Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We don't need no education

It seems like we're starting to hear grumblings of various colleges and universities considering whether they should close their philosophy major (most recently at University of Louisiana Layfayette).  This just doesn't make sense to me.  Putting aside how unique our field of study is, UoLL's philosophy department has something like 4 faculty members with 10ish adjunct/associated professors.  Everyone reading this blog knows adjuncts are cheap and those other 4 faculty are giving you an entire department.  For a school with almost 600 standing faculty the philosophy major seems like a lot to sacrifice to free up 4 salaries.  I know that the 'humanities have to justify their worth' but if places are going to start sacking small departments that make up part of the core of humanities for marginal gain, it seems the whole concept of a liberal arts education is under attack.  

Oh, and the board of regents is deciding today.  Maybe we'll all become technical schools and save some money (Note: I like technical schools.  I like community colleges.  I like education of all shapes and sizes.  I just think changing the type of school you are for budgetary reasons is tragic and something we should try to avoid).

-- Second Suitor

update (4/24):
The subcommittee votes to terminate the philosophy major.  The final decision to be made  by the entire board on Thursday.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

These kinds of decisions are pretty sad. I'd guess that Philosophy has fewer majors than others. The real question is how much the philosophy department is contributing to the life of the college? Do they teach general ed classes? Do their courses fill?

Of course, I think every college student should have access to philosophy and the ability to choose a major.

I also think that college politics are quite tricky and treacherous. With that in mind, this could be a warning to other isolated philosophy programs -- if you aren't politically connected, you could be forced to defend your department.

Clearly, this isn't a money move. It's political, it's terrible and it's probably only the first.

Anonymous said...

The "low completer" assessment and other enrollment based evaluations of programs gives a strong incentive to make courses easier. Do regents/administrators want us to dumb down the classes? Maybe we should not assign so many papers, or drop everything beyond propositional logic from reasoning courses, etc. It's not like we get off on grading.

At my university, I have my suspicions that other departments are pandering to students with respect to workload. There's no forum for discussion or communication/harmonization of expectations going on whatsoever. Where is there any dialogue on the perverse incentives being put in place?

Anonymous said...

It is also possible that enrollments and majors are sliding because of poor teaching. Tenure can destroy the faculty member's incentive to improve his/her pedagogical techniques and thereby engage/attract new students. Adjuncts can become disillusioned because the hope of something better (benefits, job security) is extinguished by tenured faculty and administrators. It might not be philosophy generally or the inability of philosophers to justify their discipline that is at fault. Rather, it could be the particular department and its inability to engage/attract new students due to poor teaching resulting from tenure-induced malaise and perpetual-adjunct-status-induced disillusionment. Perhaps we have to ask: Why is this department being closed and other Philosophy departments at other institutions are not? Perhaps with the increasing incidence of department closures, the incentive for innovative and effective teaching will increase.

Anonymous said...

You've spelled "technical" wrong a couple of times.

I frown at that, but agree with your post. The fact that this is over 4 salaries is most blatantly ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Nothing original in my post, but I'm moved to respond. First, I agree with the bad teaching guess - some philosophers really know how to botch an intro to philosophy course. Second, I agree with the requirements guess - at 4 state school departments of which I have immediate knowledge (including mine), the complaint is the same - the kids don't do a damned thing in any other class, and they bitch about having to actually give arguments in philosophy papers.

Sadly, some departments might fail the 'justify yourself' test, but a decent philosophy department never should. Where else do students learn critical thinking? Where else can they engage substantively with the questions of political and moral phil, and issues of personal identity (hint: not in a comparitive literature or critical theory course)? Also, philosophers should make themselves relevant to the university - network with scientists and psychologists, teach applied ethics courses for other departments, etc. Is all the furor over closing philosophy departments a sign that some philosophers really are doing crappy, dispensable work? I know of some who do. but I also know of departments where philosophy would be the last humanities major shut down, and there it's not because administrators are somehow insightful, it's because of the work the philosophers there do.

Anonymous said...

my understanding is that only the philosophy 'major' is under attack, and that the philosophy department would continue to exist and offer service courses. Is this any better?

Anonymous said...

The four lines would remain, but, probably, the department would be regularly unsuccessful in advocating for replacement hires. Also, without a major, demand for courses tends to decline, and so those faculty who remain spend more time teaching intro-level courses, and then it becomes necessary to drop prerequisites for upper-level courses to be able to offer them regularly or at all, which means having to dumb down the upper-level courses.

From the University's perspective, taking away a major that isn't thriving is very cost-effective, even if it is a "cheap" department. Departments that don't graduate majors and don't fill classes are departments that aren't attracting students to the University, and so transferring funds to something that will bring students to the University (rather than to some other college) can feel like a survival strategy.

Of course, things can change, and departments that don't graduate many majors for a spell can become unexpectedly popular. Happening upon a handful of successful--and personable--majors who are active on campus can do as much as a few folks with great reputations as teachers.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this a good thing?

1. If a university is predisposed to close a philosophy dept, it is a steep uphill battle just to bring them back to a neutral or ambivalent position, much less to ask for anything extra, e.g., travel funds, new hires. So put the dept out of its misery and move on.

2. If this affects the prestige or legitimacy of the university, then so be it. Let them make their own choices at their own risk.

3. There's a extreme shortage of jobs and a glut of job candidates in philosophy. Closing underfunded departments is part of the natural selection process to move closer to an equilibrium.

4. This may be the fault of the dept. Perhaps they have not been active in university politics. Perhaps they are not good teachers and cannot retain or attract enough students. Live and learn, folks.

5. Look at it this way: Would you want to create MORE philosophy depts in the world? What effects would that have? Society might be generally better educated, but there might be even mroe job candidates flooding the market. Sure, new jobs would be created, but without some kind of broad campaign to promote the value and relevance of philosophy in today's world, it will still be a lopsided, desperate situation for job seekers.