By ELIZABETH BRENNAN
Two weeks ago, President Rick Hurley announced a plan for “academic reallocation” at the University of Mary Washington, and both the faculty and student body over reacted. Instead of acting on uncertainty and publicizing inaccuracies under the guise of saving liberal arts, we need to realize the purpose of this proposal and recognize that reallocation is extremely practical.
Reallocation is not an easy process, or even ideal, but it is necessary. In a recent discussion with President Hurley, he said we have not reallocated the academic departments since 1978. Our student body has changed greatly in 35 years, and it’s time to update our course options to reflect our needs.
For example, two weeks ago Student Senate and Executive Cabinet passed a motion requesting more language options at UMW, specifically non-Romance languages. We can’t make a wish list without recognizing that implementing new programs requires funding, and, without any new revenue, we have to evaluate what programs are bloated financially or can be done away with entirely.
This is not an attack on liberal arts. Hurley expressed that our budget is limited right now and the money we bring in from the state, tuition and new students is already accounted for. We are not growing financially. State funding is limited, tuition is being kept low and we only increase our student population by about five percent each year.
Hiring an outside consultant is meant to aid the process. His purpose is to serve as a guide for Hurley and our faculty. There are a lot of concerns over what this probable hire has helped do at other universities.
Ultimately, this is hardly relevant to UMW, since it is the faculty’s responsibility to provide input on what programs should be invested in, maintained or cut.
This is definitely a huge undertaking, but it is foolishly stubborn to resist. If we want to be academically competitive with other schools, UMW needs to make specific goals for improving and expanding. For instance, we have one of two historic preservation majors in the country, and it should be a highly celebrated and financially promoted program because it makes us unique.
Furthermore, if computer science majors have increased and English majors have decreased over the last ten years or so, it makes sense to redistribute funding to balance those changes. We are never going to be a STEM school or a business school, but we do need to invest in programs that deserve the opportunity to grow.
UMW is exceptional because it is a public liberal arts university and Hurley knows this.
He told me, “There is a lot of fear that I want to destroy the liberal arts. I am a staunch proponent of the liberal arts, I always will be and I’ll repeat it til I die.”
This plan is not meant to limit options, but rather, will curtail outdated or underused programs to create new opportunities. Perhaps offering 50 gym classes a semester is excessive. Changing from four writing intensive requirements to three per student could save money on superficial electives.
There is no right answer, and we’re only in the beginning stages of a year-long process. Some faculty may be disappointed with the timing and the possible influence of our interim provost, but, ultimately, we should trust Hurley’s judgment because he hasn’t given us a reason not to. Uncertainty causes a lot of impulsive action, but you can’t save the liberal arts program if it doesn’t need to be defended.
We shouldn’t fight reallocation because we’re afraid of change or are comfortable with the status quo. Our liberal arts education can only become stronger as a result of reallocation.
At the conclusion of our conversation, Hurley asserted, “We owe it to ourselves to do this. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
I couldn’t agree more. We have nothing to worry about.