Kumler Chapel, Western Campus, Miami University
Last Friday, Miami University’s Board of Trustees voted 10-0 in favor of accepting President Garland’s bs recommendation that the Western College Program (School of Interdisciplinary Studies and my alma mater) be eliminated as an academic division. (Here are reports from the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Dayton Daily News, and Hamilton Journal News.) This comes as a disgusting, but not shocking, blow, and will probably forever taint my feelings towards the university which had previously been very, very generous to me.
While I had remarkable professors, friends, classes, and experiences on Main Campus, it was Western that drew me to Miami, and it was Western that made my time there what it was. I met my wife on Western, I met some of my best friends on Western, and I discovered my personal, artistic, and academic voice on Western.
Were I looking at colleges now, there’s no way I would ever end up at Miami.
It was never any secret that the Western program had its problems: a stale curriculum, a weak recruiting and marketing campaign, and a faculty that lacked fresh blood. But despite its shortcomings, the living-learning community and the academic freedom afforded to its students made it not only a unique program, but an essential one: a kind of free-thinking, risk-taking, radical antidote to an otherwise bland, uninspired, and conservative student body. (I’ve made this argument before.)
It seems clear to me that the real reason Western is being dismantled is a political one. Western students are extremely politically active, and made up the overwhelming majority of the dissenting political voice on campus. In 2003, the janitors and dining hall workers of AFSCME Local 209 went on a wage strike, and several of the leading students aiding the effort were Westerners. Same thing with the war. Western has always been a thorn in the side of the administration, and with a conservative President and Provost so fundamentally opposed to the major pillars of liberal education, some prophetically inclined could have seen this coming.
AIDS, Bird Flu, West Nile…forget ’em. Worry about Greed and Stupidity. Because they are the diseases that will destroy us. And they are trickling down from the very top to the very bottom.
They will infect everything.
I suppose there is still a glimmer of hope: the proposed Honors College could actually include an souped-up version of Western, but what was known as Western is probably about to disappear in the next couple years. I’m moved to quote Toni Morrison in her first book, SULA: “Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place.” But Western was both a community AND a place, so that quote doesn’t apply.
To those current Westerners still reaping the benefits of a fantastic place, Good Night and Good Luck. Hang in there.
To the Board, President Garland, Provost Herbst, and those Woody Guthrie called, “all you fascists bound to lose,” Good Riddance.
So long Western.