Marymount University ready to ax core majors like theology, English to fund more popular programs

A Catholic liberal arts university in northern Virginia is getting ready to cut 10 traditional majors and programs – including theology, religious studies and economics – over a "lack of potential for growth."

Marymount University's plan has sent shockwaves through the campus community, drawing widespread condemnation from students and alumni.

"Cutting portions of the School of Humanities as well as math and art programs would be detrimental to the diversity of our student body," student-government president Ashly Trejo Mejia wrote in a letter to the school’s president. "We fear that removing programs will alter the foundation and identity Marymount University was built on."

The sign for Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. (Google Maps )

The school’s president is backing the controversial plan, which would eliminate bachelor’s degrees in theology and religious studies, philosophy, mathematics, art, history, sociology, English, economics and secondary education. The plan will also eliminate a master’s program in English and humanities.

"Universities that will thrive and prosper in the future are those that innovate and focus on what distinguishes them from their competition," the school stated in an update on the plan this month, which was reviewed by Fox News Digital. 

"Digital disruption, economic conditions, and the explosion of low-cost, online course providers have put pressure on universities to reinvent their institutions in order to compete," the update added. "Students have more choices than ever for where to earn a college degree, and MU must respond wisely to the demand."

President Irma Becerra submitted her plan to the board of trustees Wednesday, according to a document obtained by Fox News Digital. The board is expected to officially make a decision on the cuts Friday. 

Marymount University President Irma Becerra is backing the plan to cut several majors. (Charles Mostoller/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

"Over the long term, it would be irresponsible to sustain majors [and] programs with consistently low enrollment, low graduation rates, and lack of potential for growth," Becerra stated in the update. "Recommendations and decisions on programs marked for elimination are based on clear evidence of student choices and behavior over time."

"True to our mission, all university programs will continue to be grounded in the liberal arts and focused on the education of the whole person," Becerra argued.

Funds that go to the liberal arts programs that are likely to be cut will now be funneled to more popular majors and initiatives.

"Marymount will reallocate resources from those programs to others that better serve our students and reflect their interests," a spokesperson for the school told Fox News Digital on Monday, adding that the elimination of the majors are supported by "definitive research and a Faculty Advisory Committee, the Academic Policy, Budget and Planning (APBP) Committee."

The school said the plan, however, is not "not financially driven," and "will provide the University the opportunity to redeploy resources to better serve students and areas of growth." 

Students have already been alerted to the prospective changes, according to an email sent by the university’s vice provost and obtained by Fox. They were told that those affected by the changes will still be able to finish their required courses to earn their degrees. No other students, however, will be admitted into programs moving forward.

A building on Marymount University's campus in Arlington, Virginia. (Google Maps )

Marymount was founded in 1950 originally as a two-year women’s Catholic school before it expanded to its current university status, with roughly 4,000 enrolled students through its campus located just outside Washington, D.C., in Arlington, Virginia.

Students, staff and alumni are now questioning whether the school can stay true to its roots as a Catholic liberal arts university when degrees in studies such as theology and English are no longer offered. 

"If they want to change the mission, then say that and say what that change is," Ariane Economos, an associate professor of philosophy who serves as director of the School of Humanities and the liberal-arts core curriculum, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "But getting rid of theology and religious studies at a Catholic university, that doesn’t fit with the mission."

Economos told the outlet that the majority of faculty support keeping the programs at the school, saying she wished "our administration would respect the role of faculty governance in determining the curriculum."

A petition on was also formed in support of keeping the majors and has racked up more than 1,000 signatures as of Monday. Alumni feel the elimination of the majors would defy the school’s mission that "emphasizes intellectual curiosity, service to others, and a global perspective," according to the petition. 

The American Historical Association, the U.S.’s oldest professional association of historians, also sent a letter to Becerra last week asking her to reconsider the "short-sighted" plan.

"We urge Marymount University to reconsider this decision, which undermines the university’s commitment to ‘intellectual curiosity, service to others, and a global perspective.’ While the university’s liberal arts core provides one way of addressing this mission, it is essential that students have the opportunity for the deeper study and mastery of a field that comes with majoring in history and an array of humanities programs," the letter states

A philosophy professor at the school, Adam Kovach, added in comment to ARL Now that the "consequences" of the changes "have not been thought through," and that the planned shift in resources is "vague."

"The administration claims program closures will allow the university to shift resources to grow programs with larger enrollments and to create innovative new programs, but this is all vague and aspirational," Kovach told the outlet.

"We have not heard any definite plan for how to grow," Kovach added. "We have not seen evidence these changes will lead to cost savings that could just as well be achieved without closing programs. The strategy appears to be, wreck first and find out what to build later."

Though Marymount provided Fox News Digital with comment on the matter, the school did not answer questions about how much the school expects to save through the cuts or how the reallocated funds would specifically be distributed.

"Marymount University’s mission is unchanged. We will continue to prepare students for in-demand careers by offering them a robust education grounded in the liberal arts," Marymount's spokesperson said. 

"However, Marymount is indeed making changes to better position the University for long-term growth and success. One of those is investing in programs with growth potential, aligned with student demand, to give Marymount a competitive advantage."

Last year, the school saw higher enrollment rates, new sports teams, and even new academic programs, such as an intensive English program that caters "to international students and other individuals for whom English is not a primary language." The school also even considered building a new athletic facility, ARL Now reported.

Among Becerra’s initiatives since becoming the school’s president in 2018 were advocating for Dreamer students - illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as dependents - including launching a scholarship fund back in 2020 that received praise from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. 

She also penned an op-ed for Forbes last year calling for "cognitive diversity" - which is defined as the inclusion of people who think and solve problems differently than others - to be included amid discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion in workplaces.

As the board readies to make its final decision on the plan, student-government president Mejia stressed that alumni "want to be proud of their alma mater."

"Current and future alumni want to be proud of their alma mater and they fear that with this action their success will be hindered by a weakened perception of their MU education from a program that no longer exists," Mejia wrote to Becerra.

Marymount University told FOX 5 that if the changes are made, faculty in affected programs would now support the core curriculum (as courses in those subjects would continue) and other majors, promoting interdisciplinary.

The school says there are 74 students in the 10 programs currently, 22 of whom will graduate in May. The remaining 52 students will be able to complete their chosen degrees without disruption, as Marymount is committed to their successful graduation in their chosen field of study.

FOX News' Emma Colton contributed to this story.