Keene State is at a crossroads. For several years we’ve been trying to find a way to survive in an increasingly competitive college market. We’ve talked about what to do in meetings and formed numerous committees. Efforts have come and gone…and we’ve gotten nowhere.
Interim President Melinda Treadwell was quoted in The Keene Sentinel last week as saying, “the greatest vulnerability for a college or university right now is forgetting its history and chasing students, trying to become something it’s not.”
I agree, but KSC’s view of the past and our most recent efforts forward have been distorted by a sacred belief that we are (or should be) a traditional liberal arts college. But if you consider our present curriculum and most popular programs of study we aren’t this type of college. A vast majority of the degrees we grant are in Professional Studies and the Sciences. And our ISP program, regularly heralded as proof of our liberal arts credentials, isn’t much different from the general education programs of most colleges.
Past KSC Presidents, supported by a small, but vocal group of liberal arts faculty and a few former Deans, have led us down a primrose path. Thankfully, it appears President Treadwell and members of the USNH Board of Trustees know we need to alter course. At a meeting last Friday, Treadwell said we must reconcile with the fact that liberal arts colleges aren’t as popular as they used to be. USNH Chancellor Dr. Todd Leach recently said “what it means to be a Liberal Arts college today may not be what it was 30 years ago.”
President Treadwell has spoken of how she wants to proceed, but I find it unlikely that we’ll succeed, with her plan or anyone else’s, if we don’t recognize how we’ve been hurt by KSC’s liberal arts mythos. It’s allowed us to justify the hiring of superfluous faculty in privileged departments when other programs, especially those in Professional Studies and Sciences, were terribly understaffed. It’s stymied the growth of increasingly popular majors. And, it’s led to marketing efforts that have likely scared off parents and prospective students who are, not surprisingly, more interested in careers than they are in a well-rounded education.
I’m not suggesting we abandon the liberal arts to become a ‘trade college.’ Nor should we give the liberal arts short shrift. I’m a Professor in the Department of Journalism, Multimedia, Public Relations and our unofficial slogan is “we put the liberal arts into action.” But we should view the liberal arts in a more practical way–not as being the core of what we do at KSC, but rather as enrichment for all of our programs. If we do this, rather than continue down the path of myth, we have a chance not only of surviving, but of serving our students even better than we have in the past.
Mark Timney, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Journalism
Keene State College