Letter to the Editor: WTE bashing unfounded

Andrew Roland

Dear editor:

WTE bashing has become a popular sport lately, among both Washburn’s most vocal critics and grumblers within the Washburn community, so it’s no great surprise to see Brian Allen’s ranting on the subject on your editorial page. Good journalism, however, even on the editorial page, requires at least a minimal attempt at fact-checking, and Allen’s screed shows no evidence that he has bothered researching the facts of the issue before editorializing on the subject.

Is it the case that the WTE requires that you “now get to work beyond your chosen scholarly pursuits,” as Allen suggests? Not at all. Scholarly and creative WTEs fit within academic programs, and thus develop directly out of your scholarly pursuits. International educations WTEs are likely to take place within your field, not outside of it. Community service WTEs is imbedded in programs in which such service connects to practice in the field. Leadership WTEs are integrated into the structure of the program at the Leadership Institute. In all cases, WTEs reinforce the learning with which you are engaged; they do not force you to work outside it.

Does the WTE program “smack of political indoctrination,” as Allen suggests? Utter nonsense. Yes, faculty do have to approve WTE choices. (Does Allen really think they should not do so?) If Allen thinks that significantly limits the range of possible explorations students can make, he’s just not paying attention to the results. Look at presentations of WTE work – many are showcased each year at Apeiron, for example – and notice how richly varied the subjects and methods employed by students are. Ask those students if this felt like “political indoctrination” to them, when they chose their own subjects, did their own scholarly or creative work, and proudly showed off their results.

Does it accurately describe the community service WTE to compare it to “slave labor” at “a university approved work camp,” as Allen writes? The hyperbole is just silly. A wide range of community organizations and international groups have benefited from Washburn students’ work with them. And there is no compulsion here; three other WTE tracks are available as well for those who would rather not do community service.

Is there anything about the WTEs that implies, as Allen suggests, that previous Washburn graduates received a “subpar” education, and are thus “inept and ignorant” in the view of the current administration? Not even close. As then-VPAA Ron Wasserstein, who initiated the program, repeatedly emphasized, the WTE initiative was designed to build on Washburn’s existing strengths. It was intended to emphasize what Washburn was doing right, not to denigrate its programs.

Finally, is there anything in Allen’s piece that even hints at the benefits for students from WTEs? Does he mention the new funding available for international travel, or the money to support scholarly research trips and conference presentations? No, of course not. Facts like those would just get in the way of Allen’s argument.

So sure, let’s have a debate about WTE. But let’s have one that is based on facts, that uses real argument rather than absurd exaggeration, that seriously engages the benefits and flaws of the program rather than using distortion and hyperbole to dispense with real debate.

Thomas Prasch,

Professor, history