Professor Responds to Cut: “What is going on here is wrong. It is shameful.”

The Voice

Philosophy Professor Dr. Wendy Lee wrote a letter to the Provost in protest of BU administration cutting the philosophy major.

She wrote:

Dr. Rogers-Adkinson,

As a thirty year veteran of Bloomsburg University, I can tell you that I have seen many changes — some good, some less so. I have witnessed feast and famine with respect to enrollment. I have seen a blighted parking lot become a quad. I have helped plant memorial trees. I have led protests. I have participated in the lives of my colleagues. I bestowed upon my own son his diploma — in philosophy and psychology. But what I have never seen — and never thought I would see — is an institution so hell-bent on its own short term survival that it resorts to destroying its mission as a university. Yet over the course of many mercenary decisions executed in a fashion callous as well as disingenuous, BU has not only lost its way but sold its proverbial soul.

The dissolution of the philosophy major — along with physics, anthropology, and whatever programs are selected for extinction next — is not, I think, a cause of Bloomsburg’s death as a university, but rather the effect of the decision to value the generation of revenue over education, to bastardize the academic disciplines in the interest of making them commodities for a supply chain. The moment BU administration demoted itself to a counting firm whose single-minded focus is, quite literally, butts in seats — the bell began to toll for departments, faculty, and courses that are the beating heart of any university, namely, the humanities and the sciences. History and English may hobble along without philosophy, but as I am certain their professors will tell you, you have done their disciplines nearly as great a harm as you have done to ours. History without the history of ideas — Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Arendt, and so many others — is inevitably a grey and flattened enterprise. Chemistry and biology without physics — distorted and incomplete. So too, the social sciences without anthropology. I am no doubt partial, but I believe with all my heart that it is philosophy that binds together a university’s core values. Philosophy is a fire that ignites the capacity for critical thinking, for intellectual adventure, and for world-changing ideas.

We are told that the decision to cauterize the philosophy major had nothing to do with the Great Integration, but rather “low enrollment.” This is false. “Low enrollment” is merely a disingenuous strategy to scapegoat the university’s lack of support for the humanities. It is, moreover, no excuse at all to hide behind the decisions of the chancellor. There is a time to say no. This was it.

Add to this that we were not consulted, and no member of BU administration had even the guts to tell us they had killed our major to our face. This is shameful, and it casts a dark shadow over the fates of every other department and every other college. One might also think that this blighted decision came as a necessary cost-saving measure: demonstrably false.

This is the “Integrated University”: at best a poorly run corporation for training specialized technicians without the skills to question their lot, and at worst a caricature of a “university” pawned off to the families of the not-well-to-do. Make no mistake — for whatever flailing BU does in the direction of a shallow respect for diversity or equal access, it has codified an economic class system that reserves the liberal arts and the humanities for the wealthy who can afford to send their fortunate offspring to UPenn and Bucknell — all the while instructing the children of the less fortunate that their place is among the traditional professions.

Don’t get me wrong: nursing and K-12 education are, of course, eminently valuable — but even here BU has cut off its nose to spite its face. For not only do the humanities play a vital role in the ethics educations of these professions, the likelihood that BU will be able to recruit the high quality faculty it needs to stock Medical or Business Ethics courses is bound to dwindle — right along with its declining reputation. Indeed, the likelihood that BU will be able to recruit the caliber of faculty, staff, or student to which we have long been accustomed is grim. Few newly minted PhDs — across the colleges — will want to risk their own scholarly reputations and tenure aspirations, and their commitment to academic freedom for a system so plainly unstable, a departmental structure so obviously arbitrary, and an administration so unfeeling and dull.

Hopefully, parents seeking the best value for their own hard-earned dollars will see right through the Integrated “University” advertising to the educationally hollow revenue-driven Frankenstein we’ve become. They won’t want to be played for fools knowing that a “degree” from an expensive technical school masquerading as a university may well not be the career path to which their daughter or son aspired. A for-profit online “college” is cheaper and more honest. This is not to suggest that our professional colleges are not excellent — but insofar as the reputation of one is bound to all, none will escape being tainted by this short-sighted profit-driven gambit. None can evade being endangered by this crude game of numbers.

To my students past and present: what is going on here is wrong. It is shameful. It disrespects you and your families. But your professors will stand by you even if BU sees you as nothing more than cash cows. The lesson here is to never permit yourselves to become mere cogs. You are citizens. You deserve better, and we have in no way given up fighting for your educations — even if that means encouraging you to flee to greener pasture.

One of the invaluable gifts of a humanities education is the world it can make possible for first generation students. I AM precisely that student. I clawed my way through undergraduate school in philosophy at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and I stayed in philosophy to give my children a better life. A life that was full of ideas, of arguments, of characters, of beauty. I knew that philosophy could open the door to every other great thing — history, art, music, invention…. To strip the university of that opportunity is a form of theft. It is a discrimination against those with fewer means. it is a distortion of what education is and should be. It. Is. Wrong.

And, it is all perversely hilarious: in its desperate need to scapegoat something other than its own misadventures overbuilding, over-spending on everything but education — as Professor Smith puts it, making BU into a Club Med — BU finds itself unable to fulfill its central mission: educational opportunity across that wide swath of disciplines that define a university. So, instead of trying to recover its soul, it blames the victims of its gross neglect, lies to its students and their families, and hides behind the thin veneer of “affordability.”

The entire university is damaged by these mercenary decisions, and every college and department should heed the lesson: you are disposable.