UNC Asheville Philosophy Under Threat (multiple updates)


UNC Asheville Chancellor Kimberly van Noort has proposed eliminating the Department of Philosophy and the philosophy major program at the school.

Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Drama, Religious Studies, and the French and German concentrations in Languages and Literatures are also among the programs the chancellor is suggesting be cut.

The cuts are intended to help alleviate a “structural deficit forecast at approximately $6 million” owed to several factors, including “an enrollment decline of about 25 percent,” van Noort said in a statement announcing the proposed cuts. In addition to the academic cuts, van Noort proposed eliminating two administrative positions and consolidating two others.

Van Noort’s statement provides no details as to how much closing the academic programs will save the University, though the cuts will involve terminating many faculty positions. The Department of Philosophy has six faculty, all but one of whom appears to be tenured.

The statement does not say whether any philosophy courses would be offered at UNC Asheville if the cuts are enacted.

UNC Asheville professor of religious studies Rodger Payne says:

The idea that if you’re going to get a liberal arts degree that you’re now going to do it without encountering philosophy, the classics, religious studies — just seems absolutely unconscionable to me. That’s the core of who we are as a liberal arts institution. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to claim that title anymore.

According to the Citizen Times, the proposal will go before the UNC System Board of Governors at its July 25th meeting.

UPDATE (6/18/24): A letter-writing campaign in support of saving the Department of Philosophy and the philosophy major at UNC Asheville has been launched. Details about the campaign and various talking points are here. The organizers note that time is of the essence, and ask that letters be sent to Chancellor van Noort and President Hans by Monday, June 24th.

Among other things, the philosophy faculty note:

Our department’s longstanding tradition of campus citizenship means all PHIL faculty contribute extensively outside our home department. The 2024 APR Study [on which the Chancellor based her recommendations] does not adequately represent, indeed blatantly misrepresents, the contributions our department makes to the institution; it has not merely discounted but has rendered invisible more than half of our work. This illogical and fallacious approach eclipses the true measure of our impact and effectively treats our purposeful and far-ranging contributions as demerits.

Read more here.

UPDATE (6/24/24): Martha Nussbaum (Chicago) has written a letter in support of the philosophy program at UNC Asheville. You can read it here.

UPDATE (6/26/24): The Board of the American Philosophical Association (APA) has issued a letter to UNC Asheville’s administration regarding the proposed elimination of the philosophy major and department there. It reads, in part:

UNC Asheville describes itself as “North Carolina’s designated public liberal arts and sciences university,” providing an education that “prepares students for lives of leadership and service with an emphasis on critical thinking, clear and thoughtful expression, applied research, community engagement, free and open inquiry, and undergraduate and graduate programs that address the most pressing issues of our time.” It would be difficult to argue that UNC Asheville is fulfilling its mission or living up to its commitment to liberal arts education were it to eliminate its philosophy program.

Philosophy is an absolutely core liberal arts discipline, dedicated to critical thinking, clear communication, and ethical reasoning. More than perhaps any other discipline, philosophy prepares students to be engaged, well-rounded citizens and leaders with exactly the skills that UNC Asheville aims to cultivate…

In addition to those general reasons, the philosophy department at UNCA provides powerful specific reasons to retain philosophy at the center of the liberal arts education that defines UNC Asheville’s institutional identity. Its faculty have been consistent and dedicated contributors to the core Humanities liberal arts curriculum (as well as other programs), devoting nearly 60% of their total teaching to courses that serve the university beyond the department.

Further, in terms of market value and equipping students with skills employers desire, philosophy is perhaps the best humanities major a student could choose. Philosophy teaches skills that are highly valued by employers and that are transferable as the kinds of jobs available to workers change over time: critical thinking, creative problem solving, written and oral communication, and logical analysis. Renowned investor William H. Miller recently invested $75 million in Johns Hopkins University’s philosophy program, saying, “I attribute much of my business success to the analytical training and habits of mind that were developed when I was a graduate student [in philosophy] at Johns Hopkins.”… Miller’s conviction based on his own experience is backed up by general data about employment and professional success. A philosophy major or minor is a classic gateway to a career in law, and philosophy majors routinely outperform nearly all other majors on the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT. According to the Payscale.com 2015–2016 report, those with a BA in philosophy have the highest pay over time of all humanities majors, significantly outranking disciplines such as English literature and history… Philosophy majors’ mid-career earning potential is ahead of majors in many fields outside the humanities, including biology, psychology, political science, and business. At a time when career outcomes are so important to students and parents, it is unwise to disinvest in a program that offers these career benefits.

We understand the desire of university administrators to make decisions based on numerical metrics such as majors or cost. But such metrics significantly undervalue what your philosophy program offers—it plays a pivotal role not only for majors and minors but also in core curricula and interdisciplinary programs. For UNCA, philosophy’s role in the Humanities core has been indispensable in the past, and the discipline’s importance for a wide range of interdisciplinary studies guarantees that it will remain relevant in the future. Courses such as Philosophies of Power in Societies, Philosophies of Art, Environmental Ethics, Africana Philosophy, Philosophy and the Good Life, Philosophy of Human Rights, Knowledge and Reality, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Law, and Philosophy of Science all serve students pursuing a variety of degrees and careers. It would be impossible for UNC Asheville to offer these high-quality courses if the philosophy program were eliminated.

