Save Philosophy at Bloomsburg


“In its desperate need to scapegoat something other than its own misadventures overbuilding, over-spending on everything but education… BU finds itself unable to fulfill its central mission: educational opportunity across that wide swath of disciplines that define a university.”

That’s Wendy Lee, professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, in a letter to Bloomsburg Provost Diana Rogers-Adkinson, published at BUNowabout the decision to eliminate majors in philosophy, physics, anthropology, and German, made by the Chancellor of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Daniel Greenstein and executed by Rogers-Adkinson and other administrators at Bloomsburg. The cuts follow a move by PASSHE last year to combine Bloomsburg with Lock Haven University and Mansfield University.

In a public Facebook update last Friday, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Bloomsburg, Steven Hales, wrote about the decision to end the philosophy major:

The Bloomsburg philosophy major is no more. The Provost wrote a phone meeting to my calendar yesterday from 1:25-1:40, with instructions for me to call her. I call. She is clearly driving with me on speaker phone. The final program array for the new integrated university is being sent to the Chancellor today. Upon his orders, all “low-enrolled” majors are cancelled. I was not told what the threshold is to not count as low-enrolled, whether that number is the most recent year only or an average over several years, or what. Nor does the total number of students taught per faculty member in philosophy matter. Only majors. We’re allowed (for now) to keep the minor, and no retrenchments are planned. She did make it clear, however, that we will have an opportunity to re-apply for the major after integration, once we write a big document with various strategies for increasing our numbers to viability and submit it through the regular curricular processes. She must have said the word “opportunity” 20 times.

My takeaways include these. (1) Neither I nor my department deserve the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting, despite the fact that we have collectively taught here for 82 years and have more skin in the game than all the administration combined. Just a 15-minute perfunctory call from the car. (2) Shared governance is not even a fig leaf; there was no warning, no seat for us at the decision-making table, no discussion of things we could do to save the major. (3) Calling this an “opportunity” is beyond insulting. Like someone punching you in the face and telling you this is an opportunity for you to practice your ducking skills. Why don’t you just try to duck better?…
I told the Provost that she is destroying the university in order to save it. Of course my words meant nothing. I have no doubt that she has already been working on her exit strategy. She interpreted me as merely being angry. That doesn’t quite say it though. Disrespected, undervalued, and demoralized are much closer.

Yesterday, Professor Hales posted an open letter calling for a reversal of the decision to end the philosophy major. Those who agree can add their name to the signatories.

Dear Chancellor Greenstein,

In your speech of 5 November 2021, you said that “Students want breadth. They want to have a lot of choice for their majors and they should. Just as important, communities need them to have choice. Because we’re public. Because we owe ourselves to the state and to the students, the question is how do we provide people with the breadth of program choices they need.” The very next week you issued a directive to close “low-enrolled” majors. Here at Bloomsburg University, we have shuttered the Philosophy, Physics, Anthropology, and German majors. There was no discussion with affected parties, no seat at the decision-making table, no shared governance, no data offered or targets to meet, not even commiseration, just the hammer from above.

As philosophy faculty, students, alumni, and supporters of a broad-based liberal arts education, we implore you to reverse this decision and make a commitment to the continuance of the philosophy major at Bloomsburg and throughout the State System of Higher Education. Authentic higher education is not just worker training for businesses. Philosophy has been the central discipline of universities since Plato’s Academy. We invented logic, systematic ethics, and the natural sciences—philosophy is not some ephemeral, boutique area of study but the heart of the university. Young Pennsylvanians deserve the chance to improve their lives through the study of philosophy, and not just if they are privileged enough to go to U. Penn or Swarthmore.

We are not requesting an “opportunity” to re-apply for the major, which would no doubt involve promising unattainable deliverables to meet arbitrary benchmarks. It does not matter how many students major in philosophy; we will never attract as many as fields that are the names of jobs. What matters is that students have the choice that you promised on November 5th. What matters is that Bloomsburg University retain the philosophy major as our students deserve. We request that you guarantee its continuance.

You can view and sign the letter here.

