Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Humanities Crisis at Toledo

I’m posting this, a blend of quote and paraphrase from a friend and blogospherian, to get the word out about a petition to the leadership of the State of Ohio to take notice and intervene in the planning and direction of the University of Toledo.

[begin paraphrased message]

What’s going on at Toledo is, unfortunately, part of a larger pattern in public higher education [one I, Horace, will comment on more below]. I hope you’ll think about signing the petition, for it will only have weight if more than the usual suspects sign it, and if it starts to gain national attention. Also, feel free to circulate the link to other interested parties. The petition is here - http://www.gopetition.com/online/18767.html -- but you may need some background, first.

There have been, apparently, some troubling events and potential changes at the
University of Toledo since the arrival of the new president, Lloyd Jacobs, MD, in 2006. In short, Jacobs seems bent on turning this metropolitan comprehensive university into a narrowly focused school of applied science and technology, where all other fields, if they are to continue at all, will exist only as support/service courses to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. And that’s not even STEM fields as widely conceived to include all sciences and social sciences, but only as Jacobs sees them, and only what he values: medicine, engineering, and environmental sciences – i.e., those fields where Jacobs can see a narrow utilitarian value of “improving the human condition” and the possibility of saleable, patentable, money-making research. (Indeed, Jacobs even refers to the acronym as STEMM or STEM2, including “medicine” as the second M, and clearly thinks only in terms of upper division undergraduate and professional education.)

Jacobs, a surgeon by training, and a hospital and medical school administrator by experience, came into Toledo set on the task of making the university “narrower and deeper” (his words and an oft-repeated phrase). While there might be some argument that not every university can be everything to everyone, the speed with which Jacobs has attempted this radical change, and the way in which he has attempted it – without faculty input, without student input, without careful thought, planning, or research – has had a terrible impact on faculty and student morale, especially for those of us in the fields he does not value. Even tenured faculty are worried about their job stability. And if faculty don’t lose their jobs, they may nevertheless lose control over curriculum, at which point one wonders what that job stability will be worth.

For a concrete idea of what Jacobs’ intentions for our university are, as publicly stated, let me direct you to three documents:

1) The mission and core values of the university as re-written by Jacobs and his team to focus on Jacobs’ favorite theme, “improving the human condition,” found here: http://www.utoledo.edu/campus/about/mission.html.

2) The Strategic Plan for the university, largely written by Jacobs and his hand-picked committee largely consisting of administrators, with a couple of token faculty members from arts and humanities (2 out of 44, both of whom were also administrators). The final version of this is a Word document called “Directions: The University of Toledo” (Jan. 30, 2008), found in the right column on this page: http://www.utoledo.edu/offices/president/strategycommittee/index.html.

3) And most recently, Jacobs’ April 2 state of the university address, entitled “Re-Engineering the Undergraduate Experience or Mass-Customization in Higher Education,” the content of which was surprise to everyone, despite the fact that it outlines a massive curricular change. It can be found here: http://www.utoledo.edu/offices/president/docs/annual_address08.pdf

In Jacob’s state of the university address, he refers to – and, ultimately, misinterprets – the State of Ohio’s Strategic Plan for higher education. If you’re interested in reading it, the complete document can be found here: http://universitysystem.ohio.gov/pdfs/strategicPlan/USOStrategicPlan.pdf. The executive summary is here: http://universitysystem.ohio.gov/pdfs/strategicPlan/USOStrategicPlan_ExecSummary.pdf. The petition highlights some of the ways Dr. Jacobs’ plans misread the state’s strategic plan.

The blog run by the UT Arts and Sciences Council is here: http://ascforum.blogspot.com/.

[End Paraphrased Post]

I also, then, want to connect this very immediate issue to a larger issue within the humanities generally, and cultural studies specifically (the subject of this essay). Look here at Ien Ang's essay, "Who Needs Cultural Research?"

The short-termist, market-driven moves that seem to be under consideration for Toledo seem to undermine not only the humanities, but indeed much of the deeper, more resonant work of the knowledge community fostered by the whole university. Coupled with the kinds of Sokal attacks on humanities (and the anti-science rhetoric that those like Sokal feel attacked by) the science-against-humanities approach to the university, as one of exchange-oriented use-value versus leftist ivory-towerism threatens the life of university culture as we know it, and with a whole host of philosophies (left and right) about what a higher education can and should mean.

To me, I find this new Toledo model short-sighted, bottom-line-oriented, and interested in efficiency for the sake of easier administration, not better education. So sign the petition and spread the word. A university without a vibrant humanities core is not the way to go in American higher ed.


Andi said...

I'm signing and will post about this. As a writer and English professor, I am finding this trend disturbing as well and think that Toledo may be only the first of many schools to go this way. . .
Where I teach, we are starting a STEM academy for high school students . . . and while I appreciate the goals of the program itself, I wonder if and how it will divert resources from the arts and humanities. We shall see.

Thanks for this info.

undine said...

I guess he thinks that the humanities don't have any thing to say about "improving the human condition."