A College without Philosophy? A Philosophy Department without Philosophers? (updated)

A College without Philosophy? A Philosophy Department without Philosophers? (updated)


After program cut upon program cut, at what point does a liberal arts institution cease to be one?

That’s the question in an article at Inside Higher Ed that centers around faculty cuts at Wartburg College in Iowa, a Christian college.

This month, at least three tenure-track faculty members at Wartburg received notices that the college was not recommending them for reappointment. The decision was the result of a process described in the Faculty Handbook, whereby the college dean and a representative faculty body, the Faculty Council, evaluate full-time, non-tenure-track faculty and tenure-track faculty contracts for continued “institutional need.” The college also is proposing not to fill open French, philosophy and theater positions — the only ones on campus, faculty members say… Faculty members say the annual review is typically pro forma. But this year it targeted some of the most beloved faculty members on campus… [including] Jennifer McBride, an assistant professor of religion and the college Board of Regents Endowed Chair in Ethics. The professors were notified their jobs were at risk by being copied on a memo to their respective chairs. A note at the bottom indicated that mental health services were available to them.

Even with Professor McBride, the Wartburg department of religion and philosophy does not appear to have any philosophy PhDs in it. Maybe this is just an unusual point in the department’s history (I don’t know). But if not, it seems strange to call it the department of religion and philosophy. Perhaps the APA should make some noise about “philosophy departments” at BA-granting institutions that lack anyone with a graduate degree in philosophy?

And what should we say about colleges that lack philosophy? As we discussed a few days ago, perhaps the APA should look into putting pressure on such schools. The kind of fundamental questioning that characterizes philosophical study is a crucial part of a college education. Schools which are institutionally incapable of providing the opportunity for such study are lacking something very important.

Wartburg is not alone among Christian colleges in lacking philosophers. Are there secular colleges that are similar in this regard?

UPDATE (10/30/2015): Rider “University” in New Jersey will be shuttering its philosophy program, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

death of no socrates

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