CLA without liberal arts

A report suggests eliminating several CLA “signature” programs.

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 âÄî possibly more than half of them âÄî to better fund fewer âÄúsignatureâÄù programs âÄúof distinction.âÄù 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 educationâÄôs breadth and applicability to all areas of life, then declares that âÄúCLA will clearly need to reduce the breadth âĦ of its offerings âĦ and focus its resources on a reduced number of programs.âÄù In other words, the college fundamentally based on breadth and diversity of knowledge will sacrifice those qualities in order to specialize in certain âÄúsignatureâÄù programs. Even more ironic is that these âÄúsignatureâÄù 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. These proposals are, of course, products of the financial environment brought on by the stateâÄôs failure to fund higher education adequately and the central administrationâÄôs failure to protect the academic functions of the University with those reduced state funds. CLA 2015 states that the only area of the budget that has been increasing in recent years is the âÄúcentral cost pool,âÄù which includes common goods like libraries and central administration and repeatedly demands that âÄúcentral must protect the academic core.âÄù The administration is failing in this goal despite CLAâÄôs repeated and explicit entreaties. In its 2011 budget statement, its first recommendation was âÄúto obtain fair treatment from central for CLA and other academic units.âÄù Despite President Bob BruininksâÄô call for cuts to be based on academic values rather than market values, the liberal arts are now being asked to bear a grossly undue burden of cuts. CLA already has the most undergraduates per faculty member, the lowest cost to the University per student and the second-smallest state allocation âÄî 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. What the CLA 2015 Committee has called âÄúcreative reorganizationâÄù may sound good in theory, but donâÄôt be fooled by the spin; eliminating over half of the CLAâÄôs programs for any reason is destructive, not creative. 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 administrationâÄôs irresponsible mismanagement of their respective budget crises are now directly damaging the UniversityâÄôs capacity to educate. Facing similar budget realities in 1974, then-University President C. Peter Magrath warned the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges of the difficulty in protecting the liberal arts in tough times: âÄúI am not suggesting liberal arts be a sacred cow. I am arguing that we must work hard to see that they donâÄôt get lost in the shuffle.âÄù This administration needs a similarly nuanced understanding of funding the liberal arts. The University does not have a right to deny its students access to the sufficiently broad and high-quality liberal arts education it promises them.