Blau: Emory did the right thing

Max Blau, whom we remember from his revealing interview with Dean Forman last week, has written another piece in Creative Loafing allying himself with the college dean. Blau is also a College alumnus.

We share Blau’s sentiment that Emory needs to manage its resources judiciously, not just during periods of recession or deficit. But we are skeptical of either-or reasoning:

UGA recently revealed plans to eliminate roughly 130 jobs in order to meet Gov. Nathan Deal’s 3 percent state budget cuts. Likewise, Georgia Perimeter College laid off faculty and staff to absorb a $25 million shortfall caused by the fiscal ineptitude of its senior leaders. If either of these two institutions attempted to practice fiscal conservatism, both of these financial shortfalls could have been avoided.

The crucial difference here is between public and private colleges. The operating costs of the University System of Georgia, as well as aspects of their staffing policies and even course offerings, are determined directly by state legislators. We have trouble believing that the administrators of UGA and GPC have not been trying to streamline their budgets to less catastrophic ends.

As long as we’re talking about “the bottom line,” let’s talk about the cost-effectiveness of the liberal arts. Academically Adrift (2011), a large-scale quantitative study of college learning outcomes, found that humanities and social-science students far outperformed business, engineering, and communications.[1] The authors found that liberal arts majors see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” These programs are considerably less expensive to run than their shinier counterparts. In addition, universities with more doctoral students teaching classes are less costly than those with fewer or none. (Source)

Given that Emory’s decision to cut seven programs was not the result of a deficit or a government bill, the argument is not really about fiscal anything, nor is it comparable to layoffs made under duress. The vulnerable departments, Blau argues, simply failed to make a case for themselves.

it ultimately appears that [Forman’s] final decisions all revolve around a single motive: that Emory cannot and will not settle for programs that are less than exemplary.

Exemplary means setting an example. I see no reason why creating the first education program for Georgia prisoners (the Division of Educational Studies), a 100% job placement rate (the PhD program in Spanish), offering a language (Hindi) which many peer institutions don’t, or just plain being well known and influential (the ILA) don’t qualify.

“Mark from Atlanta” has some pointed observations about the article as well.

[1]We can only assume a “communication” separate from languages, literature, the arts, and social research is what that “Digital and New Media” emphasis strives to be.
For an extended discussion of Academically Adrift and similar polemics, see this review essay in the NYRB, and every academic blog ever.

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