Watch out, classics majors across the nation — your department may be in danger of being cut. Michigan State University recently cut majors that administrators deemed less important as part of an effort to trim excess departments, stay relevant and save money, according an article in The New York Times last month. And other colleges have followed a similar trend. But cutting majors damages the value of the variety that a liberal arts education offers. Coursework should be updated and adjusted to make majors relevant to the changing world but limiting areas of study isn’t the right way to address funding cuts.
MSU recently eliminated its American studies and classics majors after these concentrations experienced declines in their enrollments. The decision to cut the programs was made in part because of their limited number of students — only 13 students have declared classical studies as their major in the last four years, according to a Dec. 29 article in The New York Times. The cuts were also a money-saving measure. MSU isn’t the only university to cut majors. Last spring, the University of Louisiana voted to eliminate its philosophy major because, as the New York Times article reported, it “lost some credence among students.”
Universities that have cut majors due to lack of interest or to cut costs have underrated educational diversity. Information of all types is valuable, and students should have access to a wide range of educational opportunities. Part of the value of a liberal arts education is that students can expand their perspectives, identify varied interests and grow a diverse skill set. Career-specific knowledge changes as industries grow and are redefined. But a well-rounded education won’t lose its value.
The educational mission of a university is compromised when an institution chooses to cut majors and courses. Even a course that doesn’t teach job-specific skills may be relevant to producing thoughts, skills and ideas that can serve students personally and professionally. Cutting off students from a branch of knowledge is contrary to the fundamental purpose of a university — to expand students’ knowledge and methods of thought.
Universities should be adding new courses and educational avenues as society changes. Global and economic states are always changing, and new courses are necessary to help students navigate the world. If some majors show a decline in enrollment, then the coursework should be updated so that students find the relevant connections between real-world applications and what they learn in the classroom.
The University of Michigan hasn’t resorted to cutting classes so far. Instead, it has expanded its number of courses, particularly in entrepreneurship, according to the article in The New York Times. And the University has committed to hire 100 new faculty members that specialize in more than one subject to bridge the gap between departments. Administrators should hold to what they’ve been doing and maintain a breadth of courses that are both diverse and relevant.
Universities are right to re-examine their curriculums to coincide with the changes happening around them. But all areas of study offer valuable lessons and shouldn’t be discarded. Universities trying to balance their budgets shouldn’t look to cut educational quality. They should give students the broadest education possible, and that means expanding the availability of courses, not reducing it.