The Organization of American Historians has signed on to a letter from the American Philosophical Association (APA) opposing cuts to the humanities at SUNY Potsdam as part of the school’s recently announced Financial Stability Plan. The statement calls on the administration of SUNY Potsdam “to reconsider SUNY Potsdam’s recently announced Financial Sustainability Plan, which proposes the elimination of 14 programs, including several core liberal arts programs,” noting that as part of New York’s public university system, SUNY Potsdam has an obligation “to educate a thoughtful, engaged, and critical citizenry who can tackle the challenges facing society today and in the future.” The cuts to the liberal arts, the statement asserts, “sends a dangerous message—that such study is a luxury, available only to those privileged enough to attend more ‘elite’ universities.”
October 5, 2023
State University of New York at Potsdam
John B. King Jr., Chancellor
Suzanne Smith, President
Alan L. Hersker, Interim Provost
June F. O’Neill, College Council Chair
We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you to reconsider SUNY Potsdam’s recently announced Financial Sustainability Plan, which proposes the elimination of 14 programs, including several core liberal arts programs.
SUNY Potsdam’s mission statement describes it as an institution that “prepares students to act as engaged global citizens and to lead lives enriched by critical thought, creativity and discovery … committed to the liberal arts and sciences as an academic foundation for all students.” SUNY Potsdam cannot fulfill that mission or credibly maintain a commitment to liberal arts education if it eliminates core liberal arts programs, as the Financial Sustainability Plan proposes.
As part of the public university system of New York, SUNY Potsdam has obligations beyond providing basic career preparation. It is responsible for helping to educate a thoughtful, engaged, and critical citizenry who can tackle the challenges facing society today and in the future. Bowing to the whims of the market and focusing narrowly on vocational training aimed at today’s jobs, rather than giving students the skills and perspectives necessary to meet the needs of the future, does not serve SUNY Potsdam or its local community, much less the State of New York. Indeed, economists who study higher education agree that a substantial part of the valuable return on this educational investment derives from the intellectual flexibility students gain precisely from liberal arts training. Therefore, the more uncertain the labor market becomes, the greater the value in a broad liberal arts education, with the transferable skills that education provides.
And, in fact, programs you are targeting are outstanding career preparation. As Paula Krebs, executive director of the Modern Language Association, recently argued,
The disconnect between what campuses think employers want and what employers actually need can be stark. Yet many colleges continue to eliminate the programs that produce the very skills, in communication, cultural awareness, research and synthesis, that employers need and want. …
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators project demonstrates that [liberal arts] students are employed in all sectors of the workforce, including in STEM fields.
More than half of humanities graduates go on to get advanced degrees and certificates, which increases their earning potential, and proficiency in another language confers a premium in earnings on top of that, according to Indeed.com.
Further, eliminating students’ opportunities for deep study in liberal arts disciplines at a regional public institution such as SUNY Potsdam sends a dangerous message—that such study is a luxury, available only to those privileged enough to attend more “elite” universities.
Given all that these programs offer to your institution, your students, and your community, we urge you to reconsider this short-sighted plan.
American Academy of Religion
American Association for Italian Studies
American Folklore Society
American Historical Association
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Environmental History
American Society for Theatre Research
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association for Theatre in Higher Education
College Art Association
German Studies Association
Linguistic Society of America
Modern Language Association
North American Conference on British Studies
Organization of American Historians
Society for Cinema and Media Studies
Society for Ethnomusicology
Additional organizations wishing to sign onto this letter should email [email protected].