School to close four majors, realign theology and philosophy

By Courtney Klaus, Editor-In-Chief

The university’s board of trustees recently voted to approve recommendations from a financial task force that include reorganizing the theology and philosophy programs to
“align strategically” with the new School of Catholic Studies and reducing the number of majors by at least four.

Provost Kimberly McDowall Long said the particular majors that will be closed have not been officially decided upon yet, but that discussions have happened about what the future of each department might look like so as to have the least negative impact on students.

“This idea of reorganizing those departments means we need to think about, should they be majors or should they be service departments?” Long said.

A service department, Long said, is a program where a discipline is taught as a general requirement for other majors, but does not offer a major in itself. For example, she said, a college may not have an English major, but will likely have English classes still taught at the school for other degrees.

Long said the university has been struggling with its budget because, for the past few years, it has been giving away more money in scholarships than it has brought in.

Back in May, the board of trustees appointed a financial task force to investigate where the university could cut costs. The task force presented it’s recommendations to the board, which approved the following recommendations, according to a document Long shared: “Address the workload issue in the Newman Studies Program,” “Reorganize Theology and Philosophy majors to align strategically with the development and expansion of Religious Studies and Catholic Studies,” “Reduce the number of majors by at least four,” “Examine options to control costs in fine arts,” and “Reorganize Student Life and Student Support Services to focus on total student experience.”  

One of the primary ways the closing of a major or reorganizing a program could reduce costs, Long said, is by reducing the staffing a program requires.

“Should we get rid of a major, there could be a reduction in the number of faculty and that could save costs… But it all depends on that major and the role of that major and the interaction of that major with other potential majors,” she said.

Professor of philosophy Christopher Fox said he thinks the decision to change the philosophy and theology majors as they exist now to realign with Catholic Studies for the purpose of cutting costs will not be good for the diversity of ideas on campus.

“Our former Provost Michael Austin once said, ‘A high school is like a mirror, but a university is a lamp,’ because one reflects knowledge that’s already there, while the other produces knowledge... I worry about Newman’s ability to stay a place where knowledge is produced, and the diversity of views is supported,” Fox said.

Fox said he already thinks of the philosophy program as a service department because its faculty have primarily focused on teaching Gen Ed and Newman Studies Program courses for years.

“I’m not going to say we have a bunch of majors in philosophy. We haven’t been able to keep an active roster for years… We were serving the core. Our efforts were put into developing the Newman Studies Program,” he said.  

The Newman Studies Program is a core academic program all students are required to  complete to receive a degree from Newman. Fox said he personally worked to develop nine courses for the NSP Program.

Fox said with the realignment of his department with the school of Catholic Studies, and the university’s broader aim of reducing faculty positions, he expects that he will lose his job - in part, he said, because he has been prohibited from teaching philosophy to the seminarians.

“They said it’s because I used bad words in class,” he said.

Philosophy and biology major Gideon Wiley said part of the reason he chose Newman was because he was drawn to the university’s humanities programs. He said he would be disappointed if the university made any cuts to the program or it’s current faculty.

“I think that as a liberal arts institution it’s really important to have those things… I think there’s a lot of value that will be missed if those are no longer as accessible to all students,” Wiley said.

Long said regardless of any decisions the university makes regarding the future of what majors will be offered, students who have already declared a major or course of study will be able to complete their degrees.

With the university having to cut costs, Long said, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what particular action the university will take to follow the recommendations made by the board.

Long said while fear on the part of the faculty is understandable, she would discourage people from jumping to any conclusions before any decisions are made official.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo.