Philosophy at University of Wyoming Threatened

The philosophy program at the University of Wyoming has been targeted for “elimination” by its administration in the face of impending budget cuts. Word of this came in a letter to the editor of the Laramie Boomerang from Renée M. Laegreid, a professor of history at the school (and brought to my attention by Matthew Weiner). Laegreid writes:

Governor Mead announced to the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees last week that in the next biennium, the University block grant will be reduced $41-51 million (depending on how one does the math). According to the Governor, the University budget increased 35 percent since the early 2000s, and now need to contract 8 percent. Where has this budget growth occurred? It occurred throughout the institution, with increased expenditures in administrative positions, athletics, technology, and yes, also in academic programs.

So, why is the administration focusing on eliminating academic programs and faculty positions to cut costs? Latest word is that 100 faculty positions will be permanently cut. Faculty retirements and departures for other jobs will meet some, but not all, of the targeted number. As for program elimination, Sociology, Philosophy and Statistics have been sentenced for elimination in the College of Arts and Sciences; other Colleges are surely finding programs to cut as well.

I contacted Franz-Peter Griesmaier, chair of the Department of Philosophy at Wyoming for further details. He reported that the school’s new president, Laurie Nichols, had just held a “townhall meeting” with members of the university community, and that in its wake the Department of Philosophy is issuing the following statement (emphasis added):

Franz-Peter Griesmaier, head of the department of philosophy, was informed, on May 13, 2016, by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Paula Lutz, that if a worst case scenario (WCS) comes to pass, the philosophy department will be eliminated and all faculty in the department, including all tenured faculty, will be terminated by June 30, 2018. According to Dean Lutz, all deans were tasked to prepare for a WCS by outlining in detail how their respective colleges will respond to the budget reductions to UW ordered by the Governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead. It is our understanding that such a WCS entails that university cannot respond to budget reductions by any means other than cuts to programs and personnel. Dean Lutz assured Griesmaier that she, together with the other deans and the new President of UW, Laurie Nichols, will work to make other response options available, which might include the following: furloughs, program mergers, tuition and fee increases, early retirement incentives, and reductions in temporary faculty. However, if none of these options become available or are sufficient to absorb the 12% cut to the university budget, Dean Lutz will propose vertical cuts in the College of Arts and Sciences which include the elimination of the philosophy department (along with statistics and sociology). At this point, we have no information about how other college deans propose to meet the budget goals and to respond to the budget reductions.

We intend to work intensively for the survival of philosophy at the university using both quantitative (e.g., research productivity, credit hour generation, and number of majors) and qualitative (e.g., centrality of philosophy to the nature of a credible university, role of philosophy in collaborative ventures at UW, and success of our graduates in the world).  However, we will need help from throughout campus, around the state, and across the nation.  

The new president also outlined strategies for responding to the reductions that she will pursue. First, they are working on early retirement incentives. Second, they are working to pass a tuition and fee increase.

Afterwards, Professor Griesmaier was briefly interviewed by Wyoming Public Radio and asked, among other things, about the morale in the department. It is low, he said, and stated that members of the department are surprised that philosophy is on the list, for basically two reasons. First, no official program review of our undergraduate major has been initiated, as is required when reviewing programs for possible elimination (only our MA program is currently under review). Second, philosophy is perceived by the university itself as central to the core its mission, which is reflected in the opening paragraphs of the establishment document from 1886 (so-called Title 21). Here is the relevant passage:

“21-17-101.  Establishment. There is established in this state, at the city of Laramie, an institution of learning to be known as “The University of Wyoming”.
21-17-102.  Objects; departments. 
(a)  The objects of the university are to provide an efficient means of imparting to men and women, without regard to color, on equal terms, a liberal education, together with a thorough knowledge of the various branches connected with the scientific, industrial and professional pursuits.  To this end it shall embrace colleges or departments of letters, of science and of the arts together with such professional or other departments as in course of time may be connected therewith.  The department of letters shall embrace a liberal course of instruction in language, literature and philosophy, together with such courses or parts of courses in the college or department of science as are deemed necessary.
(b)  The college, or department of science, shall embrace courses of instruction in the mathematical, physical and natural sciences, together with such courses in language, literature and philosophy as shall constitute a liberal education.”

Finally, the financial context. WY has about 18 billion dollars in the so-called permanent mineral trust fund, and about 1.8 billion dollars in the rainy day fund. To this date, the legislature has not authorized the use of any monies from the rainy day fund. Moreover, the university is still moving ahead with purchasing a new accounting system at a cost of about 20 million dollars. and additions to our athletic facilities, which also purportedly cost about 20 million dollars.

I’ve asked Professor Griesmaier to keep us apprised of any new developments in the situation.

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