West Virginia college axes liberal arts; Pennsylvania Historical Society slashes workforce
12 April 2019
West Virginia’s Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) late last month announced the elimination of all of its liberal arts majors, along with the layoff of 20 of its 52 tenured faculty members. The move was followed this week by the termination of the college’s affiliation with the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church.
The college, founded in 1954, recruits students from Wheeling and surrounding economically depressed areas of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, once the heart of the American steel and coal industry.
Nineteen majors will be eliminated, including in every field associated with classic liberal arts education—among them history, literature, philosophy, mathematics, and even theology, long a feature major at colleges linked to the Catholic Church.
The college cut every Jesuit position at the school, which this week resulted in the revocation of its Jesuit affiliation by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, apparently the first time such a move has taken place. The Jesuit order sponsors 28 US colleges and universities, including Boston College, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Only 11 majors will remain—each one of them a “pre-professional,” or vocational program. Also spared are the college’s athletic programs. WJU, which announced a financial emergency in early March, will be reduced in all but name to a technical school—should it not close its doors entirely, the fate of 24 liberal arts colleges since 2016.
Behind WJU’s axing of liberal arts is the gathering financial crisis in American higher education, driven most immediately by spiraling tuition costs and…