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Steven Hales
10 days ago

Thank you for posting this. If anyone wants to send a paper letter of support, here are some addresses: Chancellor Daniel Greenstein, 2986 N. 2nd Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-1201. President Bashar Hanna, 400 E. 2nd Street, Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA 17815. Provost Diana Rogers-Atkinson, 400 E. 2nd Street, Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA 17815.Report

Andrew Mills
10 days ago

My heart breaks for Bloomsburg, as it does for so many other universities (including mine) where philosophy departments have been shuttered, majors and minors eliminated, or under dire threat. This is a problem that affects all of us and it demands a collective response from the discipline. I don’t know exactly what that response should be (I have a few ideas) but I do want to comment on the image that is featured in this post. The implication of the image is that an institution without a philosophy department or major isn’t a real “University”. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but that response, while it may be satisfying to us, achieves nothing. “A bunch of philosophers don’t think we’re a real University?” say the administrators. “OK. Whatever. Who cares what they think.” And they then go on with their cuts. Our scorn helps no students, and saves no jobs. We need to articulate much more clearly and powerfully why cutting philosophy is bad. The remarks by the folks at Bloomsburg are good work in that direction. As is work by the APA and other readers of this blog.

If we cannot articulate our value–to students, legislators, parents, administrators, fellow faculty–then we are finished. All we will have left are our scare quotes.Report

John
Reply to  Andrew Mills
10 days ago

I speak just for myself here, but I sincerely struggle to mount a defense of the social value of a philosophy education.

I find these defenses either a) redound to my personal tastes, as I just happen to really enjoy the intellectual stimulation of doing philosophy, or b) ground out in empirically dubitable claims, like that philosophy and the humanities more generally improve critical thinking skills (Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’ is a good resource here. I am not sure I find his arguments airtight, but he presents a battery of evidence that a university education does not obviously {clearly; undoubtedly; etc.} result in cognitive improvement.)

I suspect most of us in philosophy are on the (a) branch of that challenge. I also suspect that when most of us are insisting philosophy is socially useful, we’re really insisting that we’d like to keep our jobs, because we know we’re being paid to do something that is a luxury. Sure, we luckily do find some students who themselves find philosophy /personally/ useful–e.g., because they enjoy it.

But /socially/ useful? I’m not so sure. Genuine critical thinkers tend not to make it far in this world because they’re boat-rockers.

PS: as for ‘inventing systematic ethics’–after 15 years of studying metaethics, I’d love to know where to find the systematicity about whether I ought to phi.Report

Caio Cezar
Caio Cezar
Reply to  John
10 days ago

I agree with you but would go even far: philosophy can be socially useful, but it does not need to. In some areas, it’s a highly speculative discipline concerned in understanding things most people would even bother to argue about. On the other hand, as we discuss whether or not philosophy is socially useful, we are formulating philosophical theses about philosophical knowledge. Not only that, if you look on many areas, the deepest researches they do also do not necessarily are socially useful, being Physics one of the best examples. While I understand in part the decision of a University to cancel a Philosophy Program, I also believe that people tend to be biased towards Philosophy even though other areas have a similar reality but for some reason they don’t receive the same treatment than us.Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  John
10 days ago

What did you think about the original statement that what is important is that students are given options for what to major in? If anything, this seems like the strongest argument to me for including a philosophy major at a university. Given the fact that philosophy has been and still is an integral part of how our intellectual society has worked over the past millennia, students should be given the option to pursue a philosophy major. (And that this pursuit shouldn’t be limited to just the prestigious universities.)

I also don’t see why the satisfaction of personal tastes is insufficient for something to be socially valuable. If people find studying philosophy to be valuable, then it’s socially valuable at the very least because people’s lives are enriched. Add on to this that there’s community that is built around philosophy, and so on. There’s a pretty robust defense of the social value of philosophy right there. It might not be as big an impact on society as other endeavors, but to say it doesn’t exist is overstating the case.Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  Ian
10 days ago

Well, it costs money to pay faculty. And that money could be paying faculty to teach X, instead of Y. So it’s not as much that there’s a problem with student choice, so much as that empowering those choices has costs, and funding those choices means less funding for other choices.Report

CarlD
Reply to  Ian
8 days ago

To your question Ian the choice argument isn’t very strong, because students have had that option, and by the numbers have not opted it. You don’t tie up shelf space with aging jars of pickled herring in the name of choice if no one is actually interested in the pickled herring.

