Funeral held for Cut IWU Humanities Programs

By Sarah Buchmann Sep11,2020

An IWU student studies on the quad. 

Photo courtesy of Illinois Wesleyan University

The humanities are dead. 

Or, rather, the humanities are dying across the country, but they are certainly dead at Illinois Wesleyan. 

On Monday, August 31, Prof. Mike Theune gathered former first year humanities fellows, faculty and the local press to hold a funeral for the university’s recently closed programs. 

The university’s decision is the worst decision they have ever made. 

As a first year student of the humanities and an advocate for a well-rounded education, this was devastating to me. 

I might not be a major in French, Italian, religious studies or anthropology, but I know students and professors of these subjects, and I have taken a class or two in these subjects as part of my general education requirements. 

The decision to axe these programs has cut careers and educations short, diminishing our identity as a ‘liberal arts’ university.

The definition of liberal arts has changed over the years, but as IWU’s admissions page so proudly boasts, a liberal arts curriculum “imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities.” 

The same page, which advertises to potential students and those who are interested in an actual liberal arts degree from an actual liberal arts university, claims that “the hallmarks of a liberal arts education” should “enhance both your critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.”

By getting rid of programs that contribute to these skills, Wesleyan is undermining their promise of offering a liberal arts education. 

Over our last spring break, before it turned into the end of the world, IWU students, faculty and staff received notification that several programs were in danger of being cut. 

Programs that were in danger included the School of Music and the Education Department. 

Both are special to me, and many of my classmates were panicking alongside me. 

Supposedly the university would still honor our commitment to the degrees we’re currently pursuing and would allow us to finish and graduate on time, but what would that say about the validity of those degrees? 

I would rather have a degree from a university that still promotes the education I went there for, as opposed to from a university that discontinued my major. 

As an alum, I certainly would not feel obligated to give donations or support to the school. Fortunately, both music and education were saved in the budget cuts, but four majors were ultimately killed.

I am currently a junior, which means that I’ve crossed over the halfway mark of my college career. 

If I looked at transferring to another school, I would have to take at least another semester, and most likely another year. 

For students whose programs were on the chopping block, transferring was definitely a reality. 

In my two years here, I’ve seen classmates transfer to ISU, University of Illinois and other schools that offer a wider variety of programs and have the intention of keeping them. 

Since these other schools aren’t part of the liberal arts, why are my humanities fellows going there instead? Because they offer sustainability. 

Wesleyan is constantly changing – and while change can be good, program closure is certainly not what is needed at this university.

University President Georgia Nugent said that she does “not agree that there is a turn away from the humanities,” but IWU’s actions speak louder than the administration’s words. 

Nugent also said that the university will “continue offering those kinds of courses,” but only at an “introductory level.” 

If a student really intends on pursuing these majors, Wesleyan is not the school for them. 

Samira Kassem also spoke at the humanities funeral last week. 

My favorite part of her eulogy was when she said that without a doubt the humanities and liberal arts programs at IWU, the school would be nothing more than “a stale, over-priced trade school training corporate zombies.” 

With the financial focus going to STEM, business and accounting, and E-sports, IWU is losing the validity of its claim to a liberal arts title. 

I came to IWU because I fell in love with its dedication to the liberal arts. I was lucky enough to experience that my freshman year. 

But the longer I stay, the less of that dedication I see.

 Taylor Plantan, another speaker from Monday’s gathering, put it simply: “‘good enough’ is not acceptable” when it comes to our course offerings. 

Illinois Wesleyan University is failing at maintaining its purpose and foundations. 

I don’t expect any sort of action from the administration, but I do hope they know that many students, faculty, staff and alumni are just as disappointed – if not more so – than I am. 

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