Moreover, it is not clear that the elimination of the philosophy program would address the structural budget deficit said to necessitate the proposed cuts. Given the comparatively low cost of maintaining a philosophy department (relative to most STEM departments, for example), there is a strong case to be made that the philosophy program is a contributor to the institutional budget, rather than a drain on it. Moreover, the UNCA philosophy major is relatively popular: it represents a higher percentage of majors within the student body as a whole than the national average. And the philosophy faculty are highly regarded—within and beyond UNCA—for their award-winning scholarship, service teaching, and renowned annual undergraduate philosophy conference, and also for a substantial tradition of university leadership and high administrative service. In that light, it is troubling that the process leading up to these proposed cuts has lacked transparency and appears not to have included appropriate consultation with faculty governance and academic leaders. Proceeding with this plan would be shortsighted and strike at the very heart of UNC Asheville, an institution known for its liberal arts mission and interdisciplinary humanities core.

You can read the whole letter here.

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Dog
Dog
1 month ago

“But again, there’s the uncomfortable matter of the $6 million deficit and programs being cut. As a UNCA professor told Asheville Watchdog in a recent story about Chancellor Kimberly van Noort’s $300,000 salary and a compensation package that includes country club memberships and a $900 monthly car allowance, some of those perks seem excessive, “especially when every other non-mission critical spending has been frozen.”

https://avlwatchdog.org/in-a-climate-of-budget-and-staff-cuts-should-unc-asheville-continue-with-seemingly-exorbitant-ideas-fest/

How many administrative positions have to be brought back to a normal salary to eliminate the deficit?

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Dog
1 month ago

Strange that cutting admin is seen as a non-option, at an institution whose existence is owed to academics.

MPA
MPA
Reply to  Matt
1 month ago
Businessman
Businessman
Reply to  Dog
1 month ago

Considering leaving grad school to become a consultant.
My fee is one million dollars per second, and my advice is: “don’t pay consultants, admin and coaches millions of dollars.”
Anyone want to partner up with me?

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Businessman
28 days ago

I’ll join you, but I want 100% of the profits.

Preston Stovall
29 days ago

Agreed that administrative bloat is a problem that faculty need to be more proactively addressing. But declining student enrollments is an underlying problem as well, and I don’t think it’s getting the attention it deserves. Higher ed in North America is facing a “demographic cliff” on account of the drop in birthrate that followed the recession of 2008 — undergrad enrollments are expected to peak in 2025 and then decline sharply for the foreseeable future. Together with the fact that higher education is apparently not perceived as a path for future well being and life prospects as it has been for previous generations, it looks like things are only going to get worse.

Consider the situation at Asheville. From https://avlwatchdog.org/budget-shortfall-forces-big-changes-at-unca/

UNCA’s sharp decline in enrollment — down 22.2 percent from 2018 to 2023, the steepest decline of any of the 16 schools in the UNC system — is the leading cause of the financial crisis, the school’s chancellor, Kimberly van Noort, told faculty and staff last month. Total enrollment in the UNC system grew by 2.3 percent during the same period.

So let’s run some numbers. There’s a claimed $6 million dollar deficit. Going by the numbers from the graph on student enrollment at that link, the university went from a high of 3845 students enrolled in 2014 to 2925 in 2024. That’s a loss of 920 students from 2016 to 2024. According to the university’s website, full-time in-state tuition is $7501. That doesn’t include residence hall and food costs, however. According to the university, that number comes to $21,493 (for out-of-state students, those numbers are roughly $25K and $39K). Using the most conservative number, 920 x $7501 is $6,900,920. That more than makes up for the deficit.

The situation was basically the same for SUNY Potsdam when it was discussed in April, and I made a similar comment at Leiter’s blog at the time. We can argue over where cuts shopuld be made, and again I think faculty should be doing more to cut administrative bloat. Furthermore, based on Justin’s update to the OP it sounds like the administration is not accurately reporting the role of philosophers at Asheville. But in a situation where enrollment has declined precipitously over the last decade, and is projected to decline even further in the coming years, I don’t see how we can avoid contracting the academic staff as well.

Stephen
Reply to  Preston Stovall
29 days ago

The State of NC is expecting a budget surplus of $800M for 2024-25. They could easily spot UNCA $6M (and likely further, declining amounts in the coming years) in order to allow for a more gradual, less painful, and less destructive restructuring.

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Preston Stovall
29 days ago

the impacts of the so-called demographic cliff are as yet unknown. while it may be reasonable to restrict new hires based on speculation, it is not reasonable to cut departments in response to something that hasn’t actually happened yet.

the demographic cliff sky-is-falling is simply yet another excuse for higher ed austerity, an excuse of which we ought to be wary since austerity has been the policy since 2008 (and before if you count public divestment from funding higher ed).

two things about austerity: 1) it’s not clear that strict austerity is a successful form of governance, e.g. the UK economy, 2) the funny thing about austerity measures is that no one ever seems to say, “ok we are done now. good work.” or so it seems to me.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Ian
27 days ago

Sure, it’s possible that a smaller number of college-age students will attend university in greater numbers in the coming years. Or, maybe the Clinton/Trump proposal to give green cards to non-citizen college graduates will come to pass, in which case the U.S. might see an increase in attendance from non-citizens that makes up the difference. But do you know of anything suggesting that an increase in student enrollments is likely to occur at the schools facing this problem? I try to keep abreast of this trend and I’m not familiar with anything. At any rate, considering what tuition costs at these schools, the budgest shortfall facing UNC Asheville and SUNY Potsdam today would not be there if student enrollment hadn’t shrunk by (respectively) 25% and 40% in the last decade.

Anderson Brown
Anderson Brown
25 days ago
Julian Friedland
Reply to  Anderson Brown
24 days ago

Ouch. Did your university move forward with the plan you discuss here. In any case, good to see you evidently still thriving!

Julian Friedland
25 days ago

Just sent a letter emphasizing the importance of applied philosophy now more than ever in ethics in business and technology.