The U of A should be an academic institution first and a business second

Did you know you could major in Scandinavian Studies at the U of A? Well possibly not come 2018, which may or may not compel you to take your education elsewhere; perhaps to Scandinavia.

Citing low demand, the Faculty of Arts is looking to suspend admissions to 14 programs, with the program closures planned for September 2018. Current students wouldn’t be affected, but changes would be significant, as admissions to honours programs like history and classics, and women’s and gender studies are suspended; even philosophy, sociology, and drama honours programs could be cut.

By now, the average arts student is probably exclaiming, “really, more arts cuts!?” with excitement to the degree of Sheldon Cooper. As an honours philosophy major myself, I am horrified my program, my passion, could be prospectively shot. The U of A should speak first as an intellectually enriching institution, and secondly as a business.

At first glance reasons of low demand and good management seem attractive: if you had a chain of coffee shops, some making less profit, wouldn’t you close down the less profitable? This analogy makes sense because both the U of A and coffee shops are businesses. “Business” has two associations: management and profit — the latter in budget cuts and demand. As much as the U of A is a business, there are times where intellectual integrity should take precedence. Like right now.

Not all arts programs will be affected by cuts, but the change is significant, insofar as students in small departments are genuinely worried. This tells prospective students to look elsewhere for opportunities, heightening feelings of alienation among underpopulated groups.

The religious studies honours program is listed for cutting in 2018. A department major said many people taking religious studies courses only minor in the program, so “counting program size only through majors greatly marginalizes and misrepresents the majority of students enrolled in religious studies courses.”

Popularity and value should be considered separate entities. I know only a few BA honours students, but they are the most ambitious and passionate students I have met. And what about the devaluation of the arts generally? Our age of innovation means an endless perception of the arts withering while new engineering and health science complexes beam in the sun. Just see someone’s reaction when you tell them your BA is in English — if they say “Fantastic!” instead of “What are you going to do with that?” marry, or at least befriend, them.

The U of A consistently ranks among the best institutions of the world, with arts subjects such as philosophy, archeology, and English at the top. We drop research potential of top students who will likely flock to other universities with their programs of interest if our smaller programs continue to be eliminated.

Daniel Greenways, a second-year honours philosophy major aspiring to attend grad school, recognizes how important his degree is.

“Not only is it fantastic that I get to take a ton of courses in my major and work with a professor on a thesis, the honours degree seems to be a valuable credential for entrance into masters and PhD programs.” Greenways goes so far to say, “It’s important enough to me that if the U of A told me I couldn’t finish an honours degree in my field, I might consider switching schools.”

The U of A has the competitive advantage of program diversity. But remove these and the university loses a major appeal. Richness in academia comes with differing viewpoints, and specialized smaller programs allow students to find their niches, thereby meeting their full potentials.

The president of the Philosophy Club, Rob Raincock, is upset smaller departments like philosophy are under attack, recognizing value in academic diversity.

“Students should have an option to pursue specialized options, especially for grad school,” says Raincock. “I would hope the budget concerns would not limit the choice of a student’s path. I am also saddened to hear that similar cuts are being considered for women’s and gender studies. Is demand the only matrix by which program merit is measured? By that logic, when will a degree in Pokémon be offered?”


  1. Wow scandavian, women, and gender studies being cut??? If they keep that up there will be no more useless programs left to take

    1. I wouldn’t be so quick to discredit those programs. Perhaps they don’t produce any obvious career prospects, or perhaps you can’t see any value in their academic products. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that they have not been the source of great inspiration among at least a few students. The diversity of programs offered by the university does not exist because every one of those programs is as objectively useful or well-attended as the next, but rather because a diverse array of options will allow more students to find their niche in the university. If Scandinavian and women’s and gender studies make even a couple of students passionate about their education, I argue that they are worth retaining solely for this purpose. Whatever tiny amount of money will be saved for cutting them will never compare to this gain.

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