In a presentation yesterday, Stephen Kolison, president of the State University of New York at Fredonia, proposed the elimination of 13 programs at the school, including philosophy.
Kolison cited financial problems based on population trends and competition:
In New York, while census data shows that the overall population of the state grew from 2010 to 2020, almost 95% of that growth was in the 65 and over demographic. Meanwhile, the “25 and younger” population fell by nearly 260,000. This competition over a smaller base of college-bound students has contributed to our enrollment being down around 40-percent since Fall 2015. Because tuition is the single largest source of direct revenue for our campus, enrollment declines have contributed to financial challenges that have led to the structural deficit we have been grappling with for more than a decade. In short, our base expenditures simply far outweigh our revenues.
Besides philosophy, the programs recommended for closure are in visual arts, sociology, French, Spanish, foreign language education, math education, early childhood education, and industrial management. The full list and statement are here.
Readers may recall that SUNY Fredonia is the employer of philosopher Stephen Kershnar, who is still in litigation with the university over it currently banning him from campus because of a controversy concerning a philosophical discussion about adult-child sex he participated in on the podcast, Brain in a Vat.
Kershnar is in fact the only tenured/tenure-track faculty member in philosophy at Fredonia. (Neil Feit retired from the university this past summer.)
It is unclear how much money, if any, eliminating the philosophy program will save the university. But perhaps including the program for elimination is a way for the administration to jettison what it sees as a problematic faculty member.
Kolison’s announcement includes the now typical rationale that student demand for the targeted programs is low:
Low enrollment in these programs speaks volumes about what our students want and need from us in terms of academic majors. These 13 programs represent 15% of all majors at Fredonia, but yet currently have a combined enrollment of 74 students. That equals just over 2% of the undergraduate student population, with a third of those 74 students set to graduate this spring.
I’m not sure what “need” is doing in that first sentence, unless it’s just being used, disingenuously, as a synonym for “want.” For whatever educators might mean by students’ “needs,” we know they are certainly not identical to their revealed preferences. This kind of rhetoric is evidence of an administration that does not know how how or does not believe it can adequately lead its students. It can only follow them. And merely following students may take some universities down a path to their own obsolescence. Universities are increasingly outsourcing education to third parties, such as Google, a trend which will continue so long as universities operate as if educating students is primarily about job training. Unless universities offer something distinctive, more and more they’ll be thought of as a third wheel, and edged out.