Over the last academic year, the Philosophy Department at Florida Atlantic University has been in turmoil, with a series of events that made students wonder if the department might be disbanded. This uncertainty, the students say, has made it difficult to concentrate on their studies.
The issues include the escalation of the conflict between the faculty and the then-chair of the department, a lawsuit against the former dean of the College of Art and Letters filed by one of the professors and the termination of full-time and adjunct faculty members.
With the department's future still uncertain, the students have harshly criticized the lack of specific information, and they say they are deeply concerned about their philosophy degrees becoming meaningless.
"One thing that we really want is an explanation. We want to know why this stuff is really happening, exactly, and that is not been given to us," says Rafael Gomes, a senior philosophy major.
With fewer professors to teach the classes, the number of students per class is likely to increase -- another source of discomfort, the students say.
Jordan Dopkins, president of the philosophy club and a senior, said "Philosophy is something really hands-on, you are constantly talking to people." Larger classes would not allow the same level of participation, he said.
The students say they also worry about the quality of instruction, since professors who specialize in areas like ethics and socio-politics are no longer there to teach them.
The uncertainty does not stop with the future of the department. Gomes and others says they worry about the impact the situation could have on their ability to be accepted into graduate program elsewhere.
"What are these schools going to think, when I have letters of recommendation that are from professors who's just gotten fired? Or I can't get the letters of recommendations that I want because the professors that I want aren't here anymore?" Gomes said.
Philosophy major Tony Gomez says the situation has forced him to transfer from FAU.
"Everything that's going on in the philosophy department has had a significant impact on me psychologically, because it appears as though FAU as an institution does not value philosophy in any way," Gomez said.
He added, "When an institution is basically telling you that they don't care about your major, it made me feel as though the level of education and the level of instruction that I am going to receive will be subpar compared with an institution that embraces the major that embraces philosophy as a whole."
In an attempt to save the department's integrity, the students have created a petition and had it signed by over 400 members of the FAU community. They to plan present the petition to the administration and different media outlets.
The graduating class of 2009 had sent a letter to President Mary Jane Saunders and Interim Provost Diane Alperin, expressing their support for maintaining the department. However, Paul Brewer, author of the letter, said he is "not sure what good this accomplished as the only response I received was an overly brief and insincere email from Diane Alperin in which she thanked me for my interest."
Before he left as interim philosophy chairman recently, Professor Jeffrey Morton said, "I could call a meeting of majors now. However, I really wouldn't be able to tell them anything substantive since I have no idea what decision the university will make."