The notion that every well educated person would have a mastery of at least the basic elements of the humanities, sciences, and social sciences is a far cry from the specialized education that most students today receive, particularly in the research universities. -- Joseph E. Stiglitz
(Toledo, OH) I received a leaked copy this week of the "White Paper" prepared by University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs, and my initial reaction is that this is yet another attempt by short-sighted administrators to gut the humanities and social sciences in favor of engineering and health services.
This controversial document is the basis upon which Dr. Jacobs intends to lay out the direction in which UT will travel in the next few decades. A short article on the paper is available at this UT link.
Dr. Jacobs envisions a university focused on the STEM² (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) curriculum. He believes that, by 2011, the University of Toledo should phase out "all non-state funded PhD programs." He argues that new PhD programs should be limited only in "STEM² and professional colleges; e.g.: Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, Doctorate in Nursing Practice, etc."
There are three key "thematic areas" that Dr. Jacobs believes should be the primary focus of UT:
1. The environment and its impact on human life, wellness, and health;
2. Renewable energy sources and uses of and intermodal transportantion; and
3. Cell signalling systems as applied to the maintenance of human health and the prevention, early detection, and treatment of disease.
Dr. Jacobs, it appears, views the future of UT as an organization in which the emphasis should be squarely upon a few narrow technical specialties, and in which other disciplines merely serve to prepare students for their futures as tomorrow's technicians.
Unfortunately, this type of philosophy is all too common in American universities. Facing declining tax revenue, many states have begun to cut funding to their public universities, preferring to support only those programs with immediate, short-term payback. In Ohio this trend accelerated in the 1990s; the state once supported about two-thirds of the operating revenue of state universities, but currently provides about one-third of the funds necessary to maintain the system of public higher education.
Universities then pass on these shortfalls to students in the form of higher tuition and reduced services and programs. Dr. Jacobs is merely the latest in a series of UT presidents who have tried to develop a solution to the funding dilemma.
The University of Toledo in particular - and Ohio in general - will thus sacrifice long-term quality in favor of short-term financial shell games. The gutting of graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences (and likely the Colleges of Education and Business) and the "aligning of interdisciplinary institutes and centers to the research themes" (shorthand for slashing the budget of the College of Arts and Sciences) will only exacerbate the deteriorating state of higher education in Ohio.
"Penny wise and pound foolish" was the maxim my mother preached to me as a child, and this phrase succinctly describes the thinking of the new administration of the University of Toledo and the government of the State of Ohio.
Onward and downward, mateys!
(Full disclosure statement: the author is a graduate student in a "non-state funded PhD program" at UT whose department will likely be among the first that the budget-cutting chainsaws will slice through)