Wisconsin Waging War on Higher Education?

Wisconsin-Stevens Point is shuttering 13 majors, including English, history, political science and sociology while expanding more job-oriented programs.

Inside Higher Ed (“‘A Different Kind of University’“):

Many professors in Wisconsin saw their fears of a 2015 change to state tenure law realized last week. That’s when the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point announced its plan to cut 13 majors — including those in anchor humanities departments such as English and history and all three of the foreign languages offered — and, with them, faculty jobs. Tenured professors may well lose their positions.

The plan is part of the campus’s Point Forward initiative to stabilize enrollment by investing scarce resources into programs Stevens Point sees as distinctive and in demand. Those include business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, fire science and graphic design.

“Well, you can imagine the mood in the College of Letters and Science, which houses the humanities,” said Michael Williams, chair of English at Stevens Point. Guessing that professors in the fine arts and communications are feeling similarly “grim,” Williams said he and his colleagues feel “dismayed, shocked and angry.”

Those in disciplines “directly affected are also apprehensive,” he added, “across all ranks, tenured and untenured, since most are able to see it as a clear opportunity for the administration to test the application of [University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents Policy Document] 20-24, the new rules governing tenure.”

A bit of history: before 2015, tenure was more protected on University of Wisconsin campuses than it was pretty much anywhere else in the U.S. — tenured faculty members only could be laid off in cases of true financial emergency. But with the legal weakening of tenure at the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature came the rewriting of related Board of Regents policies on tenure and program discontinuance.

Those new policies, namely Document 20-24, lumped educational concerns together with financial ones in how public universities may target academic programs for closure and lay off tenured professors. They allow administrators — in the words of several regents — to run institutions more like businesses.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” Regent Margaret Farrow said during a board vote on the policies, two years ago this week.

The cynical view of the new Stevens Point plan, held by many faculty members on that campus and off, is that it’s exactly the kind of thing the Legislature, regents and administrators who supported those changes had in mind all along.

The less cynical view shared by others, including Provost Greg Summers, is that the changes present an opportunity for Stevens Point to fight for its future as enrollment declines and state funding dwindles. The campus faces a $4.5 million deficit over two years.

“There’s absolutely some truth in there — this new [tenure] policy provides us an avenue that would perhaps not be possible otherwise,” Summers said in an interview. “But there is absolutely no truth to the idea there was a purposeful agenda. Higher education institutions, no matter where they are, need to be more nimble, and we’ve been urging redirection for a long time.”

Summers added, “We’ve struggled to do that in other ways because some of these decisions are gut-wrenching and difficult. But to be successful in a competitive environment, we’ve got to make them.”

A report from the Stevens Point Journal (“UW-Stevens Point proposal to cut, expand majors draws anger, concern at town hall session“) gives the specifics:

The 13 programs that would be eliminated because of low enrollment are:

American studies, art (but not graphic design), English (other than English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (social science for teacher certification would continue), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology (social work major would continue) and Spanish.

UW-Stevens Point proposes expanding eight academic programs as majors: chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing.

Another eight bachelor’s or advanced-degree programs would be created: aquaculture/aquaponics, captive wildlife, ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources and doctor of physical therapy.

I haven’t followed the debate within Wisconsin that closely but certainly lean toward the cynical view here. There has long been a distrust of the academy in the conservative movement, going back at least to William F. Buckley Jr.’s breakout God and Man at Yale and, in recent years, a rising notion that universities should be job training centers rather than traditional centers of higher learning.

