Liberal arts under threat

Opinion writer Zach Freeman comments on Texas A&M's proposition to consolidate or eliminate the College of Liberal Arts in his latest piece. 

The anxiety surrounding cut-backs and the volatility of our job market is all too familiar for many. Professors at Texas A&M worry their departments might be next on the chopping block and are unfairly granted little communication from leadership.

A&M Liberal Arts faculty, staff and students are alarmed about the prospect of consolidation or elimination. These fears stem from a $600,000 contract with MGT of America Consulting, signed off by Billy Hamilton, deputy chancellor and CFO of the university System. President Banks will likely address the issue in the near future, but has remained relatively silent thus far. Anonymous faculty have criticized Banks for not being forthright with Liberal Arts faculty and the future of their careers.

I know firsthand our Anthropology Department does genuinely impressive work that should not be stifled. When I first changed my major from genetics to anthropology, I was skeptical about the latter’s placement in Liberal Arts. Over time, I’ve learned to love the College of Liberal Arts and value the Department of Anthropology’s history within it. As a proud student of the Liberal Arts, I would hate to see future Aggies denied any opportunities that come with stretched funding or an unfavorable organization. The hard-working faculty and staff similarly deserve better.

Anthropology professor Sharon Gursky gifted tarsier enthusiasts — a small primate who looks like it’s getting ready for a long night of prepping for midterms — worldwide with the knowledge of a new species, Tarsius spectrumgurskyae. These tiny junkie monkeys, though still impressive, are only one small part of A&M’s anthropological breakthroughs.

Anthropology department head Darryl de Ruiter was part of the team that discovered a new hominin species, Homo naledi, ranking among one of the top anthropological and paleontological discoveries of the decade. A&M’s Nautical Archaeology Program was among the first in the country and was founded by a pioneer in the field, George F. Bass, who was included in TIME’s Great Scientists: The Geniuses and Visionaries Who Transformed Our World. Techniques and knowledge developed in the Nautical Archaeology Program will be used to preserve history once inaccessible.

Late archaeology professor Alston Thoms was the assistant director at the Richard Beane site in San Antonio in the 1990s, which proved to be a vital project in allowing south Texas American Indians to reclaim their heritage and artifacts. I took two classes with Thoms, and his enthusiasm and expertise still impacts me to this day. I largely got into foraging because of how much he loved sharing his own personal knowledge of edible flora. Anyone who knew him can probably still recall his stories of the Great Camas Cookout. His advocacy and wisdom will continue to impact Texas archeology and Indigenous Texans’ fight for recognition for years to come.

There are stories just like these in every department within the College of Liberal Arts. The people, expertise, discoveries and experiences in Liberal Arts are vital to the university and bring real and meaningful change to the world. They’re a part of Aggie history. If we are consolidated into other colleges, or eliminated altogether, I’m afraid we might lose some of our history. As a university that cherishes its history and traditions, it would be shameful to lose such a valued part of ourselves.

What’s worse is the lack of transparency. In correspondence with The Battalion, faculty members accused President Banks of lying about how involved individual colleges are in MGT’s evaluations. Above all, faculty and the student body — those most directly impacted — need to be informed about what’s going on.

We need to provide future students the same opportunities for research and success as we’ve granted in the past, if not more. Even if MGT’s consultation yields the best outcomes, everyone involved should be made aware, instead of being left blind and stumbling through the dark. I can’t imagine how faculty might feel, having no idea where their job, program, department and even college might be in the coming years.

President Banks’ response can’t come soon enough — it should have come earlier, frankly. It needs to lift the veil and let the Aggies know what their future holds. A&M is the legacy of the professors and staff who dedicated their lives to making this university and our world a better place. The least we can do is let people know what’s going to happen to their legacy.

(3) comments

Austin Aggie

Thanks Zach for the one sided article. Why didn't you ask Dr. Banks for a comment before trying to butcher her ? I hope students don't form any opinions based on this biased article.

That1Guy

It's an opinion piece, says so right at the top.

OldAg74

Zach, Fear not about MGT and President Banks. MGT has reached out to faculty, the student body, and to former students to obtain feedback from all of Aggie Nation about those things that are most important about TAMU. I'm certain that many have specifically referenced the history of TAMU and what the administration, faculty, and students within the College of Liberal Arts have contributed to the proper understanding of the history of TAMU and .. uh...oh.... guess I now see what you are worried about. Misdeeds can have consequences. Maybe not.

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