Editorial: Restore curricular diversity in LAS college to provide broad-based education

Editorial Board

Today is the first day on the job for Beate Schmittmann, the new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We welcome her to Iowa State and are certain that her expertise in scholarship and administration will be an asset to our university community as well as our education.

Her credentials, however, give us cause to think about the dominance of science at Iowa State. Diversity is a big part of the college’s and the university’s goals. Administration, faculty and probably most students believe that a diversity of ethnic, racial, cultural and other backgrounds are part of an education in global citizenship, which is the college’s “primary mission.” Along with knowledge and skills, attitudes are a part of that education.

But what about diversity of and attitudes toward subject matter, especially among college and university administration?

As a school whose emphasis has traditionally been on agriculture and science and technology, it is probably fitting that President Steven Leath is a plant scientist. Knowing certain facts, however, one could expect the dean and associate deans of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to possess a wider variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Schmittmann is a physicist. Associate Dean David Oliver is a botanist. Associate Dean Arne Hallam is an economist. Associate Dean Zora Zimmerman was trained in literature. Interim Associate Dean Martin Spalding was trained in plant physiology.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is divided into three groups: science and mathematics (think hard sciences), social sciences and arts and humanities.

The data for 2006-2007 show that, in exchange for teaching 44 percent of the college’s student credit hours, science and mathematics received 40 percent of the college’s budget.

For teaching 22 percent of student credit hours, social sciences received 15 percent of the budget.

For teaching 34 percent of student credit hours, the humanities division received 24 percent of the budget. (The remainder of the budget — 21 percent — funded other matters such as administrative costs.)

The college is right in stating that its purpose is the fulfillment of the land-grant college ideal of combining the liberal arts and vocational training into a balanced education. That ideal is not, as the college’s Web page on its history suggests though, merely something that was “in vogue” in the 1850s when land-grant colleges were chartered.

A broad-based education is essential for ensuring the college’s mission of preparing “students to become knowledgeable, contributing citizens in a world of diverse cultures.” With a new incoming dean, now might be a good time for the college to restore the balance of that education. Their mistake is in assigning — maybe even relegating — diversity of educational fields to general education requirements, which are expressed as minimums.

True innovation and true citizenship know no minimums. They always pursue the increasingly lofty.