Still, Chancellor Bernie Stevens defends the decision ably in an op-ed:

Allow me to clarify a few points of confusion:

  • The liberal arts are not going way. English, Political Science, History, Philosophy, World Languages and Art will continue to be taught at UW-Stevens Point. Most of our students who take courses in these fields do not major in them. Approximately 80-percent of the humanities courses offered at UW-Stevens Point will continue under this proposal.
  • The proposal is a starting point for the formal decision-making that lies ahead. It is also the culmination of years of strategic planning, during which we invited input from faculty and staff. We have updated the campus community on our challenges, and our academic deans and department chairs have been involved in developing our proposal. This is the beginning of a process to prepare a formal proposal, which will be reviewed by a campus governance committee of faculty, and ultimately by the UW System Board of Regents.
  • All of our current students, and all who begin in the fall of 2018, will be able to complete their chosen degree path. Even if some majors are discontinued eventually, students will have every opportunity to complete their degrees in these programs. Our accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, requires this.
Twenty-five years of my academic career was in teaching and administrative roles at a college of arts and science, so I cannot emphasize enough: A broad liberal arts education is crucial. We remain committed to ensuring every student who graduates from UW-Stevens Point is thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, as well as prepared for a successful career path. It is critical our students learn to communicate well, solve problems, think critically and creatively, be analytical and innovative, and work well in teams. This is the value of earning a bachelor’s degree.

It is a false choice to suggest we must offer these broad skills or majors with career pathways. Both are essential, and both will continue to be offered at UW-Stevens Point.

A bit of context is helpful:

  • Less than 10-percent of current UW-Stevens Point students are majoring in programs proposed to be discontinued. (This is closer to 6-percent, if we focus on a student’s primary major, the one that attracted the student to UW-Stevens Point.)
  • Of the students admitted to UW-Stevens Point for fall 2018, only 3.6-percent have indicated intent to major in one of the programs proposed to be discontinued.
Minors and certificates will continue to be offered in these programs. We will maintain a major in English with a narrower, more professional focus. Majors with teaching emphasis in English and History (broad field Social Science) will continue. Political Science will reposition to offer a program in Public and Global Affairs. Sociology will develop a new major in Criminal Justice, and Social Work will continue as a major. Graphic Design, the most popular Art program, will become a major. Several new interdisciplinary majors in the humanities, world languages and social sciences are being explored, including Environmental Studies.

As UW-Stevens Point has faced decades of declining state support, and more recently, declining enrollment, we have tried nearly every strategy, except cutting programs to address fiscal challenges. As I have noted in previous columns, open positions were left unfilled, contracts not renewed, administrative roles consolidated. We have implemented cost-savings, increased workloads, raised class sizes, reduced administrative spending, and nearly eliminated budgets for supplies, equipment, technology and facilities. We have restricted travel and professional development, reduced student activities, and declined for years to invest in salaries for our faculty, 95-percent of whom are paid below national averages. We have spent down our reserves, as the state Legislature mandated — a precarious position no business would willingly employ.

In short, we have cut everywhere else.

These are painful proposals. They affect lives and dreams, our friends and neighbors. Yet, doing nothing is not the answer. As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure the university continues to thrive.

The University of Wisconsin system is rather extensive, consisting of 13 universities that offer at least a bachelor’s degree and 13 colleges (what most states call “community colleges” or “junior colleges”) that serve as feeder schools.

The universities are shown above in circles and Wisconsin-Stevens Point is the one closest to the middle. Wisconsin-Green Bay is about 90 minutes due east and Wisconsin-Oshkosh is roughly 70 minutes to the southeast. It’s certainly possible for students who want to pursue one of the canceled majors to travel to one of those institutions to complete their work. Presuming, of course, that Stevens Point isn’t simply the first stop at cutting out liberal arts majors.

Having both attended and taught at universities in Alabama, I always thought we had too many universities offering too many degree programs. For a poor state, it seemed like an injudicious use of resources. In particular, it struck me that most graduate programs—outside of education and nursing—should be at the main campuses at either Alabama or Auburn. But it never really occurred to me to have a university that didn’t offer core degrees like history and English.

