Guest opinion: Workforce-only focus shortchanges UM students

2013-04-16T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Workforce-only focus shortchanges UM studentsBy MICHEL VALENTIN The Billings Gazette
April 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MISSOULA -- Cruelly adding insult to injury, as if what recently happened to “the Ivy League of the Rockies” was not enough, it seems that, if “financial destiny” has its way, UM will have to slice $16 million from its 2014 operating budget — with a projected $5.6 million cut from an already strained to the limits College of Arts/Sciences budget. It will negatively affect the number, variety and quality of courses offered in the humanities and liberal arts.

Slashing humanities

Downsizing is not new for the UM. What makes the current situation different is the magnitude of the cuts. Financial gauntlets are being set up like steel traps all over the nation forcing universities to reduce foreign languages, humanities/liberal arts, and fine arts-- gnawing at the core of what constitutes the splendor and force of American creativity and human understanding. But why, since investing in education is vital for the state’s future (an educated population brings more economic development), did Montana’s Legislators, sitting on the largest tax-surplus of all the States, let “financial destiny” create havoc on the UM?

The desire shown by legislators and Higher-Ed Regents to develop the skill-producing courses at the University by funding the UM College of Technology is well-intentioned and economically smart. It will produce a work force that is prepared to fill the jobs of the 21st century. This can create new opportunities for Montana's work force. The problem is that to implement this job-skill education, legislators/administrators tend to privilege a “business model-only” approach to education. A pure business model ignores the fact that the education system that creates the jobs that will be filled by the COT graduates must give its students not only the skills but also the culture to innovate and create. They must understand the sweep of history, the great advances of science, the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition, and what creates, and fills human desires -- in short, what the humanities teach us.

Fostering innovation

Short-term investments, maximum return in the smallest amount of time, pragmatic, utilitarian, down-to-earth solutions, commercial efficiency, disfavor or ignore the humanist vision and philosophy of education. To help the university regain a healthier educational balance, a pro-liberal, arts higher-ed policy, backed up by the necessary financing, must be implemented. The implementation of a corporate business-model on the university, privileging skill-producing courses, leadership training, business-oriented know-how, cannot be made at the expenses of its intellectual dimension which fosters innovation, political autonomy, creative intelligence, artistic emotions, world knowledge, and critical thinking. Although hard to quantify and account for by “business-only-criteria,” these matters are crucial for the formation and development of what makes us humans and citizens — something that the “economy-alone-approach-to-education” cannot do.

A “well-rounded education” must be maintained and developed. History, the arts, psychology, philosophy, anthropology and sociology are relevant for the postmodern economy. Foreign languages courses are also vital for the global economy. They are essential to the process of innovation and start-ups.

The financial guillotine forced onto the State Flagship Institution will not make it more efficient or better. Instead it will cost jobs, programs and future opportunities for Montanans and negatively impact their thinking ability.

Michel Valentin is a professor at the University of Montana in Missoula. His guest opinion was co-signed by 22 other UM faculty members, including Maria Bustos, Paul Dietrich, Linda Gillison, Jody Pavilack and Tim Bradstock.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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