The Next Generation of Heritage Professionals

Who Will Advocate for Next Generation of Heritage Professionals? A Cautionary Tale for University Preservation Programs.

This is an important issue, addressed by Jeff Guin of Voices of the Past and Northwestern State University of Louisiana, on the Voices of the Past blog. Click to read the well-written, composed, and emotional full post by Jeff. I’ll share pieces of it here. The story begins like this:

Losing a historic structure is a sad thing. Losing generations of folks to expertly protect cultural heritage is much, much worse.

This past week, Louisiana’s Board of Supervisors for higher education rubber-stamped a proposal from Northwestern State University of Louisiana to eliminate the university’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees in heritage resources just as these groundbreaking interdisciplinary programs were hitting their strides. The Master of Arts in Heritage Resources (MAHR) was on track to triple its number of graduates in the next year.

In the article, Jeff explains how the program is self-sustaining and low-cost, and how the program has grown in size and popularity over the past few years, mostly due the tireless efforts of the faculty. The mission of the MAHR program is:

To provide students with opportunities to become highly motivated, knowledgeable, and skillful professionals who, by working with federal and state agencies, historic preservation groups, and property owners as well as others, are able to develop integrated preservation strategies to protect and manage the total range of the country’s heritage.

This program was supported by the community and the students and professionals in the preservation field. Yet, the University chose to cut the MAHR program before others that are not as financially beneficial to the school (see Jeff’s article). Now the faculty and the students are left without a home in the university and the outstanding work of the program is hanging in limbo.  While Jeff obviously has close connections with the MAHR program, his concern reaches far beyond Northwestern State University:

But the fact is that if this could happen to a high-quality, nationally respected and emerging program here, it could indeed happen anywhere. As governments hint at dramatically reducing deficits over the next several years, it’s clear the necessary cuts will be trickling down to the rest of the nation–just as they did in Louisiana–with potentially disastrous consequences for heritage preservation education.

And what a scary thought that is. As we can see from the budget cuts and closing of state parks, heritage is often one of the first resources to suffer. Maybe that’s because the value of heritage can be intangible and remains very subjective in some circles, unlike the importance of medicine and the broad appeal of a business degree. If something like the cuts at Northwestern State can happen anywhere, then I can’t say that there is a solution right now. But it shows the importance of supporting your local heritage programs and the work that we, as a connected field, have before us.

To Jeff: thank you for sharing this important issue with all of us. To those in the MAHR program at Northwestern State: thank you for the work you accomplished.

2 thoughts on “The Next Generation of Heritage Professionals

  1. Janice says:

    As one of the members of the last class of graduates of RPI’s Building Conservation program (cut in 2008), I know what these students are feeling. It is an unfortunate reality that arts and culture suffer during a recession, and yet it is confusing that such a low-cost program would be cut. Best of luck to all those associated with the Heritage Resources program.

  2. Julie H. Ernstein says:

    Thanks for using this forum to address this issue of national concern. As one of the faculty of this program who will be losing her job, I cannot begin to fathom what the long-term consequences for our town and state will be when our faculty and students are no longer there to complete the thousands of service-learning hours, to attend the assorted public meetings, to complete project theses in which they record, document and interpret the tangible and intangible heritage in our region and state, and to join the cadre of preservation and heritage practitioners that staff our museums, historic sites, interpret in our parks, join the ranks of our CRM firms, and assume a host of positions in the heritage industry. We are just one instance of a problem playing out across the nation. The long-term repercussions are staggering and, sadly, those making these decisions either won’t see the error until it is much too late or, worse yet, are so entrenched in a budgetary fight-or-flight reflex that they will simply chalk these irredeemable losses up as unavoidable collateral damage.

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