The rest of the letter is fairly weak too, in that the precarity of that whole system has been well known for decades and the “opportunity” to drum up majors is not newly offered, or evident. It’s a wicked problem.Report

Guy
Guy
10 days ago

I have an orthogonal question not about Bloomsburg directly. But suppose there were a phil department at a school that in the course of, say, 4 years lost its major due to low numbers of majors, but also in that 4 years managed to convince a lot of other program leads/department heads that studying phil is really important for students and thus managed to get a lot of phil courses listed as requirements on other degree plans thereby doubling class enrollment compared to 4 years ago. Is that still somehow a net loss for that philosophy department? (I get that there are Bloomsburg specific replies–we promised broad choices but then took them away; that’s not really what I’m aiming at.)Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Guy
10 days ago

You mean other than the fact that there will be four years of students who cannot pursue philosophy as a major?Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Ian
9 days ago

I’m imagining a situation where majors who remain are allowed to finish out their program, but the program doesn’t allow any new majors. That’s at least how major/program cancellations have been handled at my institution.Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Ian
9 days ago

I can see I missed your point the first time. This is why I asked the question with the term “net loss.” Does the mere fact that there will be no new phil majors during those four years outweigh the fact that a significantly higher number of students are getting philosophical training overall? Honestly asking. As I told Michel below, I’m a CC prof (and de facto department chair since I’m the only phil prof here), so that probably skews me here. But I’m curious about this.Report

Michel
Reply to  Guy
10 days ago

One loss might be upper-division courses (which tend to struggle more for enrollments to begin with). It’s great to have lots of students, but when everyone in the department is just teaching 4-8 sections of intro ethics and critical thinking every year, well… it’s not super-stimulating. It also ends up significantly limiting what students can pursue (obviously), and ends up hollowing out philosophy’s synergies with other departments (most of which, TBH, are best pursued at the 300 and 400 levels). I’m of the opinion that minors are at least as important as majors, but it also seems to me that having a major provides important structure and incentives for course progression.

One might also worry that without a major to provide a coherent structure, other departments might start poaching the lower-level courses one offers, especially in applied ethics (e.g. business ethics).Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Michel
9 days ago

Hmm–you’ve given me things to think about. I recognize this often happens, but I’m curious why it should be the case that no major should lead to fewer upper division courses. If other departments can be convinced that lower division courses have redeeming value, why not upper? I get that someone could say that the upper division are too specialist–but too specialist for what? As you say, there are classes tailored at the lower division level already–medical ethics/business ethics. Couldn’t upper division courses also be tailored this way? Further, why not a greater expansion of tailored lower division offerings? –especially if the school has, say, applied science degrees. Why not ethics of data science? Or history/phil science? (I’m partly trying to understand your “super-stimulating” comment.)Report

Michel
Reply to  Guy
9 days ago

I don’t know that it should; I’m just saying it could. The difficulty with 400-level courses is usually that their enrollments are pretty low–partly because they’re pretty specialized, but also because the pre-reqs block a lot of enrollment. 300-level courses face similar pressures, but to a lesser extent. But when you don’t have majors who need 300- and 400-level courses, you lose a lot of the rationale for offering them at all, unless they already have high historical enrollment. And the admin doesn’t hesitate to cancel them for low enrollment. For the minor, you only need one or two, so that’s all you end up offering.

Now, you can absolutely offer a lot of service courses at the 200-level. But there’s also a limit to what you can do at that level, and to how useful that course will be to students in the allied major field (they’re not usually hurting for 200-level credit, after all!).

The other difficulty, of course, is that getting new courses approved is a long and difficult process, and getting them cross-listed is even more arduous. So if you cancel the major, there’s immediate pressure to cancel low-enrolling upper-level courses, and that won’t be offset by the interesting new lower-level courses for years, at best.

In the meantime, your department can come under increasing pressure to offer only the high-enrollment courses which won’t get cancelled, because you’ve got less justification to run the upper-level ones. (Maintaining a minor helps with that, of course.)

As for the “super-stimulating” comment… Just imagine teaching four sections of intro ethics and four sections of critical thinking every year. It’s got its advantages–no prep!–but it gets old fast (I speak from experience here). When a department lives under the constant threat of course cancellations, it stops offering interesting and important courses and focuses on the sure bets. Having credentials that you offer helps to grant a rationale other than brute enrollment for different course offerings. (We’re in the position we’re in because we offer no credentials whatsoever; Bloomsburg will, of course, retain a minor, but a major is even more helpful on that score.)

(The more majors that get cancelled, of course, the less you can rely on the cross-listing strategy.)Report

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
Reply to  Michel
9 days ago

Just imagine teaching four sections of intro ethics and four sections of critical thinking every year.”

As a community college professor, this has essentially been my life since 2010 (except with a 5-5 minimum, and more typically a 7-7-4, load), and I honestly love it. It’s definitely not for everyone though, and I can understand why it isn’t.

