Philosophy Survives West Virginia University Budget Cuts


Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, has proposed cutting 9 percent of the majors the university offers and 7 percent of its fulltime faculty.

The proposal was announced by the university here, and covered by Inside Higher Ed here. (There’s some interesting commentary on Gee here.)

Some humanities programs would be affected by the proposal. Majors in several foreign languages would be eliminated, for example, and several programs in the English Department would have to cut faculty.

Yet the recommendation for the Department of Philosophy, whose undergraduate major went under review, was to “continue at the current level of activity.”

Not all programs at the university were reviewed. Philosophy at WVU was notified in July that their BA program would be subject to review because of the following:

  • Undergraduate enrollment in the Philosophy program is small and declined over five years (2018-2022).
  • Departmental student credit hours and tuition revenue decreased over three years (2020-2022).
  • Full-time faculty increased by one over four years (2020-2023). The ratio of program majors to full-time faculty is well below the median.
  • Departmental expenses decreased over three years (2020-2022).
  • Tuition revenues exceeded expenses annually over three years, but the trend worsened over time (2020-2022).

The Department of Philosophy undertook a self-study, and the plan it developed was taken into account by the administration in its “preliminary recommendation” to leave the major as it is:

The plan presented by the unit in its self-study proposed a reduced use of GTAs and supplemental faculty, an increase in revenue through recruitment, an increase to section sizes; although, no plan to significantly reduce cost was presented. The self-study directly engaged with the unit’s data and provided meaningful context but over-relied on the importance of double majors in their enrollment analyses. The self-study provided a strong argument that the unit produces significant revenue in an efficient manner. Unit worked with Provost’s Office to correct faculty data.

Both the reasons for review and the language of the preliminary recommendation provide information as to what the administrators look at when deciding whether and how to cut programs. Note, for example, the remarks about double majors, upon which philosophy programs in general tend to depend, and which has been an issue with program cuts at other schools.

The final vote on the proposed cuts by the university’s Board of Governors will take place on September 15th, according to a schedule posted by the university.

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Jessica Wolfendale
8 months ago

As a former faculty member at WVU Philosophy, and I very glad for my former colleagues that they escaped unscathed but the cuts are horrendous and even worse than mentioned here. For example, one correction to the above post is that the proposal re languages is not just to eliminate majors, but to eliminate the entire Department of World Languages,Literature, and Linguistics and all its faculty. Gee suggested that students who want to take languages could possibly use an app.

See here: https://www.thedaonline.com/news/university/faculty-report-recommended-program-cuts/article_857190b8-3856-11ee-99d6-c7cfd7348dc1.html

And here: https://wvutoday.wvu.edu/stories/2023/08/11/wvu-announces-preliminary-recommendations-academic-transformation-next-steps

Fellow Hermeneut
8 months ago

Glad to see that philosophy will likely survive, but they are planning to cut all foreign language programs. As the flagship university in the state this does not bode well for the future of higher education.

Jessica Wolfendale
Reply to  Fellow Hermeneut
8 months ago

They are cutting the entire Department of World Languages, Literature, and Linguistics, and all its faculty. It’s atrocious.

butt in seat
8 months ago

They’re cutting 15% of faculty if you discount the School of Medicine, which is facing the loss of only four faculty members and is for all relevant intents and purposes a separate entity (most faculty there are paid primarily by the hospital, which is a private company, and only nominally from the university’s coffers).

And I haven’t done the math for just the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences, but I suspect the damage is well above 15%. This is a direct blow to the ability of most West Virginians to get a good liberal arts education, not to mention the broader economic and social ramifications the cuts will have for the state.

Philoscopy
8 months ago

Their motto: Throw the baby out, keep the bathwater.

Philip
Philip
8 months ago

they have also added several philosophers in the business school in the last couple years.

David Hoinski
7 months ago

I suppose JW doesn’t have access to the actual self study, but this article is at best partially representative of what really happened. If philosophy departments, especially at land-grant universities, want to defend themselves, they need to think outside the box.

