Philosophy

Strategic Plan

 

A Bit of Background

The Philosophy Department is currently a thriving unit with 8 TT and 4 NTT faculty. All our instructors earned their terminal degrees from prestigious institutions and our researchers are extremely productive. Our M.A. program, established in Jan. 2000, is nationally ranked among the top 8 by the Leiter Report. However, this represents a dramatic recovery from a dire situation. In 2003/4, at the time of a scheduled 5 Year Review, our FTE faculty had dropped to 6 in number; the outside reviewer declared a "severe crisis" and we were seriously considering suspending our graduate program due to lack of senior research faculty. We have come back successfully from that precipice. The components of our current Strategic Plan are intended to build on our current strengths, but also to prevent our ever again facing a similar crisis. Thus the 9-point plan, set out below, seeks to ensure that the Department develops and thrives, while continuing to accomplish its stated mission and realizing its stated vision. Below are the priorities of our plan, in ranked order.

Priority #1: Replace Prof. Ronald Munson upon retirement in order to cover an extraordinarily important sub-area in our discipline as well as its community and professional service component.

Ronald Munson is a crucial member of our department, not only for the leadership he has provided over the years, but also because of his contributions to the cutting-edge areas of bioethics and philosophy of medicine. Munson's publications include books on organ transplantation, medical diagnosis and decision-making, and ethical decisions in clinical situations. His textbook Intervention and Reflection, now in its eighth edition, has been in print for more than thirty years and for the last dozen years has been the most widely used medical-ethics textbook in the country.
There is great interest campus-wide in these areas. The Department's Bioethics course, which uses Munson's text, is required of all nursing students and is typically taken by students who plan careers in medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy. Munson also regularly taught "Medicine, Values, and Society," a course which examines, in seminar format, the myriad issues that arise in the interplay among those three elements. Moreover, the interest in these issues clearly extends beyond our campus. The increasingly fractious debate about health care that has marked President Obama's first year in office indicates the need for all in our society to calmly and clearly address such issues as the right to health care, the distribution of scarce medical resources, research protocols, cost containment, the role of prevention, privacy and informed consent.
We believe it is imperative that our Department maintain its coverage of this timely and important sub-specialty. In addition to fulfilling clear teaching and research needs, a bioethicist could spearhead important collaborative enterprises on campus as well as initiate unique outreach and service activities within the St. Louis medical community. Medical ethicists, unlike, say, metaphysicians, epistemologists, or philosophers of language, are often called upon to help with practical real life decision making!
Unfortunately, Munson will be retiring in the midst of hard economic times. If, once the current hiring freeze is lifted, the department were to receive back half of his current annual salary, we would be able to attract outstanding entry-level candidates for a replacement position. The College would not have to choose between returning the position to the department or funding another entry-level position. It would be able to do both.

