John Corvino on the moral worth of gay sex

Corvino is speaking on the 29th at Rice U, and in looking for some background I discovered he’s got a DVD on GLBT sex and its morality. (Thanks to John in comments for the correct date!) There is also an extended trailer; see below.

In fact Corvino is a very experienced speaker, and though I didn’t see new arguments in the trailor, the presentation is great.

However, the point for me of putting this up is really connected with the thoughtful post here about civility. Unlike a number of people commenting on that post, I do not think of philosophical discourse as particularly calm and reasonable. Somewhat relatedly, I am wondering what people would expect from students who were asked to watch the DVD in class. Here in Houston I wouldn’t count on all my students remaining calm. Also, I’d probably be protecting myself by giving those who found it upsetting permission to leave. I’d probably cast it as asking people who cannot respect the humanity of LGBT students to leave.

What would you expect? And what would you do?

No doubt my view about philosophy’s civility was shaped in part by seeing some fairly volatile philosopher commenting on blatant and culpable philosophical error. I do remember remarking on US seminars when I first returned to the country that they were interestingly different from Oxford’s. The bullwas still forced to its knees, but no one was insisting in spilling blood.

Save Classics at Pittsburgh

Another day, another department at risk. Sigh. Mary Louise Gill writes:

I write to alert you to a dire situation in Classics at the University of
Pittburgh (my previous home before coming to Brown University). The Pitt Administration proposes to cancel graduate admissions. This would not only affect the Department in a detrimental way but would also destroy the interdisciplinary Program in Classics, Phiosophy, and Ancient Science and weaken Philosophy and History of Science.. More than 1000 people have signed the petition so far. We should overwhelm the admisnitration with objections! Here is the statement I wrote when I signed the petition: The University of Pittsburgh administration tried to make such a move once before, and on a broader scale (when I was Chair of Classics and Chair of the Humanities Council in 1996-97). The effort failed, though the lack of
administrative support resulted in the mass exodus of good faculty, including most of the excellent Department of Linguistics. I learned at the time that Pitt Classics was the most cost-effective department in FAS at Pitt, making about 50% more for the University than we cost. The graduate students contributed substantially to that success. What financial value can there be to this recent move and what are its academic implications? It destroys Classics, destroys the internationally-renowned Graduate Program in Classics, Philosophy, and Ancient Science (CPAS), and will weaken the highly ranked Departments of Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science. Humanities Departments are cheap and they are the backbone of the University. The Administration should foster these departments and replace positions in Classics, including the position in ancient philosophy, the funding for which was withdrawn in 2008-2009. The current plan will reduce the University of Pittsburgh to mediocrity, an outcome foreseen by many commentators on this petition and by many colleagues at Pitt. Here is the petition, and I hope thatmany of you will sign and forward it to others.

Save Philosophy at Northampton

David Wall writes:

as has happened at a number of universities in the UK, the Executive Dean of
the School of Social Sciences at the University of Northampton has decided
to phase out the teaching of philosophy and close the department here. This
is planned to take effect from next year with no new intake of students for
philosophy from 2012/13. We think this decision is unjustified, for the
reasons described in the template letter below and others, and hope to get
the decision reversed so that philosophy can continue to be taught here. We
would be very grateful for your help and support with this. If you agree
and are willing to help please sign the template letter and copy it into, or
attach to an email to the Vice Chancellor of the University at
Nick.Petford AT or send a hard copy by mail to Professor Nick
Petford, The Vice Chancellor, The University of Northampton, Directorate,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL, UK.

The Vice Chancellor
Professor Nicholas Petford
The University of Northampton,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL

Dear Professor Petford,

I am writing to express my concern about the recent decision by the
Executive Dean of Social Sciences to phase out the teaching of philosophy
and close the department at the University of Northampton. This decision
seems unreasonable both financially and academically.

As a category D subject (according to the classification system of
the UK government’s recent white paper on competition in higher education)
philosophy has low running costs for the university, currently employing
only 2.3 members of staff. These costs are more than funded by the student
fees it earns as it attracts good numbers of students. In addition to the
existing students this year’s first year intake will be 13 single honours
and 11 joint honours students. These numbers compare well with those of
departments of similar size both within the University of Northampton and
against other universities and would be greater were they not limited by the
current caps on student intakes. Moreover, there is evidence that these
good numbers will continue with numbers of applications and offers
increasing year-on-year from 2010/11 to 2011/12 (the two years in which a
single honours programme has been offered and for which final intakes have
been determined by the caps rather than the interest from prospective
students) in contrast with many other subjects in the university, and the
government white paper suggests that category D subjects such as philosophy
will be least at risk from competition from the private sector in the near
future. So there are good financial reasons to continue to teach philosophy
at Northampton.

