ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. — On November 16th of last year, an Instagram account named @savesmcm posted an alert for the St. Mary’s College community reading “attention [St. Mary’s College of Maryland](SMCM) grads, arts programs are in grave danger.” This post was referring to potential cuts that the SMCM administration has been reportedly considering.
The account indicated several programs on the chopping block for the college. This ranges from art history, dance, philosophy, film and media studies, and applied physics, to make way for new STEM and business-related curriculums.
Rumors about these “program cuts” began circulating SMCM last fall. At first, they were passed by word of mouth throughout the college and alumni communities, and in turn, this led to an outcry from the students and alumni seeking more information and transparency from the administration.
Amidst the campus’s unease, the college made its first formal announcement regarding the rumors of the “program cuts” last November. This was done in a campus-wide email from SMCM President Tuajuanda Jordan that was later forwarded to alumni. Jordan wrote the email in the hopes of addressing what she referred to as “misinformation” circulating throughout the college.
In the email, Jordan said no decisions had been made regarding cuts to certain programs, but she did admit several details that seemed to verify much of the concerns raised by those worried about program cuts.
Jordan acknowledged that the college had been experiencing financial troubles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which ultimately led to the creation of several task forces that were charged with a “careful review of current program offerings.
Recommendations made will reflect a focus on the future.” This email also confirmed that the college is planning to add four new majors including marine science, applied data science, neuroscience, and business administration.
In their official agenda for this weekend’s meeting, the board is slated to reveal the current status of new majors being added to the college. This excludes marine science which will be introduced to the board for approval.
An SMCM spokesperson said that there will be two sessions for the board tomorrow, an open and a closed one. At the closed session they are planning to discuss “program prioritization.” Further information regarding what programs will be discussed at the meeting and the types of actions that might be taken are currently only known by the Board of Trustees. It is unclear when we might learn of specifics from the closed meeting.
With the college’s high-ranking administration keeping the specific information regarding program prioritization so close to their chest, it has done little to calm the student and alumni communities. Instead, many have been preemptive in their efforts to protect certain programs and are seeking out different ways to gain more information.
Since November, a student-made petition was created on change.org which has so far garnered over 2,500 signatures. Since the @savesmcm account was created, it has amassed over 400 followers on Instagram.
After speaking with one of the account creators, an alumnus of the college who wished to remain anonymous, they commented that the account has been aiming to “work as a conduit between the current students and younger alumni.”
The information used in their materials has been garnered through various anonymous sources at the college, and they operate a tip line for members of the community to share what they know. Among the information received and posted includes a host of official SMCM documents relating to the topic, ranging from a letter from the ad hoc Faculty Council, official college emails, the administrations ranking of current programs, and the Board of Trustee’s materials and agendas.
Much of these documents lends a considerable amount of credence to the claims that the SMCM Board is looking to make cuts to the mentioned programs sometime soon, which has only emboldened activism efforts by the students and alumni.
The information they have collected has been consolidated in a link page that posts informational updates, and FAQ’s on the situation. The page also contains information on how to get involved with their cause and contains links to the petition and email lists of key college faculty and administration. Now with the Board Trustees meeting imminent, they said that “we definitely have seen an increase in activity over the past few days.”
One of the main reasons these rumors have drawn up so much controversy among the college’s community is that many of the programs implicated are within the arts and humanities, which at a liberal arts college like St. Mary’s, have become a staple of many students’ academic experience. This sentiment was directly reflected in their motivations for starting the account explaining that “a lot of us majored in these programs and consider them to be hugely formative parts of our identities, and we have close relationships with the faculty whose jobs are on the line.”
Besides the personal connection to the college’s humanities programs, they also cited cultural and societal factors that should compel the college to preserve such materials.
“Liberal arts education should, at its core, teach people how to think critically about the world around them. Subjects like philosophy, religious studies, film studies, Latin American studies, and art history give people the tools and context to understand their experiences outside of the classroom. [SMCM] just unveiled their Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland. This is an exceptional monument and work of art, which garnered SMCM international attention.” They further stated that “These subjects aren’t just academic, they’re essential – the stakes of information literacy have never been higher.”
(Full texts for the documents and information discussed in this article can be found at https://linktr.ee/savesmcm and https://www.smcm.edu/board/calendar/ )
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