Saint Mary’s University drops eleven liberal arts programs


Carolyn Hauschild

The St. Mary’s sign stands in the center of campus, between the Performance Center and the St. Mary’s Hall – both of which will be losing programs like English, theatre, history, art, music and more.

Erich Schweitzer, News Reporter

Earlier this year in May, Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, announced that they would be dropping eleven programs in what they claim is a rebranding of the institution’s identity.

This announcement came after many incoming freshmen had already enrolled in those programs. It has also resulted in about thirteen faculty members losing their jobs at the university.

The university still plans to teach these courses until May 2023, but many professors have already left knowing their jobs are not secure.

The programs being dropped include English, theatre, history, art, music and theology, to name a few. The decision has sparked uproar from professors, students and parents alike.

Wilder Sovereign is one of those students who takes issue with the decision. He is currently a third-year at St. Mary’s majoring in social studies education. While he will be able to complete his degree, Sovereign had to take many history classes to be able to. Sovereign had some thoughts about the recent development.

“It was strange to me that a university known primarily for its liberal arts would remove all of its liberal arts programs,” Sovereign stated.

The university still allowed students to enroll in these liberal arts programs despite their plans to drop them.

According to Sovereign, he first heard the news through “word of mouth” from faculty members in April of this year, about a month before it was officially announced. Sovereign said St. Mary’s claimed the decision was due to “budgetary” needs and a desire to “re-envision” the university.

Sovereign stated that “they did a full image rebrand” after this decision. “I feel like there was a conscious effort to rebrand the university to be more STEM focused.”

Sovereign believed that “the nature of the programs dropped feels more ideological than it does budgetary.”

St. Mary’s University is known as a Catholic college.

“They’ve been putting a lot of effort into emphasizing that they’re a Lasallian Catholic college,” Sovereign went on to say. While it has been a part of the university’s identity, Sovereign said that until this year, “it didn’t feel nearly as forced.”

This seems to contradict their decision to drop theology as a major, which Sovereign pointed out has been one of their required courses for general education.

“You have to take at least one,” Sovereign said, stating that this program requirement had been going on “for at least four years.”

Sovereign plans to stay at St. Mary’s to finish his degree, however, he has been advised against taking his senior thesis class because of how “ill-equipped” the university is to teach higher history courses at the moment.

The front entrance to St. Mary’s Performance Center, which holds the Joseph Page Theatre, Figliulo Recital Hall, and Studio Theatre. The university still plans to teach these soon-to-be dropped courses until May 2023, but many professors have already left knowing their jobs are not secure. (Carolyn Hauschild)

While Sovereign stated that he wouldn’t be as affected as most by these recent changes, he still expressed his sympathy for those more inconvenienced by this development. Sovereign described it as a “massive blow to the security of post-secondary education,” especially now that universities are beginning to emerge out of COVID-19.

Sovereign also stated that while he does not know much about how the public relations at St. Mary’s works, he still feels like “there must have been a way to better communicate and explain what was going on, especially to students.”

Sovereign still believes that there is “strong evidence to support that the changes made were somehow ideological,” though he “lacks the information to understand why.”

Sovereign was not the only one who believed that the university’s changes were made of a more ideological motivation. Professor Erich Lippman had much to say about what he believes to be the institutions more ulterior motives.

Lippman has taught history at St. Mary’s University for the past ten years. Although he is a tenured professor, due to the recent developments, this will be his last year working at St. Mary’s.

“It was not unexpected,” Lippman said about his reaction to the news that many programs, including his own, would be dropped. When talking about his belief on why the university decided to drop these specific programs, Lippman stated that “the current president wants to pull the university to the right politically and turn us into a conservative Catholic college.”

The current president of St. Mary’s University is Father James P. Burns.

Lippman believes that the professors being let go, including himself, would be those standing in the way of the president’s “ideological agenda.” Lippman pointed out that many faculty members who were let go were those “who dealt with diversity in a public way at the university.”

Lippman claims the president is “not a fan of contemporary concepts of diversity.”

The university had three theologians on their staff. According to Professor Lippman, “they fired one theologian, the only theologian of color.” The other two were not let go.

Lippman also stated that while St. Mary’s theatre program had substantial enrollment, the types of students in theatre do not fit with the Catholic “counterculture” that the university is trying to harbor.

Lippman went on to state that the president wants to take the university in a more “conservative Catholic direction,” and that he and his colleagues were let go because they were “obstacles” to that.

When talking about the university’s official statement on the matter, Lippman said there was much “sleight of hand” in how they went about dealing with the announcement.

Lippman said that the university told faculty that the decision was made due to a “budget crisis.” To the public, however, it was framed as a “re-positioning of the university in the direction of STEM-related fields.”

Lippman also said that in an article from the Star Tribune, St. Mary’s promised they would still be teaching history. What they neglected to mention was the fact that they had already fired all their history professors.

Lippman also talked about how professors at the university were treated. He described the work he does as “labor-intensive” and how they offer “no protections for faculty.”

Unlike Winona State University, Lippman said the professors at St. Mary’s does not have a union. Lippman believes that professors need to “lean into their union” and that the professor union at Winona State needs to be supported so that “the university can keep being a real university.”

As for how it has affected him, Lippman stated that his “career is over.” Lippman cannot leave Winona due to his family being here and Winona State isn’t hiring any new professors now, so he said that he will need to “retool” and find a new career.

Some professors have already left St. Mary’s for Winona State University, like Nicole Ciulla, an assistant professor who previously worked for St. Mary’s until the summer of this year. (Carolyn Hauschild)

Some professors have already left St. Mary’s for other universities. This is the case for Professor Nicole Ciulla, an assistant professor at Winona State University who previously worked for St. Mary’s until the summer of this year.

Ciulla commented on St. Mary’s decision.

“It is short-sighted and counter to the university’s mission.” Ciulla also recognized the “leadership indicating a major shift in what they’d like the university’s values to be.”

Ciulla said that her new job at Winona State “is a great opportunity for me to continue my career in the area.”

Ciulla also stated that she felt “well supported at Winona State,” and that she’s “proud to be a member of the faculty union here.”

“When teachers are well supported, students benefit,” Ciulla concluded.

Overall, St. Mary’s recent decision to drop many of its liberal arts programs has cost several professors their jobs and students in those fields with few other options.