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.