An Open Letter on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education

 

Last week, my alma mater announced a plan to discontinue and/or restructure several departments going into the 2020-2021 academic year, which includes reducing their faculty by 10-20%. Although my specific departments (Mathematics and Secondary Education) are not directly affected, I have done a lot of reflecting over the past few days about what my Liberal Arts education truly means to me as a teacher and most importantly, a member of a global society. I have been inspired by the stories of people directly affected by these changes and thought about the impact that each of these ten departments have had on my life. I fear these plans threaten so much of what Carthage means to so many people. There is no doubt that we are in challenging times and tough choices will be made. However, I hope there are transparent solutions that can protect the students, faculty, and integrity of what makes Carthage so great.

President Swallow and the Carthage College Board of Trustees,

I used to be so proud to say I was a graduate of Carthage College. I sang the praises of the beautiful college on the shores of Lake Michigan. Today I was driving and I saw the Carthage sticker in my rearview mirror. I made a mental note to remove it, because I do not want to represent an institution that I no longer see eye to eye with. When I step into my high school classroom this fall, I plan on taking down the pennant that I so proudly display, that students so often ask me about. 

I value the Math degree that I earned at Carthage, but the courses I carry day in and day out in my heart are those very ones that you are “restructuring.” The professors that helped me look at the greater world around me, sacrificed. The religion courses that allowed me to be a more compassionate person. The Biology courses that gave me the ability to be well-informed during my mom’s terminal cancer battle. The Modern Language department that opened the doors of the world to me, along with the Biology department. The Sociology class I took that examined societal problems and meaningful ways to address them. This course has been invaluable to me in my teaching career as well as my personal pursuit for a more socially just world. Reading the Classics and discussing Philosophy and Great Ideas, challenging myself in intellectual ways that I never had before. The Physics class I draw on in my math classroom. The Music department enabling me to cross off “Learn to Play the Piano” from my bucket list and remembering the tears brought to my mom’s eyes during her final Christmas at the annual Carthage Christmas fest program. The Political Science professor I had for Heritage freshman year, who always greeted me by name for all four years at Carthage, who inspired me to make my students feel valued long after they stepped out of my classroom for the last time. Sitting by the lake, conversing with my friends in these threatened disciplines, learning from their passion and broadening my own thoughts. These well-rounded experiences have enabled me to feel comfortable pulling up a seat to any table and feeling like I have valuable contributions to make.

I am currently pursuing a Master’s at Illinois State University. It has been a good experience so far. I think of how much more affordable it would have been to do my undergraduate experience at Illinois State, and then I reflect on what my Carthage education has done for me that I would not have gotten at ISU. The connections with the professors that I still stay in touch with. The opportunity for a well-rounded education, exploring courses that I never knew I needed in life. If I were to see the changes that Carthage is making while making my undergraduate decision, I would no longer see the value in a Carthage education over a state school. I am also looking into doctoral programs, and Carthage’s recent announcement has me analyzing the type of institution I would like to someday teach at. Originally, I could only picture myself at Carthage, wanting to give students the well-rounded experience that I had the honor of having that so wonderfully prepared me to be the teacher I am today. The treatment of Carthage’s most valuable asset, their professors, has me rethinking this.

I know that these are trying times for so many. I know that private education institutions were facing their own issues before the global pandemic. I know that tough decisions need to be made. I do not envy the position you all are in. However, as my students would say, “This isn’t the play.” I want to see Carthage weather this storm as much as anyone, and I do understand that it will not be able to do so unscathed. However, cutting academics at an academic institution is not the way to do it. 

“While I have memory, a breath of life in my body, I shall remember Carthage.” -Virgil’s Aeneid

This was printed on the program of my brother’s graduation ceremony in 2017. I loved it. It had been required reading in my freshman Heritage course. I thought of how I will carry my experience of Carthage with me through all of my days because of the educational opportunities that it provided for me, opportunities that I didn’t even know I needed. I shall remember Carthage. For what it was though, not what it is becoming.

Sincerely,

Laura Grimes

Carthage College Class of 2013

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