IPFW—more than a regional campus

| April 4, 2016

To date, campus leadership at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne has raised important questions regarding the LSA study group’s report, particularly its interpretation of data and its claim to represent a “bold vision and positive way forward” for IPFW.  However, what has yet to be addressed is the impact this proposal will likely have on IPFW departments and degree programs, particularly those currently affiliated with Indiana University.  As the department with the largest faculty at IPFW and the fourth largest group of majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, English and Linguistics students and faculty have a great deal at stake.  Like many of our fellow departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, we currently enjoy significant benefits from our affiliation with Indiana University.  These benefits enable us to carry out IU’s mission to serve northeast Indiana.  They positively affect our students in tangible ways.  Severing our ties with IU raises serious questions and concerns about the ongoing vitality of liberal arts education at IPFW.

First, many of our majors come to us because they can obtain an Indiana University degree.  Students often transfer back and forth between our campus and Bloomington.  We are not, as Vice Chancellor Drummond has pointed out, simply a regional campus that sends students to flagship campuses after a year or two.  Students have increasingly come to us for four-year degrees, however migratory their habits may be, thus our designation last year as a multi-system metropolitan campus.

Our library and its amazing faculty and staff are IU affiliated.  We have the IU catalogue at our fingertips, along with other databases and document delivery services for research.  And, despite some misperceptions by outsiders, our campus is a thriving hub of national and international research and creative activity.  Our students benefit because their professors are actively engaged in not only pedagogical innovation (an important point itself) but are recognized within and beyond Indiana for research and creative accomplishments which are made possible because of access to IU system resources.  Without this important resource, a huge vacuum would exist; the LSA report neglected to address this potential loss.

Many faculty, departments, and programs, including our department, have long-standing ties with IU intercampus programs.  The Faculty Colloquium for Excellence in Teaching (FACET), meetings between IU Writing Program administrators, and the IU Women and Gender Studies annual student research conference are three sterling examples of intercampus work that directly affects students by providing faculty and students opportunities to exchange research and creative work, pedagogies, and program development.  No equivalent programs exist through Purdue.

IU-affiliated departments face the daunting task of converting course offerings currently in the IU catalogue to that of Purdue.  Even under optimal conditions, such a conversion means delays and limits in what courses can be offered, not to mention the drain on resources to make these changes. Also, we face the prospect of enormous changes to our general education offerings.  We are deeply concerned about the effect such a change would have on our faculty, both part-time and full time, nontenured and tenure-track/tenured.

Our faculty’s research is largely supported by IU grants and programs that Purdue currently does not offer.  This loss, coupled with uncertain library resources, poses looming questions about our ability to successfully serve students and our region if our ability to conduct research suffers.  Such losses could eventually justify an increase our teaching load, which has traditionally provided one course release specifically for research and creative endeavor.  For decades we have enjoyed the recruitment benefits of a 3-3 teaching load, benefits which are reflected in the high level of teaching and research of our faculty.  Additionally, IU faculty are tenured and promoted through IU, and some faculty are paid by and receive benefits from IU, another issue the LSA report fails to address.

The LSA report says nothing about liberal arts education or its impact on graduates and our region, including economic growth and jobs.  This lack of understanding and short-sightedness of the role of liberal arts education misses important opportunities.  For instance, our Teaching English as a New Language (TENL) program has area schools hungry for graduates, a demand we could better address with adequate resources and funding.  Furthermore, our Masters students provide a valuable community resource, routinely hired in area schools and businesses. Businesses nationally and globally are discovering the benefits of those with liberal arts education.  Students who can read and interpret texts, critically exam arguments and data, provide creative solutions to problems, and engage with community are what employers of the 21st century need and want.  Such graduates thrive in the subjectivity and ambiguity that is pervasive in a fast-paced media-saturated world. Tech industry leaders note the need for employees who see problems as having not just one “right” answer  but rather many shades of “correct.”  Having verbal skills means being able to translate complex technical language into plain English for global audiences.  And in an increasingly global economy, workers must pivot between and among different cultural perspectives and be able to synthesize those perspectives. China, once the standard for the U.S.’s science, technology, and math education,  is now turning more and more to liberal arts education to meet its changing economies.

The LSA report also does not address the quality of life fostered by liberal arts education. Studies show that people are better off in their work lives if they care about what they do.  In an article from Inside Higher Ed, a study by Richard Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes College Association, “shows how adults were 30 to 100 percent more likely to show leadership with a liberal arts background. The key factor appeared to be out-of-the-classroom discussions with faculty members on both academic and nonacademic subjects.  The same faculty interaction made alumni 26 to 66 percent more likely to be people who contribute to society (volunteering, charitable giving, etc.).  Another quality the study examined was whether people were generally satisfied with their lives and viewed their professional and family lives as meaningful. This type of happiness was significantly more likely (25 percent to 35 percent), the study found, for those who reported that as undergraduates they had conversations with those who disagreed with them and had in-class discussions of different philosophical, literary and ethical perspectives.”

Our majors currently enjoy this level of faculty engagement and quality, in large part because of our affiliation with Indiana University.  As others have already noted, our students, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, receive the best “bang for the buck” because of the IU-Purdue joint venture, not in spite of it.  When considering what changes need to be made to keep improving our service to students and our region, it is crucial to keep in mind the role that liberal arts education plays and how our ties to IU are deeply rooted in our success in that mission.  The current proposal offers no vision of positive change for liberal arts education at IPFW and many significant drawbacks.  Instead, the proposal’s is narrowly focused on vocational education. With over half of IPFW’s faculty and students affiliated with IU, our role is essential and our input should be more fully included as we move forward to ensure that the due diligence that is currently lacking is adequately corrected.

Sincerely,

Members of the Department of English and Linguistics

Stevens Amidon, Irene Anders, Troy Bassett, Shannon Bischoff, Mary Ann Cain, Curtis Crisler, Karol Dehr, Debra Huffman, Andrew Kopec, Damian Fleming, Rachel Hile, George Kalamaras, Michael Kaufmann, Beth Keller, Lidan Lin, John Minton, Lewis Roberts, Suzanne Rumsey, Sarah Sandman, Michael Stapleton, Hao Sun, Sara Webb-Sunderhaus, Chad Thompson, Worth Weller, Lachlan Whalen, Kate White

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Category: Education, Letters

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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