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Professor reacts to dissolution of philosophy department in letter to provost

*Editor’s note: Dr. Wendy Lee is a professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University. This is her letter to BU Provost Dr. Diana Rogers-Adkinson.

BU administration killed the university’s philosophy major today—along with physics and anthropology.

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, as Professor Smith makes clear, of the decision to value the generation of revenue over education. 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, deBeauvoir, 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 the fire that ignites the capacity for critical thinking, for intellectual adventure, and for world-changing ideas.

The “Integrated University” is woefully misnamed. For whatever we call it, it has metastasized into what is 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 department structure so obviously arbitrary, and an administration so unfeeling and dull.

Parents seeking the best value for their own hard-earned dollars will see right through the Integrated System 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.

As always, I will encourage my students never to be satisfied with the lot of complacent cogs, but rather to strive to be sharpened citizens capable of seeing beyond appearances. We were saddened in philosophy to see Jacob Williams leave us to be nearer his family—but we knew we had planted that crucial seed of wonder, curiosity, and the appreciation for the beauty of ideas. The irony now is knowing that every seed I plant may grow to recognize that if it is a truly university education she or he wishes to pursue—they will have to look elsewhere.

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