Specifically, at the University of Toledo.
U of Toledo's president, Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, is a medical doctor who took leadership of the Medical University of Ohio in 2003 and became president of the University of Toledo when it merged with the Medical University of Ohio in 2006. He holds an MD, not a Ph.D., and appears bent on transforming the University of Toledo into an institution devoted entirely to the STEM fields (or STEM2, meaning science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine). According to the latest version of Toledo's strategic plan (the document itself is a Word file available at the first link on the right-hand side of the linked page), Jacobs identifies the following (among others) as strategic directions for the undergraduate programs of the university:
- Develop and implement innovative ways to integrate the knowledge and skills of STEM2 (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine, as defined by federal and state legislatures) and related disciplines with liberal arts and broader humanistic traditions.
- Strengthen the general education curriculum to emphasize university-level skill proficiency and a shared core experience. We will also enhance the relevance of the core to professional, science and technology programs (my emphasis).
- Implement innovative ways to integrate science and technology literacy throughout the curriculum as a pathway to full societal participation.
His goals for the graduate programs include:
- Develop policies and align resources to increase the reputation of and enrollment in graduate and professional programs based upon quality and a careful analysis of investment return and market demand.
- Expand existing and add new graduate level programs in STEM_ areas, professional schools and other academic disciplines that demonstrate the ability to grow and be self-sustaining through enrollment and/or external funding.
Now, these goals are part of a longer list, and some might protest that they shouldn't be taken out of context, but they way they focus on "relevance" (defined by whom?) and marketability is distressing. As a historian, I find the bolded section particularly galling: why does history (or any other "core" liberal art) have to justify its existence through its "relevance" to the professional, science, and technology programs?
Even more upsetting, however, are the plans that the document outlines for becoming "highly distinguished and ranked internationally as a leader in research and intellectual property transfer":
- Invest in the following areas of research excellence:
a. Environmental Impacts on Health
b. Energy Sustainability and Conservation
c. Translational Interfaces of Health Sciences, Engineering and Clinical Care
d. Public Engagement, Regional Economic Revitalization and Global Competitiveness
e. Science and Technology Education
f. Health Care Delivery Systems
g. Search for Origins
- Emphasize relevant basic science and translational aspects of research in each specific area and work closely with the intellectual property and technology transfer efforts of the institution.
Finally, at his April 2 state of the university address, entitled “Re-Engineering the Undergraduate Experience or Mass-Customization in Higher Education, Jacobs outlined a plan for massive curriculum change which was a surprise to all listening. (The PDF of his address can be downloaded here.)
Now, all these might be perfectly lovely plans for a new STEM-only university, but they constitute a radical change from the University of Toledo's traditional role as a metropolitan comprehensive university - especially given that they're being proposed without any significant input from anyone, faculty or student, outside of the STEM fields. I don't work at the University of Toledo, but what's happening here seems to be part of the distressing trend towards the corporatization of the university, and to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of what education actually means (as the first two letters to the editor here point out, it's not the same thing as training).
Regardless of whether you know anyone at the University of Toledo, and even regardless of your opinion of the importance of STEM fields, if Jacobs succeeds in transforming the institution as radically as he proposes, he will have trampled all over faculty governance to do so, which should disturb all supporters of higher education.
What can you do? Opponents of Jacobs/supporters of the liberal arts at the University of Toledo have created an online petition, asking "the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents and the Governor of the State of Ohio to review and amend the direction and governance of the University of Toledo." You can find it here. I'm not that sanguine about the influence of such petitions, frankly, but certainly signing is better than nothing, and the more non-Toledoans (Toledoese? Toledoites?) who sign, the more the administration becomes aware that their actions take place on a stage larger than just Ohio.
(You can also check out the blog for the University of Toledo's Arts & Sciences Council, here.)