Catholic university students launch after-school protests focusing on majors such as math, English, religious studies

Students at a Catholic liberal arts university in northern Virginia say their concerns have been brushed aside by officials who have banned many majors from the school, from religion to math.

The cuts from Marymount University, outside Washington, DC, have led to protests by outraged students who say the decision has shaken the school’s foundation as a Catholic institution focused on the humanities.

Many fear that the consequences of changing the curriculum will drive away potential students.

“The overall vibe of the Marymount community right now is just dead and it’s very tense,” sophomore policy strategist Ethan Reed told Fox News Digital. “It’s so clear that in every classroom I’m in, there’s a huge elephant in the room.”

Marymount’s board of trustees put the final nail in the coffin for nine graduate degrees and one graduate program on Feb. 24 when it voted unanimously 20-0 in favor of the plan to end the degrees. The school said in a statement to Fox News Digital that “this decision reflects not only the needs of our students, but our responsibility to prepare them for the rewarding, challenging careers of the future.”


Marymount University’s decision to cut nine graduate degrees and one graduate program has sparked protests. (Grace Kapacs)

But Reed said students and staff were only informed last month of the plan, which would cut degrees in theology and religious studies, philosophy, math, art, history, sociology, English, economics and secondary education, as well as a graduate program in English and humanities. Students are still required to study the subjects as part of the school’s core curriculum, but are no longer able to choose such areas of study as majors.

The plan quickly became a “really big issue” on campus, especially for those in the humanities department, and students, alumni and other groups began sending letters to President Irma Becerra urging her to reconsider the plan.

Marymount University President Irma Becerra

Marymount University President Irma Becerra (Getty Images)

“Cutting parts 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 eliminating programs will change the foundation and identity on which Marymount University was built.”


The school, however, has maintained that eliminating the majors will not affect Marymount’s mission as a Catholic liberal arts school.

“Marymount will always be dedicated to the education of the whole person,” the school said in a statement before the vote to end the majors.

“Each of these foundational courses remains part of our core curriculum, which supports our mission and Catholic identity,” the statement added. “All university programs will continue to be grounded in the liberal arts, and Marymount University’s board, president and cabinet remain committed to continually improving the student experience.”

A spokesperson for the school previously told Fox News Digital that Marymount “will reallocate resources from [the eliminated majors] to others that better serve our students and reflect their interests.” The school stressed that the plan was “not financially driven” and would “provide the University with an opportunity to reallocate resources to better serve students and growth areas.”

Students said the school was unclear about where the money from the eliminated programs would actually go. The school did not tell Fox News Digital where the money from the missing classes would be reallocated when asked.

“To grow as a university and maintain our position among the nation’s best, Marymount must continue to innovate and focus on what sets us apart from our competition. We must focus on our greatest strengths—the areas that they have the most growth potential, bring us distinction and recognition, and give Marymount a competitive advantage,” the spokesman said, adding that “it would be irresponsible to maintain programs” with low enrollment and “lack of growth potential.”

Reed, as well as sophomore Grace Capacks, argued that canning core studies not only weakened the school but could also drive away potential—and perhaps even current—students.

“The first thing you do when you go to a school is look at what majors they have,” said Kapacs, a communications major. “And you compare it to the other schools you look at. And you say, ‘Damn, that’s the only one that doesn’t have English, math. Wait, she doesn’t have English or math? Hold This is weird. This is shady. Doesn’t sound like a good institution.”

He calls on Becerra to “review” the decision.

Reed explained that he’s not sure if he wants to stay in school after the announcement.

A building on the campus of Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

A building on the campus of Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. (Google Maps)

“This is only my sophomore year, so I’m here for two more years. I honestly don’t even know if I want to be here anymore because of what’s going on. And the blatant disregard for the students’ concerns, even though we’re the ones who keep the school in operation,” he said.

A spokesperson for Marymount told Fox News Digital on Wednesday that the school “has and will continue to work with our students, and we always want to hear their views.”

“Many informational meetings are actually taking place this week with students, as they will have the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns directly with Marymount administrators, including the president and provost. Last week, a town hall meeting was also held with faculty and staff,” the spokesperson said when asked about the student comments.

The spokesperson added that “the decision was not made in a vacuum” and that “there was community-wide involvement in the proposal approved by the council and it was rooted in data and research.”

Concerns about the changes have mobilized students across the political spectrum. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans rallied ahead of the vote in protest last month, asking the school to reconsider and heed their calls to keep the leaders.


“We’re angry because this is a Catholic school and how could you get rid of a theology major? And others were angry because our schools [were] built on a liberal arts core and it’s in our mission statement,” Kapacs said. “Others were angry because they got a bachelor’s degree in the humanities there and are now doing great things in the world and feel like others are going to miss out.”

Students said many professors are also unhappy with the decision, but have mostly remained silent on the matter beyond face-to-face conversations. Many students told Fox News Digital that they have already heard from some teachers who are considering packing up and leaving school because of the decision.

The protests and anger over the decision boil down to the fact that students just want their concerns to be heard, junior sociology major Jonas Gleiner told Fox News Digital.

“We want not only the students but the teachers just to have their voices heard and to be treated as respectfully as possible and as if they matter as part of the school to the president, not just as a tool to be used,” said Gleiner. .


Gleiner believes the majority of students at the school are unhappy with the decision, but not “unhappy enough to take action to do anything.”

“Our goal now is to try to put pressure on the president to make better choices going forward,” he said.

Kapats, who describes herself as a passionate student activist, said the protests in recent weeks were “to show that we support our school and that we care” and to show the administration exactly who is resisting the move.

Students are protesting Marymount University's completion of nine graduate and one graduate programs.

Students are protesting Marymount University’s completion of nine graduate and one graduate programs. (Grace Kapacs)

Marymount was founded in 1950 originally as a two-year women’s Catholic school before expanding to its current university status with approximately 4,000 enrolled students through its campus located in Arlington, Virginia.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Arlington told Fox News Digital that the bishop was “informed of the university’s decision shortly before the public announcement,” but no one at the school sought his input.

Bishop Michael Burbidge is tasked with ensuring that schools within the diocese stay true to Catholic identity and teaching, but Marymount is an independent Catholic school, so “he has no authority over its governance”. However, the bishop accepts the faculty’s final decision on majors, according to the spokesman.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images/File)

“We understand that, despite not having a theology major or minor, there will still be required theology courses in the curriculum,” the diocese said. “Bishop Burbidge will continue to work with Marymount leadership on issues related to the university’s Catholic identity.”

For now, students said they are focused on making sure Becerra and the administration hear their concerns about any other potential proposals — though they may call for her resignation.


“There are some of the other student leaders who are trying to consider [calling for Becerra’s resignation] now because, at this point, it’s clear that this administration here is not working for the students,” Reid said. “They work for the money. They work exclusively for their colleagues up there. And it’s just sad.”

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