The Human Element: Faculty and Students Petition Budget Proposal

Photo of Clark College sign on Fort Vancouver Way

The proposed budget cuts have one teacher urging students to fight back to save the Humanities department.

Adjunct Instructor Angela Lohr created a petition which has almost 300 signatures and nearly 15 pages of student letters, all encouraging the administration to save her department.

“I’ve been very overwhelmed and humbled by the incredible support from our students,” Lohr said.

She presented the petition and student letters to administration before the Oct. 9 feedback deadline.

According to Lohr, the Humanities department has grown over 200 percent in the last year and has a perpetual waiting list for classes. “We’ve seen this explosion in growth. Despite enrollment drops at the entire institution, our classes have grown and have filled.”

According to the Instructional Council, “elimination of the Humanities department does not create a barrier to degree completion. Students have access to other classes that fulfill the humanities requirement of degrees offered at Clark.”

After collecting data about her department’s growth, tuition revenue and enrollment, Lohr is not satisfied with that reasoning. “Our entire department is adjunct faculty,” she said. “We teach courses that bring in a significant amount of revenue to the college. The numbers just do not add up. I think there are political issues at work when it comes to why the entire department is facing elimination.”

Tim Cook, vice president of Instruction, said the growth may not be a good thing. “Why did it need to grow over 200 percent?” Cook asked. “At what costs to other programs?”

When the college was booming, faculty had been able to add classes without much scrutiny, according to Cook.

“No one stopped to ask ‘why are you adding that class?’ because we needed as many classes as possible,” he said. “Do these classes then infringe on other classes being offered? I would argue in this particular case with Humanities, that we did not need to grow that much there.”

Lohr said she believes the competition between departments may have played a role. “I think we are in a climate at the college where departments and divisions compete for resources. They compete for students, they compete for budget, they compete for space, they compete for ownership.”

Lohr said the Humanities department is a casualty of that competitiveness.

While the two may disagree, Lohr said she still respects Cook.

“Tim is a good leader,” she said. “I have nothing ill to say of him. He’s been a real advocate for the work we do in our department and I know he’s in a tough situation with the budget. Certainly I don’t blame him for any of it. I don’t think it falls on his shoulders.”

Lohr said she understands the need to make cuts, but urges for fairness in those decisions. “I would not be adverse to all the departments shouldering cuts. I have no qualms with that. If we need to make cuts, let’s make cuts, but let’s do it in a way that’s fair for all departments.”

If the proposed cuts are finalized, students would still be able to fulfill humanities credits through art, communications, music, drama, journalism, history and language classes. Lohr said students may not be as interested in taking those classes, however.

“Not everybody wants to go to an art class, or go to a music class, or a basic language class,” said David Daly, a Humanities student. “By taking a Humanities class, you get to sample all these things in one setting.”

“Students need choices. Students need to have options in their education,” Lohr said. “Humanities is the cornerstone of a liberal arts education. We have been historically built on Humanities. We have been fortunate at this college to develop a Humanities department where we can offer very thoughtful and critical Humanities classes to our students. I think it goes against the whole vision of what a liberal arts education is, to limit a student’s choices of how they achieve those credits. If a student needs Humanities credits, why cut the Humanities department?”

Jim Wilkins-Luton is the Dean of Basic Education, English, Communication Studies and Humanities. He doesn’t think choices are necessarily a good thing for students.

“I was encouraged to take classes in anything and everything; that college is a great buffet,” he said. “The problem is that the research doesn’t support the idea that students stay in school and complete their degrees and certificates if they’re allowed to just dine at the buffet. Fewer choices actually equals more success for students.”

While not totally opposed, Lohr said focused pathways are not good for students. “I think the goal is good, but the actualization of the goal is not good,” she said. “I have a strong liberal arts background. My degree is all about choices. I had a lot of freedom to do that and it made me a better scholar, it made me a better student, and it made me a better teacher.”

“There are many pathways on campus where students can fill their Humanities requirements,” Wilkins- Luton said. “I think there is confusion among many students that think they have to take Humanities 101 in order to get their Humanities credits. The question is, if this department is gone, can students still fulfill their Humanities requirement? And the answer is yes.”

Lohr said she believes Humanities helps people in ways that other classes can’t. “The students that come out of these classes are learning how to think about their world in a more engaged way. They’re learning compassion for other people,” Lohr said. “I want students to look back and say ‘20 years ago I remember my Humanities class and I remember doing a lot of creative things, and thinking about the world in a different way when I left.’”

Clark College student Cathy McCanta credits Humanities with teaching her history in a unique way. “Humanities offered a perspective on things that I hadn’t heard about or learned about in other classes,” McCanta said. “It made it easier to connect with the material and it made it more memorable. In other classes, you may get the understanding, but you won’t get the connection.”

Wilkins-Luton thinks that students would still be able to learn compassion in other ways. “Where have I learned many of the things I know? In my literature courses. The Humanities program is valuable. It’s not that the Humanities department isn’t doing good things, it’s just that those things can also be done in other areas. Given the framework of these budget cuts, the decisions become very challenging.”

Tim Schaub suggested he and other students may attend another school if Clark’s curriculum is reduced. “If you force me to take Humanities at another school, I’m probably going to combine that with another class.”

If the proposed budget cuts are finalized, Lohr said she would be out of a job. “There will be multiple faculty without a job at this college because we specialize in Humanities,” Lohr said. “However, the big picture is really about our students. Those students ought to be our number one priority above all else. I hope that the administrators will listen to the voices of our students, because that’s why we’re all here.”

1 Comment on The Human Element: Faculty and Students Petition Budget Proposal

  1. The college also needs to consider what career choices the students want to make. They need to stop making decisions for the students and what they think the students need; they really should be *asking* the students and the *community* at large what they want and what they don’t want and looking at the class enrolment trends instead of going off of personal opinions of the administration, if cuts absolutely has to happen.

    The whole “buffet” idea is ridiculous. If someone doesn’t want to graduate or stop attending college just yet the lack of choices is just going to send them elsewhere, it has nothing to do with the college or how many choices are there, but rather those individuals. It doesn’t “encourage” anything that hadn’t been there already. And frankly, putting it down like the buffet idea did smacks of taking the choice out of the students hands altogether and regulating it so that the students are forced to make choices the college wants, something I am by nature opposed to, especially considering what kind of college it is. Students who using loans and grants would be expected to graduate anyway and have a set of rules to follow regarding their classes already- I know because I had grants, so there’s that argument COMPLETELY not applying to a large portion of the student population. Students who are spending their own money can and should be allowed to take whatever they want, and if the classes are popular, there’s no excuse for the cuts. The college never struck me as being so eager to get students out and not spending on more classes before, and makes no sense unless it’s something about getting graduation rates up.

    It’s a two year community college, it *should* be offering a little bit of everything *for the community*; not just traditional students attend Clark, but also community members wishing to brush up skills, learn something new, or be able to qualify for some sort of promotion. If any of my multi-quarter classes or planned classes had been cut when I was attending, I would have transferred immediately to a college that offered what I wanted despite the cost and inconvenience of an even longer bus commute. All of the non-degree related classes I took actually did have some bearing, concept, or general improvement on the understanding of topics that do apply to my desired degree, even things that people think might have no bearing on it.

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