LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Shepherd is not a ‘diploma mill’

My friend, Joseph Snyder, in his commentary of May 29, is dead wrong about recent changes in Shepherd University’s curriculum. He says academic rigor is “slipping” when in fact it has been strengthened. He notes the reduction in semester hours required for graduation while ignoring other attendant changes, setting up the proverbial straw man which he then tries to knock down. But he, like Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s mighty “Casey at the Bat,” has struck out.

Shepherd has actually increased the number of courses required for graduation by all students, at the expense of electives. It is the proliferation of electives that has “dumbed down” higher education in our country for the last 30 years.

Yes, the total number of hours Shepherd requires has been recently reduced but in many cases those hours (and more) were unnecessary and a distraction from turning out a productive citizenry. Shepherd is a public liberal arts university whose purpose is to send into the work force people with an education broad enough and deep enough to succeed not only right away but over their entire lives. Thus the increase in required courses.

Also, many students have been unable to graduate in four years, resulting in much higher student loan debt. Now, not only will students get a more rigorous education, they’ll get it at less expense.

The reduction in semester weeks from 15 to 14 brings Shepherd in line with much of higher education in our country. Because many other institutions have gone to the shorter semester, Shepherd students have been less competitive for choice internships. Shepherd’s schedule is now the same as that of Swarthmore, Gettysburg, Amherst and many other schools. Remember, while students will be spending three fewer hours total in the classroom, they will still be responsible for the same amount of work.

Snyder says that universities should admit “only students who have demonstrated genuine studiousness” in high school. He needs to take that up with the Legislature. Shepherd is by law (like most other public institutions in all 50 states) essentially open

admission and is legally required to admit almost any West Virginian with a high school diploma. A small number of public colleges and universities are permitted by their state laws to be selective in admission, but most are not.

By the way, I disagree with Snyder’s belief that only those who perform well in high school should be admitted to college. There are enough “late bloomers” to disprove that idea. What about the many returning servicemen and women whose performance in high school was below average but who go to college and blossom?

Snyder should have read the new Shepherd master plan before unleashing his incautious accusation that the school is “perpetually oriented to autos.” As the lawyers like to say, this is an assumption based on facts not in evidence. The new master plan calls for a walkable campus with seriously reduced car traffic.

Shepherd president Suzanne Shipley is, according to Snyder, not “a leader.” How does he know? Leadership is highly subjective. I know from having just completed a year as a consultant to Shepherd that Dr. Shipley is a good listener, evaluates ideas seriously and logically and makes decisions based on the facts presented. That she was able to get Shepherd admitted to the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) is proof enough to me that she’s a successful leader. Only a couple of dozen schools out of several hundred have been able to gain admission to this prestigious grouping.

Finally, Snyder accuses Thomas Jefferson of lying when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” He says Jefferson really thought of most of his fellow Americans as “illiterate, uneducated rabble” whose only usefulness would be to support his revolution.

Jefferson did indeed realize that the bulk of our country was at the time uneducated, which is why he labored mightily to enhance education. He said, “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization it expects what never was and never will be.” This does not sound to me like someone who thinks most people are not capable of being educated, but I did not know Mr. Jefferson personally.

 

John Doyle, Shepherdstown

— John Doyle is a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates

 

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