My friend Mike pointed my attention to a wonderful rant, an open letter sent by a scientist named Gregory Petsko to George Philip, the President of the State University of New York at Albany. Philip is presiding over what will remain of his “University” after his October 1st decision to eliminate the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian, and Theater Arts to cut costs, listing as one reason the fact that comparatively fewer students enroll in these degree programs these days.
In addition to his (scientist’s) eloquent defense of these now-abolished departments at SUNY-Albany, Petsko also points out that one of the reasons fewer students enroll in these programs is that like many institutions of higher learning today, students are allowed to essentially choose their own academic programs.
Ten million years ago, when I was a college student, we had to complete requirements in a broad array of courses and disciplines, not just courses in our declared (or, back in those draft-dodging days, non-declared) major. How else would a kid who’d just graduated from Hortonville High have learned a little bit about – and developed a lifetime appreciation for – the world’s great works of art? Was it related to my major? No. Nor were the courses in Philosophy which I had to complete before I could get my sheepskin. Nor were the two Phys Ed courses I was ordered to take.
As Petsko points out, young people aren’t wise enough yet to have the kind of freedom to set up their own degree-plan. It’s part of the job of the University to set up the program. Petsko argues that institutions of higher learning that dump programs like SUNY-Albany is doing should be called Colleges or Tech Schools or Career Academies, not Universities. I’m with him on that.
With Scott Walker taking office in a few weeks, and the likes of that horribly misguided Nass person in power over the legislature’s committee that deals with education, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if our governor-who-doesn’t-have-a-college-degree and his pals force massive plug-pulling on programs and departments and courses all over the UW System.
No doubt we’ll be told that we need to run government…and public education…more like a business.
Many of those of us who were coerced to take nine credits of Philosophy back in the 60’s will realize this for the shortsighted folly it is.