When the liberal arts run out of gas


It seems like only yesterday that I was picking on Marian College (a small Catholic college here in Indy) for starting up an expensive football program as an effort to "put itself on the map" — at the same time their endowment was hitting rock-bottom and basic academic needs at the college were going unmet. Now I have a new reason to pick on them: Their creation of a "Business of Motorsports" program.

The motorsports program is an 18-hour curriculum taught mostly by adjuncts recruited from the motorsports industry, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Joie Chitwood. It is apparently a concentration of an existing Sports Management major. Everybody knows that Indy is the center of auto racing in the USA (just look at our quarter), and this new deal from Marian comes at the same time the governor’s office has announced it wants to expand the auto racing industry throughout the state.

I’ve got no problem with motorsports per se, but I do have problems with the Business of Motorsports program:

1. It’s extremely narrow in focus. Students are going to come out of this program knowing how to do exactly one thing — manage a motorsports-related business. In a world in which people change careers about as often as people used to change jobs, Marian is doing students now favors by offering a niche degree. What happens if they want to move on to a different career, or if the current NASCAR-fueled motorsports craze dies out?

2. Related to the first point, it’s counter to the liberal arts mission of the college. Here’s a quote from a short essay on liberal education from the VPAA of Marian College:

These capabilities [that distinguish the educated person] include the capabilities to imagine creatively, to think intelligently, to judge wisely and to act responsibly. The actualization of these capabilities, which is the goal of a liberal arts education, involves an enlargement of a person’s mind and character. An enlargement of mind based on a formation of the mind by the intersecting perspectives of history and psychology, biology and theology, sociology and philosophy, literature and political science. An enlargement of character that leads the person to take responsibility for him or herself as a human being – “self-responsibility” for the unique edition one makes of one’s life by one’s own choices.

I just don’t see how an concentrated curriculum in motorsports management does that. I do see how a broad program in business or economics, followed up by, say, an internship at the IMS, could accomplish this mission and give students the chance to get their feet in the motorsports industry’s door. But I guess that lacks the sex appeal of a program with "motorsports" in the name.

3.  Same question as before with football: Who’s paying for this? The program is beign taught by an army of high-profile adjuncts. Where’s the money coming from? More to the point, what core academic area of the college is being shortchanged so that the adjuncts can be paid? (And while we’re at it, do these adjuncts have any teaching experience or any clue of what a liberal arts education is about? Or are they just IRL/F1/NASCAR luminaries who want a teaching gig on the side for variety?)

It’s truly sad when a liberal arts college loses contact with its roots and sacrifices core academic areas for something with more nominal appeal. On the other hand, Marian will probably end up "on the map" as a football/motorsports powerhouse. For what that’s worth.

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3 responses to “When the liberal arts run out of gas

  1. fshs

    Pres has a master’s in ed adm, provost he hired is a civil engineer. VPAA quote from provost’s predecesor, a Ph.D. philosopher who pres fired. New PE center annex to be constructed while liberal arts faculty offices are in former garage and polo stable. But students and grant money are in religion, motorsports, and football. So five football staff hired while academic positions are frozen.

  2. j

    Bottom line is important for college budgets too. The challenge is to prevent moneymakers and student attractive programs from overshadowing the academic.

  3. fma

    Marian poor Marian
    A lovely school with many wonderful people
    Competes on the national level in cycling
    But isn’t happy with itself, something is missing
    Unnecessary feelings of inadequacy?
    Tell the Board of Directors we’ll be OK
    If we add football and motorsports
    In time we will learn these were mistakes
    But those responsible will be gone to greener pastures