ECSU history professor Ted Mitchell sent an email Thursday to inform UNC-system’s history department chairs that ECSU’s program might be eliminated.
“Really, one would think history would be central to (ECSU’s) mission,” Mitchell said in an interview.
He said he thinks ECSU’s history program could have fallen into the low-productivity category by mistake. He said that due to a possible glitch in the ECSU computer system, some students majoring in history might not have been accounted for — by his estimates, there are more than 30 history majors.
Still, some UNC-system history faculty were troubled that ECSU’s history program could fold and did not know of a four-year public university that has discontinued its history major.
“There’s a message that you’re sending when you say, ‘I’m not even going to have this here,’” said Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.
Grossman said there is irony in a historically black university lacking a history degree.
“You’re talking to students whose parents in many cases went through a period of history that’s very important to the black experience — they went through that transformation from Jim Crow,” he said. “That experience, it’s absolutely crucial to any understanding of where African-Americans are today and what they can do.”
Fitzhugh Brundage, UNC-CH’s history department chairman, said in an email that he understands the burden a small school like ECSU faces given systemwide budget cuts, but said cutting a liberal arts staple is not a good solution.
He said the proposal might imply a shift in focus at ECSU to vocational studies.
“No single discipline is essential, but at the same time, I have a hard time imagining a complete education that did not include some exposure to history,” Brundage said.
Jurgen Buchenau, history department chairman at UNC-Charlotte, said he knows of a couple of small private universities who have considered eliminating their history programs, though he said the move is rare. Buchenau said he’s surprised that system universities are held to the same standards as far as discontinuing programs, given large differences in student population.
Until last year, ECSU had a department of history and political science, though the two were separate degree programs. Budget constraints caused the university to combine the two programs with three others, all under the umbrella of a department of social and behavior sciences.
The history and political science faculty at ECSU made a recommendation last week to the provost to combine the two majors into a history and government degree program, which would allow students to study the disciplines while cutting costs.
Eric Thomas, ECSU’s associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said any recommendations for program discontinuation have to be approved by the faculty senate, several committees and the school’s Board of Trustees before going to General Administration — a process he said is beginning this week.
Buchenau said cutting any university history program could have far-reaching effects in the long term, perpetuating worry among humanities departments throughout the system.
“It’s not going to stop at history,” he said.
“If there’s any movement to save the program, I would hope that support would come from somewhere.”