Two months ago, McDaniel College made the decision to begin altering the core of its identity. The school chose to do this by shrinking and eliminating certain subject offerings, despite a passionate and valid outpouring of resistance from current students, alumni, and concerned parents. All of the affected subjects are liberal arts and humanities, many, if not all, of which have previously been considered jewels of the college.
The college administration has admitted that the these changes were not necessitated out of lack of money, but are instead a conscious removal of funding from majors and subjects that are smaller on campus in order to move those funds to majors that are already larger. Essentially, the school decided to prioritize programs through popularity rather than taking a hard look at how they can instead bolster niche programs that provide academically rigorous courses that prepare future leaders to step into high-demand skills (such as foreign language and creative thinking).
Essentially, rather than following its own mantra to reach out of darkness into the light by supporting valuable programs that provide unique opportunities to McDaniel students which they will not find elsewhere, the school would rather give up this part of their identity in favor of becoming another faceless, mainstream institution. The process through which these decisions were reached ultimately damages any credibility that the college cares about student interests (since apparently citing select spreadsheets counts as caring for student interests, but not actual opinions given by concerned students and alumni).
Essentially, the college only sees a future in conventional, easy, shallow solutions.
What a massive shame.
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A liberal arts college with no music program? No Latin for aspiring doctors and lawyers? No German for internationally-minded future leaders? No Deaf Studies program, which as a campus tour guide I was told to praise to my tour groups only a few years ago? Perhaps the most shocking facet of these decisions is the closing of the Religious Studies major, while the college still wants to flaunt Ira Zepp’s name and contributions. McDaniel’s response to widespread criticism to these changes has been to brush them off, point to the far fewer instances of approval rather than reflect on the avalanche of negative reaction, and attempt to ride out the wave of criticism.
The college administration wants to act in the way that is best for the school, as good administrations should. However, what a good administration would do that McDaniel has loudly failed in this instance would have been to step back, weigh the criticism, questions and demands from alumni, students, and others with the respect it deserves, and go back to reflect on what solutions they could reach that would create a more successful outcome in a more transparent process, such as the steps recently taken by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Instead, I am stricken to my core with disappointment that my alma mater has opted to bull through and grasp at flawed excuses in attempts to justify these decisions. High-ranking college officials admitted to me in exchanges over Facebook (since deleted but recorded by students) and email that these changes are short-sighted and not ideal.
Why, then, must McDaniel become the latest domino to fall in this nationwide trend of devaluing humanities? Why give up the ghost so easily when there was energy available toward fighting for a solution that would show a college standing strong for its unique values, rather than simply shrugging and following the hope for easy money over longstanding and well-loved identity, rigor, and community?
I fear that these decisions will leave McDaniel forgotten as yet another institution that abandoned its soul in an attempt to join a bandwagon trend. I fear that McDaniel has willingly let itself become absorbed into the devaluation of humanities, and that the administration is too focused on the possibility of immediate monetary gains that, should they fail to materialize, will lead to a future wherein McDaniel finds itself, instead of re-energized and newly funded, bland and empty and with no path back to relevance.
If McDaniel College wants to save itself and grow in the future, it would make far more sense to return to its roots and core values; a liberal arts college that upholds humanities, languages, international and intercultural competencies, and niche studies that push students to become critical thinkers and leaders. This value goes far beyond nostalgia — it would truly tap into the strengths of the school, rather than attempting to transform McDaniel into something that it is not.
My school does not have to sell out, and I hope that the voices of concerned students, faculty, alumni and community members will reach the administration before it is too late. McDaniel still has the chance to revise decisions made through a flawed and closed process and re-invest in itself by re-investing in the “smaller” programs and humanities that made it a school worth fighting for.