Opinion: Program cuts need better reasoning and planning

Opinion: Program cuts need better reasoning and planning

Last Friday night I sat down to write a paper for my macroeconomics class on how gross domestic product, a measurement drawn from production, output and numbers, is not an accurate measurement of “quality of life.” It was with an unhealthy dose of irony that I found an email waiting for me, telling me that my theater major, among others, was being cut from the college program with the singular reason being a lack of numbers. Numbers.

I was assured that none of these programs were being eliminated “because of quality concerns” and they most certainly are not thought of as “unimportant.” But that’s what I don’t understand. If it had been a quality issue, I would have disagreed, but I would have understood. Instead the decision is based on numbers. But Calvin College, you know as well as I that numbers, output and productivity, are not and have never been accurate measures of “quality.” So this leads me to a troubling scenario.

If you are telling me the truth, and my program is equal in “quality” and “importance” to any other program, why is there such a uniformity in the program cuts? Why are my program and about a dozen other programs in the humanities, languages and arts, consistently affected by program cuts? I can believe that our programs are still quality, but how can I believe that the humanities are important to Calvin College anymore?

Don’t tell me, “Calvin College is committed to retaining the liberal arts as central to its identity.” You can’t be committed to the liberal arts if you aren’t committed to the humanities as well. These actions show that Calvin College has liberal arts education as a secondary or even tertiary goal at this moment. These actions show that everything is worth studying, but only a few things are worth studying to a higher degree. I don’t have it in for the various sciences at Calvin. However, if Calvin were truly dedicated to liberal arts education now, shouldn’t we be seeing more program cuts across the board? As a double major, I know that there is “fat” that could be trimmed in the science programs as well. What do these program cuts tell me about Calvin’s goals right now? The real goal is numbers. Enrollment. Money.

I don’t think this goal fits with Calvin’s vision. I think you’re going to be sacrificing an incredible amount of Calvin College students’ “quality of life” with your continual cuts to the humanities. But beyond that, the negligence with which some of the cuts are being made is hard to swallow. For example, it’s a nice thought, trying to preserve the theater minor and Calvin’s Theatre Company. However, cutting two of the three theater professors will cause the company to crumble. Theater professors do far more than you think. They are already overwhelmed with the work they have to do for each show and all of their classes, and now you’re expecting one professor to do the work of three who are doing the work of six. Or maybe you’re not expecting them to do all that work. Maybe you’re imagining hiring on adjunct faculty, guest directors and guest designers. But is this just? How much money will this save? Does the amount of money being saved justify the impression the public will receive of how Calvin values its professors who have sacrificed their lives to this school, their program and their students? Have you bothered to sit down with the staff and faculty remaining to see if they think their programs will be sustainable moving forward?

Most importantly, after the town hall meeting, I have been assured that no actual plans for the “reinvention and innovation” of these program cuts currently exist. Yes, I’ve been told that plans will be talked about in the years to come, but can’t you understand the frustration and fear this leaves in our hearts? For programs that have already felt forgotten by the college for years, this seems like the final straw. Cutting majors takes the lifeblood out of the programs. What are your plans for drawing in truly dedicated students to these programs now? How will these programs be sustained until reinvention time occurs? How can we trust that our programs will come back when we have already seen our programs suffer under Calvin year after year after year? Calvin should have concrete plans for how reinvention of these programs will happen before declaring the program cuts.  

What do I want, Calvin College? I want better reasoning. I want concrete plans. I want an apology. Give me a better reason than numbers for why it’s okay to target cuts specifically at the humanities. Give me concrete plans now, before cuts are decided on, about how these programs will be nurtured at Calvin. And please, give the students in these programs and the students of Calvin College an apology. We are not at fault for this college’s debt. A heartfelt, simple apology can go a long way. It’s the least you can do.