Almost one-quarter of a millennium ago, at the very same time James Watt was inventing the steam engine, the Irish novelist and poet Oliver Goldsmith wrote “The Deserted Village,” a poem despairing the alleged depopulation of rural communities as the Industrial Revolution and urbanization proceeded. A thought occurred: history is repeating itself. We are having increased “depopulation” of some academic villages–universities–as potential scholars flee to other more promising communities of scholars, or to the workplace.
Almost every week there is some manifestation of the academic version of Goldsmith’s story. Recently, Western Illinois University (WIU) announced the layoff of 24 faculty members, some tenured. Another 62 unfilled positions are also being eliminated. This is not the first downsizing at WIU, nor will it probably be the last. In 2013, 11,700 students attended WIU. News reports suggest only 8,000 or so will enroll this fall, a decline of more than 30% in five years.