By Audrey McCoy
Last week, one of my dear friends, who I met while we were both studying history at the University of Baltimore, shared an article with me explaining how the university’s deans participated in a mock competition modeled after the show “Shark Tank.”
Although the mock evaluation was cut short, it didn’t end before the philosophy program and my beloved history program were hypothetically cut.
Well, I thought the cuts were hypothetical, anyway.
I immediately emailed my old professor, and now mentor. She said the programs were, in fact, in danger and that there would be more discussion about UB’s future during a public town hall meeting that was scheduled for Friday, Feb. 2. So, my friend and I went.
What I found is that cuts to the history program have absolutely no solid reasoning at all.
Stephanie Gibson, a communications professor with the College of Arts and Sciences, asked UB president Kurt Schmoke and the university’s provost why her school was facing the largest budget cut, 8.1 percent, despite having the second-to-lowest decline in enrollment. The provost responded that they’re not eliminating the history and philosophy programs, but are going to realign both areas of study into a degree path with an additional focus on law.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Gibson responded. Neither Schmoke nor the provost had an answer.
We cannot and should not respond to a challenging economy and the rising cost of higher education by cutting humanities. Profitability should not be the driver of one’s ability to pursue an education that inspires them.
A history program alumni, Jacquelyn Daly, put it this way to the panel:
“I know [the university is] facing tough decisions and looking at programs with low enrollment, but if you’re only looking at a spreadsheet, the humanities are never going to measure up dollar for dollar. The numbers of this program might not be big, but the student’s work speaks for itself.”
The realignment of the history and philosophy programs would be an immense disservice to our city.
As Daly said, the work produced by the history department’s students may not bring in revenue for the university, but it does bring healing to our city and encourages students who want to help and provides them with the knowledge to make change.
During my time in the program, Professor Betsy Nix, Ph. D, walked us around Bolton Hill. We discussed why one block in the neighborhood was thriving and beautiful, but another one two streets over was abandoned and filled with boarded-up buildings.
Nix steadily encourages her students to understand the deep, complex issues of Baltimore. Starting in 2006, her students began collecting oral histories on the riots of 1968, following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Students traveled to communities around Baltimore to hear the story of teachers, ministers, teenagers, doctors and military service members of all races. The final product of these oral histories was the published anthology “Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City.”
Fast forward to spring of 2015, in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, and national media outlets like CNN and CBS reached out to Nix for context about such a tragic time that mirrored a broken city nearly 50 years ago.
What makes the present situation at UB so ironic is that the university’s new strategy to reach its community engagement goal for 2018 is to encourage faculty, staff and students to tackle critical issues facing Baltimore and the region. I hate to break it to them, but taking away the opportunity for rich, immersed, community-focused research isn’t going to give students the opportunity to tackle an issue. They’ll only be able to poke at the surface.