Liberal arts survive on Forest Grove campus

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Marylhurst University closed. The Art Institute of Portland closed. The Oregon College of Arts and Crafts will close following this spring. Small, private liberal arts schools are undeniably under pressure. But Pacific University is not going anywhere any time soon.

With the recent local closures of other small liberal arts universities and the revelation of major cuts at Linfield College, both students and faculty have started to express concern for Pacific’s College of Arts and Sciences. However, according to Dean Sarah Phillips the university is not in a state of panic nor is it looking to cut any programs, regardless of what rumors insinuate.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is not cutting programs,” Phillips said. “Within the college, we have a robust system of reviewing student demand and teaching capacity, and faculty routinely – every year, not just now – adjust our curriculum and course offerings to scale to shifting student interests and demands.”

While Pacific, like any other university, faces the difficult task of adjusting to fit the majority need of students, this does not equate to swiftly eliminating any positions or studies.

According to Phillips, the university took the initiative of looking ahead at projected demographic shifts and was able to take this type of data into account when creating budgets. It is thanks to years of forethought and planning Pacific has been able to avoid the turmoil other schools are currently facing.

“It is not fun to have to trim spending and balance smaller budgets, but we do it every year and as a result we are in good shape,” Phillips said. “As a result, Pacific is financially strong and we are not in any danger of closing.”

Although it has been noted by many faculty members including Phillips, the closures and cuts happening on other college campuses across the nation affect Pacific in many ways. As students, staff and faculty learn of the unfortunate circumstances some neighboring institutions face — like that of Marylhurst, the Art Institute of Portland and the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts — it is common for fear and uncertainty to creep in.

However, like many situations that prompt fear, some feel a chance for growth and helping one another also presents itself. As pressure is put on liberal arts higher learning, Phillips stresses the importance of backing how valuable these types of studies are, as well as how beneficial they are to students.

“I think it is really important that the Pacific community respond to this kind of anxiety with a counter-narrative,” Phillips said.

Instead of needlessly worrying about whether Pacific is next on the collegiate chopping block, Phillips recommends the community band together to embrace creating a unique narrative of strength.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to think about what we value in a college education and to do a better job of talking about that,” Phillips said. “I think we need to use the very skills that we are teaching – communication, logical, scientific and creative thinking – to avoid jumping on simplistic bandwagons.”

In this avoidance of fear and irrationality, Pacific is able to not only continue its work, but also accept students who have lost their institutions to closures and cutbacks. According to Phillips, Forest Grove will continue to be a location supportive of liberal arts, supportive of other universities and supportive of students seeking a meaningful education.


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