The Digital media outlet INSIDE HIGHER ED reports that Claremont Graduate University has just closed down its philosophy department. “We were each given the day before an offer to continue as contract employees,” one of the two tenured professors in the department said, according to the report. “The offers were unacceptable in form and content, and presented as take-it-or-be-fired. We ignored them and got fired the next day.” According to the interim university president of Claremont Graduate University, Jacob Adams, the decision was “in recognition of a unique combination of market, enrollment and limited faculty resources that militated against the program’s sustainability, even academic viability.” According to Adams, the trustees considered that Claremont “is not a comprehensive university,” but rather a “graduate university offering degrees in selected fields with unique programs of study and opportunities to study across disciplinary boundaries.” In this spirit, Claremont is now undertaking “a process of program reprioritization.” The university’s news release cites a number of other institutions to have closed graduate programs in recent in years, and such closures — for reasons similar to those at Claremont — are on the rise. Click here
The implications of this decision are surely complex. There is no doubt that there are too many Philosophy Ph.D.’s being produced and too many Ph.D. programs churning them out. Just a few years ago, Berkeley advertised one position in philosophy and received some 600 applications. That year there were 300 job openings in philosophy altogether in the US. Some of the Berkeley applicants may, of course, have already been teaching somewhere, but we must assume that many of them were left without a job. The closure of Claremont’s small philosophy department will not make much difference to this situation. But it may indicate that a larger retrenchment is on the way and that is surely to be welcomed.
At the same time, such a retrenchment will mean a reduction in the number of teaching positions available and this spells trouble for those who are now getting ready to enter the job market. It is, moreover, far from clear that we are facing only a limited retrenchment. The humanities as a whole are now under pressure. One reason for this are steeply increasing tuition fees. These force students to concentrate on subjects that promise well-paid employment. They also induce them to cut their time to a degree to a minimum and thus makes them forgo the luxury of taking courses in the humanities including philosophy. The number of humanities and philosophy majors has been sinking as a result across the country and so has the enrollment in humanities and philosophy courses meant for non-majors. Meanwhile, newly emerging technical subjects are in need of funding which they may seek to cover by stripping or eliminating other programs in their Universities.
We can’t put all the blame, however, on outside forces. Philosophy and the humanities in general need to rethink where they are and what they are doing. Too often their work has become an insider business. A re-orientation is called for. If we are lucky, the current pressure on these programs will help to bring this about. But there is no guarantee.