Don't Know Much About History

November 29, 2005

Many colleges in recent years have eliminated majors or departments in relatively obscure fields, citing the need to focus on areas with growing student interest. Few, however, have taken the step Post University plans: eliminating majors in English and history and upper-level courses in liberal arts generally.

Post, in Waterbury, Conn., was founded as a private university in 1890, and has always had a strong vocational orientation. The university has seen some radical changes in governance. In 1990, Post became one of several American colleges that affiliated with the Teikyo Group, from Japan. Post became Teikyo Post University. Last year, when Teikyo pulled out, private investors purchased Post and it traded in its nonprofit status to become a for-profit (and profitable) entity.

Now the university -- with about 1,400 students -- plans to stop offering liberal arts degrees and to focus on academic programs directly linked to careers. No full-time faculty members will lose their jobs. But there will be shifts in priorities for adjunct hiring -- and part-time faculty members teach a major proportion of classes at Post.

Jon Jay De Temple, president of Post for the last five years, said that he believes the institution needs focus. "We're not big enough to do everything for everybody," he said.

De Temple said that based on that view, administrators and board members believe that majors that don't "lead to a job" should be eliminated. He stressed that there would still be history and English instruction at the university, but said that there would not be any upper-level courses. "We're probably not the best institution to turn out an English major," he said.

The college hopes to shift resources to expand offerings in high-growth fields such as criminal justice, health services, and sports and entertainment. Post also wants to improve its well regarded equestrian program.

With such improvements, De Temple said that he thought Post could increase its enrollment of traditional-age college students from 625 to as many as 900.

De Temple said he realized that some traditional academics might look at the changes and attribute them to a for-profit influence on the institution. But he said that he had been talking about these ideas before investors purchased Post, and that they would have been a logical course of action even if Post had remained nonprofit.

Asked if an institution without upper-level liberal-arts courses could be called a university, De Temple said that Post remained committed to the humanities and that instruction of non-liberal arts majors was important.

Some faculty members at Post were upset with comments he made in an interview with a local reporter.

“We still have to teach English, but we don't need someone studying Dostoevsky for a semester,” De Temple was quoted as saying. On Monday, he said that quote was "a little bit out of context," and that Post doesn't have semester-long courses on Dostoevsky (it does have a course on Shakespeare that is believed to be on the chopping block). De Temple said it was great that some people studied great authors and some institutions offered advanced literature courses, and that he just didn't think Post should play that role.

"It was so distressing to read that," said one long-time professor at Post. "It devalues what we hold to be so much of our culture and tradition."

The professor, who asked not to be identified, said that having upper-level courses -- even if relatively few students take them -- is an important message for colleges to send to all students. "Yes, these are small majors, but these are things that are about how we live, about the humanities, about how we make a person well rounded."

The problem, the professor said, is that while many graduates of English, history and other liberal arts majors go on to do vital things, the training cannot be linked to eligibility for certain jobs, and the university has made that the top measure of a program's worth. "What kind of career does an English major lead to?" the professor asked.

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