A week ago I received a call informing my of an emergency. In the light of budget woes, the Board of Governors intends to restructure the university. As with corporations, this restructuring seems to be aimed at eliminating certain programs and various programs ranging from Biology to Social Work have been called on to justify their existence. An emergency meeting was called for Monday of this week and we had until noon to prepare our responses .
Since the budget woes are widespread and education is always a prime target (politicians pay and largess for corporations and buddies of politicians are never at risk) I thought I would share my defense with other folks who might be in similar straits.
The main attack against us is based on a quantitative analysis based primarily on the number of majors graduated, the number of students who take the classes in a program and the money brought in via other means. Naturally, the quantitative analysis is based on a set of qualitative assumptions about what should count and how much it should count relative to other factors.
My general suggestion was a six part defense for the arts and sciences programs that attempts to respond to the quantitative challenge.
First, many programs in the arts & sciences tend to be rather low cost. To use some specific examples, English, Philosophy, Religion, and History have no need for laboratories or special equipment and this makes them rather inexpensive to operate. As such, they tend to be “budget” programs.
Second, eliminating a major in the arts & sciences typically will result in no monetary savings. Most of the programs, such as English and Philosophy & Religion, provide classes that are graduation requirements in the general curriculum or in specific programs. Since there are no special fees that must be paid to keep a major “on the books”, eliminating a major that contains such essential classes deprives students of options while yielding no financial savings.
Third, the new global economy requires that American students learn how to understand other cultures and diverse view points. It also requires that American students develop critical thinking skills. The arts & sciences provide critical thinking skills and the knowledge needed to understand specific value sets. As such, the arts & sciences will be critical for American success in the new economy. Eliminating programs might seem to yield short term benefits but the long term consequences would seem to be negative.
Fourth, while certain programs in the arts & sciences tend to have relatively few majors, the number of majors should also be considered in the context of the proportion of such majors needed by society as a whole. To use an analogy, quarterbacks make up a rather small number of the people on a football team. However, it would make no sense to eliminate quarterbacks so as to save money. After all, while they are few in number they are still rather important to the team. So, for example, while philosophy produces few majors, there is a relatively small need for professional philosophers. This need is, however, legitimate. At the very least someone has to teach all those critical thinking and ethics courses that people will need.
Fifth the arts & sciences also provide key classes that have value beyond mere numbers and money. One such value is the cultural value provided by the arts. Another is the value of scientific inquiry and training. A third is the value of having a truly liberal education. While the notion of such non-numerical values has considerable appeal to folks in the arts & sciences (which is usually why we are in these fields), they might carry little weight with the folks who are mostly concerned about dollars in and dollars out.
One of the most moving defenses of education was given by James Stockdale:
“Generally speaking, I think education is a tremendous defense; the broader, the better. After I was shot down, my wife, Sybil, found a clipping glued in front of my collegiate dictionary: “Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.” She certainly agrees with me on that. Most of us prisoners found that the so-called practical academic exercises in how to do things, which I’m told are proliferating, were useless. I’m not saying that we should base education on training people to be in prison, but I am saying that in stress situations, the fundamentals, the hardcore classical subjects are what serve best.”(Stockdale, J.B., The World Of Epictetus, The Atlantic Monthly, 1978)
In addition to my general response, I also formulated specific responses to the five questions we were asked to address. I have included these as well:
1. Provide summary information on any concerns or issues within your program that may not be addressed by quantitative data.
One concern is that quantitative data fails to take into account contributions that are not readily quantified.
First, graduates of the philosophy and religion program have gone on to become significant figures in academics. To use but two examples, Dr. Tommie Shelby is a professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University and Dr. Darryl Scriven is a professor of philosophy at Tuskegee University.
Second, the program is directly relevant to three of the learning outcomes: critical thinking, ethical values and cultural diversity.
Third, philosophy has been at the heart of academics since the beginning of academics at Plato’s Academy.
Fourth, philosophy and religion are essential components of a liberal arts education. The value of these contributions has been argued by such thinkers as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Bertrand Russell.
A second concern is that the program reviews have consistently noted that the program would require additional resources (including more faculty) in order to increase productivity. As such, the current productivity could be regarded as being in accord with the allocated resources. The program seems to be producing majors at a rate comparable to other programs which operate with similar resources (number of faculty, etc.).
A third concern is that in addition to simply looking at the overall number of majors it is also important to consider the proportionate, but legitimate, need in society as a whole. To use an analogy, to only assess on the basis of overall numbers would be on par with being critical of a soccer team’s resources being spent to train goalies because the team only has one on the field at a time. While society does not need a multitude of philosophy and religion majors, there does seem to be a legitimate need for the program to exist so as to produce those that are, in fact, needed.
