51 Years Teaching Philosophy Is Not Good Enough, says Accreditor
Professor Katherine Butler has taught philosophy at Wayne State College (WSC) in Wayne, Nebraska, for 51 years. It doesn’t look like she’ll be doing it again, though. It’s not that she is retiring. Rather, Higher Learning Commission, the accrediting agency that evaluates the school, has issued new guidelines that disqualify her from teaching philosophy.The new guidelines require faculty to have an advanced degree in the specific field in which they teach, or be qualified as exempt owing to test results or “equivalent experience.” Professor Butler’s PhD, which she earned at Bryn Mawr over 50 years ago, is in English, and her decades of teaching don’t count as the qualifying experience. According to The Wayne Stater,
equivalent experience means that the faculty member has 18 credit hours of graduate coursework in their desired field. Butler believes she has met those qualifications, but since she has been a graduate for over 50 years, confirming that is difficult.
Butler believes she meets this criteria because much of her graduate coursework contained philosophical material. However, obtaining proof of this is difficult. She says, “I can’t reach out to my old professors for confirmation, because they are all dead.”
To add insult to injury, Butler was the founder of the school’s philosophy department.
By her count, Butler has taught 19 current faculty members and taught 246 philosophy sections, and she said that she was teaching ethics courses at WSC before there were ethics textbooks. “When I got here, we had no library for philosophy, only yearbooks of the Anti-Saloon league,” Butler said. “I made up a list of 147 texts to buy, and still have that list to this day.”
Butler, along with philosopher Andrew Alexander, who has taught an Ethics and Values course at WSC for 24 years, are being transferred to the Language and Literature Department to teach English.
“I think it’s a shame that over 50 years of experience teaching philosophy doesn’t count in the HLC’s eyes,” Butler said. “I would like to talk to one of these people in the commission, because I don’t think this is what they intended.”
Further details here.
UPDATE: See the helpful clarification from Wayne State College’s Rodney Cupp in the comments below.
UPDATE (5/2/17): Inside Higher Ed picks up the story.
this is fucking bullshit.
my reaction is not my assessment here, but the assessment of this professor’s qualification arises from a specific epistemology about what knowledge can be inferred from university degrees. we really do need to move toward alternate ways of verifying knowledge besides degrees from universities. use independent certifications, whatever it takes — because the epistemology of college degrees, of PhDs, and what you can infer someone knows from them is becoming increasingly insular in what it deems acceptable and absurd situations like this are results of that.Report
Right on!! I have often remarked that such bureaucratic qualification would exclude John Stuart Mill, Aristotle, Plato and many others from teaching philosophy. More of the b.s. coming from administrators and agencies who may never have taught a course in their lives!Report
Can one teach philosophy (unless one is a hack) without eventually achieving mastery of the subject? Being a hack for even one year would be good enough to get one drummed out of academia.
To be sure, one might be an expert on Descartes and find postmodernist philosophy too incoherent to teach; in that sense, an expert on aerodynamics of aircraft fuselages might be incompetent at designing engines for aircraft. But specialists in fuselage design and engine design generally know the boundaries of their knowledge and respect the expertise of their counterparts.Report
I am afraid that the sort of official who makes such decisions is immune to intellectual shame. Here is another example:
This could win an award for administrative absurdity.Report
If the accrediting agency were not merely applying standards mechanically, it would form a committee of “bona fide” philosophers to evaluate Professor Butler’s courses to determine whether they measure up. Since they did not do that, it would seem that they are not really interested in accreditation, but in something else. I am unable to determine what that is.
Charles H NadlerReport
Excellent idea! But now that we have a whole class of bureaucrats and such who have majored in “education administration” without ever having to teach, let alone teach philosophy, we are seeing the absurd results such as this!!! I blame schools of education for this state of affairs.Report
We should keep cases like this in mind when evaluating claims about the superiority of algorithmic methods to the biases of human decision making in evaluating faculty. http://dailynous.com/2017/04/11/stop-interviewing-job-candidates/#comment-107281Report
Derek: this has nothing to do with algorithms. Algorithms are developed to measure and predict actual productivity, not competely arbitrary credential information standards like these that have nothing to do with productivity.Report
Marcus: I’m sure it has nothing to do with the particular applications of algorithms in the empirical literature you’ve referenced. But it has everything to do with giving priority to the mechanical application of objectively measurable criteria over the exercise of human judgment.
