Prestige or Education?

It was brought to the attention of the students of the School of International Studies that the school was being dismantled, and that all curriculum and school structure would soon become a part of the College of Arts and Sciences. As can be expected, many students and quite a few professors became upset. The general consensus being that the main reason a student chooses to come to the University of Miami over any other university is that UM has a School of International Studies and not an international studies program within a school. For these students, the loss of the prestige of attending a school as opposed to a program is traumatic. Not for me.

They have explained its position on the matter, saying it is in the best interests of the students that this is being done. That within the College of Arts and Sciences, the undergraduate and graduate students will be better served. More funding will be available for scholarships, graduate assistants and research grants needed by professors and graduate students to enhance the learning experience. A bigger school, UM officials have said, means a bigger budget for more teachers, more classes, a wider variety of subjects, etc. This would all be fine if it did not seem to have a more underlying political and personal tone to it.

Some within the school have said the hierarchy within the school itself has been having its own power struggle and the heads of the departments and the current acting Dean of International Studies do not all get along very well. If this is true, then it seems President Shalala has decided to transfer the programs to do away with the disharmony, so the professors and administrators will no longer have to “butt heads” over administrative decisions such as class size, the structure of degree programs, or just plain personality conflicts.

My own feelings on the subject are mixed. I do not see any harm being done to the students other then the fact that they came here, as I said, for the prestige of attending a school instead of a program. In the long run, it has been explained that the diplomas will read the same as they did before. I came here because I wanted to get a masters degree in international studies with a focus on Latin America. I can still achieve that goal. I also seek to find a job dealing in or with Latin America in some way. This goal too seems obtainable still. I see no harm in moving from a school to a program on that account. The “prestige” means nothing if you are penniless, in debt and jobless after you graduate.

On the other hand, I happen to have real world experience and I know that many times, the bigger the bureaucracy, the harder it is to get anything done. I can see students having to compete with a larger number of students for classes, funding, etc. That will not necessarily come any easier to obtain because this other school has more money. Then again, maybe things will be easier and funds and equipment more readily accessible. Stranger things have been known to happen.

The administration is intent on making the change. I say fine, if that is how things must be then I do not see how we students can change it. However, if the university does not wish to see an exodus of students transferring elsewhere and a drop in enrollment in the international studies program, then it had best live up to those claims and promises quickly. The challenge is now made. The gauntlet thrown down. Will the administration respond? Or is this just another excuse used by petty people with narrow minds that are making decisions that will effect the lives of many others? Only time can answer that question.

Kenneth Lewis is a graduate students in the School of International Studies.