 

It’s good to read that, at least for now, they’re not doing away with the “university” concept altogether.  Wisconsin’s universities are going to have to offer freshman- and sophomore-level courses in most of these programs, anyway, simply to fulfill core curriculum requirements. Still, unless they’re simply going to fill those billets with adjunct labor—which is certainly possible, albeit an incredible disservice to the students—I’m skeptical that there is tremendous budget savings in not allowing those faculty to teach upper-level courses. With a decent-sized faculty, everyone could simply offer one upper-division course a year and thus fill out a catalog.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Academia, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Having both attended and taught at universities in Alabama, I always thought we had too many universities offering too many degree programs. For a poor state, it seemed like an injudicious use of resources.

    I thought the same in Mississippi, where I went to undergrad. The state has seven to 8 universities (I’m going from memory). The problem is one is a women’s college and three (again, going from memory) are HBCU’s. It would be sensible to just focus on the three major universities, but it’s tough politically.




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  2. wr says:

    It’s not about cost savings at this point. It’s about making sure that the next generation of workers are trained only for their specific jobs so that they will be good sheep and never try to do anything like thinking for themselves.

    It’s disgusting that these Republicans claim to worship the constitution and are working to make sure people aren’t allowed to learn about it.




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  3. gVOR08 says:

    The University may be rationally responding to economic circumstances, but Scott Walker and the Republican state government largely created those circumstances, cutting funding and revising tenure rules.




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  4. grumpy realist says:

    I’m chuckling because I remember getting an acceptance into the Physics Ph.D. program at Georgetown (totally unasked for–I never applied) followed the next week by a letter informing me that they were getting rid of the Physics graduate programs entirely. I always wondered what shenanigans were behind my two letters.

    It looks here that Wisconsin, aside from Republican anti-intellectualism, also suffers from too many universities that could be consolidated.




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  5. JKB says:

    We are informed by many that education is failing us. And well it may he so, if producing books is eulogized and repaid by advancement, while the efforts to produce men are scoffed at. It has been dinned in our ears that education must save us at the present juncture. To which, if true, I reply that, unless we regain the love and art of teaching, we are lost.

    The truth is that at present the teacher exists by sufferance only, and stands against the current in the scholarly fraternity-a fact recognized by students as well as by faculty. For the educational field has been preempted by the so-called “research men.” Their standards of scholarship have been set up as the only norms.

    The Ban on Teaching by AN Instructor, Scribner’s Magazine, Vol 73, 1923

    It is rather interesting how conservative academia is when it comes to adapting to the realities of the world. The fact is, these majors were charity for a tiny portion of students and not an advantage in enrollment. Seems to me, that the university can now return to favoring teaching and de-emphasize the “research men”. They can hire great teacher of rhetoric who concentrate on improving the development of the writing skills of students (one of the most cited “advantages” of a college education) instead of empowering the literary theorists, who may or may not be good writers (hard to say as no one reads the papers written in that field). Similarly, history can be taught as a purpose rather than annoyance of the professor.

    But Harvard didn’t have a professor of English literature until 1876, and Oxford not till 1885. (Oxford had a chair of Chinese before it had one of English.)
    Paul Graham

    Real innovation in higher “education” nee, schooling. Who’d a thunk it.

    And keep this astute observation in mind:

    “Shakespeare did not intend for his work to be used to torture minors.”
    –Louis Rossman

    Or college students. His works were intended for audience enjoyment.




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  6. Just 'nutha ig;nint cracker says:

    @JKB: Not sure I can tell where you want the goal posts to be moved on this subject based on what you decided was instructive to your opinion (which is…?), but having worked as a teacher of English at vocational universities in Korea, I have no particular problem with the proposal at UW-SP other than that it shows that we don’t have the sorts of skills surpluses in the “new offerings” fields that we need to drive down wages in those careers yet.

    It would be nice if we were addressing actual employment-based issues in these changes, but the surly Marxist in me still holds that the dominant employment-based issue for Conservatives is “everyone else’s wages are too damn high.”




