KANE: Let’s get back to the basics: classes



Jonas Kane

Though I’m on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and south of the equator for a semester, I find that Villanova still includes me in its lovely updates of happenings on campus.

One email in particular caught my attention: the President’s “Special Announcement” message, which highlighted the Villanova School of Business’ rise to number 11 in a ranking by BusinessWeek. Certainly, that’s quite an achievement.

Yet, I can’t shake off this feeling that the President’s email sounded a bit too much like my former high school principal giving yet another tedious morning announcement praising the football team on a great win.

Perhaps I’m just speaking as a former cross country runner (guess how many announcements we received,) but beyond the simple problem with obsessing over debatable rankings, the self-congratulatory tone of the message rings a tad hollow to those outside of the privileged financial school.

While the University has spoken over the past year about its Campus Master Plan, its Academic Strategic Plan – including the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Re-imagining the College” – and its lofty aspirations of shaking off its regional label to leap onto the national rankings, arts students in particular have become lost in the mix.

We’re the most wired university, we have beautiful hand-woven banners all around campus, we put up costly Christmas crèches, we just erected the sparkly new Driscoll Hall and we axed numerous classes in the German and communication departments.

There is still a German Web site in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature; it just has a little note now saying, “The Major and Minor program in German at Villanova University has been discontinued, as of Aug. 21st, 2008.”

And, as The Villanovan reported last November, the University dropped a number of classes – including five in the Communications department – just prior to registration for Spring 2009.

Business, nursing and engineering programs might be thriving, but these are not signs of a healthy liberal arts program.

It’s evident that the United States and the world at large face a deepening recession that affects everyone, Villanova included; yet this is no reason to eliminate important programs and classes from the curriculum.

Villanova’s recent tuition increase of 3.5 percent reflects in part the hard financial times. But if this money isn’t being channeled to the right places, then students lose more than (lots of) dollars.

Of the budget, $4.2 million goes toward the renovation of Fedigan Hall. At the same time, a freeze remains in place for the hiring of new teachers, and only vague mention is made of salary increases for faculty and staff.

It’s baffling that during a time when the University claims to be strapped for cash, money is going toward construction of buildings rather than minds.

Having lived for a year at St. Rita’s, I know that housing isn’t the greatest – but are residence halls really a top priority right now?

Students get ripped off by housing and meal plans regardless; we should instead ensure that their education continues to rise to new heights.

This includes allowing departments to pursue new faculty when necessary. It involves not eliminating entire programs. It also requires a continued review of the core curriculum.

Among the areas to look at in that regard: the practicality of ACS, arguably a cursory glance at material already covered in introductory philosophy and theology – which themselves could replace ACS in the freshman curriculum – and a review of the need for superficial “arts” science classes, which divert time and resources from real science classes.

These last points are only suggestions. I recognize that University committees already spend countless hours weighing the pros and cons of the budget and curriculum, two areas in which it is impossible to please everyone. Furthermore, Villanova’s increase in financial aid shows that the University isn’t heartless and does care about its students.

My concern, though, is that there seems to be more of a focus on rankings and buildings than on basic academics.

I fully support the campus’ cosmetic surgery when the finances are there, but for the time being, I’d rather see more envelope-pushing liberal arts classes in good old Tolentine.


Jonas Kane is a junior English major from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].