Manhattan College May Eliminate Philosophy


Philosophy is one of 10 undergraduate majors that administrators at Manhattan College, a Catholic college in New York, have proposed eliminating.

According to The Quadrangle, college president Milo Riverso announced in an email last month: “To better align our resources with these efforts, we have made the decision to eliminate a limited number of programs with low enrollments. All students currently enrolled in an affected program will be supported to graduate on-time.”

The programs to be cut are:

Undergraduate Majors: art history, Camino, E3MC, environmental studies, French, labor studies, nuclear medicine technology, philosophy, religious studies, urban studies.

Undergraduate Minors/Concentrations: Arabic, theater, Chinese, critical race and ethnicity studies, cultural anthropology, digital arts and humanities, film studies, Italian, Japanese, medieval studies, social services, women and gender studies, ethics.

Graduate Programs: mathematics and data analytics, school building leadership, accounting.

Regarding philosophy specifically, The Quadrangle reports that the major was growing in size and is part of a core curriculum for all liberal arts students:

“Philosophy is one of the strongest, fastest-growing programs at Manhattan College,” an anonymous faculty member confirmed. “Students seek out Catholic colleges for their training in religion, philosophy, and ethics. Even as the college as a whole has lower enrollment, we have over 20% more students taking philosophy classes this year than last year. We are one of the only programs to have zero low-enrolled courses and to have met every class size metric.”

Philosophy is yet another program that will not save the college money to take off of the roster.

“Closing the philosophy major and minor does not save any money,” the faculty member wrote in an email. “We teach so many required classes, like Roots, Ethics, Logic, Critical Thinking, and Faith and Reason. Enough classes will still run for there to be a major or minor—students will just be banned from having that degree on their diploma and résumé and the benefits that come from an official program, such as membership in the national honor society.”

Reportedly, the cuts were proposed “without consulting the curriculum committees or faculty chairs.”

(via Joel Pust)

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Gorm
18 days ago

This is quite appalling, given the role that philosophy has played traditionally at Catholic colleges. They have been committed to broad education of the whole person – it is hard to imagine what the person looks like with no exposure to philosophy.

MPA
MPA
Reply to  Gorm
18 days ago

I complete agree that this is appalling. It is worth noting (I’m not suggesting that your comment implies this…) that different orders have different emphases. Catholicism is hardly a monolith. The place and role of philosophy at different Catholic institutions will be… different. A Jesuit institution vs. a Franciscan vs. a Lasallian (as Manhattan is) will have different emphases. Some Catholic colleges require 2 philosophy courses, some require just one. Etc. etc. I imagine that Philosophy will remain part of their core requirements, but seeing it disappear as a major at ANY Catholic college is really unfortunate.

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  MPA
17 days ago

And religious studies. (I’m guessing, as an outsider granted, that most orders emphasize religion.)

Maria
Maria
Reply to  MPA
17 days ago

For the Jesuits, at least, this is pretty much non-negotiable. Case in point: when Wheeling University decided to get rid of philosophy (allegedly for budgetary reasons), the Jesuits disaffiliated from them.

Happy Monad
Happy Monad
18 days ago

A despicable move on the part of the administration, especially given the obvious good health of the philosophy program at MC!

some guy
some guy
Reply to  Happy Monad
18 days ago

Is it healthy? Why would it be on the chopping block if it were?

I applied for the opening they had last year (the ad could have been written just for me, honestly), but in light of this I’m obviously very relieved not to have gotten it and left my solid, stable, much-less-glamorous position.

Michel
Reply to  some guy
18 days ago

Typically, only majors are counted for these kinds of things. So even if you’re filling all of your sections and operating at a reliable profit, or filling dozens or even hundreds of minors, your 5-10 majors mean you’re on the chopping block.

Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

Having seen my own department (and others of friends) destroyed, and having been a senior member of the faculty senate for over two decades, I learned some things about university finances.

Philosophy departments don’t make a profit for a university. Teaching lots of students in mainly gen ed courses does not make our departments into profit centers. If philosophy disappears, the students can take other gen ed courses from other departments. Or the gen ed philosophy courses can be taught by part-time faculty at a tiny fraction of the cost of full-timers. And philosophy can easily be removed from gen ed requirements. And other departments are increasingly teaching their own philosophy courses (e.g. business ethics taught in the business college, etc.)

