Let me begin by thanking all the people who signed the Change.org petition to save the WIU philosophy major. Though I have signed quite a lot of petitions, I used to think signing them was silly, and now I know they are broadly ineffective. But what I didn’t anticipate was the feeling of emotional and psychological support the kind words of friends and strangers from across the globe could provide. So, thank you.
It will come as no surprise to those paying attention that the Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to authorize the elimination of philosophy and three other programs at Western Illinois University, but readers may be interested in how this happened so quickly over the last two weeks.
Tuesday, May 31: Interim Provost, Kathleen Neumann refuses to meet with Philosophy and Religious Studies, but does consent to a meeting with the college dean and department chair. Neumann intends to dissolve the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department by the start of the Fall 2016 semester.
Wednesday, June 1: Philosophy and Religious Studies faculty meet to discuss matters. It’s grim.
Friday, June 3: As Chair of the WIU Faculty Senate, I call a special meeting to discuss three agenda items:
(1) IBHE Appointee John Bambenek;
(2) Faculty response to the APER Committee Report; and
(3) The Faculty Senate Consent Agenda for the BOT Meeting. This is usually pro forma, but given that four programs are up for elimination (page 45) and our President is presenting a new university vision (page 87) created in the last two months, this needed faculty discussion and input.
Monday, June 6: WIU University General Council, Mrs. Rica Calhoun, informs me via phone that the upcoming Faculty Senate meeting violates the “Fair Labor Standards Act.” The reason: faculty are not on contract. I remind her that other faculty committees meet over the summer, and as Senate chair I have authority to call meetings and our Constitution allows for such meetings over the summer. (Article V, Section 1 and 2)
I ask her for the exact law that we would be violating by meeting, and Mrs. Calhoun emails me the following:
The application of the Fair Labor Standards Act is cited in 29 CFR 553 (Section 553.102) regarding individuals employed by the same public agency.
I can’t speak definitively about intention, but this certainly felt like an attempt to intimidate me, silence faculty voices, and prevent the Senate meeting from taking place. These tactics, applied to others, will most certainly have a chilling effect on faculty governance.
Tuesday, June 7: Faculty Senate meets. We unanimously vote (a) John Bambenek is ineligible for service on the IBHE, (I have a letter going out to State Senators Muño asking him to not confirm the Governor’s Appointment), and (b) to not consent to BOT Resolution No. 16.6/9 “Higher Values in Higher Education 2016-2026” on the President’s new Strategic Plan.
We also vote, though 2 short of unanimous, to not consent to the BOT Resolution No. 16.6/5 “Academic Program Review Recommendations,” where the Interim Provost recommends the elimination of programs.
Friday, June 10: The BOT meeting held at our branch campus in Moline Illinois (about 80 miles from our main campus in Macomb, IL).
Before the vote, Interim Provost Kathleen Neumann, states the elimination is a result of low enrollment and low student interest NOT the Illinois budget crisis. (I won’t bore the reader with all our facts and data defending our program, because, in all honesty, FACTS in this case are relevant to neither the administration nor the BOT. But you can see the full philosophy self-study Download WIU PHIL Program Self Study 2015, the executive summary Download WIU PHIL Executive Summary 2015, and a trend of credit hour production of WIU philosophers since 2011 Download WIU Phil program trends graphs 2011-16.)
Before casting the vote, Trustee Lyneir Cole says: “We have to do what’s in the best interest of the university.” Mr. Cole did not, however, articulate how the elimination of these majors was in the best interest of the university especially since the stated point of these eliminations was not about cost savings.
Trustee Carolyn Ehlert Fuller adds to that with: “We always create new programs, but never eliminate them. We need to get rid of those programs at the bottom.” This parrots the language from the IBHE reporting requirement for low enrolled programs, discussed here, which has been taken as a mandate for action on our campus.
At 10:54 a.m. central time, after those enlightening comments, the WIU Board of Trustees unanimously votes to authorize the elimination of philosophy, religious studies, women’s studies, and African American studies, but agrees to keep the general education courses and minors according to this press release.
Whether or not minors will indeed be kept, how many non-general education courses are kept for minors, where faculty will be housed since the three departments are being closed, and how many faculty will be laid off has yet to be determined.
So that gets us up to date on the relevant events. Let me now give a bit of context, with the understanding that there are things I can’t talk about right now for what should be obvious reasons. Also, these are my views and not the views of my department colleagues.
Governor Rauner appointed President Jack Thomas to the IBHE back in early April.
So, if President Thomas is a member of the IBHE, why is our university using an IBHE reporting standard as a mandate for change? Why is he rebranding WIU vision with the following niche statement: “Providing from day one of the student’s experience high impact, applied learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom, leading to employment and/or graduate school placement upon graduation.” [Page 88 of the BOT Agenda] (The BOT unanimously approved this new niche plan.)
Is President Thomas making WIU the poster child for Rauner’s higher education reform in Illinois by focusing on job training and cutting pension costs? Dr. Thomas has said repeatedly that his mandate from the BOT is to keep the doors open, and the provost has been saying things are going to look very different around here in the next few years. But, we are a unionized campus, and there are only a few tools left in the administrator’s toolbox with which they can cut cost and reform the university as a whole. At least one of those tools would support Rauner’s higher ed reform agenda and other, more broader agendas related to employment issues.
More importantly, since only two philosophy programs at Illinois public universities meet the new IBHE reporting standards for undergraduate majors and degrees conferred, other philosophy programs could be at risk. There are many questions left unanswered, but I leave you with two in particular: (1) What happens to Philosophy in Illinois? And (2) Is the study of philosophy to be reserved only for students who attend flagship or private universities?