather than just axing people behind the scenes.âÄù
Survival
Oehlert could not comment on NorwoodâÄôs termination, but explained that tenured faculty are protected during changes in programs.
The Regents Policy on Faculty Tenure obligates the University to keep faculty employed in positions they are qualified to teach.
Faculty can also voluntarily change fields of study, seek employment elsewhere or accept early retirement.
This does not include Norwood, because he is not tenured.
The policy has worked for employees whose programs have been subjected to restructuring.
Once two separate programs, employees of the newly formed History of Science Technology and Medicine came together earlier this year and decided that consolidating would make it more straightforward at the undergraduate level.
The program is a joint effort between the Medical School and College of Science and Engineering.
And, though the collaborative arts major will be eliminated, Oehlert said faculty and staff came from numerous departments and will all be used in a different capacity.
âÄú[The process] isnâÄôt common, but it does happen,âÄù Oehlert said.
Still, small programs within the University are looking to avoid restructuring altogether by proving their worth.
âÄúWeâÄôre increasing our efforts to increase external funding,âÄù Erika Lee, director of the Asian American studies program, said. âÄúWeâÄôre certainly feeling the crunch, but weâÄôre âĦ planning on growing.âÄù