Students and Faculty hold ‘Standing Up for the Liberal Arts’ event at Illinois Wesleyan

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Hundreds of student, staff, and Alumni gathered in Illinois Wesleyan University’s quad to voice opposition to the Board of Trustees’ decision to cut four Liberal art programs Wednesday.

The Board of Trustees endorsed a plan that would cut four liberal arts majors last May. The majors included American Culture Studies, Design, Technology, and Entrepreneurship [DTE], Greek and Roman Studies, and International Business.

Those who attended the Standing Up for the Liberal Arts event listened to teacher’s and student’s presentations in support of liberal art programs. The presentations were followed by a march around the quad, several musical performances, and a poetry reading.

One of the organizers of the event, Spanish Professor Carolyn Nadeau said she hopes the university listens to the concerns of staff and students.

“The message I hope the university takes away is that they heed the call of the many faculty, students, alumni, staff, and community members to keep the liberal arts alive and healthy at Illinois Wesleyan University,” Nadeau said.

All in attendance were required to wear a mask and practice safe social distancing. Those unable to attend were able to watch over Zoom and Facebook.

Illinois Wesleyan University’s President Georgia Nugent responded to concerns in an email sent to students and staff Wednesday.

In the email, Nugent explained the process that led to the decision to cut the majors. You can read the full letter below:

TO:        Faculty, Staff, Students, and Alumni

FROM:  S. Georgia Nugent

RE:         Illinois Wesleyan, Liberal Arts, and the Future 

DATE:    July 1, 2020

I’m writing to you today, because, as the year-long evaluation of our academic program nears a close, I’m hearing a number of concerns about the future of the liberal arts in Illinois Wesleyan’s curriculum. These are largely based on incomplete or mistaken information about our commitment to the liberal arts and the review process. My purpose in writing is to clarify the process that has taken place and to dispel unfounded fears that Illinois Wesleyan, as a result of self-study, would diverge from the liberal arts heritage which is and will remain our core.

First, a personal word. As some of you know, I have been an advocate for the liberal arts, on a national level, for decades. An internet search will quickly bring up my writings, speeches, and actions on behalf of liberal arts education. Here, for example is an essay/ booklet I wrote, The Liberal Arts in Action. The last thing I would want to do is undermine the liberal arts at an institution I lead.  

Liberal arts values, across cultures and millennia, call us to self-examination, both as individuals and as institutions. The program evaluation process this year is an example of such examination. The objective is to ensure that Illinois Wesleyan continues to provide the students of today and tomorrow the best liberal arts education we possibly can. Thus, our study began with a survey of all students: 325 students provided 120 pages of responses to questions about their majors and minors, why they chose Wesleyan, and what courses of study they would like to see here.

The student responses were very clear. In addition to their love for the people of the IWU community, students value our university most for three things: the rigorous liberal arts core, top notch pre-professional programs, and successful athletics. This summer, students were asked to articulate why they were “all in for Wesleyan.” Three hundred responded; their responses reflected exactly the same three factors. To serve our students best, we need to recognize the importance of each of these aspects of our university and, ideally, the ways in which they weave together to form the fabric of our students’ lives here.

It’s important to understand the many ways in which faculty members have been involved in the evaluation. First, the Program Evaluation Task Force (PETF), a committee of seven elected faculty members, began by considering eight-page narrative reports each department submitted, detailing the strengths and special attributes of their programs. The group also worked with a rich database of information about enrollments, financial information, outcomes, and national and state trends in students’ interests. The PETF wrote a final report, with a recommendation for each department (invest, sustain, transform, or close). The PETF recommended nine majors for closure, including: American Culture Studies; Anthropology; International Business; Design, Technology and Entrepreneurship (DTE); Educational Studies; French; Greek and Roman studies; the School of Art and the School of Music. That report was then considered by two faculty committees, which brought recommendations to the full faculty for a vote. At that point, the administration also submitted to the Trustees a narrative response to the PETF report and provided data about majors and minors, 10-year enrollment trends, and costs and revenue. 