Similarly, the department justifies itself academically, achieving
excellent results and providing students with a very good overall experience
of being at university. In 2010/11 80% of completing students in philosophy
achieved ‘good’ degrees (level 2:1 and above) which again compares well with
philosophy departments of similar size in other universities and with
similar sized subjects at Northampton. It is anticipated that this will be
maintained or improve as a greater proportion of students are single honours
who will spend more time dedicated to studying philosophy and receive a more
complete and thorough philosophical education, and end of year exam results
and progression rates support this optimism. In addition, philosophy is
integrated with a number of other subjects in the university. The
department offers modules that are relevant to, and popular with students
taking courses in politics, law, sociology, business, etc, as well as
modules that are popular generally as electives, such as the modules in
moral theory and in philosophy of religion. This contribution to the
broader educational experience would be lost if philosophy were to close.

In addition to these financial and academic considerations there are
important reasons related to the ethos and standing of the university not to
close the department. Philosophy is among the traditional, core subjects of
higher education and we believe that any university worth of the status
should offer it for study. As well as the training that philosophy provides
for a broad range of careers, something frequently acknowledged by employers
in fields such as journalism, business marketing, analysis and consultancy,
civil service, education, etc, it reflects the fact that attending
university is about more than merely gaining vocational training. Students
recognise this and it is likely to be an even more important consideration
for them when they are potentially paying more to attend university from
2012/13 with the introduction of higher tuition fees.

So, there are good ideological, academic, and financial reasons to
continue to teach philosophy at the University of Northampton. I urge you
to reconsider and reverse the decision to close the department there and to
do so as soon as possible so that it can be properly advertised in the UCAS
entry system for 2012/13.

Closure of Philosophy, History and Performing Arts at LMU

From Philos-L:

A meeting of London Metropolitan University’s Academic Board yesterday approved proposals for the closure of Philosophy, along with its fellow Humanities subjects, History and Performing Arts – that is to say, it decided that they will not recruit from 2012/2013. This decision was extremely sudden. Until Tuesday evening of this week, when colleagues on Academic Board received papers for the coming meeting, it seemed that these courses were to be preserved. This was not the decision of the Faculty, which proposed to continue these courses, but of central management.

The ground for the decision was ostensibly that of prospective profitability. However, neither Faculty nor central management have been willing to divulge the figures or the modelling methods used to reach this decision. Crude calculations on the basis of existing student numbers suggest that the University actually will lose more income than can be possibly saved in redundancies. This supposition is supported by the fact that when asked at the sub-committee of the Board of Governors meeting last night how much the cuts were expected to save, the Director of Finance replied that they had not yet made that calculation….

The decision to close History and Performing Arts is just as shocking as the decision to close Philosophy…. The cutting of these three courses, following the decisions made earlier this year to close several other Humanities courses, leaves only a small rump of surviving courses, which will almost certainly be absorbed into other Faculties. It therefore seem likely that LMU will in a very few years be a University without Humanities. This is therefore another instance of that alarming trend, whereby, not only philosophy, but also other Humanities courses are deemed inappropriate for students in the post-1992 Universities.

It is still possible that pressure from inside and outside the University will prompt reconsideration of this decision. If you wish to register a protest, please email:

Prof Malcolm Gillies, Vice Chancellor –
Roddy Gallacher, Dean of Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education –

I look forward to the idea when we’re not constantly posting on efforts to close philosophy departments. In the meantime, though, I urge you to write.

University of Greenwich is closing Philosophy

Here’s a statement from the Chair, Kath Jones:

The situation: The management of the School of Humanities has closed recruitment to the Philosophy programme with immediate effect and are writing to students who have already been given places for Sept 2011 to tell them that these are no longer available. The management are recommending that the Philosophy BA be closed down. This recommendation has to pass through the Academic Planning Committee before it is formally set in stone (but this is only a formality unless we can interrupt it). The Philosophy team were not invited to take part in any of the discussions leading up to this decision, and they have not been presented with any written document detailing the argument for the closure of the programme. The partial statistics that were presented at a school meeting yesterday are out of date and do not in any obvious way support the decision. We have requested proper documentation from the Head of School, but have still not received it. The British Philosophy Association is writing a letter asking the University not to close the programme, which will be signed by Heads of Philosophy departments at other Universities. Past and present students are meeting at the Student Union on Monday at 5pm to discuss how best to protest against the decision. Letters from past students are available (from me) to use for letters to newspapers or anything else.

