Dear Commons Community,
The University of Tulsa with a $1 billion endowment for 4,000 students rolled out a plan last week that will result in the elimination of dozens of programs including majors, minors, and graduate offerings, but much of the resulting outcry has centered on undergraduate programs in the liberal arts. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“For too long, we have tried to be everything to everyone,” said Janet K. Levit, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, in remarks delivered to faculty and staff members and published on the university’s website.
Here’s how the university is defining itself now: “a high-touch undergraduate institution that provides all students with a firm grounding in critical and creative thinking, and that is STEM-heavy with a professional, practical focus.”
To that end, the restructuring enrolls new students in a University Studies program before they select their majors. It shifts departments into interdisciplinary divisions in its arts-and-sciences college. And it creates what it’s calling a “Professional Super College” combining business, health sciences, and law.
Restructuring programs and cutting majors are common moves for colleges looking to shore up the bottom line. But to some observers, the move was surprising at a private university that has a billion-dollar endowment to support some 4,000 students. Why is Tulsa making these changes, and what might its plan signal about higher education’s evolving identity and economics?
Role of the Liberal Arts
Tulsa is cutting graduate degrees in physics and chemistry, all of its theater degrees, and some business programs. But the cuts in its liberal-arts program, including the elimination of majors in philosophy and religion, have gotten the most attention.
Laura Stevens, an associate professor of English, tweeted that she is collecting material to “create an archive of testimonials from current TU students and alumni about the role the Liberal Arts have played in their education, career, life…” Matthew Dean Hindman, an assistant professor of political science, described in a Twitter thread the university’s actions as a “cartoonishly bad plan to eviscerate the liberal arts.”
While the changes touch every college at Tulsa, the one “far and away the most affected” is Arts and Sciences, Hindman said in an interview. It’s not just about cutting majors, he said. The plan suggests that the liberal arts are courses that students take when they first arrive in college, before they go on to major in something else. The move away from traditional departments, he said, will mean that students will experience the liberal arts in “broad categories” rather than disciplines.
A sad day for the liberal arts at Tulsa!