Hiram Floats Interdisciplinary Redesign

Leaders at Ohio’s Hiram College are proposing a sweeping redesign of the liberal arts college, with plans to discontinue several bedrock majors including mathematics, philosophy, economics, art history, music and religious studies.

May 16, 2018
 

Leaders at Ohio’s Hiram College are proposing a sweeping redesign of the liberal arts college, with plans to discontinue several bedrock majors including mathematics, philosophy, economics, art history, music and religious studies.

In a set of recommendations released Tuesday on Hiram’s website, the college proposes creating new majors in several fields. Those include an interdisciplinary major called fine, performing and digital arts, another in crime and justice and one in sports management, among others.

The college also wants to examine the feasibility of new majors, including engineering, data analytics, information technology and gaming and interactive media.

It said several of the new majors would be interdisciplinary, with the crime and justice program comprising study in sociology, philosophy, political science, public health and psychology, for instance, and the data analytics program bringing together math, computer science, physics and business.

Under the proposed plan, Hiram would keep minors in economics, philosophy, math, Spanish and French. Hiram said students now majoring in the targeted disciplines will be able to graduate in these subjects.

If implemented, the long-anticipated redesign would put two tenured faculty members and two tenure-track faculty out of their jobs. It would also eliminate one contract instructor and a visiting faculty member, the college said.

“Nothing is more difficult for any college than eliminating faculty positions,” Judy Muyskens, interim vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college, said in a statement. “Final decisions in this area will be deeply painful for all members of this small community, especially those whose positions are eliminated. This process has been and will continue to be challenging. Still, we are confident that it will lay the groundwork for strengthening our academic offerings, attracting and retaining students, and forging new bridges among faculty and staff as Hiram College strives to meet the urgent challenges of our time.”

While President Lori Varlotta has said Hiram's faculty has been closely involved with the proposed changes, a few have said they fear the effect on tenured faculty members. Hiram's faculty last December reorganized the college's chapter of the American Association of University Professors -- it now has 28 members -- and sent an open letter to Varlotta, expressing worry about the cuts. Thirty current and nine retired professors signed it.

Varlotta last week said the college has offered "a generous retirement package" for anyone 55 or older with 15 years of service -- it includes a year of salary and benefits.

John T. McNay, president of AAUP’s Ohio conference, said tenure "exists as a bulwark to academic freedom. Elimination of tenured positions does damage to that value at any college or university." He said AAUP expects that Hiram "will be generous and helpful to the tenured faculty who lose their positions. They have devoted their careers to the college in exchange for modest compensation."

Last fall, Hiram’s full-time faculty stood at about 80, with five instructors saying they’ll retire this spring. The college on Tuesday said other reductions have come through retirements, nonrenewed contracts and strategic reassignments. “Equally important is the compassionate and humane way we are striving to carry out this difficult work,” the college said.

Looking Toward the Future

Like many other small liberal arts colleges, the 168-year-old college in northeastern Ohio is working to keep its liberal arts heritage while attracting a new generation of students -- even as Varlotta seeks to close a $1.2 million gap in an operating budget that totals $30 million.

Varlotta has long championed what she calls the “new liberal arts,” a more integrated, interdisciplinary and experiential version of the traditional curriculum that combines typical liberal arts with “high-impact experiences” and a dose of “mindful technology.”

She has said the liberal arts will infuse the college's new majors, even those that aren't traditional for liberal arts colleges.

AAUP's McNay on Tuesday said, "We hope this curriculum redesign works. We remain concerned that you can't cut your way to success. Students come to a great college like Hiram because of the skilled faculty, not fancy new bells and whistles."

Faculty members will get a chance to weigh in on the recommendations, which will then go to the college’s Board of Trustees for approval, including the recommendations to eliminate tenured faculty positions.

The board is expected to decide on the proposal by early June.

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