Students protest after Catholic university cuts humanities majors

Students ‘felt intimidated’ by the administration for speaking out against the Board’s decision to cut humanities and social science programs including English, History, Theology, and Math.

Catholic education experts highlight that students are increasingly searching for lessons they can ‘take to the life bank, not just to the to the financial bank.’

Marymount University continues to receive sharp criticism internally and externally for its decision to eliminate many humanities and social science majors.

The first Catholic institution in Virginia cited the lack of financial viability of the 10 academic programs eliminated from the school’s offerings, including English, History, Religion and Theology, and Mathematics, as Campus Reform previously reported.

Although the administration is moving forward with its decision, students at Marymount have continued to urge school leadership to reconsider.

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Ethan Reed, a sophomore politics major at Marymount, told Campus Reform that students “felt intimidated” by the administration during their peaceful demonstrations against the Board’s decision.

Reed said it “was a huge concern for a lot of students” that there would be “repercussions for attending” organized protests to defend the humanities. “[A] lot of students didn’t come because they were scared.”

Reed also noted that there was a lack of opportunity for student input into the decision, saying that the student body was only informed of the decision in mid-February shortly before the vote.

The decision also came at an inopportune time Reed says, because students “were all trying to … attend these protests and stuff [but] midterms happened too …. So a lot of the students haven’t even been able to do anything about this, just because … we can’t miss class right now.”

Marymount emphasized to Campus Reform that the move “was not made in a vacuum” and that “[m]ultiple information sessions were held with students, and they had the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns directly with Marymount administrators, including the President and the Provost.”

“[T]he whole reason why we began … starting to reach out to the press about this is because I mean … this whole decision just doesn’t make any sense,” Reed said.

Catholic education experts concur.

“To Marymount University, bad, bad idea, bad decision, even in terms of your own self-interest,” said Matthew Petrusek, Fellow for Catholic Ethics at Word on Fire.

Petrusek told Campus Reform that there is a growing number of young people who are hungry for a classical understanding of the humanities and liberal arts disciplines, rooted in objective reality and essential truths.

During his time teaching in academia, Petrusek said he had begun to see a growing number of students who wanted to learn “things that are real and invaluable, and give [them] a perspective on life. That is something that [they] can take to the life bank, not just to the to the financial bank.’”

Bishop Robert Barron in his commentary on the Marymount situation highlighted that there is deep spiritual value in studying “themes of love, purpose, justice, right government, God, and eternal life.”

Although Marymount contends that dwindling enrollment numbers justify cutting programs, institutions that have prioritized this classical approach to education have seen record application rates from students looking for meaning.

As Petrusek notes, universities are supposed to provide more than skills training to their students in an environment in which practical education is increasingly attainable at affordable prices.

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Especially when students are increasingly questioning the value of higher education, Petrusek observes that “if you want to go to school only to learn something that’s useful in an instrumental sense, don’t pay [upwards of] $80,000 to do it.”

Schools like Marymount, according to Petrusek, are advertising, “we’ll charge you more and give you less.”

A spokesperson for Marymount told Campus Reform that the school’s “mission is unchanged. We will continue to prepare students for in-demand careers.”

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.