Ashley LaFayette, Co-News Editor
Two isolated incidents have recently occurred within the history department, prompting members of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society and various history students to compose a petition to voice their concerns within the department.
First, the university decided against hiring a replacement professor following the retirement of Dr. Ewa Bacon two semesters ago. The petition argues that this issue “represents a troubling trend the university has taken that devalues its liberal arts emphasis for the benefit of a STEM curriculum.”
It also points out that four of the five remaining tenured history professors specialize in U.S. history. The vacancy of the position leaves out Asian, South American, and African studies from the curriculum.
“The reason why Dr. Bacon’s absence really hurts the department is because she taught a huge range of things such as East Asia, including the history of China and Japan. We don’t have anybody with near the expertise to do that,” said Richard Maska, senior history major and president of Phi Alpha Theta. “Without her, that’s practically two-thirds of the world that is just neglected because of what I assume to be penny pinching ideology.”
Assistant Professor of History, Dr. James Tallon, was also displeased with the decision. “As a person who chaired the search committee, I was very disappointed with the fact that my efforts went unfulfilled in getting somebody for our department that I thought was very necessary. More importantly, the person we had decided on, after a rigorous selection, was a very qualified individual,” Tallon said.
Maska and Tallon both stated that the university’s reasons for not hiring a new professor were a result of financial uncertainty associated with the map grant. Another reason given was that the history department’s low numbers of majors and minors did not merit the hiring of a new professor.
The second issue addressed in the petition was the university’s decision to change the history general education requirements so that it is only necessary for students to take one Culture and Civilization course, instead of the two currently required classes. The petition suggests that this is problematic because “having two prerequisite history classes enhances the department’s ability to attract history minors as well as majors.”
“Short of outrage, this is sort of just an eye-roller more than anything else. It definitely gives a sense that my major is becoming an endangered species,” Maska said. He understands that it may not seem important to someone who is not a history major or minor, yet he emphasized that everyone should know the basics of world history because it demonstrates a well-roundedness to a university.
“History teaches students how to read, write, analyze and form arguments,” Maska said. He also advocated for the value of the Cult and Civ classes in particular. “Those classes embrace diversity and open your mind to a worldliness that you wouldn’t otherwise have if you only studied American history,” Maska said.
While the course reduction is a done deal, Maska believes there is still hope for finding a new professor.
“Realistically, we don’t expect anything to happen from the petition. It was an attempt to show concern and solidarity for the department. But it is important that the school administration knows that there is dissent over these kinds of moves and decisions, that we are taking notice of it, and we don’t agree with it,” Maska said.