An open letter to the administration of Plymouth State University: President Donald Birx,Interim Provost Ann McClellan, and Associate Provost Patricia Cantor

The students who have elected to sign this letter in solidarity want to express our concerns regarding the recent decision to disband several academic majors- a decision which wasaccidentally released to the student body on Wednesday, September 30th, 2020. While it was, indeed, an honest mistake to distribute the information in this manner, the choice falls hard on those who study these subjects and wish to see a legacy of growth after they graduate. It breaks the hearts of professors who have given years to this institution, and unquantifiable amounts of time to their community, only to be unceremoniously forced to abandon subjects that they’ve cherished throughout their time here to teach only students who do not share their dedication to their studies. There is no reason that educators should have to sacrifice passion and sharing of their expertise in the interest of consolidating studies. The student body would also like to stress the socially unconscionable choices of some of the subjects to be removed.

While it is understood that the Board of Trustees instructed you to cut financial corners, itwas ultimately your choice to remove these programs. While it has been said that no educators will lose their positions, it seems unlikely that this will be the case, and many are fearful of this outcome. Additionally, the university may still admit students under these majors, then encourage them to switch later on. Not only is this appalling, but it hurts the retention rate you regularly struggle to improve. The graduation rate currently sits at 45%.

This choice would contribute to the ongoing problem of inaccessibility for those who wish to study the humanities. As a state school, PSU has provided a relatively inexpensive opportunity for thousands of people to obtain a university-level education. As the perception of humanities courses becomes more focused on the ways they are frivolous, you exclude a massive population of students who learn to improve and restructure the very systems our society is built on to make it more just and inclusive. They study to expand their minds, and to find a career field that best suits their skills and interests. Art History majors become teachers that change the lives and perspectives of their students. This principle of inaccessibility also applies to Environmental Planning and Environmental Biology, which are especially important majors as our generation pushes for sustainability and ecological responsibility. Many of the very basic majors being removed are more important than ever in a divided political environment and rapid climate change. The majors of History, Political Science, and Philosophy are essential to preparing students to participate in these important conversations.

The students would also stress that the removal of a Spanish major has implications of preventing the diversity you so often preach is one of the highest priorities of the university. As Spanish becomes one of the most-spoken languages among POC populations, you impede globalopportunities for students, community outreach within our borders, and even withhold an important skill for future corporate leaders. Learning a second language is an essential if not mandatory skill in many parts of the world, and withholding this opportunity from potentially low-income students excludes them from a globalized economy. While we appreciate the new resources being provided like the new Office of Minority Student Resources, clearly disregarding the opportunities for cultural understanding and representation in a Spanish major is questionable at best.

In addition, we would like to point out the many problems with the behavior of Plymouth State University as it relates to free speech. It does not go unnoticed how often faculty, and even students, are prevented from speaking out about what they believe. So often the solidarity shown to movements such as Black Lives Matter is entirely performative. When students and faculty provide specific, constructive criticism, their voices are silenced (for example, the student who attempted to speak out to the community on Facebook, whose post was removed several times). Faculty are fearful of saying something critical due to the risk of job action or even outright termination. This is tyrannical behavior. How can you tout your support of free speech when yousilence any attempt by the members of your community to dismantle the oppressive systems that immediately affect them?

We recommend a thorough reevaluation of the mission of this university, and would strongly urge you not to further limit the areas of study you offer. We would also ask that you demonstrate your commitment to diversity, inclusion, and freedom of speech by treating the voices of your students and faculty as a priority. We ask that you, the university, remember that learning is more than the acquisition of a career; it’s the expansion of the mind, and the way to create adults who are well-rounded and open-minded. Finally, we would encourage you to follow a stronger code of ethics, and consider the consequences of major changes like this one more carefully.

To sign, add your name, year and major below.