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Drake community reacts to proposed cuts of majors, minors

Provost Sue Mattison's email said that about 4% of Drake’s student population is enrolled in the programs recommended for elimination.  Graphic by Veronica Meiss | Web Editor

Information from Times-Delphic original reporting, as well as Drake’s “shaping our future” website and Provost Mattison’s email. Graphic by Meghan Holloran | Photo Editor

On Friday, Drake University released a rough draft of 13 programs it may stop offering to students during a time of budget challenges. 

Nine faculty positions have been recommended for elimination, Provost Sue Mattison said. 

“It’s traumatic for people who are losing their career,” Mattison said in an interview with The Times-Delphic. “It’s a really challenging process.” 

A faculty committee provided criteria for reviewing programs. The recommendations came from Mattison with input from the deans. 

Mattison told students that 4% of current students are enrolled in programs recommended for elimination, and “each one will be provided with a plan to complete their degree on time.” 

In an online announcement to a class, associate professor of sociology Elizabeth Talbert clarified that the sociology major has not been recommended for elimination. Only the combined anthropology/sociology (ANSO) major has been recommended for elimination. 

If they are approved later this semester, the cuts won’t take effect right away, according to Strategic Communications Director John Krantz. The cuts wouldn’t be implemented until, at the earliest, fall 2025 for current students and fall 2024 for entering students.

Drake isn’t the only university facing cuts to programs. For example, on Friday, Valparaiso University announced that it will consider 28 programs for possible discontinuance, according to the University’s student newspaper, the Torch.  

In a news release, Mattison said that “the review process is one of several measures the University is taking to reach a balanced operating budget by July 2025.” The University attributes its budget deficit to a decline in enrollment for colleges and universities across the country. 

Looking ahead

A majority of the programs recommended for elimination are in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“In the coming weeks, the dean’s office staff will be ready to meet with students and discuss any potential implications of these decisions for their individual academic path,” the Arts and Sciences dean’s office said in a statement. 

The dean’s office encouraged students who would like to discuss their individual situation to reach out. 

Charles Phillips, interim dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said students will be able to take the needed classes to finish their program. 

“There are very similar options in our college for these students and future students, as well,” Phillips said. 

Professors respond to the recommendations

In a news release, Mattison said academic program reviews “serve as an essential process necessary to ensure we are meeting students’ interests, societal needs, and providing the highest quality educational programs.”

“While this work demands that we make difficult decisions, it also presents an opportunity to invest in academic innovation that aligns with institutional strengths and meets evolving needs of Drake students and the communities where they will engage,” Mattison said.

Professors in programs recommended for elimination have until April 1 to respond, according to the Drake internal website “Shaping Our Future.” They can submit evidence to argue that keeping the program is in the best interest of Drake. 

Lisa West, chair of the English department, was “saddened, frustrated and deeply disappointed” in the rhetoric recommendation. 

“I am preparing a response to the recommendations and will work hard to retain the vital presence of Rhetoric and Media Studies in the English Department,” West said in an email to all students in the department.

Rhetoric and media studies professor Faber McAlister also disagrees with the recommendation. They said Drake shouldn’t cut growing majors.

“If we continue to cut in the liberal arts and the humanities and just expand around numbers and dollar signs, it becomes hard to stay true to the mission of the institution and to earn the name ‘university,’” McAlister said.

Rhetoric and media studies major Candace Carr said the proposed decision would take away opportunities for students to think critically and be exposed to important diversity, equity and inclusion topics.

“Some of the readings and courses that I’ve got to take are giving us the deep dive into the complexities of DEI versus some of our other classes, which are like, ‘We checked the box, OK, great,’” Carr said. “We really get to dive into a lot of different topics.” 

Political science professor Mary McCarthy said her heart was heavy as she read the recommendation to eliminate the East Asian studies minor. She teaches courses on the politics and international relations of Japan, China and East Asia and said that study abroad programs and student interest in East Asia is strong. 

“That recommendation may be understandable from the viewpoint that it is a small minor and will impact a minority of students. But, on the other hand, the recommendation is a bit perplexing because the East Asian studies minor entails no costs for the university in excess of that supporting other existing majors and minors,” McCarthy said. 

She added that she seeks “to collect more information about how the recommendation for discontinuation was formed.”

Students who are still interested in East Asian studies can reach out to McCarthy or Professor Chinatsu Sazawa. 

“[Even] with the discontinuation of the EAS minor, students can still pursue their passions in this area through coursework,” McCarthy said. “This may be as part of a Japanese language minor. Or students can do an individualized major or minor in East Asian studies more broadly.”

Philosophy professor Timothy Knepper believes the recommendation to cut the religion major didn’t take all of the necessary factors and data into account. 

Knepper thinks the University is focusing too much on the number of students majoring in religion. According to Krantz, only four students are enrolled in the religion program, but Knepper said classes in the program always fill up.

“There is a lot of interest in other religions and religious diversity,” Knepper said. “Des  Moines is an incredibly diverse religious and cultural city, and I find a lot of student interest in that.” 

The religion program often invites local organizations of all religious backgrounds for events, and it runs the Comparison Project and Interfaith at Drake. Knepper said they have been lucky with grants, but without a religion program at Drake, it will be harder to continuously fund these programs. 

Nancy Berns, a professor of sociology, found this decision shocking and one that goes against Drake’s mission of promoting “responsible global citizenship.” Berns said that anthropology is a critical source of global research and that now more than ever, Drake needs students taking courses such as Global Political Violence and Intro to Cultural Anthropology.

“Eliminating anthropology is a mistake. The review process will help those making decisions see the need to keep the anthropology courses, faculty, and the combined major of anthropology/sociology as an option for students,” Berns said. “A main part of Drake’s mission statement is the ‘integration of the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation.’ Eliminating multiple programs and disciplines marks a turning point at Drake. And it is not a good one. The majority of recommended cuts are in the College of Arts and Sciences. Why? The Drake community deserves more transparency on that decision process.” 

Additionally, Berns said that the data used to make this decision has been misunderstood. According to Berns, there are close to 100 people with majors and 70 people with minors in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

“Anthropology classes are important for not only the anthropology/sociology majors, but for all sociology majors and minors. The anthropology classes offer critical courses in research methods and global issues that are essential for many students. Furthermore, anthropology provides important courses for the AOI in Global and Cultural Understanding,” Berns said. 

Veronica Meiss and Meghan Holloran contributed reporting.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey Van Barber April 1, 2024

    Anthropologists study everything about being human. Their work explores our origins as a species, our present-day cultures, and how humanity will survive into the future. Anthropology takes a holistic approach to humans as social animals.

    Ya we don’t need any of this sort of education. This is something that is of little value, it’s just about the study of every living species. Heck we don’t need that

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