As student populations decline, universities compete with each other for students. So, will more students come to the university because of its philosophy department, in comparison with, say, its computer science, nursing, public health, business, engineering, etc. departments? Philosophy typically attracts no in-coming students at all. Students go to university X rather than Y because X has a better nursing (etc.) department. Universities make profits by outcompeting other universities for students. My school (just before the pandemic) had to turn away over 300 nursing applicants because we didn’t have a large enough nursing faculty. How many philosophy applicants did we turn away? None. So guess what: get rid of 7 philosophers, hire more nursing faculty. Unfortunately, that’s an entirely rational economic choice.

Another metric of department profitability is how much grant money the department pulls in. Philosophy departments usually bring in pretty close to zero. Another metric is the starting salaries of graduates. Or alumni donations. Or newsworthy accomplishments of graduates that increase the university’s brand value. Etc. Again, philosophy departments almost always turn out to be liabilities, not assets.

We need to start looking at ourselves as non-philosophers look at us. Otherwise, we’re just increasingly delusional about our value and our necessity. Given the many closings of philosophy departments and institutes over the last few years, simple induction makes it pretty clear that universities don’t need us, and don’t care about us at all. I think we can address this issue in positive ways. But not until we face it.

An adjunct
An adjunct
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

eric, you make me want to cry.

Geoffrey Bagwell
Geoffrey Bagwell
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

I agree with Eric that “we need to start looking at ourselves the way that non-philosophers look at us” (Incidentally, I think this remark should remind us of the need to remember what it was like to be students walking into our first university philosophy course). However, I think that the problem to which Eric refers is much older than what, to many, may feel like the sudden and unprecedented emergence of a new business model for contemporary colleges and universities. Our modern institutions of post-secondary education without exception began as places to train a certain kind of professional, i.e. priests and religious authorities. In Europe, all of the oldest universities regardless of country were established with the specific purpose of training future priests to articulate and defend orthodox Christian doctrine. In India, Vedic schools were created to train brahmins to articulate orthodox Vedic teachings and to challenge unorthodox teachings. Buddhist schools were similarly set up to train Buddhist monks, again, to articulate and to defend the teachings of Buddha. In every respect, the purpose of these institutions was professional training of a very specific kind. Liberal education was a means to this end. One consequence of the philosophical and theological education that these religious authorities received is that it became conflated with their professional training. Since they were getting both simultaneously, it became unclear whether professional training or liberal education was the point. Over time, the humanities and liberal education took center stage in the mission of modern colleges and universities, but the conflation with professional training was never really resolved; the emphasis just shifted alongside the shift in the ruling class (from priests to the more numerous and secular aristocratic classes who believed that university education would provide them with the skills they needed to be civil servants and elected officials). When social mobility became part of the mission of post-secondary education (expanding access to students outside of the aristocratic classes) during the social and educational reforms of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the emphasis began to return to professional training, preparing students to be upwardly mobile by teaching them the same skills they would need to join the ruling classes. Thus, in a way, post-secondary education is returning to its roots by placing more and more emphasis on providing students with job preparation and professional training than on the humanities and liberal arts. I don’t think that this return implies that the humanities and liberal education have no role in higher education. Given the history of post-secondary education, it means simply that role of liberal education and the humanities has always been and will probably always be incidental to professional training. My hope is that the humanities and liberal education will not disappear from the mission of colleges and universities altogether.

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  Geoffrey Bagwell
17 days ago

You raise two really good points.

The point about religion is very interesting, since the decline in philosophy may well parallel the decline in religion (at least in the US). The trends seem similar, but I’d be hard pressed to show causality. Still, it’s really worth thinking about.

The point about civil servants is also important. Probably prior to the crash in 2008, pretty much any college degree would get you a decent white collar job in an office. But 2008 marked a real economic shift towards the technical fields. And that shift brought a collapse in the demand for lawyers, which was a big sell for philosophy.

In the pre-2008 economy, philosophy could get you a good job, with good ROI. But college costs rose steeply, so ROI declined. And some of the best jobs you could get via philosophy disappeared. So here we are.

I do think there is hope, but it requires real re-training about what we think philosophy should prepare undergrads to do, and how we integrate ourselves into our universities, and what we teach.

