The president of SUNY Potsdam, Suzanne Smith, announced earlier this week a plan to eliminate 14 degree programs at the university, including philosophy, and cut an as-of-yet-unknown number of faculty.
Enrollment at the university has dropped around 40% over the past 12 years.
The programs on the chopping block are:
• Art history (BA)
• Arts management (BA)
• Biochemistry (MS)
• Chemistry (BA and BS)
• Dance (BA)
• French (BA)
• Music performance (MM)
• Philosophy (BA)
• Physics (BA)
• Public health (BS and MS)
• Spanish (BA)
• Theater (BA)
It is unclear how cutting the philosophy major will save the university much money. According to an independent website created by some members of the department during the initial attack on its major, if eliminating the major is combined with merging the department with other units, it might save around $6000 in administrative costs.
In light of the purported aim of the administration’s plan, that low figure suggests that philosophy faculty will be among those slated for cuts.
In its defense, the department argues that it is “one of the, if not the most productive, efficient, and cost-effective department(s) in the School of Arts & Sciences, and hence at SUNY Potsdam, by all measures except current number of majors.” For example:
- the philosophy department’s student/faculty ratio is consistently above the average for departments in the School of Arts and Sciences
- while overall enrollments, and hence FTEs (full time enrollments), have dropped precipitously across the college over the last few years, the philosophy department has managed to maintain its healthy level of FTE production
- the department has filled 81% of the seats it has offered and has approached 90% on numerous occasions, which is well above average for the School
- no other department on campus serves general education as thoroughly as the philosophy department does.
As for its low number of majors, the department concedes that is true, but notes:
Philosophy departments rarely have large numbers of majors in comparison to other departments. There are many reasons for this, important ones being that most students are not introduced to the discipline until they are in college, and that more and more HS students are pushed to have an academic major in mind before they ever step foot on a college campus.
Further, the department argues that its decline in majors
correlates perfectly with the collapse of faculty lines from 5 FT faculty in 2011 (and 32 majors) to 2 presently (and 3 majors). At the same time total enrollment in the college dropped from 4395 (3952 UG) in 2011 to 3084 (2842 UG) in 2020, so the number of fish in the pond has gotten smaller along with the number of fisher-folk. Nevertheless, we believe that answering our pleas for a replacement for even one of our two more recent retirements would have gone a long way towards beginning to ameliorate the decline in majors. But that was not to be.
Intentionally or not, the department has been deprived of any sustenance for years, in spite of its having a long track record of being a model of productivity, efficiency, and low cost. Now that we are looking a bit ill from that lack of sustenance, we are dutifully informed that if we don’t get better soon, we’ll have to be put out of our misery. Were it not happening to us, we could perhaps better admire the Kafkaesque nature of the whole debacle.
Last summer, the department’s defense appeared to have been accepted by the administration (see on this page “Update 7/28/2022“):
Before she left the college the Dean formally recommended that the philosophy program “be removed from provisional status once curricular work outlined in the alignment plan and a merger has been accomplished.” The curricular revisions referred to are the creation of a Philosophy of Justice course to support the Criminal Justice program (once a regular offering, it has not been offered since the retirement of Dr. Tartaglia), and the creation of an Animal Minds course.
She also acknowledged “Philosophy’s long record of strong faculty/student ratios, consistently well above the average across the College, and your steady contributions to WAYs and to Pathways more generally. I also acknowledge the challenges of expanding offerings likely to attract new students with current staffing levels.”
What may also have played a role then, the department says, was feedback from the university’s accreditor, Middle States:
Potsdam was also warned by Middle States that its accreditation “may be in jeopardy”, in part because of a failure to demonstrate that administrative decisions were driven by data—in Middle States language, we supplied insufficient evidence of compliance with Standard VI, “Planning, Resources and Institutional Improvement”.
It is unclear whether concerns about accreditation are a factor in the more recent developments.
According to North Country Public Radio,
Interim Provost Alan Hersker said the administration will be working with faculty to decide which programs to discontinue. “What we’ll be doing in the next two weeks is meeting with stakeholders for each of those programs to present the data that we used to make these decisions, but also to get their input,” Hersker said. “I think we’re really taking a holistic approach to this. A lot of these programs are interdependent.” The President’s Council will make the final campus decision. According to the tentative plan SUNY Potsdam has released, decisions on program cuts will be sent to SUNY System Administration for final approval on October 23.
Meanwhile, reports Spectrum News 1,
Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, which represents SUNY’s faculty and staff, said Potsdam should immediately cease canceling programs and the announced slashing of positions as it could deter potential students from applying to SUNY campuses. Potsdam is expected to see a 3% enrollment increase this year, and the state’s projected $9 billion deficit could be less than expected, he said. “It’s irresponsible to make these cuts because I think what they’re doing through them is setting Potsdam on a path where enrollment will continue to spiral down,” Kowal said Wednesday. “Students will look upon the institution as something that is in danger of closing.”
This post will be updated with new information as it becomes available.