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LU curators' history degree decision questioned

LU curators' history degree decision questioned

September 29th, 2016 by Bob Watson in Local News

Soldiers Memorial on the campus of Lincoln University honors the men of the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries who founded the institution in Jefferson City after they fought in the Civil War.

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

The Lincoln University Curators' decision to deactivate the school's history degree program is among the reasons cited for Lincoln University's Faculty Senate members to support today's no confidence vote on Said Sewell's work as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs (VPAA).

A national history organization has urged the curators to reactivate the history program quickly.

Harvard University professor Nancy F. Cott — who also is president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) — told LU President Keven Rome and the curators in a two-page letter: "Members of the OAH have become alarmed by the news that the Board of Curators has 'deactivated' the bachelor's degree programs in History.

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"Students who major in History, no matter what their particular specialization, gain a firm grounding in critical thinking, close reading and interpretation of cause and effect as well as skills in analysis of multiform data and a broad view of society, culture and politics."

Lincoln administrators provided the News Tribune with copies of Cott's Sept. 1 letter and Rome's Sept. 15 answer after a Sunshine Law request to see the documents.

Rome told Cott the deactivation decision was based on: "1) low number of graduates in the program over five years; 2) low demand for the program by prospective students; and 3) low regional and national career demand for the program."

Cott wrote: "It is a mistake to believe that History majors regularly fail in employment.

"I have been teaching for more than 40 years, myself, and I have regularly seen History majors go on to get good jobs immediately in government, in nonprofit organizations, in business and in technology; they are admitted to law school and medical school and business school."

She pointed to a 2013 Association of American Colleges and Universities' survey of 318 employers, which "showed that the qualities employers look for are those that college graduates in History and the humanities are educated to have," with "80 percent of employers" agreeing "broad knowledge is a great advantage; 93 percent of employers believed that the capacities to think critically, communicate clearly in written and oral form, and solve complex problems are more important than the particular major."

In explaining its proposal for a no confidence vote in Sewell, one of the items in a nine-page rationale supporting the proposal said Sewell "has been unable to convey accurate information regarding our campus to the Board of Curators or the broader community."

The rationale listed the history degree deactivation and the elimination of the early childhood education degree and at least one music degree, based on Sewell's recommendation to the board.

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"By repeating his unsupported claims concerning the above listed majors, the VPAA has done lasting damage to those programs even if they are reactivated or revived," the document said.

Cott asked the curators to "provide the necessary resources to the History program for its robust and vital reorganization and activation," because the OAH believes "that would be a far better way to serve Lincoln University students' best interests, the school's best interests and the larger public good."

She also reminded Rome and the curators: "A society lacking historical knowledge cannot operate in the present — nor envision the best path to the future — any more rationally than an individual who is an amnesiac.

"Education to learn about the past is education for the future. The idea that the History program should be deactivated at Lincoln suggests absence of this crucial awareness."

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