Maria
Maria
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Steinhart, but I would add that our inability or unwillingnes to “see ourselves the way others see us” is significantly reinforced by prevailing norms within the profession, if not a straightforward consequence thereof. As I noted in a comment on another article (“The Demand for Philosophers”), despite the fact that the vast majority of philosophers in the U.S. work at teaching-centric institutions like Manhattan, the culture of academic philosophy is shaped almost exclusively by faculty membrs at elite research-oriented institutions–a vanishly small and extremely unrepresentative portion of the profession that neither knows nor understands the workaday reality confronted by those in the former camp. A professional culture that reflects the values, preferences, and priorities of disciplinary elites has no relevance to protecting and supporting the study of philosophy at places like Manhattan. Indeed, it is often explicitly contrary to doing so, since it encourages philosophers to under-emphasize, under-value, or altogether ignore the very sorts of considerations (e.g., teaching) that are most germane to such an aim. Outside of the rarefied domains of the Leiter-ranked, no one cares whether one took one’s degree from a Leiterrific program, or whether the journal featuring one’s most recent article is highly ranked, or, indeed, whether one publishes anything at all. The faculty of MIT or Princeton or Stanford might care about such things, but they’re not the ones who are making decisions about hiring, firing, funding at Manhattan or 99.9999% of others schools in this country. Rank and file philosophers who defer to the judgments of disciplinary gatekeepers, superstars, and mandarins regarding how they should comport themselves professionally ought not to be surprised when their programs are cut or their positions are eliminated.

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  Maria
17 days ago

That’s surely correct, but I have no idea what to do about it.

Maria
Maria
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

Neither do I. A colleague of mine has suggested that the rank and file should create its own professional association or else orchestrate a coup within the APA… neither of which would make a difference quickly enough, I imagine, if they make a difference at all

Noah
Noah
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
16 days ago

I’d like to see some evidence for some of these claims. In particular, I’m skeptical about your claims about philosophy alumni — about starting salaries of philosophy majors, alumni donations of phil majors, and newsworthy accomplishments. The claim about starting salaries in particular is not in line with the data I’ve seen on that issue.

I’d also mention a few things on your argument about attracting prospective students. I’m inclined to believe that department strength is very small factor in college selection overall. The dominant factors are almost certainly things like overall ranking of the school, campus quality, location, price, etc. And though I don’t know the algorithms these big college rankings use for their overall school rankings, I’m guessing that gutting humanities programs would hurt the overall school ranking, which is far more important to high schoolers and their parents than individual department rankings (and rationally so, I would add, since employers are largely ignorant of department rankings and only care about the brand name of the school overall).

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  Noah
16 days ago

There’s plenty of data easily available from national sources.

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  Noah
16 days ago

I came here to post something agreeing with Noah, but I looked for data and it fit what Eric was saying. Philosophy majors don’t have average starting salaries that stand out from other humanities majors, which tend to be lower than STEM.

https://collegesteps.wf.com/your-major-your-earning-potential/

I have seen other data that looks more favorable for philosophy majors–e.g., about GRE and LSAT scores–so I would be curious to know whether philosophers are unusually likely to go on to get graduate or professional degrees, and so to have higher mid-career salaries (even if not starting salaries), than other humanities majors.

Last edited 16 days ago by Daniel Greco
Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter
Reply to  Daniel Greco
16 days ago

According to the APA “Data gathered by PayScale from the 2020–2021 academic year shows that people with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy tend to earn more over their lifetime than people with degrees in any other humanities field. Philosophy students have both the highest starting salary of any humanities major ($52,600) and the highest percent increase between starting and mid-career salary ($94,300).” (https://www.apaonline.org/page/data)

Another site says “They also enjoy a respectable increase when one considers mid-career earnings. The median philosophy major can expect to earn a salary of more than $80,000. This is higher than that earned by business management or chemistry majors. And according to data from Payscale, those with only an undergraduate degree in philosophy rank 16th for mid-career median earnings.” (https://bigthink.com/thinking/philosophy-majors-smarter-make-more-money/)

So it looks as though mid-career salaries might be higher for philosophy majors, quite possibly because so many become (or at least used to become) lawyers.

dmf
dmf
17 days ago
Eric Steinhart
Reply to  dmf
17 days ago

I didn’t see any consultants mentioned in that article. But you’re right: two higher ed consulting firms, rpk GROUP and EAB are both called in to deal with higher ed budget crises. In my experience (with EAB) they don’t have an ideological agenda. I’ve had friends at institutions that dealt with rpk GROUP, and they didn’t seem to have an ideology either. Both consulting firms just crunch the numbers. Our problem is that the numbers are very very bad. Once you see an EAB report, you know you’re doomed.

MBW
MBW
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
17 days ago

The thing is that the choice to focus on majors is itself an ideological decision, as is the claim that only first majors count (and second majors and minors don’t), and that only programs that make students choose that school are worthwhile.

MPA
MPA
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
16 days ago

Sometimes numbers are bad, but there is an ideology behind rpk.