For me, it’s helpful to remember that it’s always my students’ first time to be exposed to the same material that made me fall in love with philosophy, and that is exciting to me.

That said, I’m very sorry to hear about the situation at Bloomsberg. I hope the administration reconsiders.Report

CarlD
Reply to  Wes McMichael
8 days ago

Nothing says you have to teach the same course the same way over and over. I teach mostly introductory world history. The world is large and its history is long. There’s no way to cover it all. I teach the parts I don’t know already and learn a lot every semester.Report

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
Reply to  CarlD
8 days ago

Very true. We are kind of limited by our state articulation agreements that outline specific topics we have to cover to be accepted at four-year colleges. However, we will often do themed intro classes–e.g. Critical Thinking about the Environment, Intro to Ethics with a Business Ethics (or Bioethics) emphasis. There’s a little flexibility for us.Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Michel
9 days ago

As for the “super-stimulating” comment… Just imagine teaching four sections of intro ethics and four sections of critical thinking every year.”

You’re describing my job. 😉 I work at a CC. But I *wanted* this type of job. I can see where it would become a grind for someone who hoped for more research focus.

And thinking about my CC job is probably skewing my view in this conversation. I have phil majors (kind of–it’s complicated). But honestly my best program growth potential is from getting my classes (yes, all of which are lower division) somehow featured prominently on other degree sheets.

But here’s still what I’m thinking: I’m acquainted with some 4 year schools that have a phil major, but they keep their degree requirements as low as possible so they can encourage double-majoring. Suppose a school like this loses it’s phil degree-granting status, but keeps the courses that were already on its degree sheet. Couldn’t students still take the classes? And if so, even though they aren’t phil majors on paper, didn’t they still get the training? Is that a case where that department is somehow failing?

I guess maybe I’m trying to understand the weight of having a phil major as such–it sounds like what I’m hearing is that it has instrumental value for these other weightier things–enrollment, interesting upper division courses, etc. No?Report

Michel
Reply to  Guy
9 days ago

The possibility I’m trying to outline is just that the school in question could keep the courses on its degree sheet but no longer be able to offer them because it’s lost the rationale for them. Part of that rationale comes from brute numbers, but brute numbers are often pretty soft at the upper level, especially absent degree-related reasons to take them. Another part of the rationale comes from degree progression requirements, but once those are gone, so is that part of the rationale.

That’s what happened here, for example. We have 300- and 400-level courses on the books, but we seldom offer them because doing so courts cancellations (which, in turn, means that someone is going to lose part of their salary for the year), and because we have no internal justification for running them (we offer no certificate, minor, or major). Instead, we just run the same couple of 100- and 200-level courses which we know will enroll above 27 students and so won’t get cancelled.Report

Guy
Guy
Reply to  Michel
8 days ago

Ugh. Yeah, I can see all that. Do you think there’s any potential in re-branding?–like calling it like “pre-law” or “pre-grad school” degree rather than a phil degree? Honestly curious here. I’m always looking for program growth trick. 🙂Report

Evan
Reply to  Guy
8 days ago

I’m not sure if most universities will create an actual “pre-law” major. Usually, these “pre-x” routes just specify which classes are needed to apply to the school regardless of major. One can be a music major and still be “pre-med” as long as one takes the required courses for medical school.Report

Jon Light
10 days ago

I don’t believe any of us are well-positioned to sign letters about things that are doing on at different universities, where we don’t know the relevant context, history, financials, and so on. About all we can do is ratify the “yay philosophy!” sentiment that exists out there, despite the fact that sentiment doesn’t get much traction outside of philosophy. (Which, in general, is our fault and something we don’t take sufficient responsibility for.) I also don’t think pillorying a “university” in scare quotes is appropriate–you’re making a mockery of university leadership, effectively based on a post from the department chair. Personally, I don’t think trolling or oversimplification is a useful posture to adopt in these situations.Report

Jorge Regula
Reply to  Jon Light
10 days ago

That’s right! And when shot in the leg with an arrow, we should not try to pull the arrow out before we first understood completely what kind of tree the wood in the arrow came from, when exactly the tree first sprang forth from a seed …Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  Jorge Regula
10 days ago

Imo, this reply is basically what’s wrong with philosophy and why philosophy departments are getting closed.Report

