On Oct. 6, DePauw University's official Instagram account made a post celebrating the ribbon cutting ceremony at the new School of Business and Leadership (SBL). The caption of the post read, “Proud to be the only Top 50 liberal arts university in the Midwest with a business school - and one of only four in the nation. Thank you to all who came to the School of Business and Leadership Dedication Ceremony this week. #GoldWithin.” The comments flooding the post were almost entirely negative. There have been posts before on DePauw’s Instagram about the new business school, some only days before the outcry. For some reason this post seemed to be the final straw for students and recent alumni, who took to the comments to register their complaints with the new business school. But why now? Why this post? As a DePauw student skeptical about the SBL, I am going to use this article to try and pinpoint the problem, and hopefully explain to anyone reading why students are mad and what actions we would like to be done about this.
In my letter to the editor this past May, I asked for transparency from the university on its new Strategic Plan. And yet, it still has not been given to us. It should not be on the students to hound the administration for town halls and answers, to plaster our distaste in Instagram comments. Students are more willing to comment on a post than to email administration because it feels more anonymous. Scheduling a meeting or shooting an email to the administration feels daunting.
The comments hit at a number of reasons students are angry at the SBL, primarily due to budget cuts to other departments and the perceived lack of investment in a true liberal arts education. DePauw students can feel a shift on campus in terms of finances and it's very easy to blame the SBL for budget cuts, whether that be true or not. Departments have less funding, student organizations and Campus Activities have to use limited resources, and fewer on-campus job opportunities are available to students. And yet tuition still steadily rises each year and donors keep donating money. So where is it going?
Students are witnessing their programs and organizations lose funds while the SBL gains funding for special programs, ergonomic chairs, and an HGTV style lounge. The Business School is probably able to have these things because of donor dollars. The issue is that we are witnessing our programs lose funds while the SBL thrives. If we understood the breakdown of where our tuition was going and what DePauw’s finances looked like, perhaps we would not be as upset with the creation of this new school.
One comment that caught my attention stated, “Let’s reevaluate that sentence. Maybe DePauw is one of the only universities with a business school because business is not a liberal art?? Just say already what you’re showing your actions: you don’t want to be a liberal arts college anymore 🤩.” The creation of the SBL has made a lot of students feel left behind and undervalued. It is just more evidence for us that DePauw is participating in the nationwide death of the liberal arts. To many of us, a business school is a sign of a shift away from education for the sake of education. Even though DePauw’s own mission statement reads, “DePauw University develops leaders the world needs through an uncommon commitment to the liberal arts,” their recent decisions have felt like a shift away from that uncommon commitment. Regardless of whether the intention of the SBL is to shift away from a traditional liberal arts education and a push towards a neoliberal education, that’s how it will be perceived. So there should be, in my opinion, an effort made to show us that the SBL will in fact contribute to the vibrant interdisciplinary community of learners DePauw prides itself on having. Until then, the rest of us will feel like we’ve been undervalued.
Students are not directing their hate towards the Creative School because most of us view it as a replacement for the School of Music — although most students are not happy about two music majors being cut and their school symbolically dissolved. While the Creative School should suggest to most of us that DePauw does care about inspiring the creative community at DePauw, it does not. It feels like a recognition that a music school was not realistic or profitable to have. Don’t get me wrong, I have hopes that the Creative School will enrich the vibrant arts community on campus, but I know that most students are more pessimistic about it.
All of us understand that college is valued for its ability to create efficient workers, specifically workers who will pursue jobs in STEM or business fields. A broad-based liberal arts education is not valued in this country because we’ve been wrongly convinced that it does not create valuable laborers who will go on to have profitable careers. At every honors event I was invited to attend since middle school I was one of few, if not the only person in the room, who knew I did not want to major in something “profitable.” Recently, Indiana began its CTE (Career and Technical Education) Program which is a set of initiatives in high schools that will prepare children for profitable and in-demand careers. Having a business school aligns DePauw with the nationwide push to see colleges as producers of specialized laborers instead of places to learn for the sake of learning. By creating a business school that literally carved out a chunk of the history department building, DePauw conveys to us that our dreams, our aspirations, and goals for ourselves are unreasonable, unprofitable, and not worth having.
And yet the promise of a liberal arts education is to create critical thinkers and lifelong learners. DePauw still happily promotes itself as a liberal arts institution, but us students, especially those of us who are not STEM or business majors, feel as though DePauw does not actually care about investing in the liberal arts. Right now for a lot of us, it feels like DePauw does not care about the value the humanities and social sciences add to our campus, our community, and our education. If we could be told how the SBL will fit into DePauw’s commitment to the liberal arts, maybe we would not be as upset. Alternatively, if DePauw announced that it no longer wants to foster a vibrant liberal arts community, we might be less upset, because at least DePauw would have transparency.
The SBL alone is not evil, but for many of us, it represents a devaluation of the liberal arts. We just want to ensure that the promise of the liberal arts still thrives at DePauw, that the SBL will not detract from the vibrant and artistic community on this campus. The liberal arts represent the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics in harmony. We cannot truly be a liberal arts institution if we are not valued equally.