University of Nebraska at Kearney to drop major in philosophy

Students and faculty are scrambling to save the University of Nebraska at Kearney philosophy major after state and campus officials offered to cut the program because it is under-enrolled.

The recommendation to eliminate the major in philosophy at UNK was first issued by the Nebraska Post-Secondary Education Coordinating Commission in 2019. At the time, the UNK administration requested the possibility of developing the major and increasing the number of graduates. The CCPE expected the program to graduate seven students per year from an undergraduate population of around 5,000. CCPE figures, however, show an average of less than two philosophy graduates per year. at UNK since the major was first approved in 2004.

Now it looks like the time is up: UNK leadership has officially requested permission from the Nebraska Board of Regents to end the philosophy major and ban new registrations.

Philosophy professors are outraged. They say the university has not done its part to develop the curriculum, citing reduced humanities requirements in the general education curriculum, which has resulted in a decrease in the number of students taking philosophy courses and administrators rejecting programs offered with an interdisciplinary approach.

Find majors in philosophy

Philosophy majors are usually students who take an introductory course and become addicted to the subject, said David Rozema, professor at UNK and director of the philosophy program. The recently reduced requirements for humanities courses, he said, mean students are less exposed to philosophy.

“I am convinced that most of the reasons these numbers are low are that our administration has not done what it should be doing to promote our program and try to get students to engage in philosophy,” Rozema said. “If they had, we wouldn’t be in that position.

UNK administrators also rejected plans to introduce a pre-legal and philosophy and literature training program that would have generated greater exposure to philosophy, he said, ultimately reducing the major.

“I have the impression that, on the one hand, our administration gives lip service to the value of philosophy and the importance for each student to have some exposure to philosophy, but on the other hand , in their actions, they made it more difficult. and more difficult for students to take philosophy courses, ”said Rozema.

What Rozema calls “the failings of the administration” are more complex than they appear, said Charles Bicak, UNK senior vice-chancellor for academic and student affairs. Bicak noted that the faculty council approved general education standards that reduced humanities requirements. The new core curriculum, approved in 2020, reduced the minimum number of credit hours required for general education from 45 to a total of 30 to 31. Bicak also cited faculty governance as the reason why proposals to create interdisciplinary philosophy programs were not approved.

“Changes within a general studies or general education program begin and are developed with the faculty. Basically, the administration is at the end of the process, ”he said. “This is a faculty consideration as opposed to an administrative decree in one way or another. “

Another point of contention between administration and faculty is the actual number of majors in philosophy. The UNK administration has three; Rozema has eight, including doubles majors.

“My understanding is that there is a real distinction between a double major and an individual major,” said Bicak, a benchmark and distinction established by the Coordinating Commission.

COVID-19 has also hampered the recruitment process for the philosophy program, limiting direct contact with potential incoming students. Given the stagnant number of philosophy majors, UNK had tasked the program to recruit more prospects from local high schools and introduce them to the discipline before they arrived on campus in order to generate interest in the major. But as the coronavirus spread across the United States and schools closed en masse, those plans ran into a problem.

This week, the proposal to remove the major in philosophy at UNK will go to the Nebraska Board of Regents’ Academic Affairs committee, which will review the issue and recommend that the full board should act as early as February.

The national trend

If the Board of Regents eliminates the major in philosophy at UNK, it will essentially follow a national trend. The list of colleges that have abandoned philosophy as a major in recent years includes Liberty University, Western Oregon University, and Elizabethtown College.

According to Amy Ferrer, executive director of the APA, the American Philosophy Association is watching the trend closely, sending letters of support to university administrators to advocate for departments facing cuts and closures.

Ferrer said the organization wrote six of those letters in 2020 and four in 2021.

“We often hear that the main justifications for reductions in philosophy programs have to do with single numerical measures, particularly the number of majors (often not counting double majors, which is quite common for students majoring in philosophy) “Ferrer wrote in an email. . “For the record, I feel like departments are less likely to face cuts and more likely to be able to reverse threatened cuts when they have strong interdepartmental ties, such as major and minor interdisciplinary courses. These connections often help philosophy departments demonstrate to their administrations that the simple numerical metrics that are often used to justify reductions do not accurately reflect the impact and importance of the philosophy department.

What is lost without philosophy

Jonathan Drozda, a senior at UNK who has a double major in psychology and philosophy, said his interest in philosophy started in high school but only developed in college. During his second semester at UNK, he took a course in philosophy, an experience which then led him to the major.

Now he’s circulating a petition to keep the philosophy major at UNK alive, fearing that the loss of the program means an education that lacks depth. He fears that reduced demands in the humanities will lead fewer students down the path he’s taken, and that eliminating the major will limit opportunities to think deeply and examine the purpose of life.

“I think if we lose the major in Philosophy, there will be a lot less emphasis in the thought that relates to the meaning of life,” Drozda said.

Rozema is also concerned about the decline in the number of philosophy students and what that means for the development of people who he believes would benefit from philosophy throughout their lifetimes.

“We are trying to teach students how to think well, trying to instill in them ethical principles that they can live by, virtues,” he said. “And if you deprive students of these opportunities, then you are perpetuating the problem that we have in the world of people who can’t think well, can’t be critical, aren’t very logical.”

Although the major is in jeopardy, Bicak noted that the minor in philosophy will remain in place at UNK. And while faculty members worry about what the removal of the major may mean for their job security, Bicak said “any change of this nature has yet to be determined” at this point, noting that there will always be lessons to be taught in the minor. and for general studies courses.

Despite the recommendation to eliminate the major in Philosophy, Bicak noted that this was a decision he arrived at with difficulty, a decision he sees as good management of taxpayer money in a public university where programs come and go according to numbers and references.

“A decision like this or a recommendation like this saddens me deeply, because an area like philosophy is so central to the description and identity of any university, certainly one that emphasizes the liberal arts. [as] we are doing it, ”Bicak said. “I think we need to look at ways to make sure we keep that identity. But we are not at odds with the national trend.


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