Jorge Regula
Reply to  Jon
9 days ago

Jon, my post above was a lighthearted reductio ad absurdum to your reasoning, which is, in all seriousness, not good. You say you “don’t believe any of us are well-positioned to sign letters about things that are doing on at different universities”, where we don’t know details about the financials, history, etc. Presumably the background idea here is that the epistemic norm for signing a petition is extremely strong in the sense that significant background knowledge is needed to do so responsibly. *That* reasoning (and not my reductio to it!) is a real problem. It would imply that no matter how egregious something is at another university (and indeed what is happening at Bloomsburg is utterly egregious!!) we should not sign a petition — after all, we don’t know about the history of the Bloomsburg and their financials and whatnot. It should be emphasised that we don’t need to know all that stuff in order to see that what they’ve done to Prof Hales and the philosophy department there is obviously wrong. (Just like, as it were, we don’t need to know the make of the arrow before pulling it out…). Taking a stand on a moral issue that is clear cut is OK even in the absence of perfect information. A reductio against the denial of that is not ‘what is wrong with philosophy today’ – and your suggestion that it is really out of bounds.Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  Jorge Regula
9 days ago

It’s one thing to disagree with someone on the merits; it’s another to just get snarky and try to troll them on the internet. Philosophers are great at trolling–look how smart we are!–but it’s not like that helps anything. “Reductio” (i.e., reducing someone’s serious position to a caricature) is just sophistry.Report

Jorge Regula
Reply to  Jon
9 days ago

I am not being snarky, I am seriously saying that your reasoning overgeneralises, and that that’s a good reason to reject the argument you make (to the conclusion that we shouldn’t sign petitions about other universities)! I’m not kidding — I really think the reasoning you gave in the post is really problematic. It relies on a very implausible norm on signing petitions that would require us not to sign petitions in even obvious cases where it is permissible or even obligatory to. THAT is why I used a reductio to hit home this point. You have opened yourself up to reductio. That’s not sophistry of me to say that! I’m not being tricky! I’m just pointing to a pig and saying it stinks!Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  Jon
9 days ago

Yeah and it’s another thing to pointlessly critique the use of quotation marks by faculty trying to save their jobs.Report

Laura
Reply to  Jon Light
8 days ago

If someone could explain to me why this sort of thing – the elimination of philosophy departments, the fixation on selling only the kinds of sandwiches, sorry, Majors, that sell the most, the assumption that philosophical expertise is not better for teaching ethics and critical thinking than any other sort of expertise – is the fault of philosophers, I would be interested to know. It is frequently asserted that these things follow directly from the failures of philosophers to do some “x” (usually, more public-facing philosophy), or the tendency of philosophers to do some unfortunate y. It not clear why these things follow, or why a more viable alternative theory does not prevail: that philosophers aren’t the best marketers and its hard to market their product to people who don’t want to buy it, even though the product is worth far more than gold to some subset of people who end up wanting to buy it. And in some cases it helps them launch very lucrative careers.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
10 days ago

I broadly agree with what Andrew has written above, but I think his point, to put it concisely, is that we (teachers of philosophy at universities and colleges) are missing the mark. The problem is not our failure to articulate the value of philosophy; the problem is our failure to articulate the value of philosophy departments and philosophy professors. I don’t think we need to defend philosophy. There are loads of people interested in philosophy out there. Anyone with access to the internet can find them.Report

Andrew Mills
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
10 days ago

Thanks for this, Geoffrey. We might also need to articulate the value of a philosophy major or minor as opposed to philosophy courses being on some general education menu. If we think it is bad (for whatever reason) that philosophy majors are being eliminated, then we have to persuade those who would eliminate them that they shouldn’t. And if we can’t do it, we need to hire some PR people to do it for us. And by “we” I mean the profession of philosophy.Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
10 days ago

I still think it is a problem of articulating the value of philosophy. Because what you’re saying here applies to any other field.

Why do we need computer science professors when there are so many computer science resources online that people can access? Why do we need biology professors when there is access to detailed information about biology online?

But people don’t seriously question the value of computer science departments or biology departments.

But then why don’t they? Well, because they see the value of computer science and biology.

And why do they question the value of philosophy departments? Because they don’t see the value of philosophy.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Ian
10 days ago

Thanks Ian. I appreciate the reply. You might be right that people don’t value philosophy (and I hope you are not), but I’m not convinced you are. Let me give you a couple reasons. Firstly, I don’t think that the best explanation of people questioning the value of philosophy departments is that they don’t see the value of philosophy. I think the best explanation of the fact that people question the value of philosophy departments is simply that they question the value of philosophy departments themselves. For me, this is why we have been so concerned on blogs like this one with doing more to promote philosophy to the broader public as an academic discipline worth investing in.

