A Letter to Marywood University’s President

In light of the changes to Marywood in the past few weeks, I’ve decided to take action. I’ve written the following letter, which I will deliver to Sister Mary Persico, IHM, Ed.D. sometime in the next week. If you are upset or angry about the current climate of the school, please share this letter or write your own.

Dear Sister Mary,

I have been a student at Marywood University since August of 2011. I received my B.A. in Comparative Language and Literature, was inducted into both Delta Epsilon Sigma and Phi Sigma Iota, and served as the president of World Language Club for a year and a half. I am currently working toward my master’s in psychology with intent to apply to the Psy.D. program. I have dedicated myself to this school tirelessly because I believe in its promise and its mission.

However, as both a current student and alumna, I am deeply concerned about the direction in which my institution is headed. I realize that the financial situation and inner workings of the university are vastly complex, but that does little to undo the frustration I feel in learning of the cuts being implemented. As a former member of both the Spanish and English departments, it is incredibly discouraging to find that Spanish is being devalued so heavily. To take away its status as a major is to completely go against the global mission you spoke of during your inaugural speech. How can students ever hope to be global-minded if they cannot speak the languages of other countries?

These cuts—to departments, to staff—are being conducted under the justification of budgetary concerns, which is understandable given the mess left by the previous administration. I fail to see, though, how cutting the Spanish, Religious Studies, and Philosophy majors will help shore up funds. These disciplines are still part of the core and still have minor programs, which means they will continue offering the same classes they offer currently. Therefore, no money is being recuperated by eliminating their major programs. Even given low enrollment in these degree programs, just one major brings in money for the university. (Also, many students enrolled in other majors choose to have a secondary major in these areas, since liberal arts classes complement nearly every discipline. Incidentally, these double majors are not “counted” when tabulating how many students are in majors such as Spanish.) It is difficult for me to understand the financial—or logical—justification for eliminating these degrees.

The only explanation I can conceive of is that the university is preparing to make cuts to its core curriculum. A revamping of the core was obliquely mentioned in the SRA report, though the details of that process have not been revealed. Because the financial reasoning behind eliminating the three aforementioned majors is shaky, I would postulate that their elimination is a way to ease into cutting them from the core. This would be a detrimental mistake.

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently a master’s student in psychology. When I changed disciplines, I was afraid I would be behind, not having studied psychology during my undergraduate career. However, it became quickly apparent that I was better prepared by my background in English and Spanish than I would have been receiving a degree in psychology. Classes in the humanities teach more than the names of philosophers or how to say “chair” in another language—they teach students how to digest information, transform it, and apply it to novel situations. They teach students how to write, communicate, and think critically and deeply. In essence, they teach students how to be better students—and people.

I can say with complete certainty that I would not be the student or person I am today without the humanities classes I took at Marywood University, from Latino Writers in the U.S. to Climate Justice to Social Morality. All Marywood students deserve that experience; they deserve to receive an education that is as well-rounded and deep as the world into which they will enter post-graduation. To deprive them of that by way of eliminating classes in the liberal arts core is to do them a massive disservice in their future endeavors.

Finally, the reason I have chosen to complete my master’s degree at Marywood is because of its faculty and staff. The individuals who work at Marywood and interact with students on a daily basis are brilliant, compassionate people who truly love what they do. They are the backbone of everything the university does and the vehicle through which students are transformed from eager freshmen into learned, prepared graduates. As one of my former professors eloquently said before leaving Marywood to take a job at another university, “Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.”

When the school administration decides to eliminate nine positions and gives those terminated thirty minutes to clear out their offices, it not only affects students, but it also violates the compassion that underlies our Catholic mission and identity. When two deans are told to decide amongst themselves who will continue to serve as a dean come August 2017, students and faculty alike feel the effects in terms of negative morale and a lack of faith in their administration to make firm and just decisions. I understand the need for budget cuts, and that might explain why my professors have watched their hard-earned benefits get reduced, but as the administration chips away at these professionals—devaluing their disciplines by eliminating their degree programs or leaving their buildings in such disarray that a projector screen falls and breaks their foot and leaves them needing stitches (which happened just before Thanksgiving break)—they are chipping away at students and the quality of the education they are able to earn.

I can appreciate the fact that you inherited a convoluted financial and administrative situation when you took your post, but please, for the sake of our institution and its students and staff, be just and compassionate. Please hear the pain that we are feeling. Students are angry. Staff are demoralized. Money is a bottom line, I know, but the numbers, in the end, do not add up. I realize the decision to cut Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Spanish degree programs is final, but please do not cut them from the core. Students need the skills taught in these classes in order to be competent workers and, more importantly, fair people.

Thank you for your time, Sister Mary. I appreciate your willingness to read the letters of the students you serve.

Sincerely yours,

Megan McDonnell

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