Liberal Studies Deserves Better
NYU’s refusal to treat LS students and faculty as equal to their peers in FAS means that the university has failed to recognize a significant portion of its own community.
Nov 15, 2019
To say I was excited when I was accepted to NYU’s Liberal Studies program would be an understatement. But when I arrived on campus for Weekend on the Square, it seemed that not everyone was as enthusiastic about LS as I was. I went to the Bookstore and found that while the College of Arts and Science, Tisch School of the Arts and Stern School of Business had entire sections devoted to their merch, the only item for sale representing LS was a strikingly average-looking gray t-shirt, kept in a small pile near the back of the room. I searched all over campus for a Liberal Studies building only to find that all we have is the sixth floor of 726 Broadway. I dragged my parents around, searching for something that could prove that my school was something special, but I never found it.
LS belongs to the Faculty of Arts and Science, which is also parent to CAS and the Graduate School of Arts and Science. The way that LS is represented throughout the university reflects NYU’s overall opinion of the program — namely, that it’s not legitimate enough to warrant full representation or equal treatment. Until last semester, LS had only two representatives in the University Senate: a student senator and a faculty senator. After a year of back-and-forth, the Senate passed a motion that finally gave LS Dean Julie Mostov a seat on the Dean’s Council, and by extension, the University Senate. LS now has three representatives, which translates to 2% of the University Senate. For comparison, the total number of FAS representatives constitutes 14% of the Senate. LS students and faculty aren’t able to fight for better conditions if our representation is so minute.
One might argue that because Liberal Studies is only a two-year program for most students, it doesn’t deserve full representation. But by the same logic, transfer students, early graduates or other students who spend less time than the average in their programs would also deserve less representation at NYU — which simply isn’t true. Regardless of how much time its students spend within the department, LS is NYU’s second-largest undergraduate program. LS’ presence on the Senate should reflect its presence in the university’s population. This is not very much to ask.
The poor treatment of LS faculty by NYU only compounds this problem. Part of the reason why the program isn’t proportionately represented in the University Senate is that LS faculty are ineligible for tenure and therefore unable to sit on the Tenured/Tenure Track Faculty Senators Council. The fact that these professors are ineligible for tenure means that they’re also ineligible for sabbaticals, faculty housing and most importantly, job security. The lack of job security LS professors have is astounding — the faculty members are recruited on one-to-three-year contracts and then retained on five-year rolling contracts. They’re only eligible for five-year reappointment contracts if they’ve already been working at NYU for six years. Meanwhile, adjunct professors (who constitute a large portion of LS’ faculty) are employed semester-by-semester. NYU has provided no reason as to why this is the case. In fact, the administration has both discouraged professors from staying in the program and asserted its belief that LS faculty is less deserving of fair treatment. In a report by LS faculty obtained by WSN, one professor said that they had heard senior administration referring to contract faculty as “failed academics.” It seems that NYU is determined to not only keep LS from the resources it needs, but to keep LS from ever seeing itself as legitimate.
On a personal level, I simply don’t understand why NYU won’t take the steps to legitimize Liberal Studies. I understand that the core program is only two years long, and that LS was originally created for students who couldn’t keep up with the academic demands of NYU’s other schools. But LS has significantly evolved from its origins. My professors are perhaps the most intelligent, insightful and caring individuals I’ve ever met. I have yet to be bored by a lecture; I actually enjoy my classes. Because classes are small and discussion-based, it’s almost impossible not to form close bonds with professors and classmates. While other students have to fight for a seat in enormous core classes, we’re guaranteed placement in our required courses. Our class environment is conducive to understanding complicated ideas — it’s much easier to understand and discuss Greek philosophy in a discussion-based seminar than a large introductory lecture. LS allows students to not only learn, but to enjoy what we’re learning. In addition, LS is incredible for students who start their college careers without a chosen major. Sticking to the core program allows us to explore possible majors and minors without wasting time and credits on intro classes for majors we don’t end up pursuing.
But again, LS is NYU’s second-largest undergraduate program. Even if the program was of poor quality, the fact would remain that it serves a large portion of the NYU community. The students and faculty within Liberal Studies deserve to be considered on an even plane with the rest of NYU’s schools; the fact that they aren’t indicates that the university has failed to serve all members of its community.
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Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]