Secondly, the only reason that I can see for why someone might draw the conclusion that people do not value philosophy from the fact that many philosophy departments are in jeopardy is that philosophy is confined by the boundaries of academic philosophy departments which I don’t believe is true. If I am right, then the safest conclusion to draw is that people don’t value philosophy departments. I don’t see any evidence that conclusively shows people don’t value philosophy.

I think the same could be said of your two examples or of any other academic departments. Regarding biology, it is often largely a service department at most of the universities and colleges with which I am familiar. Not a lot of students major in biology; but loads of students take biology course because they are required (and indispensable) for professional programs in medicine and allied health sciences. If an administrator at some institution considered eliminating the biology major, that administrator might be able to justify it with the argument that it is lower enrolled major. But this administrator would quickly run into two problems: (1) the huge number of professional programs at there institution and elsewhere that depends on their biology courses; and (2) the much smaller quantity of qualified instructors as compared with programs like philosophy. In short, it is not that I think that people see the value of biology that keeps the biology major from being threaten; I think it is the impracticality of dispensing with biology and biology faculty that keeps it safe. If the situation were to change, then we might be talking about biology in the same we are now talking about philosophy or for that matter physics.

As for computer science, I completely disagree with you. I do think that there are serious doubts about the value of computer scientists and computer science as an academic discipline in the industry. From what I understand, there are more employed software developers who are self-taught or trained by their employers than there are computer science majors and the argument has been made by many including people like Peter Thiel that most of the significant breakthroughs in computer science have happened outside of academia, Linux being the most prominent example. Most of the technological breakthroughs are the result of work done by electrical engineers working in the industry, not by engineers working in universities or colleges.

All of this suggests to me that people do value these subjects in one way or another. But it is not obvious to me that anyone values the academic departments that teach them except for purely instrumental reasons.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
10 days ago

Your two reasons are puzzling. If people value philosophy, as you concede, how can they fail to value philosophy departments? There could be widespread failure to grasp the connection between philosophy and philosophy departments. But I doubt it. So I guess you mean *sufficiently* value the departments. But if so, Ian’s point can be understood as follows: the failure to sufficiently value departments is explained by a failure to sufficiently value philosophy. In other words, if people cared enough about philosophy, they’d care enough about the departments. On this interpretation, your reasons would then miss the point, for there would be some threshold of caring about philosophy at which people would care enough about philosophy department if they cared that much about philosophy.Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Jen
10 days ago

People may value philosophy more than philosophy departments because philosophy is more interesting. A lot of philosophy departments aren’t doing a good job. Also people who find philosophy interesting in an informal way may find the rigor and technicality of a good philosophy dep’t isn’t for them.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Jim
10 days ago

I thought we were talking about the academic discipline and the departments without which neither the discipline itself nor instruction in the discipline would be sustained. You seem to be talking about something else, like the departments and informal discussions of philosophy.Report

Last edited 10 days ago by Jen
Guy
Guy
Reply to  Jen
9 days ago

If people value philosophy, as you concede, how can they fail to value philosophy departments?”

At least one reason (I believe someone alluded to earlier) is that some people are not convinced philosophy requires philosophy profs or departments. At my institution, the business ethics and medical ethics classes are not handled by the phil department, and there’s no indication that the folks teaching those classes see a need to change that.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Guy
9 days ago

I thought we were talking about the academic discipline and the departments without which neither the discipline itself nor instruction in the discipline would be sustained. You might be talking about something else. The people you have in mind seem to value *instruction* in philosophy or in topics related to it, but I’m not sure they value the discipline.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Jen
9 days ago

It appears that you may be assuming that philosophical research and instruction only happens in philosophy departments. This assumption seems false to me and I think others. It also implies that anyone not working departments is not doing philosophical research or instruction which is false. I’m not sure that you are making this assumption but it certainly sounds like you are.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
9 days ago

Thanks for this. It was helpful.