From the mouth of Staisloff from rpk Group: “That lens is about more than just cost (though understanding cost is an important component). Rather, ROI asks “What do we get for the people, time and money we use?” If we truly understood the ROI to our students, employers, institutions and state/systems, it’s inevitable that we would reduce programs and services to better match external demand.”

Full blog post here: https://rpkgroup.com/do-less-better/

The focus on first majors alone (a clear ideological choice, as MBW mentions below) is about making each university stand out with its own unique “signature strengths”. The admins ask questions like “why do students choose US rather than another university?” One answer the consulting firms latch onto is FIRST MAJORS! “Students apply for first major X, so that must be what makes us attractive!” Of course, we all know students change majors…

The university of the past was like a good diner restaurant…. pages and pages of variety. That variety came at a cost of having lost of flexibility in your kitchen. The university of the future (rpk’s making) has like 3-4 menu options and they are all (at least reportedly) delicious (or at least the yelp reviews say so).

In all seriousness, there is definitely an ideology behind rpk and they use numbers to make it seem like they are delivering objective results. See what their consultant said about “duplicate” programs across the Kansas system: https://www.cjonline.com/story/news/education/2022/12/15/kansas-regents-get-first-look-at-rpk-report-on-duplicate-programs/69729559007/

No matter what they say (e.g., “Daly said duplication, under rpk GROUP’s framework, is deemed neither good nor bad. Even if an institution drops a program as a complete major, many could likely continue offer classes in the subject matter, he said.”), rpk views academic programs as menu items, and they use numbers to paint over that ideology. If something were really “deemed neither good nor bad”, maybe they should use a different term than ‘duplication’.

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  MPA
16 days ago

I’m using the term “ideology” a bit more narrowly; I only meant they run the same numbers for all programs, but I wasn’t clear about that.

Of course, you’re entirely right that how to count what is a decision based on values, and thus is ideological in a broader sense. Still, the formulae they use are pretty well optimized to accurately track financial performance. Obviously, forcing universities to mirror the markets is ideological in a broad and deep sense.

But what’s the complaint? Either we adapt to this reality, or we perish. And we can stand in the unemployment line ranting and raving about ideals. Nobody else will care. As much as I agree with your points about values (and I do), it isn’t going to help any philosophers anywhere.

This, I claim, is the problem. Instead of facing the crisis, we declare that the world should be other than it is, so we go extinct. We live in a non-actual possible world. Even Lewis would be shocked.

MBW
MBW
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
16 days ago

Where I disagree, with respect, is that ‘accepting reality’ is facing the crisis any better.

But more to the point: Manhattan College’s philosophers seem to have tried to play the game: grow the major, make sure all courses are well enrolled, track graduates and it doesn’t matter anyway.

We’re seeing the same script play out *regardless of whether the university is facing financial hardship, and regardless of the cost of the degree.* It’s always the same set of small majors. It is never “maybe the university president shouldn’t take a private plane to go an hour by car down the road” or “we shouldn’t have so many assistant vice presidents of student retention.”

This isn’t a game that can be won on its terms. It’s OK to point out that the terms of the game are BS, at least in blog comments if not as a broader political strategy.

Maureen Eckert
Maureen Eckert
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
16 days ago

Quick, someone get Taylor Swift all into Philosophy!

Attila Tanyi
16 days ago

I tend to agree that this is a hopeless endeavour. If higher-education runs on money and it is considered to be a money-making machine, small (or even big) arts and humanities degrees will have to go, sooner or later. Only rich institutions with large endowments and, of course, with willingness, will be able to keep them. It is not much of a solution but from this it is clear that there are only two ways of saving these degrees. Either change societies so that they appreciate these degrees and care less about money and profit. Or change your higher-education system away from a corporate model. I see zero chance for either happening in the US (but then I am a total outsider). There is some chance in Europe, but it is fading. So there we are.

Attila Tanyi
Reply to  Attila Tanyi
16 days ago

I think the only realistic chance for ‘ordinary’ philosophers to survive is to not work in philosophy departments. That is somewhat easier of course for certain kind of philosophy, and almost impossible for others. As this world is clearly, in this respect as well, going down, I would certainly not build now my future on being a professional philosopher. That appears to be a foolish choice. Unfortunately.

Gorm
Reply to  Attila Tanyi
16 days ago

Attila
I agree, that there are many opportunities for philosophers to work outside of philosophy departments and still at universities. In fact, I do it. My job seems to be more secure than the typical philosopher’s job in a philosophy department.