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Priority #2: Establish an Emphasis Area in Reason and Rationality
Among the strengths of our Department are clusters of faculty members whose interests converge around central areas of philosophy. We plan to restructure our M.A. program to incorporate tracks that highlight two such areas: moral philosophy and philosophy of science. In happier economic times, we also talked of developing Centers built around these clusters. One proposal that gained some traction envisioned a Center for Science, Values, and Society housed within the Department. Recently a more bold and visionary proposal has emerged: that we broaden our focus and declare our overarching topic to be Reason and Rationality.
This change of focus has several advantages. First, the broadened emphasis area would continue to accommodate all those department members whose research concerns the sciences. Philosophers of science address theory formation, scientific method, paradigm shifts, the nature of justification, all essential aspects of scientific reasoning. And while science remains our best way of knowing, scientific theories and methods are increasingly under attack in our polarized political arena. Such topics as evolution, climate change, genetic engineering, reproductive technology - even the creation of vaccines - are newly contentious. So the status of science, as well as the boundaries between science and pseudoscience, warrant renewed examination.
Second, the more inclusive rubric allows us to recruit additional department members for this project. All three branches of moral philosophy - metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics - are centrally concerned with reason and rationality. Applied ethicists address an ever-evolving series of practical dilemmas; our sequence of applied ethics courses -- Bioethics, Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Computer Ethics, Engineering Ethics - lead students through disputes in these realms. Normative ethicists engage in heated debates about competing views of the good life, with each side offering proprietary reasons to defend the actions it recommends as right. And finally, meta-ethicists who investigate practical reason address foundational questions about the inter-relation of rationality and desire. Just this academic year, our two moral philosophers have established the first annual St. Louis Conference on Reason and Rationality, to take place in early May. The enthusiastic response they received from philosophers nationwide (over 100 submitted papers) testifies to the timeliness of their topic.
Third, this emphasis area allows us to emphasize the practical, as well as the theoretical, appeal of philosophy. As explained in our Vision Statement above, philosophy lays claim to a distinctive methodology in addition to a set of traditional problems. We believe that all students can benefit from the study of argument, proof, and persuasion. We want them to learn how to employ successful arguments to support their own views, but also how to resist the flawed arguments that come their way in many areas of the public sphere. They will gain invaluable habits and skills along the way - logical precision, awareness of assumptions undergirding any argument, an attitude of both open-mindedness and responsible criticism toward new and unusual ideas - that will carry over to many other endeavors. The practical benefits of such a curriculum are well documented. For example, undergraduate philosophy majors score better on standardized tests than many of their classmates, and employers in many fields now actively seek out and welcome philosophy graduates. Thus the emphasis area we are proposing will support a program of research and study with a real-world payoff rarely achieved in the humanities.
We would eventually like to offer an interdisciplinary degree built around the concepts of reason and rationality. While no philosophy department in the United States currently offers a degree of this sort, the University of Kent in Canterbury has established a Centre for Reasoning devoted to "Multi-disciplinary research relating to reasoning, inference, and method." The Centre sponsors an M.A. in Reasoning housed in the Philosophy Department. Here is a url to their website: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/researchcentres/reasoning/index.html
Though we cannot, at this time, establish a Center or realistically hope to push a new degree (with new hires) through the CBHE, these remain our long-term goals. For now, we would like to do as much as we can to explore and inhabit this emphasis area. As a discipline, philosophy is especially positioned to spearhead this effort. From classical times on, logic has been part of philosophy, and philosophy instruction guards against the abuse of reason as much as it inculcates correct reasoning patterns. We believe attention to reason and rationality will generate exciting synergies within our department. But it will also allow us to reach out to cooperate with other departments on campus. In particular, we will recruit colleagues in Math, Computer Science, Economics, and Psychology to explore statistical reasoning, probability, rational choice theory, and more. We envision eventually establishing a track within our M.A. program dedicated to this sub-specialty. Such a degree could be marketed to students with varied backgrounds and wide-ranging career and life aspirations.

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Priority #3: Increase the available support for our graduate students.
Although our M.A. program is nationally ranked in the top 8, our funding falls far below that of our M.A.-only granting competitors. Even those housed in comparable urban commuting campuses support their philosophy graduate students much more generously. All our aid is dispensed in the form of grader and TA positions. While we officially pay only $1250 per .25FTE appointment, and thus can only offer our very best students tuition remission plus a yearly salary of $5000, other M.A. programs recruit by offering something close to a living wage. (For comparison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers tuition remission plus salaries of $7659 first year, $7745 second year; the University of Houston offers tuition remission plus a stipend of $11,200; additional stipends of $6000 are available for "exceptionally strong candidates;" Northern Illinois University offers full tuition plus a stipend of $10,300, Georgia State University offers fellowships of $15,000 in its three claimed areas of special strength.) We manage to recruit healthy incoming classes based solely on the merits of our distinguished faculty and the attractions of living in a viable city. To ensure the continued health and competitiveness of our graduate program, we need to be able to offer packages with stipends closer to $10,000 per AY.
We are well aware that increasing graduate student support has been high on the university wish list for many years. We do not expect the campus to be able to fully ameliorate our problem in this regard. Part of our approach will be to work with the Development Office to increase our visibility in the community and build a donor base (see item #4 below). But we would hope that some sort of matching from the college would incentivize and reward these efforts.
We should add that we do not want to achieve this result by decreasing the size of our incoming graduate class. Simply redistributing our current financial aid money on a zero-sum basis would harm our department overall. Since the inception of our graduate program, we have been delighted with the way that the presence of 30 or so active M.A. students energizes our department. This critical mass of advanced students allows us to populate our upper-level courses, and the demand for thesis advisors keeps our faculty stimulated and active.

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Priority #4: Incorporate a Greater Variety of Formats into our Course Schedule
Our Department has done a good job of trying to vary the way we deliver courses. We have always included a mix of day and evening classes in our schedule; many of our advanced classes meet seminar-style once a week; we have experimented with both Friday-only and weekend classes. We embraced the opportunity early on to offer video courses. Since those courses are now aging, we are converting them to a more versatile online format. We are also creating online versions of several of our other standard courses. But there is more to be done. We believe the next frontier is the delivery of modular short courses. We propose to develop a number of 1-credit (5 week) and 2-credit (10 week) courses. Eventually, several of these might be offered in a given semester. Many of the classic questions of philosophy are amenable to such short, condensed treatment, especially at the intro-level. In effect, we propose to offer students a menu of short courses from which they might pick and choose in order to piece together the equivalent of a standard 3 credit hour class. This format would be especially compatible with the proposal now circulating in the College for a redesigned and newly attractive Freshman Experience. Since we'll have two faculty members enjoying paternity leave in the Fall of 2010, that might be a good time to initiate this experiment. Family leave only lasts for 12 weeks. Thus our faculty will have to return for a portion of that semester. They might enjoy the challenge of offering experimental short courses to make up the owed portion of the Fall term.

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Priority #5: Lobby for a Campus-Wide Ethics Requirement
In so many aspects of public and private life today, the lack of stringent ethical training and conviction is all too apparent. We are aware of scandals and cover-ups in the corporate world, callous and unethical practices on the part of banks and mortgage companies, incivility, grandstanding, and an obsessive pursuit of self-interest demonstrated again and again by our legislators, not to mention all the lapses displayed in the personal lives of both celebrities and ordinary citizens. Clearly, a renewed commitment to moral education is called for. We would like to propose that UMSL distinguish itself from other institutions by requiring that all students complete at least one course in the area of ethics.
Such a requirement would certainly put us in good company. Consider the new Gen Ed curriculum recently put in place at Princeton University. Note that some Princeton students will comply by dipping twice into philosophy, once for an ethics course and again for epistemology!
http://www.princeton.edu/odoc/academics/degree_requirements/
For now, we suggest phasing in an ethics requirement experimentally within the College. We already reach other constituencies through our sequence of applied ethics courses. Business students in many tracks are required to take Business Ethics, and nursing students are similarly guided to our Bioethics. We offer both Engineering and Computer Ethics as a service to those two programs. Students outside of the programs just mentioned can of course take our applied ethics courses as electives. And we have an intro-level course, Phil 1130: Approaches to Ethics, that has robust enrollments every semester.
Were a college-wide ethics requirement put into place, we would be happy to design additional ethics-centered courses that would serve students who are not drawn to our applied ethics series by their career or vocational aspirations. But we could also serve such students by offering our three most popular and highly-enrolled ethics courses - Business Ethics, Bioethics, and Approaches to Ethics - in a new and improved format. Each of these courses could grow without limit were they reconfigured as large lecture classes with carefully designed break-out sections led by our graduate students. Since this would allow us to continue to support our master's students, it would be doubly advantageous for our department.

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Priority #6: Enhance Departmental Outreach and Development
Philosophy is always at a disadvantage within the array of Arts and Sciences disciplines since it is not generally offered in high schools. Thus students come to the university unaware of our discipline, and only those who stumble into a compelling course 'catch the fever' and consider majoring or minoring in our field. Thus we have a considerable PR problem. We would like to enlarge and improve the public face of our department for four reasons: (i) to publicize and promote our activities; (ii) to contribute to the public dialogue on numerous important issues; (iii) to get more students into our classrooms; and (iv) to raise development funds that can facilitate some of the goals laid out in this document.
We are at work on this priority already. We have created an online departmental newsletter that will be widely distributed, we have taken out ads in the Current to publicize our lower-level courses, we are working with the Development Office to contact our alumni and increase donations. One of our graduate students, who returned to his first love, philosophy, after a career in corporate law, has offered his house as the setting for a Philosophical Salon, an evening that would help us build a set of Friends of the department who would function as potential donors. We hope to offer our first Salon sometime this Spring featuring a popular talk on either Theories of Happiness (Anna Alexandrova) or Bad Art (Stephanie Ross).

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Priority #7: Seek a Joint Position with Women's and Gender Studies
Our Department prides itself on its cooperation with units throughout the university. We teach courses that are required for degree or emphasis tracks in Math and Computer Science, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Engineering, Nursing, the Business School, and all of the natural science departments. We are committed to offering five courses each year in the Honors College (though this stems from a now-antiquated agreement, which we hope to replace with looser, voluntary compliance.) In the past, members of our Department have had research programs that aligned with the mission of the Institute for Women and Gender Studies. This is no longer the case. Yet we would like to support that Institute and also solidify the emphasis area in moral philosophy being developed within our Master's program. To that end, we enthusiastically welcome the invitation from IWGS to partner in seeking a joint appointee in Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies. Were we permitted to conduct this search, we would seek a candidate with dual areas of expertise (AOS or Area of Specialization is the lingo used in the job ads sponsored by the American Philosophical Association). The first would be specified as Gender Studies, the second as Open. Talented philosophers could combine a research interest in women's and gender studies with a number of other traditional emphasis areas: moral philosophy, the history of philosophy, even philosophy of science. By specifying a tandem Open AOS, we would position ourselves to recruit a versatile philosopher for this position, one whose other research interests meet some of the clear needs of the Department.

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Priority #8: Fund Amenities that Will Contribute to the Intellectual Life and Internal Culture of the Department
The establishment of our M.A. program in Jan. 2000 gave a great boost to departmental energy and solidarity. Faculty were able to teach upper-level courses in their specialty areas; graduate students were available as TAs and graders, so mentoring extended beyond merely teaching upper-level classes. Grad students also had to be taught how to teach, how to conduct themselves at colloquia, how to present job talks, how to apply to Ph.D. programs. As our master's program took hold and flourished, we grew used to the heady feeling of having a critical mass of eager and dedicated students in place. We would like to do more to support the culture that has blossomed in our department. Since the quintessential philosophical activities are (a) giving a stimulating and incisive talk, and (b) publishing a paper (often developed from earlier talks!) in a refereed and selective journal, we would like to be able to fund an ongoing colloquium series to bring eminent philosophers to our campus. They and their presentations would constitute extremely valuable role models for our students. Since the central give-and-take of philosophy is carried out through conversation and (friendly) argumentation, we would also like to provide a setting where this can occur outside of and beyond the classroom. Our graduate students have let us know they would very much like to have a Philosophy Lounge where they could relax and count on finding one another (we do not have enough office space to give each M.A. student an office; in fact, we cannot even house all those who are TAs in any given semester.) We enthusiastically endorse this idea, and so add it to our wish list.

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Priority #9: New TT Position in the History of Philosophy
While we realize the climate is not right now for expansion, we would like to register our strong desire to make a hire that would plug a crucial gap in our undergraduate and graduate programs. We do not have a TT faculty member whose express research interest lies in the history of Western Philosophy. It would be extremely useful to have a researcher whose emphasis area is Kant and /or early Modern Philosophy. A historian is needed overall because the discipline of philosophy involves both a distinctive methodology plus a body of texts. Students can only effectively learn what it is to be a historian of philosophy by studying with someone who in fact pursues this research specialty. We would like to have this request in place, in anticipation of rosier times when the hiring freeze is over and new positions can once again be contemplated.

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