Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Month: September, 2015

Further Thoughts on Calvin

[These are some unorganized, spur of the moment thoughts I’ve been having.]

  1. I just read this post by Adam Kotsko and I think it hits on a fundamental problem with how my university is thinking about education.

    It [majors] misleads students (and their parents), who generally hold some fetishistic belief in the power of a major to lead directly to a job, as though the job market is the next level of college applications. This is obviously not the case, and it is not even the case that you need to go to grad school in the field you majored in! The whole major thing is literally a lie. And it’s a lie that serves the worst trends in higher ed. It creates interdepartmental competition for “majors,” in order to maintain the department’s status, its hiring clout, and in the last resort, its very existence. It encourages a naive belief that you’re getting some set chunk of knowledge from college, which feeds directly into the naive belief that majors are direct paths to jobs.

  2. Education guided by business is flawed because it is dictated by fear, irrational presumption and idealism, and ultimately a stifling of the liberal arts. The liberal arts go deeper than just a simplistic learning to think well. Fundamentally, the liberal arts provide students a way to figure out what they love, to acquire a diversified set of skills, etc etc (not necessarily measurable; it’s why, I think, philosophy majors do well on LSAT’s).
  3. Calvin is telling us that the liberal arts (read: humanities) are useless to help students become members of society and good workers. To some extent I’m not sure I give a damn about long term goals of sustainability when Calvin, an explicitly Christian university, is caving to fear now (most certainly the opposite of a Christian habit). Fear of the new tomorrow, where another debt crisis comes and goes. Fear of not having enough interest to put money into departments. Fear which makes the immediate seem the most wise.
  4. Can we talk for a moment about “low student demand” (a term used by the administration in the email to us all)? Low student demand for the humanities comes from a fear of not having a job when one graduates. The economy dictates majors, not the other way around. Part of this plays into the (unfortunately) common assumption on campus that college is here to get you a job. (Bracket for a moment the absurdity of paying 40K a year for a job). The email also stated that the cuts were made to better align resources with demand. Demand, debt, the economy, and all the various intersections along those lines of control, put a stranglehold on students and schools.
  5. Gilles Deleuze, from his Postscript on Control Societies:

In the school system forms of continuous assessment, the impact of continuing education on schools, and the related move away from any research in universities, “business” being brought into education at every level.

To Calvin College

I get it.

We get it.

We’re aware that Calvin is in debt. And I am (at least) impressed with how much we’ve managed to reduce the debt in two years. None of us are urging Calvin to go further into debt.

We all get that there need to be cuts etc.

None of us, as far as I know, are denying these facts.

All that said, it sucks. As a double major in German and Philosophy, it sucks.

I’m literally embedded in the humanities and 3/4 of my classes occur in the same building. I’m lucky, on one hand, to be in the Philosophy Department because it’s basically safe from most cuts, if only because it has status within the world of Christian philosophy. But being in the German department is hard. Especially since we’re potentially losing the German major.

Plenty has been said about Calvin and its false advertising. When the art department faced cuts (alongside art history, history, and music) people pointed out that having a tab for ARTS on the Calvin homepage is disingenuous because, frankly, Calvin doesn’t care about the arts. Sure, we have the 106 Gallery, and the little gallery in the CFAC…but where is the Art Department? The basement of one of the buildings.

Now Calvin has proposed cutting the German, Greek, Latin, Theater, and Art History majors (and God knows what will happen to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese). Calvin is leaving the minors but…so what?

I’m keeping this fairly short and brief but it’s worth posing the following to the administration:

Are we a liberal arts school? It doesn’t seem like it. At least, on surface we are, we still have humanities degrees on offer. But in practice I find it difficult to see how Calvin gives a rip about us. Calvin cares about numbers, metrics, factoids, not about well-rounded creative thinkers. Why are there no cuts in the sciences? In the business department? In engineering? Because numbers. Because there are more students in those departments. It’s a question worth asking and right now we’re failing.

Calvin states this on its website:

The real result of a Calvin education is this: graduates who want to expand their capacity to care, to get involved in their churches and communities, and to love God with mind, heart and soul.

Is this still the goal?

Right now the answer seems to be a good ol’ West Michigan No. A No that’s too cowardly to just come right out and say that the humanities only matter in relation to the “practical” majors.