Philosophy at Illinois Wesleyan Threatened – Updated With Link to Petition


The Board of Trustees at Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) has proposed eliminating the school’s Philosophy Department, along with some other departments.

The proposal would discontinue the philosophy major and minor at the school and would likely involve the termination of all four philosophy faculty members—all of whom have tenure, and all of whom received unexpected “pre-termination” notices earlier this month.

According to a story at the local NPR affiliate, WGLT, the pre-termination letters were sent to 21 other faculty in Anthropology, Religion, Sociology, the School of Music, and French and Italian, which, with the four from philosophy, is “about 21% of IWU’s faculty.”

The reason the Board of Trustees is threatening philosophy is not known. Following a recent review of academic programs at the university, neither the faculty nor the administration recommended ending the philosophy program and firing its faculty. The reasoning is not financial exigency, either, as the school has an endowment of over $200 million.

The Board of Trustees gave the threatened departments a month to respond, and are scheduled to vote at a July 16 meeting on whether to close the Philosophy Department. But “potentially affected faculty told WGLT recently they still don’t know what they are supposed to respond to.”

In the WGLT story, IWU English professor Michael Theune is quoted as saying about the process:

It does become a bit alarming when you have a board making what feels like a unilateral decision. That’s scary because it’s not quite clear what shared governance means… The initial decision that a program be discontinued should first come from the faculty. I think we would generally view any action taken unilaterally by an administration or a board to elect to discontinue a program that hasn’t been recommended for discontinuation by the faculty as suspect under [AAUP] principles.


He adds, “I can’t imagine a liberal arts school without philosophers in it.”

UPDATE (7/1/2020): Aaron Garrett (Boston University) has created a petition objecting to the IWU Board of Trustees plan to shutter the university’s Philosophy Department, eliminate its philosophy major and minor programs, and possibly terminate four tenured philosophy faculty, noting that “the procedure by which this decision seems to be being made appears highly arbitrary and irregular”:

We the undersigned strongly request that the IWU administration reconsider this serious mistake, a mistake which will have great consequences for the reputation and mission of what until now has been a model SLAC. IWU states that its “primary focus in opening students’ minds.” The Philosophy Department is nationally recognized for its excellence and has played a central part in realizing this goal. This action by the Administration directly undermines this goal. By getting rid of the Philosophy Department IWU will be a liberal arts college no more.

You can read and sign the petition here.

You can also send letters directly to the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Tim Szerlong, at [email protected] and the President of IWU, S. Georgia Nugent at [email protected].


 

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Lynne Tirrell
Lynne Tirrell
1 year ago

The AAUP has issued a statement calling for greater commitment to shared governance in these times, not less. I hope that if this comes to pass, the school will be censured for violating the rights of faculty, and violating shared governance. https://www.aaup.org/report/statement-government-colleges-and-universities?link_id=2&can_id=2fd4b1ec2311c7a0874082757d1d8609&Report

Filip
Filip
1 year ago

As a philosophy major I have faced a lot of hostility against humanities (something philosophy gets grouped together with, for better or worse). While I understand that criticism against humanities are warranted it’s disheartening to hear that people regard the knowledge gained from these endeavors as worthless. Perhaps the board is reasoning in the same way?Report

Adam Omelianchuk
1 year ago

I am very sad to hear about IWU. Professor Engan is a friend of mine from high school, and he has been a kind of intellectual midwife for me in the sense that we semi-regularly got together to debate abortion, Plantinga’s religious epistemology, the problem of evil, and the ethics of punishment long before I ever went to grad school. Never in my life have I met someone so open minded and helpful in processing my thoughts. If his position is eliminated, IWU will suffer a great loss.Report

Kristina Gehrman
Kristina Gehrman
Reply to  Adam Omelianchuk
1 year ago

Hear, hear Adam! Andy Engen is a frind of mine from graduate school and you put your finger on exactly what is so wonderful about him as a philosopher and as a professor. What a short-sighted and ignorant maneuver on the part of IWU’s board. Report

Victor Salkowitz
Victor Salkowitz
1 year ago

A referendum to end critical thinking at the service of….?Report

Natalie Alexander
Natalie Alexander
1 year ago

Dear IWU: I teach at a state school in a neighboring state; one of my sons is an alumnus of your school. I hope you do not “delete” philosophy. Philosophy education promotes thinking on deeper rather than shallower levels, it inculcates thinking about values in important ways, it promotes reflection about learning processes, and it opens learners and teachers to wider ways of thinking–what employers keep looking for–thinking outside the box.
NatalieReport

Carl Gillett
Carl Gillett
1 year ago

I worked at IWU for ten years in the Philosophy Department and I am very surprised at this news on a number of levels.