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  7. george says:

    A broad liberal arts education is crucial.

    As a physicist turned engineer, I absolutely agree with this. In the two years of university everyone should have to an honors level course in English, history, science, art/music, math, philosophy, computer science, and a second language. Being biased I’d further say the science should be physics, but there’s room for flexibility on that (though it does give the basis for understanding much of the other sciences).

    Miss out on any of those and you’re simply not well educated.




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  8. de stijl says:

    UW-SP: Building tomorrow’s wage slaves today!

    It’s catchy, and it captures the gist.




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  9. de stijl says:

    @george:

    I took “Physics For Poets” as my freshman year science course.

    I had a plan (not a job goal, but an actual educational plan that required a wide understanding of the world and how it works and why it works that way) and that education plan required that some courses should be light on course work and this class based upon the description and the reading list was going to be ~ 8 – 10 hours per week of my time. Perfect. Interesting, informative, lab time, yes, but minimal study time.

    Wow, was I wrong. Either it was the professor or the curriculum, but “Physics For Poets” was actually “Physics For Budding Stephen Hawkings” the way that guy taught it, and it ate up about 15 – 20 hours per week. And I’m kinda sciencey.

    I ended up doing well, but it made me half-ass other courses which I cared more about because they pertained more to my long-term plan. That kinda pissed me off back then.

    I actually went out of my way to get a well-rounded college education.

    My first semester freshman year classes were:

    Physics For Poets
    Linguistics 101
    Literature 101 (whatever it was called. Probably “Early American Literature”)
    French 101 (big mistake, shoulda stuck with Spanish. I still remember all the words to Frere Jacques, though, but that’s about it.)
    Philosophy 101
    Psychology 101

    (I was an ambitious pup)

    And my J Term class was “How To Watch TV News” which was just a cool title for Logic 101.




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  10. de stijl says:

    @JKB:

    The fact is, these majors were charity for a tiny portion of students and not an advantage in enrollment.

    These were the programs cut:

    American studies, art (but not graphic design), English (other than English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (social science for teacher certification would continue), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology (social work major would continue) and Spanish.

    Theses were the programs expanded:

    … chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing.

    I know to precede the second quote with an ellipses because I took the courses in the first quote.

    The second set which has now become the core focus of UW-SP are designed to train future white collar wage slaves; they are job training.

    UW-SP has decided to become an overpriced community college.

    Fire Science is not a university program unless you are delving deep into the physics of combustion and how that relates to our Terran world and to the larger universe.

    Conservation Law Enforcement is just … ach!!… I don’t have words for this abomination. It’s a worthy field and endeavor, but it is not in a university’s purview to certify budding Fish And Game Wardens. Literally, that is why community colleges exist.

    A strong, well-rounded education is not charity.




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  11. de stijl says:

    Here is why the cuts are so damning for a so-called “university”: the programs that were partially retained only exempted those classes that pertain to job certification.

    All of the parenthetical stuff from the original text:

    – (other than English for teacher certification)
    – (social science for teacher certification would continue)
    – (social work major would continue)

    They’re not even hiding what they are doing.




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  12. de stijl says:

    I missed one:

    art (but not graphic design)

    Let’s demean Art and Design into a checklist of “do’s and don’ts for visuals you can sell to potential clients.”

    You don’t even need a CC for that.

    That’s an on-line course; heck, a Youtuber hungry for monetization via ads will give you that gratis!




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  13. grumpy realist says:

    @george: I’m still mourning that I didn’t take a biochem class. That would have rounded me off nicely.

    What annoys me is that although most universities insist on liberal arts classes in STEM majors, there’s no equivalent push towards making sure liberal arts majors take an equivalent number of STEM classes. I think everyone should have at least two math classes (one in probability) and yeah, physics and chemistry.

    (I’d also push for an intensive Latin course, but then I’m weird.)




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  14. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    …there’s no equivalent push towards making sure liberal arts majors take an equivalent number of STEM classes.