David Hoinski
7 months ago

In short, philosophy needs to play offense.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Hoinski
7 months ago

Hi David — really glad to hear this sorted out the way it has. Could you say more about what you mean by “play offense”? And in your estimation, what are the conditions under which WVU’s approach generalizes successfully?

David Hoinski
Reply to  Preston Stovall
7 months ago

Hey man. The first thing is that for land-grant colleges they are rooted in the Morrill Act of 1862 that enjoins them to provide a “liberal education” (this is in Section 4). Philosophy by any account is central to the liberal arts. Ergo such universities have a legal obligation to provide a philosophical education.

Then there are the pronouncements of university leaders. So for example Gordon Gee and his co-authors write in Land Grant Universities For the Future, “it must be emphasized that land-grant universities are intensely practical, not only because of their valuable vocational programs but because of their liberal arts programs…Contrary to an often-cited misconception, the liberal arts are really practical arts! Why? Because they educate persons to think, to conceptualize, to imagine possibilities. Put another way, they prepare people for life, which always brings change and the need for adjustments. The liberal arts are practical arts that prepare people to face life’s challenges by being flexible in a world that constantly changes.” So listen to what campus leaders say about the mission and demonstrate how philosophy contributes to that.

Third thing is to build a tight network of alumni and students. Our alumni and students responded to the call and wrote tens of eloquent, impassioned appeals to the administration on behalf of philosophy. These aren’t just professional philosophers but lawyers, doctors, business people, people working in government, etc. So this shows the skills philosophy teaches are applicable across a broad spectrum of vocations.

Then I also want to say that attitude matters. Be nice and respectful of course, but be aggressive. Promote your program. Partner with other departments, colleges, and institutions to put on events that generate excitement about philosophy. Actively recruit majors, in part by making introductory courses accessible and engaging. Don’t assume your department will be there eternally like Plato’s forms. Always be building and advancing. Lobby for required philosophy courses and to hire new faculty. Be kind but keep the pressure on. Put people in the chair position who will actively advocate for philosophy.

All this for a start though there is more to say. We start classes tomorrow and of course I’m still working on my syllabi! Sorry I haven’t been in touch Preston, but it’s been a wild summer. Going to Vienna in September for Hegel/Wittgenstein. You might come down if you’ll be in Czechia.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Hoinski
7 months ago

Thanks for this, David. Appealing to the Morrill Act is clever. I read the material at wvufacts.wordpress.com when it appeared, and I gather from what you said here that there was plenty of work going on behind the scene. Perhaps you and/or other members of your department could write up a summary of what transpired, and how you all handled it, for public consumption? (As for Vienna: I have a bunch of travel in September, but I’ll see if we can make it work. I’ll send you an email.)

David Hoinski
Reply to  Preston Stovall
7 months ago

Perhaps one of my colleagues will take you up on this. There are certainly amicable differences of opinion amongst us about what went down. For example, it may just have been that at the end of the day WVU gets good bang for their buck out of us. Personally I tend to think that people are somewhat moved by law and reason. I certainly do hope that someone (whether in philosophy or another of the liberal arts) will take the Morrill argument and run with it. I want the US government to affirm the right to philosophy and a liberal arts education 🙂 Of course, we have to fight the Philistines at every step.

V. Alan White
7 months ago

Read Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members trilogy, the last book of which is out today. It captures full well the torrent of power, politics, and money driving destructive change in higher ed. Highly recommended.

Kate Norlock
7 months ago

It’s saddening to read the statement that philosophers proposed “reduced use of GTAs and supplemental faculty” and “increase to section sizes” but “no plan to significantly reduce cost was presented.” Philosophers rarely need equipment or labs or much of any overhead. All most units can cut (without undoing tenure) is untenured faculty, and increasing class sizes means the remaining faculty will do more with less. Describing that as insufficiently significant cost reduction sounds, if not threatening, at least bell-tolling.

butt in seat
Reply to  Kate Norlock
7 months ago

Given that there is likely little else to cut, as you say, I suspect this is an expression of disappointment that philosophy didn’t offer up tt/tenured faculty for sacrifice. Many tenured faculty in other departments will be losing their jobs. Tenure is already undone, an honorific that offers no actual job protection.