Good morning. I’m Holly Stovall, a former WIU associate professor of Women’s Studies. My husband, Tom Sadler, is an Economics professor here and we are alumni.
At the last board meeting, Trustee Lang asked me about the kinds of jobs our students in Women’s Studies and African American Studies were getting before our majors were cut in the first round of eliminations three years ago.
Thank you, Trustee Lang, for this question. In the context of a new vision for Western, this is a good time to address the value of Women’s Studies and African American Studies to our students, the quality of our university, and Western’s stated values of diversity, equity, and social justice.
If you want our graduates to find good jobs–and we all do–consider the underemployment report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Underemployment refers to graduates who find only jobs for which they are overqualified. The underemployment rate of Women’s and African American Studies is 23% lower than that of LEJA (see table below). This means that nearly 3 of 4 LEJA majors will not find college level work, compared to only 2 of 4 majors in Women’s Studies and African American Studies.
This Federal Reserve research indicates that if Western wants to offer majors that help students get good jobs, the administration should restore Women’s Studies and African American Studies. And, as a matter of integrity, we should require our LEJA students to complete a rigorous General Education program, because solid academic skills, taught in the Liberal Arts, will serve them well in their backup plan.
In fact, underemployment rates are high for most college grads, and most will need a strong foundation in the liberal arts, so that they can write and communicate well and adapt to a fluctuating job market over time. A university IS the Liberal Arts.
According to the New York Fed., those law enforcement grads who manage to land work in their field will earn no wage advantage over Women’s Studies graduates. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, majors in vocations and trades report less job satisfaction than those who majored in the Liberal Arts.
The vast majority of students in our Women’s Studies and African American Studies classrooms were women: African American, Latinx, Asian, mixed race, and LGBT+ students. Eliminating Western’s two diversity studies majors deprived our students of the coursework they preferred and that offered a lower underemployment rate than most of WIU’s top majors. In addition, Women’s Studies had one of the highest enrollment rates, per faculty, in the entire university.
(Note: At this point during my remarks, I began to break the 3-minute public comment rule, but I did so on behalf of WIU’s stated values: social justice, diversity, and equity, and our two eliminated majors that best supported these values, Women’s Studies and African American Studies, as well as the diverse group of tenured women teaching these courses whose careers were ended.)
I am not suggesting that we should cut any majors or faculty; rather, I’m saying that the underemployment data suggest that a university focused on vocational majors is a bubble on the verge of bursting. The inoculation against the burst is the Liberal Arts. Someone in a position of power must to speak out about this potential bubble burst.
(The gavel’s rap is silencing me.)
When this administration destroyed faculty careers in our two diversity programs, they forced only women, tenured women, one of us African, to bear this burden. Not one man from our programs was laid off.
(They turned off the microphone and keep rapping the gavel.)
As you compose a new vision for WIU, please remember that the most important place to study WIU’s values of diversity, equity, and social justice is the Women’s Studies and African American Studies classrooms. Plus, we prepare students for good jobs.
Table: Underemployment rates* for recent college graduates: Women’s Studies, African American Studies, LEJA**
Majors in Diversity
(WS and AAS)
|Probability of Underemployment||Top WIU Major||Probability of Underemployment|
|African American Studies***||50%|
|Advantage of WS and AAS over LEJA||
*According to Federal Reserve Bank of New York, updated Feb., 2019.
**National underemployment rate for recent college graduates is 42.9%. For further comparison, the probability of underemployment for majors in business management and agriculture, respectively, is 59.6% and 53.9%.
***Federal Reserve Bank of New York includes WS and AAS under the heading of Ethnic Studies.
Table 2: Underemployment rates* for recent college graduates: WIU Top 5 Majors vs first four eliminated majors, 2016.
|Top 5 Majors on WIU’s Website||Percent Probability of Underemployment||Eliminated Majors in the Liberal Arts||Percent Probability of Underemployment,|
|Psychology||50||Women’s Studies and African American Studies||50|
(Note: first version of this table used data from an earlier report. I have corrected this to reflect 2019 data.)