By: Steven Prescott
President White held a listening event on Nov 2. to ease faculty concerns and answer their questions about Dean Dixie Webb’s decision to cut one of three full-time Philosophy positions in the History and Philosophy Department.
Faculty in the College of Arts and Letters say they were blindsided by the decision.
“I am confused as to why those needs to the Music department were so incredibly urgent that it required this meek position, built up by this celebrated faculty member over decades… to be eliminated like this, right now,” associate professor and chair of Department of History and Philosophy Cameron Sutt said.
Webb said her decision was made based on how she could best serve students. At least 28 members of the faculty in the College of Arts and Letters wrote an open letter expressing disagreement.
Webb confirmed the faculty position was transferred to the music department when well-respected professor Dr. Bert Randall retired after 45 years of service to the school and the History and Philosophy Department.
“Apparently our beloved colleague was not appreciated by APSU as much as we had been led to believe,” professor in the Department of History and Philosophy Jordy Rocheleau said to APSU President Alisa White at the start of the listening event.
White applauded Randall’s service and called him an icon.
“I do not want it perceived as though any decision for any position replacement is connected to how well we appreciated or did not appreciate the person who left,” White said.
A letter to The Leaf Chronicle by the remaining two full-time Philosophy faculty said that without explanation, Webb’s actions lead them to “conclude the decision results from favoritism or an anti-religion, anti-philosophy bias.”
“I am not anti-religion. I am not anti-philosophy. I made the decision based on what I believed was best for the largest number of students. I do not see this as favoritism,” Webb said. “There are 17 Philosophy majors and 125 music majors, 81 of which are music education majors.”
The History and Philosophy Department and the College of Arts and Letters have both disputed the accuracy of each other’s enrollment numbers.
Philosophy professors say their college is using misleading comparisons drawn from incomplete data writing,
The program has grown exponentially since it was flagged for a lack of majors, largely due to Randall’s support for the religious studies track.
Without that track, Rocheleau says quite a few APSU students who want to become ministers will lose the major best equipped to prepare them for their work, a decision he says is departmental sabotage.
Provost Rex Gandy supported White’s statements during the listening event and agreed the numbers just were not there.
“It does not really make sense for our dean to cut the Philosophy department’s budget citing current data and not be able to present that data,” Mark Michael said.
Michael is now the second of only two full-time Philosophy professors.
“The data I used is publicly available on APSU’s Decision Support and Institutional Research website…by undergraduate majors,” Webb said in an interview.
Tensions rose during the meeting as other department heads expressed concern for their own tenure tracks, resulting from fear that a growing program could be cut without an adequate explanation. The department’s open letter stated that the decision was unjustified and only fared worse on the integrity of APSU.
Frank Hicks is a junior philosophy major with a religious concentration at APSU.
“The decision would affect me because it is my major and now I am not going to have the classes I need to graduate,” he said. “If classes are offered by someone who is not fully qualified in that area, it will diminish the legacy of the faculty who built the program.”
White told faculty the main issue is communication and pledged to work with communications professors to provide tips on ways to improve in that area.
All parties have conceded that Philosophy is not an expensive program due to current enrollment numbers.