A fourth concern is that the philosophy and religion majors are very flexible and open programs relative to the requirements of other majors. This makes the major very useful for students seeking to graduate. Roughly put, the flexibility of the major allows it to serve as a safety net that has often caught students and enabled them to graduate in a timelier manner (or graduate at all).
A final concern worth noting is that eliminating the philosophy and religion major would not result in any savings. Assuming there is no special cost involved in keeping majors available to students, eliminating the philosophy and religion majors would save no money. If the faculty positions were eliminated, this would merely result in the need to hire replacement faculty to teach the humanities courses that students need as part of the General Education requirements as well as for the specific classes that many other majors require (such as Aesthetics, Introduction to Philosophy and Logic). Overall, I would contend that the volume of service classes provided to the university offsets any concerns about the relatively low number of majors produced.
2. How do you see your department and its program(s) contributing to the realization of the University’s strategic vision? (consult the University Strategic Plan at http://www.famu.edu/OfficeofInstitutionalEffectiveness/UserFiles/File/Strategic_Plan_2010_2020_Approved.pdf)
In light of the economic, political and social changes in the 21st century it is evident that students will more than ever need critical thinking skills, an understanding of ethical values, the ability to understand other cultures and a comprehension of the religions of the world.
The philosophy and religion program faculty endeavor to provide the students with the tools and knowledge they will need to compete and thrive both on campus and in the diverse world beyond.
The faculty will make use of the latest available technology as part of the learning process, making full use of the new smart classrooms as well as web technology such as downloadable lectures and videos of class material. While philosophy and religion classes are traditionally regarded as being discussion based, many of the classes would actually be ideal for being offered as online classes.
In addition, the faculty contribute to the general mission of recruiting and retaining students, enhancing the academic program and improving graduation rates. As noted above, the flexible and open requirements for the major provide an effective means of providing graduation options to students.
Special emphasis is also being placed on low (or no) cost means of recruiting students using online means including establishing an online presence for the department via such means as blogs and social networking.
3. List any existing or expected interdisciplinary or inter-university activities in which your program is engaged.
Currently the program is working with Dr. Will Guzmán in developing the African American Studies Minor in History & African American Studies.
4. What disciplinary, national or international trends do you anticipate that may impact your program, and what impact may they have?
First, as the current QEP indicates, the concern about critical thinking is certain to be an ongoing trend. Given that critical thinking belongs within the domain of philosophy and that the classes in the program generally contain strong critical thinking components there should be an ever-increasing need for classes within the program. Of course, critical thinking is not something germane only to philosophy; considering the plethora of religious/spiritual beliefs in the world one has to be critically engaged to determine what is wheat and what is chaff. As such, the study of critical thinking in general and its specific applications will be of ever increasing importance to students and hence in demand.
Second, given the fact that ethics is a branch of philosophy and the ongoing need for education in ethics (as the recent financial meltdown, which was largely a moral failure, indicates) there will be an ever increasing need for classes and other programs relating to ethical values and ethical reasoning.
Third, religion shows no sign of decreasing as an important factor in national and world events. As such, it can be expected that the study of religion will continue to be rather important in preparing students for their careers and life after college.
Fourth, the new economy will be ever more international in character and will require students capable of understanding other points of view and this includes various faiths. As such, there will be a critical need for training in philosophy and religion.
Fifth, there is role of technology in education as well as a subject of education. As noted above, faculty make extensive use of this technology and incorporate it into their classes. There are currently plans to develop online classes when the resources are available to do so. Additionally, faculty as also involved in the shift from the traditional academic avenues to the online world. For example, a faculty member is a contributory to a professional international philosophy blog.
5. How will your program contribute to generating revenue for the University? Please be specific.
First, the primary way the program contributes to generating revenue for the University is via providing courses that are consistently at or (more commonly) over their University set caps. For example, an Introduction to Philosophy class (taught by a single professor) typically has 60+ students. Presumably this contributes to the University’s revenue stream. Since the program requires no special expenditures for laboratories, equipment, non-teaching supplies and so on, the program is also not consuming revenue beyond the cost of salaries and the cost of the classroom facilities.
Second, the program can, like other programs, seek to acquire grant money and other outside sources of funding that can either offset University expenditures or provide direct revenue for the University. Unfortunately, support for philosophy and religion from outside sources tends to be rather limited. In addition, the four courses per semester teaching load tends to impede the ability of faculty to develop grants and create alternative revenue generating projects.