I am writing to you all as a proud but currently very troubled alum of Lebanon Valley College, class of 2010. A little about my college journey first: I entered LVC as a psychology major with a career in mind. I’d take classes, get through it, and move on to the real world of my career. I was a commuting student, living off campus in a series of small, mostly crummy apartments, and I expected to do my work and head home for the night. Very quickly, I realized what a deeply warm and welcoming community I had joined and found myself tugged further and further into campus life.
I also found myself branching out of psychology and taking classes in the humanities for pure interest and pleasure. One of those classes, Philosophy of Religion with Professor Robert Valgenti, changed my life. I can even remember where in the room I was sitting when a realization hit me between the eyes after a discussion on Kierkegaard- I LOVED Philosophy. I loved wrestling with a complex idea and working at it over and over in my mind until it clicked into place. I loved the tiny but hugely satisfying rush of nailing down a difficult concept. I loved the back and forth of academic debate in my classes. Needless to say, I changed my major and Religion and Philosophy became my focus.
The professors who shaped my college career are world-renowned scholars, tops of their respective fields. Because of them, I was able to travel to an international conference on Religious studies in Montreal, Canada. Because of them, I was able to meet in person and share ideas with other top minds in our field- Gabriel Vahanian, John Caputo, Slavoj Žizek, and more. Because of them I experienced worship with people of widely varying faiths and spoke to them about their convictions and values. Because of them, I learned to think critically, to build solid arguments for what I believed, to be patient and have grit and determination when working on something I loved.
Now, I am a candidate for Pennsylvania State House. It might seem a far jump, but the skills I gained, the experiences I had, have built the foundation for my life after college. Because of the Humanities at Lebanon Valley College, I am the person that I am today.
I say that I’m troubled because I read yesterday, as many have, the proposal for removing several “low-enrollment” majors from the college. I am appalled that the college would seemingly change course from a connected group of scholars, taking small group classes where they can dig deep into tough concepts and hone their thinking, into a business-like, money-obsessed professional school. Low-enrollment does not equate to low-value, and I implore President Thayne and other decision makers to consider the impact that these smaller majors have on students, the community, and our greater world. A writing process course or three alone does not a critical thinker make. There needs to be space for these deeper conversations and richer experiences for students of all majors to grow as thinkers and as people.
I’d ask too, what is the goal of this change? If the goal is to streamline the college’s offerings to “career-ready” majors, what attraction does a private school with tuition pushing $50,000 a year have over a shorter, infinitely cheaper, technical education at a state school or community college? For tuition like that, students want scholarship.
I strongly oppose the removal of any Humanities or Arts majors from the college. The Arts are under attack on so many fronts at this moment and to hear that a haven of the humanities may be so sacked makes me ill. Because of the critical thinking skills I gained at Lebanon Valley, it is apparent to me that this change is not in the best interests of the LVC community, but in the best interests of those with financial interests in the college.
I want to see our school grow, I want to see it move ahead with new “streams of revenue” and thrive. But I cannot abide it doing so at the cost of the humanities and the very principles upon which it was founded. Our alma mater was conceived as a liberal arts college where men and women could grow their minds, not just their career ambitions and I pray that it stays so— for all our sakes.
Mary Auker-Endres ’10