Loh contributes to national discussion of humanities graduate education

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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National higher-education experts are echoing concerns similar to those in the University of Iowa task force report on graduate education released earlier this semester.

In what is being referred to as a “crisis,” humanities graduate-student programs across the nation are coming under fire for admitting too many students with no promise of careers.

UI Provost Wallace Loh was asked to respond to several questions concerning the issue by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which published his comments in a series last week.

“It’s good to see that the rest of the world is talking about this, too,” said Graduate College Dean John Keller. “It reminds people that we’re not that far off base.”

The UI Graduate Education Task Force recommended re-evaluating 14 graduate programs in February.

Loh told the Chronicle that both a poor job market and over-admittance to graduate programs are to blame.

“The stories about the unrealized and unrealizable dreams of so many talented students in the tenure-track job market, and their anguish, are heart-wrenching,” he wrote.

He said he questions the ethics behind allowing too many students into a program.

“Should programs enroll more students than they can financially support and successfully place?” Loh asked in his submitted answers.

Keller said professors need to utilize older students.

“It’s exciting to admit a new group of students with new ideas into a program,” he said. “But professors have to continue to look after students who have been in the program for years before, too.”

But some UI faculty in the humanities said they haven’t felt that pressure.

“We don’t feel like we’re in a crisis,” said Mary Depew, the director of graduate studies for the classics department. “In the last 10 years, we have placed every single one of our graduate students.”

With consolidations and closures of UI graduate programs imminent, though, some graduate students have expressed concern.

“Everyone is re-evaluating priorities and how money can be used,” said philosophy graduate student Brian Collins. “A lot of the times, arts and humanities programs get left behind in funding — that’s what I find extremely troubling.”

Both Loh and Keller said they have started thinking about the possibility of a three-year doctorate degree in arts or humanities.

“Our university is world-famous for our Writers’ Workshop M.F.A. program,” Loh told The Daily Iowan. “There’s no reason we couldn’t be a leader in this venture as well.”

One suggestion Loh offered in his published remarks is to publicly disclose information on program outcomes, including how long it takes to graduate, job-placement rates, and the amount of debt a student will rack up. Loh said this information will help students make informed decisions when choosing a program.

Keller said this type of database could be up and running by the end of the fiscal year.

With $50,000 from the Office of the Provost to complete the project, staff in the Graduate College have begun gathering that information.

Changes to graduate programs are expected to be made in the coming months, Keller said.

“I see the whole process as being similar to grieving,” Keller said. “Getting the bad news about particular programs was shocking and upsetting at first. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to move forward and improve things.”

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