    There was at my school. We needed n credits in what would now be called STEM courses to graduate. (I forget the exact formula, but it roughly one per year.)

    Granted, that was at a small liberal arts university in the ’80s.




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  15. de stijl says:

    that was at a small liberal arts university in the ’80s

    Here is the first sentence of every article posted in the Penthouse Letters section circa 1990 – 2000.

    I am an archivist.




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  16. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    Here is why the cuts are so damning for a so-called “university”: the programs that were partially retained only exempted those classes that pertain to job certification.

    Maybe we should be dropping a lot job certifications, including those for teachers, instead of these classes.




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  17. Kari Q says:

    @grumpy realist:

    My college education was in the 80s, but I still remember looking at the list of grades on a test in one of my physics classes – they were sorted by major, then student ID. I was the only English major in the class. It was an intro physics class, so it wasn’t that challenging, but I was the only one in my major who took it. I did better than a lot of the math majors in that class, too.

    I do think that there is a place for both job/career training and for academic education, and we have, as a country, neglected those who want to job preparation in our public post-secondary education system. We don’t have enough public schools for people who want to learn to be nurses or nursing assistants, or dental assistants, auto mechanics, plumbers, chefs, etc. If they wanted to turn the entire campus over to those kinds of programs, that would make sense to me. But MBA? We have plenty of MBAs and MBA programs in the country.




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  18. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Maybe Buzzfeed can can just do a listicle to provide the knowledge to acquire the spiffy job in a succinct list with bullet points.

    Spend give minutes earn a new career!




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  19. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    Maybe Buzzfeed can can just do a listicle to provide the knowledge to acquire the spiffy job in a succinct list with bullet points.

    Maybe we can find a way to split the difference between Buzzfeed listicles and taking on massive amounts of crippling student debt to work a thankless low-paid job that always seems to be in shortage.

    Ya know?




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  20. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Nonsense, labor gluts are the American Way. Nothing like ’em to keep the economy capital reserves growing.




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  21. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Maybe we should be dropping a lot job certifications, including those for teachers, instead of these classes.

    I see you point to some degree. Many job certification programs are outright rent seeking. It’s not possessing and demonstrating appropriate qualifications for the position per se, but rote hoop jumping. That you have to pay for. Usurially. (Is that a word? I’m declaring “usurially” a cromulent word.)

    However, universities should not be in the business of certifying fire fighters and game wardens.

    I said it earlier: that is why community colleges exist.

    Where people pay real money to a business to acquire the certification required to become a future wage slave. You have to spend money to make money.




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  22. James Pearce says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Nonsense, labor gluts are the American Way.

    Ha. And I thought it was the debt-slavery that really made it patriotic.

    @de stijl:

    However, universities should not be in the business of certifying fire fighters and game wardens.

    Certifying? Yeah, probably not, but I’d still want fire fighters and game wardens to go to college. (And for my purposes, a community college would count.)

    I just don’t know if I’d require them to.




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  23. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Where do you suppose the debt slavery comes from now-a-days?

    One other point, in Korea (and I assume other places), students go to 2-year schools to get certificates and 4-year schools to become administrative officers in police, fire, EMT, etc. One of my students was intending to go to the Police University in Daegu. When I asked him why he said that a degree from the university qualifies him to be hired at the rank of Lieutenant instead of Patrolman.




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  24. DrDaveT says:

    As a librul elitist with a degree in Philosophy, I don’t actually see a problem here.

    The availability of higher education in Wisconsin, including state-sponsored liberal-arts education, is not noticeably diminished.

    Access to vocational education that can actually take people directly out of poverty and into self-sufficiency has increased. Being a “wage slave” beats being on the dole, and the trades have always been the most reliable path from poverty and dependence to middle class.

    So where’s the beef?




