Saturday, March 2, 2024

Theology does not help the bottom line. . .

In an unsurprising move, Valparaiso University has decided to end the theology major and minor.  It is one more sign of Valpo's drift away from its roots and, some would say, its raison d'être.  Although reassuring words were said about required theology courses continuing, the reality is that there is no guarantee that they will.  The decisions are being market driven, so they say.  In reality it is not simply the market that drives such decisions but the values within the institution itself.  That illustrates another reality.  The values and mission of the institution are themselves not anchors nor directions but positions for the moment and all are subject to marketing factors.  What is profitable will define what the institution is and what its mission will be.

While this is sad for Valpo and those affected directly by this decision, it has been a very long time since that university was more than a faint shadow of its former self.  Long gone are the heady days of O. P. Kretzmann and the chapel is no more the beating heart of that school than its commitment to theology, ministry, classical languages, Western civilization, and the humanities.  The school is in danger of becoming what most private universities are in danger of becoming -- vo-tech for white collar professions.  It is this that has killed the dreams of a Christian university not simply for Valpo but for institutions of the LCMS as well.  How do you finance what you cannot sell?

The emptiness of the culture around us is revealed in higher education in a variety of ways.  On the one hand education seems unable to insist that there is any truth but the personal truth of the individual.  On the other hand, education seems indebted to the sacred tenets of woke American culture.  We do not want to educate as much as we want to train people for professions and we do not want to educate because we do not value objective truth all that much anymore.  As parents we are reaping the blessings of years of telling our children they are special, they are smarter than any other generation, they can do whatever they want, they do not have to be accountable to anyone but themselves (read that their feelings), and they are not responsible for anything but being true to themselves.  How can education survive in such a context?

In many respects, we are witnessing the slow death of the liberal arts university and of its curriculum.  As regretful as this is, what we are replacing this with is even more lamentable.  We churn out people with useless degrees in nonsensical disciplines like gender studies.  The day is coming when we might begin to really appreciate those who graduated with an art history degree -- their education might be a tad bit more useful than the navel gazing that passes for university studies.  When pop culture and pop cultural icons become more important that theology or classical languages or rhetoric or logic or humanities, the university has finally capitulated its integrity and revealed the actual worth of those pieces of paper its graduates are supposed to hand on a wall.

So say goodbye to the once vaunted protections of tenure.  Faculty will end up being contractual employees whose standing must be annually renewed based upon enrollment and the financial viability of their teaching areas.  Furthermore, you can guarantee that the workload will also increase as universities try to get as much bang for their buck as they can.  Of course, you can be assured that the areas which will not be cut include the sports programs.  Even the universities are following the illusion that sports generates funds to help pay the rest of the university's bills and so their jobs will be secure (even if their own hold on those jobs depend upon $ and wins).  The once coveted tenure track positions of colleges and universities may have lost some of their luster.

In the end, even Ivy League schools know that the pool of potential undergrads gets smaller every year, the appeal of online alternatives increases every year, and the once lucrative masters markets are drying up as well.  No matter what St. Paul said, you cannot be all things to all people.  The time will come sooner rather than later when private and Christian colleges and universities will have to figure out what they can do well and jettison the rest of their offerings in pursuit of a narrower identity and mission.  One can only hope that the Christian (and Lutheran) identity will not be ditched but will actually be the guiding principle behind their institutional identity and not simply a mailing list of past donors and a legacy statement to place prominently on their website but conveniently forgotten in practice.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"We churn out people with useless degrees in nonsensical disciplines like gender studies."

These people end up working at fast-food joints until they're replace by robots and get their student loans forgiven by a White House occupant. Some join public school boards that introduce perverted indoctrination into public schools.

"... vo-tech for white collar professions. It is this that has killed the dreams of a Christian university not simply for Valpo but for institutions of the LCMS as well. How do you finance what you cannot sell?"

The Valpo Provost noted that "we have too many majors, minors, and graduate programs for the number of students and faculty that we have" and is looking at discontinuing up to 28 such programs. Looking at the many programs/degrees offered at CUW and CUAA, one wonders if the pelethora of degrees affects their financial stability.

"So say goodbye to the once vaunted protections of tenure."

Tell that to CUW tenured Professor Gregory Schulz.

"In the end, even Ivy League schools know that the pool of potential undergrads gets smaller every year."

Starting in 2025, there will be the demographic enrollment cliff that colleges and universities will face.