Closing the Latin American Studies Program at SLU

It has been reported that the Latin American Studies (LAS) program at SLU will close.

At least four departments are unable to offer LAS courses on a regular basis due to the loss of faculty and competing requirements to teach other courses. It is important to note that enrollment numbers in the program were low from the beginning. It is equally important to note that enrollment numbers are not exogenous—they depend, in part, on recruitment efforts.

SLU recruitment efforts are known for emphasizing STEM and de-emphasizing the humanities and social sciences. (In addition, it has been reported that in the last five years, SLU sent no one to recruit at the 49 regional Catholic high schools that traditionally fed SLU undergraduate programs. As a result, students in the region appear to be choosing Loyola Chicago and Marquette over SLU.)

SLU is also known for not recruiting Latinx students well. Despite calls from faculty to do so, SLU has made no effort to establish relationships with Latinx college prep schools in the main recruitment area of Chicago.

The news of the shuttering of the LAS program at SLU is both sad and puzzling. Hispanics are the largest minority group in 191 out of 366 metropolitan areas in the US. The Hispanic population is projected to be 30% of the total US population in 2050, and 38% of US Catholics are Latinx. In light of these numbers, it is difficult not to view SLU’s recruitment strategy as self-defeating.

SLU Core Student Learning Outcome (SLO) #5 requires that

  • All SLU graduates will be able to analyze how diverse identities influence their lives and the lives of others.

The SLO further states:

  • Interdependent identities—such as nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, race, class, ability, and sexual orientation—shape how people move through and experience the world.
  • The Core helps students assess how identities are constructed historically, culturally, socially, and linguistically. Students will be able to examine values and biases, empathize with others, and connect across cultures.

As SLU loses programs due to budget cuts and fiscal austerity, will it be able to maintain the disciplinary depth needed to support core SLOs such as #5? More generally, some see a movement at SLU to downsize and de-emphasize the humanities and social sciences. This movement suggests that these areas may exist in the future primarily in service to the core curriculum.

We are left with the following questions:

  • Is it appropriate to treat the humanities and social sciences as service units (to STEM or the core), or instead as independent fields in their own right that are intrinsic to a Jesuit education and to which students will always be attracted?
  • Is it possible to conceive of or maintain “service units” at enough depth that they will be able to truly represent their fields and contribute meaningfully to a liberal arts education?
  • Who made the decision to close the LAS program? In consultation with whom? After what deliberations? After trying what strategies to keep the program going?
  • What kind of commitment does SLU have to fields like LAS, and what other fields might be threatened?

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