I was referring to something that occurs within the academy, which is why I used ‘academic discipline’. And I do have a narrow conception of this. It is, of course, not sustained by philosophers outside the academy, nor by non-philosophers within the academy. It is sustained *primarily* by philosophers in philosophy departments. But it is to some extent sustained by philosophers conducting philosophical research and instruction in other departments. So, I should have been more careful. I should have written something more like ‘the departments without which neither the discipline itself nor instruction in the discipline would be *adequately* sustained (given current organizational structures within the academy)’.Report

Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Jen
9 days ago

Thank you Jen. I’m grateful for your taking the time to reply. I don’t quite understand why you think my two reasons are puzzling. I offer them as a response to the claim that threats against philosophy departments are evidence of a failure to value philosophy. I don’t deny Ian’s point that a failure to value philosophy itself is an explanation of the failure to value philosophy professors and departments. I just don’t think that a failure to value philosophy is the *best* explanation of the threats against philosophy departments.

I grant your point that valuing philosophy would include to some extent valuing philosophy professors and philosophy departments, but I don’t think it involves a threshold of value. I suspect that there is a “widespread failure to grasp the connection between philosophy and philosophy departments” because there is a clear line dividing what people think philosophy is from what professors of philosophy in philosophy departments think it is. I think people approach philosophy like they approach religion, namely, as articulating a way to live. (This explains both why philosophy programs and religious studies programs are often part of the same department as well as why they often share the same fate despite the difference that there is tremendous value for religion.) I think the popularity of television shows like the Good Place suggests that people are interested in ethics and moral theory. I also see the popularity of Stoicism as an indication that there is an interest in the history of philosophy. And perennial discussion of various religion beliefs indicates that philosophy of religion is alive and well outside of philosophy departments. But I see little to no popular interest in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind and language, all of which predominate philosophy departments in various ways.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
9 days ago

Thanks for the response. I think we’re talking past one another.Report

Evan
10 days ago

Aristotle said that our character is also due to what we habitually do. By this he indirectly suggested a longitudinal analysis.

Some critics here suggested that there is little instrumental value to critical thinking/philosophy citing Caplan’s book. He may be right if it’s mostly short-term. However, did Caplan look at the *longitudinal* benefits of successively taking philosophy classes? Like many skills, critical thinking takes years to master and not necessarily a semester. Therefore, getting rid of it would be like destroying a tree before it has the chance to grow fruit all because folks are impatient or shortsighted. It’s hasty in my view. And haste often creates (unintended) waste.

The value of philosophy comes from habitually taking it, doing it, and being initiated in it under the guidance of a competent teacher as much as one can during those formative years in undergraduate. One such value is the ability to use one’s reason and understanding without the guidance of another to echo Kant. In other words, it’s to also make one autonomous even if such classes or a major may not have much industry value per se.

Philosophers of education have written widely about the role of autonomy facilitation by education or schooling. See Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for an explicit treatment of it and https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/education-philosophy/#ContCurrAimsFuncScho for references.

Being able to ask good questions and figuring out fruitful answers in politics, news, work, personal life, etc., and being an overall good thinker are skills most people don’t have. Most tend to go on automatic pilot accepting many things uncritically, which may end up causing unnecessary suffering or trouble for themselves and/or others.

Questions such as: How should I treat my children? How do I become a better spouse? What should I do if X event occurs? Who should I trust with X, Y and Z? Am I being too demanding? Is this person trustworthy? Why or why not? What constitutes genuine friendship? Why do I hold the values that I do? Are these values compatible with X? etc. are not easily answerable by our industry jobs.

We can say that philosophy and humanity courses prepare us for both public and private life even if they may be irrelevant in industry for the most part. But such preparation requires being able to ask important questions to even generate answers to help us be prepared for them in the first place.Report

Last edited 10 days ago by Evan
Evan
Reply to  Evan
9 days ago

Anyways, here is an example of an accounting major at the University of Ottawa. Notice how philosophy/critical thinking is an option in the program requirements. Their university has a lot of respect for philosophy to include it in almost all their majors’ degree requirement options. The lesson to learn here? Learn from other universities’ functions.Report

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Stephen
9 days ago

Young Pennsylvanians deserve the chance to improve their lives through the study of philosophy, and not just if they are privileged enough to go to U. Penn or Swarthmore.

