Professors fire back at task force

BY NORA HEATON | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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Another shot was fired in the battle over Task Force on Graduate Education recommendations, and this time, the movement is more than 100 strong.

A group of 138 UI faculty signatures appeared on a nearly full-page advertisement printed in Thursday’s The Daily Iowan. The statement criticized the task force’s treatment of arts and humanities in its recommendations and suggested bias in department representation on the task forces.

Associate Professors Glenn Penny and Johanna Schoen, both from the history department, drafted the statement this weekend with input from other faculty. They mobilized to sign and contribute money for advertisement space in only around 24 hours, Penny said.

The ad responded to the comments of John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College, which appeared in The Daily Iowan on March 5.

The task force’s five-category ranking system is limited because the quantitative evidence used in the analysis is unfairly skewed against the humanities, said some faculty members.

“The humanities have always had a hard time justifying themselves,” Schoen wrote in an e-mail, saying it’s likely because these types of programs function differently from the sciences, bring in less research money, and have less quantifiable benefits to a community.

The faculty statement also criticized construction of the task force itself, saying that arts and humanities disciplines were underrepresented. Fifty percent of the programs targeted for “planned mediocrity” fall under the arts and humanities umbrella, the statement said.

The view of the faculty involved was that representation distribution in the task force ultimately played a role in which program saw poor rankings.

But Keller said the 21-member force was made up of 15 invited faculty members, a head, collegiate dean, one additional faculty, and one selected graduate student. The two ex officio members did not participate in any votes. Of the 15 invited faculty, Keller said, three members were selected from each of the university’s five core disciplines, one being humanities.

As a result, each discipline received equal faculty representation in the group, he said.

Keller also repeated his March 5 statement that these recommendations are only preliminary.

Where the faculty statement cited the 14 graduate programs recently denied funding for next year’s recruitment, Keller said the cut is for a one-year period only. Those programs are still eligible for strategic-initiative money and other various fellowships.

The UI is not the only institution taking a hard hit to humanities after the economic downturn. The New York Times reported on Feb. 25 that more than 24 colleges nationwide had canceled or postponed hiring professors in religion and philosophy.
Though frequently targeted, humanities are invaluable to the university, faculty said.

Rick Altman, a professor in the cinema/comparative literature department, recalled the community determination and commitment after the flood of 2008, noting that the economic crisis is just that — another crisis to be mended.

“Right now, we’ve faced with another kind of flood,” he said. “If we don’t react well to that — maintaining our educational goal, maintaining our understanding of what a liberal education is — then the UI may continue to exist, but it will turn into a diploma mill.”

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