Western Illinois As Warning

Inside Higher Ed has an article following up on the recent news of the elimination of the philosophy major at Western Illinois University (WIU). As we previously reported, the committee charged with reviewing programs (APER) did not recommend the closure of the philosophy department. And while Illinois has a reporting requirement for programs with low enrollments at public institutions of higher learning, according to Christopher Pynes, a philosopher at WIU quoted in the IHE article, this reporting requirement is not accompanied by a requirement to cut low-enrollment majors. Additionally, it is unclear that eliminating the philosophy major will save the university much money.

Philosophy programs facing similar pressure should be aware of the kinds of arguments that need to be made to defend themselves. Yes, we can talk about the value of philosophy, both in itself and for its more obviously practical benefits.

I think, too, that there is a project for the American Philosophical Association, or really any philosopher, to explain the value a robust philosophy program has for the mission of any university.

But in addition to that, there will be a need to take a close look at the numbers. From the IHE article:

The argument can be made that the degree programs approved to be cut Friday were generating surpluses, said William Thompson, president of Local 4100 of the University Professionals of Illinois at Western Illinois. Factoring in total credit hour production and using conservative revenue estimates, he calculated the women’s studies program as having a profit of about $240,000 in the 2015 fiscal year. Philosophy and religious studies—which would have been combined under a proposal—would have generated a surplus of more than $350,000, and African-American studies would have posted a small surplus of roughly $6,600.

The article goes on to admit that such numbers are not definitive defenses of the programs. Nonetheless, they are good figures for any department under threat to have. Perhaps there are other kinds of figures that would be useful (suggestions?).  Yes, we can moan and groan about a world in which philosophers have to defend the existence of their program on the grounds of its literal profitability to the university, but that is the world we live in, and it won’t get any more friendly to philosophy if our courses are eliminated because we are afraid of sullying ourselves with the numbers.

Geoff Myers, "Black + White Numbers"

Geoff Myers, “Black + White Numbers”

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