Letter to the Editor: Philosophers protest

Dear President Dell’Omo:

We write as the chair of the board of officers and executive director of the American Philosophical Association. We urge you and all those involved in making vital decisions about the future of Rider University not to eliminate the philosophy program at Rider as has recently been proposed.

Rider University’s vision statement reads, “Rider University will be a leader in American higher education celebrated for educating talented students for citizenship, life and career success in a diverse and interdependent world. Rider will achieve distinctiveness by focusing on students first, by cultivating leadership skills, by affirming teaching and learning that bridges the theoretical and the practical and by fostering a culture of academic excellence.” In its mission, Rider declares its intent to “challenge students to become active learners who can acquire, interpret, communicate and apply knowledge within and across disciplines to foster the integrative thinking required in a complex and rapidly changing world.” Philosophy is at the very core of this vision and mission.

More than perhaps any other discipline, philosophy prepares students to be engaged, well-rounded citizens suited to nearly any career path. Philosophy teaches the skills most desired by employers in today’s economy: critical thinking, effective written and verbal communication, creative problem solving, analysis, moral and ethical conduct, persuasive reasoning. A philosophy major or minor is a typical start to a law career, and philosophy students routinely outperform nearly all other majors on not only the LSAT, but also the GMAT and GRE.

Rider University promotes the idea that students will see a return on their investment. According to Payscale.com, philosophy graduates have the highest mid-career earnings of all humanities graduates, and philosophy majors’ mid- career earning potential is ahead of those who major in biology, psychology, political science, and business administration.

It is difficult to imagine that a university that fails to offer students the opportunity to study an absolutely core discipline in the humanities, a discipline that prepares students to score well on graduate entrance exams, and that provides them with the intellectual skills that translate into higher average income than many of the majors being retained at Rider, will be able to fulfill a mission of “educating talented students for citizenship, life and career success” and graduating “students… who can acquire, interpret, communicate and apply knowledge within and across disciplines to foster… integrative thinking….”

We understand the natural desire of university administrators to make decisions based on simple numerical metrics. We also understand that the number of students who major in philosophy is relatively small at most universities. Yet we remind you that the role of philosophy in universities, unlike other more specialized disciplines, is not primarily to serve majors. Rather, philosophy plays a pivotal role in university core curricula and in interdisciplinary programs. Courses like Philosophical Thinking, Medical Ethics, Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Philosophies of Education, the Nature of Art, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Law, and Philosophy of Science serve many more students than just philosophy majors. These courses exist to serve the larger university community, to provide important parts of the education of students of a wide variety of majors. While the number of majors may often be relatively small in philosophy, course enrollments are typically strong as students of many majors see philosophy courses as complementing their studies in their primary disciplines in a variety of ways. A statement describing the role of philosophy in higher education in more detail is available on the APA’s
website: http://www.apaonline.org/?role_of_phil

Before closing this letter we will make three brief, final points. First, unless Rider intends to abandon philosophy forever, it is important to remember that recreating a department is more expensive than maintaining one. Second, the basic idea of vertical cuts based merely on metrics such as number of majors is flawed to the extent that such cuts eliminate programs that are fundamental to the broader educational goals of the institution. Third, the United States is unique in being perhaps the only nation in the world that was founded based on philosophy. An education without philosophy is an education that would be unrecognizable to people like Jefferson and Franklin. Rider students both need and deserve the opportunity to engage with the ideas that animated our nation’s founding.

We strongly urge you and all the leaders of Rider University to reverse the decision to eliminate philosophy from your curriculum.

—Cheshire Calhoun, Chair of the Board of Officers
Amy Ferrer, Executive Director
American Philosophical Association

Partially printed in the 11/18/15 issue.

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