Do you really think proof of graduate-level training in the subject area is a “completely arbitrary” credential with respect to one’s ability to teach accredited college classes in that area? That it’s not a relevant standard to apply in this case doesn’t mean it’s not a good standard for the main run of cases. The problem is that you need to exercise human judgment to determine that this is indeed an exception to the standard cases around which the rules are built.Report
There is not a single IO psychologist on the face of the earth who would favor a mechanical mechanism of the sort described here (letting someone go simply because they do not have “the proper degree”).
Do not confuse good science with bad administrative policy based on no science at all.Report
This post is not entirely accurate. My name is Rodney Cupp, and I am the chair of the department of Language and Literature at Wayne State College, which offers courses in English, French, German, Philosophy, and Spanish. There is no philosophy department at WSC, and no one is being transferred to a different department. To comply with the HLC’s guidelines, Professors Alexander and Butler, who have graduate degrees in English, will no longer teach philosophy courses. Professor Zavada and I will no longer teach English courses, since our graduate degrees are in philosophy.Report
Thanks for the clarification. The article in The Wayne Stater gave the impression that the faculty involved were unhappy with this development. Could you say a bit about that, or about how faculty’s concerns were taken into account in this process?Report
The Higher Learning Commission is responsible for this policy, and we feel that we have no choice but to comply. I do not know if the HLC considered the concerns of faculty. The four of us who teach philosophy at WSC are not happy with the new policy, but as I tried to indicate to the reporter, Mason Schweizer, I appreciate the HLC’s desire to ensure that instructors are qualified. I worry that other departments may be teaching courses that ought to be taught by philosophers.Report
Who did the HLC work with in the administration? Just curious. And why the faculty wasn’t involved? This sounds really odd. Not that people should not meet some sort of common-sense standards, but it sounds like the faculty was blindsided by this and were given no opportunity to work with the new standards in advance.Report
I wouldn’t say that we were blindsided. We learned that this was coming sometime in the fall of 2015. But in order for us to teach in a different field, we would have to complete 18 graduate hours in that field. I don’t think a year and a half is enough time for a full-time faculty member to complete those hours.Report
Question: Can Wayne State College grant by fiat the two professors who have been teaching philosophy with an English department a degree in philosophy, and vice versa, in recognition of their work? Even if there are some requirements to run around, since ultimately it is the university’s responsibility to decide how those requirements are met, I feel like there has got to be a runaround here in the college wanted to fight for these professor.Report
Rodney’s comment provides a helpful clarification (Hi, Rodney!) but I’m still troubled by the policy (which I guess is still in effect). I think the policy means that the school wouldn’t let Kripke teach logic courses. Aren’t the administrators worried about chasing away the homegrown talent?Report
Hi, Clayton! The policy will be effective starting September 1st of this year. See Assumed Practice B.2.a. on page 3 of the document at http://download.hlcommission.org/FacultyGuidelines_2016_OPB.pdf. It reads in part:
Instructors (excluding for this requirement teaching assistants enrolled in a graduate program and supervised by faculty) possess an academic degree relevant to what they are teaching and at least one level above the level at which they teach, except in programs for terminal degrees or when equivalent experience is established. … If a faculty member holds a master’s degree or higher in a discipline or subfield other than that in which he or she is teaching, that faculty member should have completed a minimum of 18 graduate credit hours in the discipline or subfield in which they teach.
So I guess you’re right about Kripke.Report
one has to imagine that Kripke’s publications in peer-reviewed journals in logic would qualify as equivalent experience. also, you haven’t told us much about how the university is implementing this policy, who evaluates claims of equivalent experience, how appeals will be handled, and so on.
