Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Philosophy major at University of Louisiana at Lafayette being eliminated.

Late last week (which was also our Spring break), we learned that our Board of Regents is considering terminating the Philosophy major, here at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. A Committee of the Regents meet at 1pm on Wednesday this week (the 22nd) and the immediate termination of the Philosophy program is on the agenda. They propose making philosophy a mere service program.

The reason this action is being considered is because of the small number of philosophy majors graduating from our program. This was an issue several years ago, has been addressed and our numbers are now steadily rising. Indeed, a few years ago a similar threat to the program arose, but was not acted upon, because the Board of Regents deemed a Philosophy program to be essential for a Doctoral II University. Now, it appears that they have changed their minds.

The Board of Regents Committee Agenda for their meeting can be found at http://www.regents.state.la.us/Board/Agenda/2009/04/aacomm.htm The staff comments can be found under Item III “Staff Recommendations Relative to the Review of Select Low-Completer Programs”; the Philosophy program is discussed on p. 71, (p. 93 of the .pdf).

The current situation is troubling for a number of reasons. First, the Regents staff report that,

"...one cannot help but recognize that Philosophy as an essential undergraduate program has lost some credence among students. This is reflected in decreasing numbers not only in this program, but others across the country.” (p. 72/ p. 95 of the .pdf).

Unfortunately, the claims here do not accord with the evidence. To cite a single example, *The New York Times*, a year ago ran an article describing the recent increases in philosophy enrollments (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/education/06philosophy.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=Philosophy&st=nyt&oref=slogin). It is also strange how the Regents staff have some kind of 'privileged access' to “credence among students”.

A second puzzling feature about this decision is that it cannot be motivated by cost factors. Our philosophy program is one of the most efficient programs on our campus and the potential savings are, at most, a few thousand dollars.

The final reason that this proposed termination of our Philosophy major is worrisome, is due to the fact that it throws some uncertainty into the future of the PHILOSOP mailing list. If they succeed in downgrading our program, then the activities that will continue to be supported are unclear. It is perhaps a strange irony that the two Philosophy programs in the world which host major mailing lists, with PHILOSOP here, and PHILOS-L at Liverpool, should both come under attack within a month or so of each other.

We are fortunate that our university administration appears to be supportive of the Philosophy program. The Regents are the ultimate authority, though. For these reasons then, may I politely suggest that the Board of Regents be made aware that their assessment of philosophy, as a declining academic discipline, is incorrect. Any other related thoughts might also be useful. Probably the best method of doing this is to send messages to Dr. Sally Clausen, who is the Commissioner of Higher Education. Her e-mail address is sclausen@uls.state.la.us. The last time they tried to take away our major, we were able to generate a petition with over 1,500 signatures from people around the State of Louisiana. This time we do not have the time to organize such an effort. So, support from philosophers around the world would be very much appreciated. However, as the time is short, please act as soon as you can.

Istvan Berkeley.

Istvan S. N. Berkeley Ph.D
Philosophy and Cognitive Science E-mail: istvan@louisiana.edu
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette
P.O. Box 43770 Tel: +1 337 482-6807
Lafayette, LA 70504-3770 Fax: +1 337 482-5002
USA http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~isb9112

No comments: