by Thom Kilburn
Over the past few years, Cedarville University has been the site of a number of dramatic ideological skirmishes.
Cedarville, a private Baptist university with a fundamentalist and conservative heritage, is well-known in evangelical circles nationwide. But recent conservative changes in leadership, administration and even curriculum have left the Cedarville community uncertain about the university’s future—especially the liberal arts.
At the beginning of 2013, Cedarville’s board of trustees voted to end the philosophy major, claiming the discipline was “no longer financially viable.” The decision to eliminate the philosophy program subsequently sparked an uproar from current and former students, staff and faculty.
Although the cut took place over a year ago, the fallout is still being felt among the community. Many former philosophy students and faculty have since been displaced by the elimination of the program, with one professor still looking for a new job.
“We fought hard, but it happened anyway,” said David Mills, Ph.D., former Professor of Philosophy and Honors Program Director at Cedarville University. Mills had taught at Cedarville for 19 years and was tenured for 12 of them. He won the student vote for Faculty of the Year during the 2012-13 academic year.
“When I was first hired on as a full time professor, it seemed like Cedarville was moving in a progressive direction toward a more diverse, inclusive and critical-thinking community. Even at the administrative level, the open-mindedness was apparent,” said Mills. “But all of that came to a halt last year.”
Mills said that he and his colleagues within the department received a letter on Sept. 13, 2012 from the chair of the Bible department that stated that the philosophy program would be under review. According to The Cedars, Cedarville’s campus newspaper, the letter said the review process was to be “largely a data-collecting chore,” and was in accordance with a mandate by the board of trustees for all academic programs to be reviewed every five years.
According to Mills, the review looked at the number of students in the program, the number of students graduating, the size of various classes and other trends within the program. Mills said that the review later revealed that the department was lacking in class sizes, number of majors and number of graduates.
However, an action plan Mills and the other philosophy professors constructed in response to the review stated that the philosophy professors sell an average of 433 credit hours per faculty member. Which, according to Mills, “is more than the hours sold by business administration, engineering, nursing, social work, art, theater and design professors.”
Once Cedarville students and alumni received word about the philosophy department’s impending elimination, blogs and social media erupted in protest.
One philosophy student stated in a blog post, “I believe that the philosophy program is exceptionally valuable in light of Cedarville’s mission and I hope that future students might have the opportunity to benefit from the program and its professors as I have.”
Another student stated, “I am saddened and deeply disturbed by the prospect of dismissing such an influential and vital component of a university which seeks to be known as exemplary in both secular and religious circles.”
Despite the overwhelming support of former and current students in addition to the data that demonstrated the economic value the philosophy department had, Cedarville’s board of trustees eventually approved the recommendation of the academic council to terminate the B.A. in philosophy program.
The official statement from the board of trustees said, “In line with the University’s stated objective to equip Cedarville graduates who think broadly and deeply, the board affirmed that the philosophy minor should continue and be strengthened, that philosophy courses will be available to all students as part of general education, and that the Honors program should continue to be a priority. All current philosophy majors will be able to complete their programs, as required by our regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.”
Since making the decision to cut the philosophy major, Cedarville has fallen under fire by the community at large for its “lack of dedication to the liberal arts,” as one blogger put it.
Many critics of the university’s decision have asserted that the elimination of the program is another lost battle in the culture war that has been fomenting at Cedarville since its establishment 1887. Other critics question the validity of the decision, claiming that the university wanted to eliminate a discipline that promoted critical thinking and staunch rationality—things that are “subversive” or “have the potential to undercut the evangelical tenets” of Cedarville University as a whole.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the program’s elimination, Cedarville has now been without a philosophy program for an entire year; the university has one less liberal art—something Mills believes to be detrimental to the student populace at Cedarville and the university as a whole.
“If schools move forward without a rounded liberal arts curriculum that teaches students to think critically, then all they’re doing is indoctrinating students into one way of thinking,” said Mills. “All schools must constantly explore new avenues of knowledge. Philosophy allows students to do that.”