I appreciate your contribution to the story and feel that once again, social media and blogs have whipped up the consequences much beyond what the story itself justifies. in general, accreditors making sure professors are qualified in their fields is surely a good and not a bad thing.Report
I believe that our Vice President for Academic Affairs is responsible for interpreting and implementing these guidelines.Report
In my experience at NYU and UNL, the Higher Learning Commission takes for ages to develop these policies and in concert with the institutions who know what is coming down the pike. What seems strange to me was that the Wayne State administration didn’t see this coming some time ago and work with the faculty (or department) to see how they might work with the policies. It sounds like the faculty weren’t in on it, but college/university is always in the loop. The HLC is catching all the flack (and there’s a lot to go around) but the Wayne State provost or whoever is in charge has a heck of a lot of explaining to do too.Report
Rodney Cupp answers you in replies posted above.Report
I am glad that these rules haven’t been applied to me, for my expertise is in the area of logic, and I routinely teach courses in three different departments: mathematics, philosophy and computer science. But I have only one PhD (mathematics, UC Berkeley 1994). As a visiting professor in the NYU philosophy department, for example, I have taught graduate philosophy seminars in logic and in the philosophy of set theory, as well as undergraduate courses in logic. At the CUNY Graduate Center, I teach graduate courses in the mathematics program, the philosophy program, and the computer science program.
I believe that my mathematics training is specifically helpful for teaching logic to philosophers, and also to computer scientists (as well as to mathematicians).
For this reason, I find the policy to be severely misguided. It underestimates the extent of subjects, such as logic, which overlap and inter-relate several academic displines.Report
This is an issue at my current issue (though not in philosophy). The problem would be solved if a department granted her an MA in Philosophy.Report
I also worry about how this would be applied in emerging fields like Women’s Studies. Back when I was doing my doctoral work in Philosophy there were emerging Women’s Studies departments in many colleges and universities. The faculty who taught in them were all from other disciplines at first: English, Biology, Philosophy, Law, Political Science, History, Medicine, Sociology, and many others, and there were undergraduate programs that offered Women’s Studies certificates, then Women’s Studies undergraduate degrees, for years before the first Women’s Studies graduate courses (let alone degrees) were even offered. How could such a new field emerge today if one could not teach Women’s Studies courses unless one had a Women’s Studies doctorate.?
Or if Women’s Studies is too controversial an example, what about Computer Science? Before there were Computer Science graduate programs, undergraduate courses in Computer Science were being taught by math and engineering professors. Emerging disciplines are always taught first by people teaching something in which they don’t have a graduate degree. You need graduate programs to exist in order to produce academics with graduate degrees in a field, and those graduate programs don’t descend from the heavens fully formed. They are built by academics teaching “outside” of their primary areas of expertise.Report
From a Human Resources perspective this is an interesting case. One thing that is overlooked is that accreditors often don’t abide by their own rules. For instance, I have evidence that Middle States colluded with Harrisburg Area Community College to cover up a cheating case, since the type of cheating (ghosting in an online course) is so ubiquitous that enforcement of the precedent they would have created would have been difficult, if not impossible. You would think that the accreditor would relent under these circumstances too, either making an exception to the rule (experience can substitute for the degree), violating the rule or permitting the institution to grant her a degree based on her experience. On the other hand, the problem with not mandating a minimum degree (e.g. a MA in a discipline to teach courses in that discipline, as is the case at most community colleges) is that it opens the door for cronyism. Small colleges often do this in areas with restricted job markets, where the pool of qualified candidates is sparse and the hassle of running a national search they feel isn’t worth it. They hire their friends and colleagues in other departments to teach courses for which they lack qualifications. Someone out there has the qualifications and needs the job, but they’ll never get the opportunity. When I was teaching philosophy and political science at Western State College (now Western Colorado State University), I had the minimum qualifications to teach in both disciplines (MAs in philosophy and political science). However, when admin offered me teaching in sociology, I declined because I didn’t want to take a job from someone with the minimum qualification: a MA in sociology. I could have used the extra income. I had some sociological theory content in my dissertation. But I thought it was plain wrong to deny someone else who was truly qualified the opportunity to teach those courses.Report