And here’s the Facebook Group for up to date info on what’s happening.

Write to UNLV Regents!

We posted earlier about UNLV’s plan to close Philosophy, Women’s Studies and the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada. I asked you to write to the Dean. It seems that the matter is out of the Dean’s hands, and now we need to write to the regents. Please do write, even if you’re not in one of these fields and even if you’re not an American: widespread pressure is important in cases like this. (Thanks, Greg!)

Regents contact information:

James Dean Leavitt, Chair

Jason Geddes, Ph.D., Vice Chair

Mark Alden

Dr. Andrea Anderson

Robert J. Blakely

William G. Cobb

Cedric Crear

Mark W. Doubrava, M.D.

Ron Knecht

Kevin C. Melcher

Kevin J. Page

Dr. Jack Lund Schofield

Michael Wixom

UNLV proposing to close Philosophy, Women’s Studies, Women’s Research Institute

Horrendous news from Leiter.

March 8, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Now that President Smatresk has released UNLV’s proposed list of budget cuts in academic programs, I write to discuss the proposed cuts to the College of Liberal Arts. It with great and deep sadness that I write to you about what program eliminations may occur in our College to cope with the reduced funding to NSHE provided in the Governor’s budget.

First, please recall that we were mandated to propose “vertical cuts” so as not to impact each and all of our programs. The administration instructed the deans to submit budget cutting proposals to achieve a target figure arrived at by computing an individual college’s percentage of all State funding going to UNLV’s academic side. The CLA budget cut target was $3,772,706. After careful review of all matrices, hard and soft, and after review of the various suggestions CLA faculty forwarded to the College, we arrived at a list of programs or departments to reach our budget reduction target. The sum total for such draconian measures in our initial proposal was $3,768,384, or $4,322 below our prescribed target figure. That minor difference was deemed acceptable at the time of submission.

In the narrative, however, that accompanied our spread sheets for this proposal, I emphasized just how important each of the programs or departments in our proposal is to the College’s mission, also emphasizing the horrific effects of such terminations on FTE production, still central to the funding formula, and emphasizing just how inexpensively the College of Liberal Arts produces FTE. The results, which we were notified of this morning, were that the administration will include less than half of the possible CLA cuts in our proposal on the list that will be forwarded to the Regents later this week. In sum, we are told that we are now being considered for a $1,636,628 total reduction in CLA budgets, or 43% of the initial target. That speaks to the centrality of the College of Liberal Arts to the mission of the University.

I have today already notified the affected departments and programs, Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada. I’m horrified to write that such cuts, if implemented, will result in the loss of seventeen positions, which loss includes ten tenured or tenure-track lines, four vacant faculty lines, and three classified staff lines. This situation is certainly tragic, but not so devastating as cuts resulting from the initially mandated target would have been, the loss of approximately 35 positions or lines.

Two things to keep in mind as we move further down this path: 1) UNR is going through the same procedures, with its targeted programs and departments to be presented to the Regents at their meeting later this week; 2) there still exists the very real possibility that our overall strategy may be successful — that is, these proposed cuts are so devastating, System-wide, that they may make more effective and convincing the efforts of our friends in the Legislature to modify the Governor’s proposed budget cuts for Higher Education. Especially, then, for the sake of the University as a whole, and for the sake of our colleagues in Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and WRIN, we all, I’m absolutely certain, will do everything we can to enable that amelioration of this despicable budget proposal as it currently exists.

Christopher C. Hudgins, Dean
College of Liberal Arts
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
4505 Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89154 5001
phone: (702) 895 3401 fax: (702) 895 4097

Please write to Dean Hudgins.

Howard University is “not considering” closing the philosophy department.

The phrase comes from a letter linked to from the APA main site.  The letter was written by the President of Howard to Anthony Appiah.  And that sounds good, I guess, until one asks what is left open.  For example, can the department be “not closed” if it is merged with one or more others, with perhaps just one or two tenured philosophy faculty members?

We’ve written about the threat to the department before, and there are interesting links in previous posts.  As far as I can see, there isn’t any rejoicing over the end of a battle.