Cuts at Ithaca College Include Philosophy

Following up on a fall announcement of pending faculty and program cuts, the administration of Ithaca College has released a draft proposal specifying who and what is to be eliminated.

The proposal recommends “116 full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty positions; 26 department, major and program discontinuations; and other program changes,” and the Department of Philosophy and Religion is on the list of affected units.

Fortunately, the department is not slated for elimination, nor are any of its major or minor programs, according to chair Craig Duncan in an email. The department will lose one long-time non-tenure-stream faculty member, though. Professor Duncan writes:

Across the college, i.e. beyond just our department, the proposed cuts have laid bare the hierarchical nature of the academy. No tenure-eligible or tenured faculty are losing their jobs, fortunately, but a great many faculty on non-tenure-stream contracts are losing their jobs (either in May 2021 for those who are now just in their first year at IC; and in May 2022 for others, like our colleague in Philosophy)…

The administrative decision not to eliminate any tenure-stream positions… is understandable, I suppose, but another way of describing this decision is that the administration decided the sole brunt of the cuts will be borne by non-tenure-stream faculty.  This means that not all of the proposed cuts will harmonize with what one might think of as fair criteria for choosing which positions to eliminate… 

In Philosophy, we have a small number of majors and minors but our lower-level and intermediate-level courses consistently fill to capacity, i.e. our courses are very popular. We had hoped that these healthy enrollments would offer us some protection against cuts. But the prioritizing of faculty rank in the administration’s decision meant that enrollment considerations were far from decisive, and accordingly, we are losing our sole non-tenure-stream faculty member…

I can imagine that perhaps some level of faculty downsizing is financially warranted, both in light of the crisis triggered by the pandemic and in light of shrinking college-age youth populations in the U.S. Northeast. But I do worry that the scale of these cuts is an overreaction to these challenges, and may very well do more harm than good, even in the long run.

I asked about how the cuts will affect the department’s offerings. Professor Duncan writes:

As for the implications of these cut for future philosophy offerings: we are already failing to meet student demand for our lower-level and intermediate-level course offerings, and this problem will grow larger when we are a smaller faculty. (We are moving from 7 philosophers to 6.)

This is a concern for us a “discovery” major, since some of the future students who will fail to get into our courses may have turned out to be future majors and minors, had they had the chance to discover an interest in our subject.

In response, I think we will likely have to increase our class sizes at the lower- and intermediate-levels somewhat. Right now at Ithaca College we have the luxury of teaching very small classes (our largest classes are 25 students), so I can’t really complain, but it will mean some change in the character of our classes. As a department, we may also have to offer one less upper-level course each term, say, in order to be able to teach enough lower-level courses to enable students to discover us. We will see.

The proposal has not been officially approved yet, and departments have been invited to respond to it. Final decisions about the cuts are expected in February.

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