All of the information went to the Board of Trustees for consideration at their May meeting. The trustees endorsed four of the recommendations for closure (American Culture Studies; Design, Technology, and Entrepreneurship [DTE]; Greek and Roman Studies; and International Business) and determined that further study was needed on others.  They formed a working group of trustees and faculty members to review data yet further for six programs: Anthropology, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, the School of Music, and the WLLC programs in French and Italian.  

We do not know, at this time, what decisions the Board will make. There will not be changes in the coming academic year. Even if a program were slated for discontinuance, all students currently in the program will be able to complete their studies; courses in the fields of study will continue to be offered. We do know that, as alumni themselves (nearly 90%), who are passionate about their liberal arts education, the Board’s objective is to carry forward the heritage of the liberal arts college into the 21st century. 

It is possible that some cuts will be recommended. No one would deny that change of that kind is painful. And, as has often been said, we cannot cut our way to success; there must also be investment in positive change that will help the university continue to flourish. This kind of self-evaluation has been undertaken by many peers and resulted in stronger, more vibrant, more distinctive institutions, better able to serve today’s students. 

This transformative opportunity is before us now at Illinois Wesleyan. The evaluation process has been a part of it. But even before the Board concludes that process, some of the outlines of the opportunities before us are clearly visible. As a university, we are currently comprised of three official entities: the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Fine Arts, and the School of Nursing. Each of these has exciting prospects for the future.

In the College of Liberal Arts, as was recognized by the PETF–and has been vividly underscored by recent events–it is crucial to re-affirm the centrality to our enterprise of human values. There is an opportunity to re-found and re-vitalize the Center for Human Rights and Social Justice.  This center would enable faculty with expertise and experience in the areas of racial and ethnic studies, equity and inequity, and human values broadly conceived, to work together to design a curricular, co-curricular, and research home for these studies, so critical to our students and our future. This work can be supported in part by a portion of the Trustees Fund for Strategic Initiatives.

In the College of Fine Arts, we will seek ways to better recognize and support the further development and collaboration of all of the arts—which, individually and in partnership, sustain and celebrate our fundamental humanity. These creative arts are also natural partners for the Innovation Corridor planned by our surrounding Bloomington/ Normal community.

In the School of Nursing, the PETF report suggests that the area of public health is particularly promising. It may have become even more so, in light of the global pandemic. Our nursing program has always been enriched by our liberal arts core curriculum, as in the distinctive Barcelona program, and this will continue to be the case. Our nurses trained in the liberal arts are particularly well-suited to contribute both to the health of individuals and the larger concerns of public health, an area of great interest to our students.

The PETF recommendation to create a School of Business and Economics, to include Accounting, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Marketing deserves serious consideration. We believe a School of Business and Economics at IWU will be strengthened by deep conversations about ethics, design, and communication, core components of the liberal arts. Attaining accreditation will be a multi-year project, providing opportunities for greater collaboration among the disciplines in the proposed School.  

Each of these initiatives is an attractive opportunity for donor support.

In addition to these opportunities for the colleges and schools, the Strategic Planning Working Groups, in which many campus members participated, have offered creative ideas for the future. Several of these are already underway. The effort to increase transfer students has begun to bear fruit. A certificate in data science is under development. The Center for Engaged Learning will open in the library this fall. 

Some promising initiatives were in process, but were necessarily halted or slowed by the advent of COVID-19. Among these are a proposed program in Communications, new Living / Learning opportunities in residential life, and a more comprehensive program for first-year orientation

Some suggested ideas await further research, such as an option for students to earn a Master’s degree in Health and Fitness (a program which might be particularly attractive to our student-athletes), or offering professional development opportunities to local corporate partners, (which might contribute both revenue and strengthened community relations). Another possibility that deserves our attention is whether we might offer educational programming to our alumni and other audiences, such as the very popular series of Titan Talks this spring.

The fact that our one-day “All In for Wesleyan” annual giving event in June passed the million dollar mark for the first time is no accident. Alumni and friends of the university know that good things happen here. They know that students receive a truly distinctive and rigorous education from outstanding and caring faculty members. And they know that Illinois Wesleyan will continue to offer that liberal arts education for many years to come. 

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