April 16, 2004
Dr. Robert McChesney
Office of the President
University of Montevallo
At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, the decision to eliminate adjunct positions in philosophy for the 2004-05 academic year was a topic of discussion. This specific decision was troubling to many of us for a number of reasons. We have attempted to gather as much information as possible regarding the process and rationales involved in this decision. Still, we recognize our knowledge is limited. In the context of our discussion, a number of thematic concerns were identified. We hope you are able to read this letter as a request for clarification as well as an expression of our concerns.
Our understanding is that there is a rather open ended, ongoing dialogue involving the deans of each college, departmental chairs and the Provost regarding adjunct positions in various programs. At some point, deans are given a dollar amount which is available for the hiring of adjuncts in each college. The deans, in conjunction with departmental chairs, make final decisions (subject to the approval of the Provost and President) regarding the allocation of adjunct positions among programs. In the case of the College of Arts and Sciences, it was recently determined that four (4) slots (or courses) previously assigned to philosophy would be eliminated for the 2004-05 academic year. We find the substance of this decision, the process by which it was made and communicated, and its ideological implications, disconcerting for the following reasons.
1) The reduction of philosophy courses being offered does not seem consistent with the University of Montevallo’s stated mission of providing a “public higher-educational experience of high quality with a strong emphasis on undergraduate liberal arts studies….” Members of the Faculty Senate, whose own disciplinary affiliations and allegiances span the entire campus, are of one mind in recognizing philosophy among the foundation disciplines of a liberal arts education.
2) In the fall of 2002, the University of Montevallo adopted a new general curriculum. The “Statement of Purpose and Goals…” reads, “Students will acquire knowledge of English grammar, logic and rhetoric.” It seems that philosophy speaks directly to logic and rhetoric. In addition the document states, “Students will acquire knowledge about human nature” and be enabled to "begin to answer the central question facing every thoughtful person: ‘What does it mean to be human?’” It is difficult to imagine how either of these goals might be fulfilled without an institutional commitment to philosophy as a discipline.
3) In addition to the adoption of the “Statement of the Purpose of Goals of the Core Educational Program,” the University also adopted a “General Education Curriculum.” One of the most dramatic substantive changes from our previous general education curriculum concerns philosophy. The new curriculum requires students to take either a foreign language or philosophy. Given the (unfortunate as it might be) reluctance of so many students to take a foreign language, there is every reason to suspect enrollment in philosophy courses is about to increase exponentially. Reducing the number of courses offered at this time would seem to have significant implications for: a) the number of students in individual sections; b) the number of upper-level courses which may be offered; and c) the university’s guarantee that all students will be able to meet graduation requirements in a four year career.
4) Beginning in the 2002-06 edition of the College of Arts & Sciences Unit Plan, the establishment of a philosophy major has been a formal and explicitly stated goal. The reduction in course offerings does not appear to be consistent with the achievement of this goal.
5) The consequences for the apparent contradictions between this decision and all of the university materials and documents previously mentioned haves a detrimental effect on the entire planning and assessment processes. We would suggest that it is understandable that faculty become less than fully committed to the planning process in the face of evidence that points to an apparent disconnect between planning and decision making.
6) Regrettably, this episode speaks, regrettably, to more general themes identified in last year’s faculty satisfaction survey. Excepting issues of salary, faculty reported more dissatisfaction with the items: a) faculty representation in decision making and b) efforts to address faculty concerns, than any others. It seems that there was a complete absence of faculty input in the entire decision making process. There were no indications that this was even being seriously considered. In addition, the timing of the decision’s announcement undermined any meaningful and/or honest discussion. This is not only a matter of process. Substantively, we suggest that members of the faculty, individually and collectively, might well have been able to offer alternative means for achieving whatever savings were accomplished by elimination of these positions. As a faculty, we are well aware of the severe budgetary constraints within which the university is attempting to operate. What we are asking is the opportunity to participate in the effort to minimize the negative consequences of these difficult times upon our students. Lacking this opportunity, it is difficult not to feel a certain condescension and lack of respect. While we hold strongly to the belief that this is not the intent of university administrators; it is, with each incident, more difficult to maintain such a belief.
It is because of our commitment to the University of Montevallo and our belief in the dignity of higher education with a liberal arts base that we feel compelled to take this action. It would be irresponsible on our part not to do so. It is our hope that this will be read as an attempt to communicate concerns with the understanding that our shared goal of furthering the mission of the University of Montevallo will allow us to work through these issues in a manner befitting the tasks before us.
Sincerely and Respectfully,