An Illinois university got major pushback for cutting religion, French and anthropology. But other colleges are dropping the humanities too
CHICAGO — Scott Sheridan didn’t expect his 23 years of teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University to end like this.
Though fewer students are pursuing degrees in his areas of study these days, many still participate. This semester, more than 50 students at the campus in Bloomington are taking advanced classes in French cinema and Italian cultural history. The spots filled up so quickly that more were added, Sheridan said.
But programs in French and Italian won’t continue beyond this school year. And neither will those in religion, anthropology, American cultural studies and three other academic departments slated to close in the 2021-22 school year. School officials say they plan to offer introductory courses in some of the affected topics, but new students won’t be able to major or minor in them.
The cuts are the result of a controversial curriculum review that began last year, pitting administrators trying to revamp offerings for career-oriented students and balance the budget against defenders of the humanities, including professors and alumni, who worry IWU will lose its identity as a bastion for liberal arts. Current students working toward degrees in affected programs will be able to complete them.
“People sometimes disregard or dismiss terms like humanities and liberal arts. They don’t understand what that does to their careers,” Sheridan said, explaining that skills such as critical thinking and communication are marketable. “We have an educational model in the United States that sometimes privileges the professional degree tracks.”
After Sheridan, a tenured professor, received notice that his position will be terminated in August 2021 and other instructors raised concerns about the decision-making process, a national association for university professors intervened and