Previously, and I believe until quite recently, IWU had extremely strong faculty governance where the Board of Trustees relied upon, and trusted, its faculty on academic matters. Reading the news reports, it appears that this long standing, collegial and highly successful governance structure has recently broken down — these proposals for radical academic changes did not come from the faculty, have not been approved by the faculty, nor has any apparent academic rationale been provided for them. I am curious to see whether the wider board of trustees is supportive of this radical change to IWU’s long standing, collegial and successful practices of governance. I am hopeful that the trustees will resist these reckless changes to IWU’s governance and to the very fabric of the institution.

The second thing to say is that, for more than a century, IWU has been a respected liberal arts college in the midwest. The proposed changes destroy that liberal arts college. The annihilation of a such an important institution, which has such an amazing track record of success, with so many outstanding alumni, beggars belief. Again, I am curious to see whether the wider board of trustees is supportive of this reckless, and so far as I can see unwarranted, destruction of an amazing institution. I am hopeful the broader body of trustees will resist gutting the wonderful college so many of us value and respect.Report

Ram Neta
Ram Neta
Reply to  Carl Gillett
1 year ago

Can philosophers collectively contact the Board at IWU? Might it do some good?Report

Carl Gillett
Carl Gillett
Reply to  Ram Neta
1 year ago

I think IWU faculty member might be better situated to answer that. But I think emails to wider Board members raising concerns about targeting such high quality programs (and I know the other departments, as well as philosophy, have tremendous teachers and scholars) with no articulated rationale can only help. This is just not the kind of behavior that has ever characterized IWU.Report

Carl Gillett
Carl Gillett
Reply to  Ram Neta
1 year ago

So it appears emailling the Board members would be a good idea. I intend to do that myself in the next week along the lines of the message above and the recent petition. I hope the wider Board, which is quite large (a lot bigger than the Board of Officers), does not support gutting the institution they know and support.Report

Bailey
Bailey
1 year ago

This is not only morally reprehensible but it is also absolutely asinine and implies that knowledge is only worth pursuing if there is a dollar attached. I cannot comprehend calling IWU a liberal arts school without the liberal arts. Pretty soon the only degrees offered at any university will be marketing, biology, and computer science.Report

Valentino
1 year ago

It is not only regrettable but also dangerous. A college in which a career is removed brings problems for the future of the college, and also a career with a history so remarkable like philosophy.
But it is not new, liberal arts are seen like useless, or even dangerous for some people and therefore they must be removed from college. This is a fine issue. Report

Frederick Bainbridge
Frederick Bainbridge
1 year ago

Bravo, Board of Trustees! It’s a good start, but don’t lose momentum now. Next let’s abolish those pesky disciplines of music, visual arts and literature! As a matter of fact, why not consider repurposing MOMA and the Louvre as high rise office buildings?Report

Carl Gillett
Carl Gillett
Reply to  Frederick Bainbridge
1 year ago

They are indeed proposing to shut down the School of music and the art department at IWU… the English department is not on the block apparently.Report

Justin Skirry
Justin Skirry
1 year ago

As a philosophy professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, I can attest to the value of philosophy courses to the central role of philosophy to the curriculum at a Methodist liberal arts college. To remove philosophy from that curriculum would be a grave injustice to both students and to the institution. Report

J.S. Oepping
J.S. Oepping
1 year ago

I am a non-professional working in health care. Even as a non-academic, I feel that all philosophy, but at the very least logic and ethics, should be not only valued, but required in all places of higher learning. I don’t think that a college or university lacking philosophers should be trusted to properly educate students. I think it is a disgrace to even consider the elimination of Philosophy.Report