Academics reeling as market discipline comes to the University of Wisconsin

If you are sick and tired of professors indoctrinating students in politicized classes that teach nothing of any use in real life, and hate the idea that tenure immunizes them from accountability, the next decade or so is going to provide some relief. The reckoning is coming, as shocked professors at a University of Wisconsin campus just discovered. The higher education bubble that Professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has forecast to burst has just popped in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Old Main, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point (Source)

It turns out that you can’t earn a living teaching subjects that students aren’t that interested in. Even if you have tenure. Colleen Flaherty writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

…the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point announced its plan to cut 13 majors -- including those in anchor humanities departments such as English and history and all three of the foreign languages offered -- and, with them, faculty jobs. Tenured professors may well lose their positions.

The plan is part of the campus’s Point Forward initiative to stabilize enrollment by investing scarce resources into programs Stevens Point sees as distinctive and in demand. Those include business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, fire science and graphic design.

This is only possible because the GOP majority in the Wisconsin State Legislature passed and Governor Scott Walker signed a bill rolling back Wisconsin’s ultra-strong tenure protection in state-funded higher education, and the subsequent “rewriting of related Board of Regents policies on tenure and program discontinuance.” As a result, if a department is closed, the tenured professors in it lose their jobs. As a matter of fact, in most other colleges and universities, this already is the situation. Tenure does not protect professors when their department is folded up, usually due to poor enrollments. (Sometimes due to exposure as quackery.See the histroy of Phrenology, for instance.)

For generations, ever since the GI Bill offered subsidies to returning WW II veterans going to college, higher education has been expanding. The availability of federal student loans is only the latest subsidy that has enabled enrollments and tuition to climb simultaneously. At the same time, a college diploma has become a perceived requirement for many well-paying jobs.

These factors enabled many disciplines not anchored in the hard sciences to drift off into political correctness territory, teaching subjects like homoerotic imagery in Shakespeare and other obsessive concerns of the left. As  result, enrollment in politicized humanities and social sciences departments has fallen, as students motivated by jobs have focused on more utilitarian courses.

Here is the list of the departments being closed at Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

  • ·      American studies,
  • ·      art (excluding graphic design),
  • ·      English (excluding English for teacher certification),
  • ·      French,
  • ·      geography,
  • ·      geoscience,
  • ·      German,
  • ·      history (excluding social science for teacher certification),
  • ·      music literature,
  • ·      philosophy,
  • ·      political science,
  • ·      sociology
  • ·      Spanish.

I have no doubt that many, if not most of the faulty members in these departments are solid scholars, devoted to the truth and beauty of their disciplines. And I love the humanities and social sciences of pre-PC academia. I received an excellent liberal arts education as an undergraduate and strongly believe that it provided me with valuable insights and skills. But alas, the liberal arts disciplines have been thoroughly corrupted to the point where they are worse than useless in the hands of many professors. I went on to receive three graduate degrees, including a PhD in sociology just as politicization was starting to take hold. I watched with great sadness in my heart as academia fell from its heights.

There will be many innocent faculty victims of these closures. I feel sadness for those who devoted many years of their lives to obtaining the graduate degrees necessary for teaching in higher education. But by standing by and allowing their disciplines to decline and ignore relevance and utility to students, they may bear some degree of culpability.

The University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point is the harbinger of a vast transformation that lies ahead for American higher education. The cohorts of students headed for colleges and universities is declining, and tuition has now priced itself beyond reach for many. The folly of student loan indebtedness is becoming clear to more and more young people and their parents. Meanwhile, online higher education is available for a tiny fraction of the cost of physical presence on a campus, and the pay and job prospects of many blue collar trades – where labor shortages are severe in many fields – will persuade many potential customers for a college degree to instead see better opportunities in vocational education.

No doubt, those who celebrate this transition will be castigated as anti-intellectual barbarians. But the real barbarians are those who drove academia into self-absorbed obsessions of the left, making it irrelevant to the needs of students, while overloading their schools with administrative dead weight that has pushed up tuition to unaffordable levels.

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