Philosophy Cut at Warren Wilson College


Warren Wilson College in North Carolina tells visitors to its website, “We believe the world needs curiosity” and says that its mission is for students to “think deeply.” Yet its administration has decided to make it impossible for students to major in philosophy, arguably the discipline most associated with curiosity and deep thought.

Screenshot of the Warren Wilson College homepage, with suggested revision.

The elimination of the philosophy major at Warren Wilson is one of several cuts being made under the banner of an “academic realignment” meant to make up for the administration’s management of the university and its budget, which has led to roughly $5 million operating deficit.

It is unclear how much money will be saved by eliminating the philosophy major. The Department of Philosophy currently has three faculty members. The cuts do not include laying off Philosophy faculty, but once current majors graduate, the administration may take such steps (as they reportedly previously did with other departments).

Why was philosophy targeted? The criteria used by the committee that recommended the cuts used the following criteria: class size, number of majors and expressed interest in the major, and institutional mission alignment.  According to a faculty member at the College, it is unclear why the philosophy major did not survive: “the data they shared showed Philosophy has the 3rd largest class sizes, and though the number of majors are lower by comparison with the [some] majors (especially Environmental Studies), they were not among the lowest, and some of those programs were not cut.”

As for “mission alignment,” well, perhaps they will be revising the mission statement.

The decision was made by Provost Jay Roberts ([email protected]) and the Academic Planning Committee, without input from the Department of Philosophy, nor was any advance warning provided to the Department of Philosophy to let it know that its major was among those being considered for elimination.

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Anna
Anna
7 months ago

Cut philosophy, cut knowledge, you are training young people to be submissive.

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
7 months ago

More schools will be going in this direction. Rightly or wrongly, administrators and the general public are seeing what we’re doing as not worthy of support, whether because it’s not practical, too political, or is otherwise something the students are not or would not be interested in.

My own university is likely to eliminate the philosophy major in the next 5 years. We’ve seen our major numbers decline from the 70s to the low 30s over the past few years. Attempts to revive the program have been met with resistance, both from some of my colleagues in the department and from colleagues in other departments who seem happy that the death of philosophy means their program won’t be put on the chopping block.

Killing philosophy programs and/or departments at non-flagship state schools seems especially depressing — most of our students have no other alternatives when it comes to college. UNO is close to where they live and is affordable. This is their only chance to study philosophy or art history or sociology, and (hopefully) have more enriching lives as the result.

From a student perspective, I’m less concerned about places like Warren Wilson cutting their major. Until this post, I had never even heard of Warren Wilson. Students choosing small, private schools have other options, and can choose what’s best for them based on the program offerings. I do feel bad for the faculty here, especially if their jobs are in danger (although if their classes are large like they say, that should be fine for the time being as a service program).

All of us at non-fancy colleges/universities and non-flagship state schools (heck, even the flagships in some states) should be thinking about how we can remain relevant and demonstrate to regular people that what we’re doing has value. Just because they may not necessarily understand something doesn’t mean that they can’t see why studying that thing has value once it’s explained. It seems to be on us to make sure we do that explaining when we have the opportunity.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
7 months ago

I think that one problem we face in having our importance recognized is the degree to which we write things that can only be understood by other professional philosophers. Such work is important, but it can be hard to see that from outside.

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
7 months ago

Not sure why philosophers are under an obligation to write for the layperson. Physicists and mathematicians certainly aren’t – why does philosophy uniquely have this obligation?

Barry Lam
Reply to  Mark Wilson
7 months ago

No individual philosopher (or physicist, or mathematician) has such an obligation. But the hard sciences have been very hard at work on doing just this for years, with large, well-funded programs and philanthropic organizations dedicated to the task, as well as its own popular magazines. They think scientific and mathematical literacy, curiosity, and engagement amongst the lay people is valuable, and believe, from a self-interested view, that that serves science and math research. I agree.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Mark Wilson
7 months ago

The layperson can see how physicists and mathematicians benefit them through technologies, whether the layperson understand physics or mathematics.

David Curry
7 months ago

I wonder if Wilson College also employed rpk GROUP? Or perhaps McKinsey? These higher education consulting firms have a quite clear vision of the future of higher education, and as evidenced at SUNY Potsdam, WVU, U. Kansas and UW Stevens Point, to name a few, that vision does not include philosophy (or much of the liberal arts at all).

https://www.thenation.com/article/society/wvu-cuts-higher-education/