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Wisconsin College Nixes Liberal Arts Majors

Wisconsin College Nixes Liberal Arts Majors

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point (UWSP) is considering replacing more than 10 of its liberal arts majors with programs that provide students with “clear career pathways.” 

“To fund this future investment, resources would be shifted from programs with lower enrollment, primarily in the traditional humanities and social sciences,” reads the school’s official statement. “Although some majors are proposed to be eliminated, courses would continue to be taught in these fields, and minors or certificates will be offered.”

Majors such as French, German, Spanish, English, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, Music Literature, History, Geography, and Art would be replaced with programs like Environmental Engineering, Master of Business Administration, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Ecosystem Design & Remediation, Aquaculture/Aquaponics, and Geographic Information Science. 

Programs to be expanded include Marketing, Finance, Fire Science, Graphic Design, Chemical Engineering, and Conservation Law Enforcement. 

UWSP faces a $4.5 million deficit over two years due to declining enrollment. According to officials, the proposal is designed to “maintain and increase enrollment.”

This push could be related to a growing concern among campus CEOs that liberal bias (or the perception of liberal bias) is changing the way Republicans view higher education (read my previous article here), and comes amid a larger conversation about whether colleges are actually preparing students for careers.

The plan to replace liberal arts degrees with more career-orientated options is also in line with a push from Wisconsin’s Republican-led government for the school to focus on job skills rather than liberal arts.

The increased focus on workplace skills is championed by Republicans who view many universities as “politically correct institutions that graduate too many students without practical jobs skills – but with liberal political views,” reports The Washington Post. 

Students and faculty at UWSP are largely against the proposal. 

“I had no notion that this was going to occur because we never talked about doing anything like this,” says Political Science Professor Ed Miller. “It was clearly radical.” 

Miller and others worry that cutting liberal arts programs would decrease UWSP’s appeal to students. “Why come here when they can go to another school, even in the UW system, that hasn’t done this – that has a full complement of programs?”

Research shows that while humanities graduates generally have a harder time finding their first job, they tend to earn a decent salary once they settle into a career. 

“It seems kind of short-sighted to just focus on what is a first-year problem rather than a long-term career problem,” says American Academy of Arts & Sciences executive Robert Townsend, adding that employers value the communication and writing skills humanities graduates tend to have. “Their skills are not as narrow as in vocational training.” 

Students organized a sit-in at the campus administration building this week as part of a movement called “Save Our Majors.”

Before the changes go into effect, the proposal will have to be approved by the campus government and the University of Wisconsin system’s chancellor and Board of Regents. Students currently pursuing majors that are discontinued will be allowed to finish their degrees, including students who began in 2018. 

“If we accept the need for change, and we confront and solve the financial issues currently facing the institution, we can create a new identity for the regional public university,” says Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. 

“UWSP can move forwards with fiscal stability, new opportunities to build programs and grow enrollment, and renewed capacity to improve our service to the students and communities of central and northern Wisconsin, which are complex, diverse, and ever-changing.” 

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