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  25. Ben Wolf says:

    Access to vocational education that can actually take people directly out of poverty and into self-sufficiency has increased. Being a “wage slave” beats being on the dole, and the trades have always been the most reliable path from poverty and dependence to middle class.

    Paging Professor Pangloss. . .

    “Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinancy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”




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  26. de stijl says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The availability of higher education in Wisconsin, including state-sponsored liberal-arts education, is not noticeably diminished.

    The availability of a liberal arts education is severely diminished at UW-Stevens Point.

    UW-SP is a state-sponsored university that is not a special purpose school like what land-grant Texas A&M was originally designed to be.

    UW-SP eliminated art, English, geography, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology. Those are not obscure and useless fields of study.

    When you eliminate these programs you are no longer a university and you have become a vocational college.

    Texas A&M offers all of those programs that UW-SP just eliminated and they were designed from the get-go to be a vocationally oriented school.

    Being a “wage slave” beats being on the dole, and the trades have always been the most reliable path from poverty and dependence to middle class.

    There is nothing wrong with being a vocationally oriented school – I live two blocks away from a joint that mints ~1000 new pharmacists every year. Why someone would ever attend that university unless you want to be a future pharmacist escapes me. (Actually, they do have a decent Political Science program, and a well-regarded J school, and they run an adequate second-tier Law School. Actually all of their disciplines are perfectly adequately taught.) But at the end of the day their job is to crank out new pharmacists.

    A university offers full undergraduate and graduate programs in a broad range of academic disciplines, as well as graduate studies leading to advanced degrees in many academic and/or professional fields.

    Definitionally, UW-SP is no longer a “university.” You can’t call yourself a university and not offer History or English or Philosophy.

    So where’s the beef?

    And here is the big point and why folks should be concerned. Scott Walker is deliberately f*cking with the UW system purposefully, and he is doing so because he believes that it is counterproductive to foster a well-educated citizenry, and that we are better served as a society to produce workers who are compliant because they have to be because of their over-whelming student loan debt. They are using fear as a weapon.

    He forced UW-SP to abandon their mission and purpose by sheer financial might.

    Republicans are purposefully reducing and re-defining higher education into debt-ridden job-training programs systematically. I.e., they want “wage slaves”




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  27. de stijl says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Paging Professor Pangloss. . .

    Dude, you just made my day and proved my point.

    Only an appropriately and well-educated person could craft such a succinct and spot-on resonant rebuttal.

    Panglossianism denuded on a comment board. Bless my cynical, stunted heart.




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  28. Blue Galangal says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: In Germany, becoming a midwife is more a quasi-vocational track than a medical track. You don’t have to do 11 years of undergrad, nursing school, then post-grad/certified nurse midwifery. IIRC, it was a post-high-school several-year degree [and I do realise a German high school degree is the equivalent of many US college degrees], then a couple of years of internship/hands-on training. But, then, midwives in Germany have a strong union.




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  29. Ben Wolf says:

    @de stijl: I have rare moments. But thank you.




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  30. george says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Biochem would have been great, but I’m further behind than you, I didn’t even take biology 101 – looking back I see I missed even the intro course in one of the fundamental sciences (which would have taught me at least the basics of biochem like the Kreb’s cycle and photosynthesis).

    And I’m told that Latin makes biology (and most European languages) much easier; it would have been a good one to take too.




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  31. george says:

    @Kari Q:

    My college education was in the 80s, but I still remember looking at the list of grades on a test in one of my physics classes – they were sorted by major, then student ID. I was the only English major in the class. It was an intro physics class, so it wasn’t that challenging, but I was the only one in my major who took it. I did better than a lot of the math majors in that class, too.

    If it was the same intro physics course that physics majors students took then good for you; I took the standard 1st year English for non-English majors (along with every other science, business, medical etc student), and from what I gathered from English major friends it was pretty watered down compared to what they took. At the time watered down seemed a positive (who wants a tough elective course in your first year of university?), but in retrospect being forced to do the major’s course would have better.




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