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Position statement opposing UW-Stevens Point’s proposal to eliminate 13 humanities majors
The Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English strongly believes the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is making a very short-sighted decision in proposing to eliminate thirteen humanities majors, including English. Not only do we believe it will negatively impact current and future students interested in the humanities, but we also believe it will significantly diminish the quality of education for every student earning any type of degree from UW-Stevens Point. By weakening this vital area of the university which currently provides nearly 200 English and more than 600 total humanities majors with skills that are necessary in all career paths, you are choosing to remove those majors that have been the cornerstone of educated society for more than 2,000 years. WCTE sees this proposal, should it come to fruition, as having dire near and long-term consequences. If the proposed plan is approved, you are choosing to limit the potential and possibilities for the students and working people of central Wisconsin and quite literally taking away the ability to major in what makes us most human. We believe this is a mistake with far-reaching, unintended consequences. The mission of our organization is to “strengthen the teaching of English Language Arts,” and we believe the quality of the course offerings for students majoring in other fields of study, those seeking minors in English, and future English teachers will suffer due to the elimination of the major. The English Education program at UWSP has consistently provided the surrounding communities and our state with high-quality English Language Arts teachers, but the strength of that program comes from the strength of the overall English department. If the major is eliminated, the inevitable loss of course offerings and staff would negatively impact the preparedness of the future English educators, not to mention the critical humanities experience of students seeking other majors.
English majors do not simply write creatively and read novels, but rather are given the skills necessary to communicate effectively, argue intelligently, read all types of interdisciplinary texts analytically with advanced comprehension, and even more importantly, graduate with strong moral values and empathy for other citizens of our world. English majors seek to understand themselves and others through studying of the humanities. It is through reading about the experiences of others that we strengthen our social awareness. Literature is what helps make and define us as part of the human race. Reflecting on the classics and contemporary stories challenges our assumptions, hones our thoughts and defines our beliefs. The study of literature, as well as history and art, allow for such opportunities while simultaneously arming students with skills that are valuable in the workforce. We recognize the importance of preparing future generations of poets, artists, and historians; why would the university want to take away the opportunities for their students to become intellectual leaders? This kind of thinking has led to some of the problems we are currently having in our society – creating communities who only believe in the importance of science and math mistakenly puts all of the emphasis on aspects of life which can be quantified. In a world which only places value in the quantifiable, we lose the parts of academia which foster free thinking and creativity. Additionally, completing the required elements of an English major demonstrates to all future employers that your students have mastered a rigorous curriculum focusing on communication, critical thinking, analysis, argument, and multi-modal writing. Since these skills are needed in all careers paths, the potential cuts to your English major will no doubt water down the quality of the education received at your university by eliminating the content experts who currently strengthen the reputation and worth of a degree from UW- Stevens Point.
When it comes to eliminating humanities in general, we must consider the world in which all of our students will be expected to perform. As quickly as our world is changing, we cannot fathom what jobs and careers might be necessary to prepare our students for since some currently do not exist – it is our job to prepare students for all potential career paths as they move forward in a world that changes as quickly as we write this letter. A major in the humanities has the flexibility to prepare students for careers of the present and careers of the future. While we support high standards and instructional practices which promote college and career readiness, we maintain that education should also provide students with the skills to think critically and creatively, as well as the opportunity to become morally responsive to our ever-changing and increasingly-diverse world.
The proposed changes at UWSP follow the trend of simplifying the purpose of education to be exclusively workforce development. If our four-year institutions do not teach the humanities, where will students experience them? Surely a university is a logical place for students to study the impact of art on society, explore the tenants of different religions, begin to understand the complexity of music, and master world languages – helping to create well-rounded students is not only our job as educators, but a responsibility that should be taken with the utmost seriousness.
The underpinnings of universities lie in the opportunity for men and women to gather, to read, to engage in intellectual discussions of ideas, and practice what it means to be positive citizens. A university education is much more than training for a career. Humanities majors offer opportunities for students to grow and promote the development of new thoughts and ideas needed in the complex world which is waiting for the next generation of leaders. We understand this decision is being made as a cost-saving measure in an age of funding instability. But it is fundamentally incorrect to say the humanities are simply a drain of university finances with little to no value in the academic world.
Finally, please do not underestimate the impact of humanities’ majors on the Stevens Point community. The elimination of the humanities would hurt the cultural heart of the city’s artists, poets, readers, and writers. The weakening of these programs will no doubt be a devastating loss to the intellectual identity of the local community with long-reaching impacts on the creative abilities of your students moving forward. Losing the humanities would certainly limit students opportunities, and quite possibly, keep them from choosing UW-Stevens Point.
We ask that you reconsider eliminating majors in the humanities – please consider all other budgetary options before making these unprecedented cuts which will no doubt have an ever-lasting impact on your university, your community, and our state educational system.
John D. Schad Kelly Seefeldt Lynn Frick
President Vice President Professional Issues Chair