This might already have been noted, but the obvious reply available to the chancellor is that young Pennsylvanians will still be able to study (and even minor in) philosophy at Bloomsburg/Lock Haven/Mansfield. The argument that needs to be made is that it’s important for them to be able to major in philosophy. (The chancellor needs to hear, for instance, that philosophy is the best major for students going to law school and that young Pennsylvanians who attend B/LH/M ought to have the opportunity for that preparation, like those privileged enough to attend Penn or Swarthmore.)Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  Stephen
9 days ago

Again, these conversations don’t exist in a vacuum. It costs money to pay philosophy faculty to teach upper-division classes that have 10 students in them. The opportunity cost is some other class that has 100 students in it. (Or 30, 40, 50, whatever). If you’re the chancellor, are you going to pay a philosophy faculty member to teach 10 students, 1 of whom might go to law school? Or 30+ engineering majors, for a class that’ll fill in five minutes? It’s not that the major becomes “unaffordable” in some absolute sense–i.e., that the university “can’t” afford to do it–it’s just that there’s wayyyyy less bang for the buck than there would be, if those bucks went elsewhere.

So then philosophers have to retreat to either: (1) well, but it’s “intrinsically valuable”; or (2) “universities aren’t corporations”, which then means they’re just talking to themselves while the world burns around them. I.e., those arguments aren’t going to work, regardless of whether we’d like them to.Report

Stephen
Reply to  Jon
9 days ago

When I said that “The chancellor needs to hear […] that young Pennsylvanians who attend B/LH/M ought to have the opportunity for that preparation”, I meant only that the chancellor needs to hear that it would be good for them to have that opportunity. The chancellor needs to be informed of the benefits so that he gets the cost/benefit analysis right. I did not mean to imply that there are no opportunity costs of having a philosophy major or that the benefits of retaining the philosophy major at Bloomsburg do in fact outweigh the costs.Report

Laura
Reply to  Stephen
8 days ago

My guess is that the Chancellor already knows Philosophy is a great pre-law major. The goal is bang for the buck, and selling only the things that sell the most. Current powers may seem to favor this approach but I refuse to accept this is our fate. Rather, this is simply the thing we need to push back on. Value is not exclusively determined in this space by a popularity contest, or even by a starting salary for new graduates. However, it helps as a practical measure if we can make Philosophy more popular and cool, and point out it can be financially lucrative. (The “fries with that” mentality is nonsense but I often hear people – faculty, admins, people who themselves had supposedly “useless” majors but were successful because of, not in spite of – who know better repeating these jokes as if true.)Report

Phil
9 days ago

So, they put the scare quotes on “University” after they dropped philosophy, I suppose?Report

Dan Werner
9 days ago

Andrew Mills makes some good points above. But it seems to me that administrators and legislators often have a conception of “value” that is wildly different from the conception possessed by liberal arts faculty. In fact, those conceptions can be incommensurable. What is to be done if that is the case? Do we capitulate and meekly accept administrators’ terms of debate? E.g., a Provost or Dean might think, “Department X has value iff it leads to well-salaried employment among majors” or “Department X has value iff it brings in a lot of grant money”. I don’t think philosophy departments can portray themselves as valuable in either of those ways. If (as Jon suggests) we’re not permitted to speak of the intrinsic value of the discipline, then what would be a successful persuasion strategy when dealing with administrators? I am genuinely struggling with this and would appreciate hearing from others.Report

Evan
Reply to  Dan Werner
8 days ago

I don’t have much response to the grant money issue besides having more philosophers appeal to those ideological-based donors, which could be morally and educationally problematic. Those are the risks if they wanna pursue that route. Personally, I’d be cautious about which donors I appeal to.

In regards to the issue of which majors help students make more money, I do have a strategy: telling them the truth about how many hiring practices actually function in the real world.

First, many or most jobs are acquired via networking and not necessarily by relevant degree or major.

Second, many high paying entry level jobs exist and are willing to train non-relevant degree holders. The issue is mainly convincing them that your unique skill-set is instrumental and relevant to the specific job or instrumentally adds on to it.

Third, many consulting companies/agencies/businesses exist to help non-industry relevant degree holders obtain industry jobs such as Wonsulting.

I think a lot of funding of these industry related majors/programs operate on a highly stereotypical view about how hiring practices actually work in the real world and about post-graduate applications to jobs.

I have a friend who majored in business management but now works as an analyst. In fact, all his previous jobs had nothing to do with management. Go figure.Report

Evan
Reply to  Evan
8 days ago

Also my manager at my first job at a tech company was also a recruiter even though she used to work at Express and majored in journalism. Many people hold (high paying) industry jobs that have nothing to do with their actual major. It would be fruitful to have data on people with industry jobs whose degree(s) don’t correspond to their job.Report

Last edited 8 days ago by Evan
Sydney
4 days ago

The fact is that many or most administrators (and non-philosophy faculty) have never taken a philosophy course, but still earned a doctorate and don’t feel as if they were badly educated.Report