Martin Abraham has focused his term as Provost trying to develop Youngstown State University’s programs for “jobs.” This is not a new position. While acting as dean of STEM, Abraham referred to the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as the “College of Lost Jobs.” During his time as interim provost, he argued that YSU students did not have the privilege of learning subjects such as history or anthropology; this was the privilege of the wealthy. Instead, students at YSU needed to focus on getting jobs.
This is a startling divergence from the history of liberal arts education in the United States. From the early 1900s until the 1970s, United States colleges and universities saw education as a means of developing strong, critical-minded citizens. This vision, birthed by renowned educational theorists such as W. E. B. DuBois and others, saw the rise of critical thinking and awareness for U.S. citizens with the improvement of everything — which included the economy.
Since the 1970s this vision of higher education has shifted. Across the country, higher education administrations pushed their undergraduate curriculums into an internship model for businesses. This has come with a cost to an education that cultivates students as citizens.
At YSU, the long-standing tradition of learning foreign languages, and with it, entry into different cultures and perspectives, was cut from many programs. While the need for learning history, cultures and religion is needed more than ever, the YSU administration has defunded much of their programs that provide critical content for this.
Currently, the foreign languages department and the philosophy and religious studies department operate without an administrative assistant. The religious studies program has lost half of its faculty; the Center for Islamic Studies has had its funding frozen for over a year.
In a similar vein, Donald Trump’s campaign has promised financial solutions to problems with the working class. Echoed in many of Trump’s speeches was the promotion of jobs. In a September speech, Trump vowed to create 25 million more jobs over the next decade. The U.S. voters answered this call. Over 61 million people voted for Trump and his promise to “make America great again.”
Yet absent from this promise and others made during Trump’s campaign was a specific addressment of how to rectify the rise in discrimination and violence that directly impacts business productivity and workforce environments. Already, hate crimes are on a rise according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation 2015 report. Most particularly of note is anti-Muslim violence, which has spiked over 67 percent since 2014.
Unfortunately, YSU is defunding the very education that combats these problems.
Donald Trump argues he is for “all Americans” and Provost Abraham argues he supports “all the colleges.” Actions speak louder than words.
Both continually promote jobs as the solution to social problems. Both have been critiqued for their failure to support dialogue outside their own camps. For Abraham, this is explicitly seen in his dismissal to change in the face of our climate survey’s biting critiques of his leadership as well as his lack of concern over the uproar created by his support of unregulated fracking in the Valley.
If YSU wishes to help support its students and community, it will need to revalue its educational expenditures. Most specifically, administrators will need to recognize the value of courses beyond their relevance in “job creation,” and numbers of majors in a discipline. It will require YSU administrators to revisit the vision of yesteryear’s administrators — namely, that education serves not only to create jobs but also to create good citizens. This requires an increased value in general education.
Right now, this shift is a pressing need for YSU, the community and the country.