Students, professors react negatively to philosophy department elimination, staff cuts

By Layal Srour
April 28, 2021

Assistant professor Joe Cimakasky
Assistant professor Joe Cimakasky

Editor’s Note: This original version of this article, published April 28, 2021, contained screenshots of the master schedule as of that day, which showed one philosophy course listed for Fall 2021. Provost Ugochukwo wrote that the fall schedule was still being worked on and that it was “premature” to suggest there would be just one philosophy course. Loquitur removed the screenshots and added a statement from Ugochukwo to clarify the schedule and the decision of two adjunct professors not to return in the fall.

 The news of the elimination of the philosophy department hit students and professors hard. A few professors were disappointed and hurt by this decision, while some students were saddened and heartbroken by the news.

Although the major will be discontinued for new students, the minor will still be offered as well as courses for core curriculum if students are interested. Current students majoring in philosophy will be able to complete all required courses and credits, even though most of their professors will no longer be teaching.

The current Spring 2021 philosophy department consists of two fulltime faculty members, Cimakasky and Bulcock, as well as two adjuncts, Romano and Schwarze.

Both Romano and Schwarze have decided not to return to teaching in the fall.

The changes to this department were decided to “stem a deficit and give the college a ‘sustainable path forward,’” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. This also resulted in professors in several departments losing their position with Cabrini.

Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Chioma Ugochukwu stated the five criteria that went into deciding which departments and majors will be discontinued or combined. These criteria include:

  • Distinctiveness – how well our academic programs were conforming to who we are as a Catholic institution with a social justice ethos.
  • Return on investment –  evaluate the number of students, the number of credit hours, the programs’ Cost of Education contribution margins and the level of funding
  • Internal demand – assess the level of demand for a program.
  • Opportunities –  evaluate how programs were addressing future trends in their disciplines, adapting to market needs, and tailoring their curriculum to make their graduates more marketable.
  • Quality of inputs, processes, and outcomes – Used to evaluate how programs used assessments and the results of their student learning outcomes toward program improvement.

“All Cabrini programs were evaluated and scored based on these criteria. The recommendations to restructure some of our programs were based on the resulting scores from these rubrics,” Ugochukwu said.

In an email to Loquitur, Ugochukwu said, “Cabrini spent time evaluating programs. The decisions were hard. Given the higher education landscape, it is hard to sustain programs that have had an average of three students over the past four years. We will continue to offer Philosophy courses in the core for all students and as a minor.”

While current students will finish out the courses they need in these majors, “Black Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies will be moved into Cabrini’s Core Curriculum so that these disciplines influence the academic journey of every student,” according to PR Newswire. “A new major focusing on cultural studies will combine elements of American Studies, Black Studies, Liberal Studies, and Spanish.”

Even though not many students enter college with the idea of pursuing a major or minor, Dr. Joseph Cimakasky, assistant professor of philosophy, still believes that it is an important course and the elimination will go against Cabrini’s mission.

Assistant professor Joseph Cimakasky

Philosophy is understood generally as an attempt to answer life’s “big questions,” so presumably the elimination of the department and major will have an adverse effect on mission fulfillment. In other words, ethical questions, e.g., how should I live? What is happiness and the good life?, would seem to be especially relevant to Cabrini’s social justice mission,” Cimakasky said. “Our students tend to discover philosophy rather serendipitously, but in my experience, this discovery often leads to a genuine appreciation for philosophy as a way of life.”

Several students looked up to Cimakasky and the way he taught philosophy and how it resonated with them.

“Cimakasky should not lose his job over this. He is one of the most profound teachers I’ve ever had. He truly cares about his students as equals. He doesn’t deserve this. He actually cares as a professor,” Brian McAnulla, junior political science major, said. “I understand why the University is doing it but I think it’s a poor choice. Religion and philosophy are what make up Catholicism. Not really sure how a self-proclaimed Catholic university is going to not offer those areas of study as majors.” 

“Dr. Cimakasky played a big role in my education throughout my college journey. His classes were inspirational, intriguing, and always kept me engaged. He was my minor adviser and he supported me so much you have no idea; this is really heartbreaking,” Juan Castro-Caro, a senior computer science major and philosophy minor, said. “Actually getting my degree will be possible because of him, that’s the level of how much he helped me with his advocacy, that’s why I’m shocked. He plays a big role in the fact that I’m graduating this semester.” 

Dr. Jennifer Bulcock, assistant professor of philosophy, chose not to comment on the university’s decision to eliminate the department and cut positions.

Professor Sharon Schwarze

Dr. Sharon Schwarze and Dr. Joseph Romano, who retired as full-time professors, but still work as adjunct professors, found the decision to be unfair and did not think it aligned with Cabrini’s mission as a Catholic institution.

Cuts and layoffs are hard, harder still when they happen to people you know and admire.  Harder still when some of them may have been preventable,” Schwarze said. 

She believes that students who are exposed to philosophy become attracted to it and the lessons they learn using critical thinking. It helps to make us the people that we are and develop life-long skills. She also doesn’t think it will have a huge impact because not many people major in philosophy, but rather minor in it. However, Schwarze thinks it will impact alumni support because of the positive memories they had.

Romano agreed. “How can an institution of higher learning not have a philosophy department – a department that costs very little money to sustain. The elimination of the philosophy department was decided mainly on the number of majors we have in philosophy.  This is nonsense.  The main value of philosophy is to be the heart and soul of a liberal art’s core curriculum.  We have had and still have successful majors in philosophy,” Romano said. “Philosophy is a guide to life from which all disciplines have been born and without which no discipline will question and grow. “

Professor Joseph Romano

“Professors like Joseph Cimakasky, Joseph Romano and Jennifer Bulcock had a strong influence in my education as a person and a scholar. Philosophy is more than an academic field, it provides us with the essential elements every professional should have, critical thinking, analysis, logic, and most importantly question everything and going in depth,” Castro-Caro said. 

Many students are sad to hear the news because it is a class they have all enjoyed so much and learned a lot from. 

“Dr. Romano is one of my favorite professors at the university along with Joe Cimakasky. I think philosophy is something everyone can learn valuable life lessons from like how to accept the things life throws at you and turn negatives into positives,” Samantha Hamalak, a junior political science major, business management and philosophy minor, said. “It honestly upsets me that other students will never get to experience the classes I love.”

Moving forward, philosophy courses will only be offered as a minor and classes will be limited for current students. During the current Spring 2021 semester, seven philosophy courses are offered. 

As of April 28, 2021, the course master schedule shows just one philosophy course for Fall 2021. Ugochukwu said the master schedule is not final: “Given the changes made to programs, we are still working on our fall schedule, so it is premature to suggest that students will only have one Philosophy course in the fall.”

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