On January 24-25, the board of trustees here at Cedarville will vote on a proposal to discontinue the philosophy major. How can a self-proclaimed liberal arts institution not offer a philosophy program?
According to the school, the philosophy major is no longer financially viable. The number of students in the major has fallen from 19 in 2008 to 9 during the review. Since the program "is struggling to maintain a sufficient number of students," the academic council believes the major should no longer be offered.
The announcement was met by great skepticism among current and former philosophy students at Cedarville. Many students find the financial argument for cutting the major hard to accept. Although the financial numbers are not published, the philosophy program has no apparent costs outside of faculty - they require no lab equipment, there's no special fund for the program, etc. Furthermore, of the two faculty members, only one is solely a philosophy professor. The other faculty member teaches the general education class Introduction to Humanities and holds the position of Director of the Honors Program. Given these facts, it would seem that for the philosophy program to be financially viable, it needs to only support one and a half faculty members.
Claiming there are only 9 students is misleading. There are no senior philosophy students, which means that come next year the number of majors will almost certainly increase. Many students switch into philosophy after their freshman year, increasing the program size further. In fact, since the academic review, four more students have become philosophy majors; there are now 13 majors, yet still none in the senior class. The major looks on target to have at least 16 students next year.. There are also a handful of philosophy minors. Since the student-to-faculty ratio at Cedarville is 13:1, philosophy appears to be on target for at least meeting the standard at Cedarville.
But suppose that it's true that the program is not financially viable. After all, we don't have direct access to the numbers. Is there still a good reason to object to the philosophy program's cancellation? Philosophy holds a unique position within academia; in many ways, philosophy is at the core of the concept of a university. Philosophy teaches the critical thinking skills that are necessary to succeed in and engage with the world. Ultimately, universities are not businesses; they have goals that go beyond making money. By looking at Cedarville's mission statement, it becomes hard to imagine how cutting philosophy could contribute to Cedarville achieving its mission.
According to Cedarville, they achieve their mission when their graduates are able to glorify God, think broadly and deeply, communicate effectively, develop academically and professionally, and engage for Christ. Philosophy helps Cedarville graduates to meet each of the listed goals:
Glorify God - In the Scriptures we are taught to love wisdom, and practicing philosophy is doing just that. Philosophy - especially at Cedarville - teaches students to critically engage with the triune God and the doctrines of the historical faith of Christianity. Faith and reason go hand in hand, and the philosophy education offered at Cedarville contributes to the faith of students and the glorification of God. Cedarville's philosophy program also teaches students to search the Scriptures and approach them respectfully. I am confident that I am not the only philosophy student who learned through the philosophy program how to appreciate the Bible.
Think Broadly and Deeply - Philosophy is incredibly interdisciplinary, touching on psychology, sociology, physics, biology, mathematics, literature, law, economics, and more. Whereas many academic programs prepare students for a specific profession, philosophy students are exposed to a variety of topics, since philosophy pours into all areas of study. Philosophy students are not asked to regurgitate memorized information on tests, but they are required to evaluate, connect, and create ideas in dialogue with other academic disciplines and in response to the culture(s) in which we live today. As previously mentioned, critical thinking is essential for successful philosophizing.
Communicate Effectively - Writing is thinking, and an excellent communicator is an excellent thinker. The philosophy classes at Cedarville require students to write clearly, compellingly, accurately, and truthfully. Ask any of the many students who have done poorly on philosophy papers; the philosophy program demands the sort of effective communication required by the mission statement. Furthermore, students often encounter seemingly absurd ideas in philosophy classes. Philosophy teaches students to listen carefully to these ideas, to find the merits of them, and to evaluate them critically.
Develop Academically and Professionally - Philosophy is the quintessential academic discipline, so I doubt there's any question that is contributes to the academic development of a student. As far as developing students with regards to professional endeavors, one might think that philosophy is useless. But in fact, philosophy students (both at Cedarville and elsewhere) continually succeed in the "real world." Philosophy students not only have the highest acceptance rate into medical schools (1) out of any major, but they also are wanted by many executives in the business world (2). A degree in philosophy does, indeed, prepare one to demonstrate competence and integrity in academic and professional endeavors.
Engage for Christ - Philosophers throughout history have informed and influenced the way we think today. In our fast paced and connected world, ideas are exchanged and embedded in our social consciousness quicker than ever - our ways of approaching issues are radically different now than they were just thirty years ago. Becoming familiar with current philosophical conversations allows the philosophy major to better influence the various spheres of life. The great historic philosophers of Christianity - Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm, Aquinas, etc. - masterfully used philosophy to engage the world for Christ. Their influence is still felt today.
Philosophy is in no way expendable. We cannot allow the universities in America to dismiss it as irrelevant, impractical, or unviable. The existence of a philosophy program at Cedarville is absolutely critical to the university's mission and to the well-being of the academics at the institution.
Editor's note: If you would like to register your protest of Cedarville's proposed cut to the philosophy program, see Our CU Protest and sign our petition.