Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette to Lose Philosophy BA

The Louisiana Board of Regents is recommending terminating the degree program in philosophy at the "second ship" University of Louisiana. It is one of a mass of "low-completer" degree programs facing the axe. The Committee of Regents agenda is here (WARNING: PDF). The University recommended keeping the program unconditionally:
The B.A. in Philosophy is one of only three such programs in the state. Philosophy, by its very content and essential relationships with other disciplines, is fundamentally a core discipline in any comprehensive, doctoral granting institution. As the Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee staff stated in its report at its meeting of August 25, 2004, regarding the then low-completer status of the Philosophy Program at UL Lafayette: The staff notes that ULL is ranked by the Carnegie Foundation as [a] Doctoral Intensive Institution; hence, the B. A. in Philosophy program should probably be considered as a core undergraduate offering for the University. Accordingly, the staff recommends that the program be maintained unconditionally.
The University recommendation also notes that the number of majors has tripled since 2003-04 (the last time the program was under review for its low-completion record. There are also a number of considerations of the program's instrumental value: It's cheap! It raises LSAT scores! Professional ethics!

But the Regents aren't buying it:
The staff is sympathetic with the University desire to retain this program; it is, indeed, a traditional core program of a broad-based liberal arts and sciences institution. Yet, 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. The issue is not whether Philosophy as a topic of study is an essential component of a broad undergraduate program of studies, but whether a separate and distinct degree in Philosophy is needed. To that question, the staff cannot ignore the statistics. This B.A. program has been a low-completer four out of the five times over a twenty-two year period. Repeated past efforts by the University to enhance student enrollment and completers, while well-intentioned, have not been successful and there is no compelling reason presented here why that pattern should change in the near future.

Accordingly, the staff recommends immediate termination. Currently enrolled student shall be allowed to complete their program of studies within a reasonable frame of time.

I notice three things:
1. One of only three philosophy BA programs in the whole state! (Tulane and LSU must be the others.)
2. The Regents completely ignore the statistics--which do indeed show an increase in enrollment and in majors, both at ULL and nationwide--in order to say that the centrality of philosophy has "lost some credence" among the students.
3. On the other hand, the University doesn't help by hanging its case so heavily on instrumental and service functions. The Regents want to turn Philosophy into a purely service department, so the University is just helping them make their own case.

Istvan Berkeley, of the ULL Philosophy Department, suggest the following:
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.
There you go.