Tag Archives: Marian College

A Scary, Sneaky Assault

While we’ve been distracted by the Right’s bogus hysteria about Critical Race Theory somehow being taught in the nation’s kindergartens, the more determined assault on education is evidently occurring on university campuses.

I have previously posted about the decision of Marian College’s President to eliminate that school’s department of Political Science–a decision made over the strenuous objection of the faculty. The scuttlebutt from people ostensibly “in the know” was that the move was motivated by the personal animus of the school’s right-wing (and widely disliked) President for the sole remaining tenured member of that department–a (gasp!) political liberal.

Evidently, however, what I thought was a petty move by an unpopular administrator at a small school wasn’t the “one-off” I’d imagined. According to the website The Baffler,

This is not the story of one department at one college. An hour’s drive to the northwest of Marian, at Purdue University, it is the English department that faced threats. Citing budgetary concerns, the board of trustees halted the acceptance of any new students and proposed cuts to non-tenured faculty. This includes the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, which until recently included the trailblazing Haitian American author Roxane Gay. Other departments at other universities and colleges around the country are facing similar cuts.

“The ostensible reason provided for these cuts and terminations is “prioritization,” a term used by university administrators to rank which programs deserve funding and attention. One such “prioritization” committee at St. Joseph’s College in New York described it as a ranking of “centrality and essentiality,” “demand and opportunity,” and “productivity, revenue, and resources.” If the terms sound like university administrator gobbledygook, that’s because they are, cleverly disguising administrative judgments as some sort of due process. Around the country it is terms just like these that have been thrown at social science and liberal arts departments. Suddenly, faculty in these departments are expected to justify why they exist and why anyone would need a degree in English.

According to the article, pseudo-business terms like “prioritization” are being used to disguise what are really politically motivated assaults on liberal education.

Prioritization routinely argues that engineering departments need to be the ones getting more money and resources from the administration. Unlike English or political science, which are seen as useless and pointless majors, engineering and computer science carry an implicit promise of a job. Who needs to have read Shakespeare or know about how our political system works when you can rush off to be one among the armies of coders who make our digiverse possible?

In reality, “prioritization” debates, particularly in deep red states, are excellent covers for changing the political demographics of American colleges and universities.

This is just the latest iteration of the Right’s longstanding effort to substitute job training and/or religious indoctrination for education. As Will Bunch recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

you can draw a straight line between the country’s collective decision to stop seeing education as a public good aimed at creating engaged and informed citizens but instead a pipeline for the worker drones of capitalism, and the 21st century’s civic meltdown that reached its low point nearly one year ago, in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Back in 1999, dismay over  that effort prompted me to post about the importance of the liberal arts.  

Studying the liberal arts gives students the worldview–the intellectual paradigm– citizens need in order to function in an era of rapid change.

We inhabit a world that is increasingly global and multicultural. Familiarity with human history, philosophy, literature, sociology and anthropology prepares us to encounter, appreciate and thrive in that world. Education in the liberal arts is based upon a profound respect for the importance of human liberty. The life of the mind requires freedom to access and consider any and all ideas, information, and points of view. Critical thinking cannot flower in a totalitarian environment.

Technocrats can live with Big Brother, but artists, poets and philosophers cannot.

Learning how to communicate, learning how to learn–and learning how much there is to learn!– are essential survival skills. If all one learns is a trade–no matter how highly compensated the particular trade might be–he or she is lost when that trade is no longer in demand. Even if that never happens, lack of familiarity with the liberal arts makes it far less likely that an individual’s non-work life will be full and rich.

Despite the Right’s distaste for expertise, evidence, and smarty-pants “intellectuals,” America desperately needs educated people. The survival of democracy requires an educated population– and there’s a significant difference between learning a trade, important as that may be, and becoming educated.

That difference is the liberal arts–and that’s why they are being targeted. 




Corrupting The University

In order to take control of a country, zealots have to undermine not just people who may have been educated to be independent thinkers, but the very idea and legitimacy of a liberal education. Those intent upon spreading belief in “the Big Lie,” for instance, must attack the institutions committed to truth-seeking and a commitment to verifiable evidence.

So we see the escalating attacks on knowledge, on science , on expertise. We see a co-ordinated effort to replace the very concept of education with the far less threatening goal  of job training.

And we see unremitting attacks on the nation’s universities.

I spent twenty-one years as a faculty member at a public university, and I would be the last person to claim that all is well in academia. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can–indeed, should–be leveled: bloated administrations, too-cozy relationships with moneyed donors, a knee-jerk tendency to “cancel” proponents of currently unpopular positions, and a depressing willingness to equate academic success with job placement statistics.

That said, the degree to which the GOP is waging war on education–at both the public school and college levels–  seems unprecedented.

I’ve previously posted about former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the University of Wisconsin–including his attempt to change the century-old mission of the University system by removing language about the “search for truth” and “improving the human condition” and replacing those phrases with “meeting the state’s workforce needs.”

At least Walker understood the need to be sneaky.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–a poster boy for today’s GOP–hasn’t bothered to hide his animus for science, truth and higher education. The results have been ugly.

A special panel created by the faculty at the University of Florida has completed a review of the academic environment there, and what it has to say is not flattering.  As The Miami Herald reports, the report shows that academics in Florida live in a literal state of fear; one where they don’t dare tell the truth out of fear of reprisals from Gov. Ron DeSantis. That’s particularly true when it comes to revealing the facts about COVID-19.

The report makes it clear that researchers felt a great deal of outside pressure in preparing research information for publication. That sometimes meant that information was delayed, or not published at all. In some cases, scientists were told not to reveal their affiliation with the university when releasing information, or to take the University of Florida name off presentations.

All because they were not allowed to do anything that could be viewed as criticizing DeSantis, or policies related to COVID-19. Faculty in the university’s Health Department were warned that funding might be “in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles.”

DeSantis’ attacks went well beyond his approach to COVID.

Course descriptions, websites, and other materials concerning the study of race and privilege had to be hidden, altered, or removed. The persecution in this area became so ridiculous that instructors were told:

“The terms ‘critical’ and ‘race’ could not appear together in the same sentence or document.”

Much of this bullying has occurred “under the radar,” but a few months ago, national media reported that the University of Florida was prohibiting three professors from testifying as experts in a lawsuit challenging a new law restricting voting rights. The prohibition was justified by the the University on the grounds that “it goes against the school’s interest by conflicting with the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.”

There was a sufficient outcry that the University reversed that decision, but it is blindingly obvious that less well-publicized efforts to “get along” with the Governor remain in place.

It isn’t only Florida.

At a time when University Presidents are chosen more for their fundraising abilities than for their devotion to scholarship, some are using their authority to simply remove inconvenient scholarship from  their institutions. Here in Indianapolis, the administration of Marian University has simply eliminated its department of political science. 

The school’s administration has failed to offer a rationale for removing political science, a program with as many declared majors as most other liberal arts programs on campus —and which you would think is especially important, given the troubled state of U.S. political life–and especially since the faculty vociferously opposed the decision. The linked report notes that no other major was targeted for elimination.

The dispassionate pursuit of science, evidence and “inconvenient”  knowledge is being targeted by ideologues, autocrats and their facilitators. To the extent that they are successful, this country is in deep, deep trouble.