Berkeley Philosophy Chair to Mills Admin: We Won’t Bail You Out!

POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN

The following is the text of a letter sent yesterday to the Trustees, President, and Provost of Mills College by the chair of the University of California at Berkeley Department of Philosophy.  A philosopher was among the five faculty members laid off last month by Mills trustees as part of a “Financial Stabilization Plan” that eliminated the major in Philosophy.  There have been suggestions that Mills students could take Philosophy classes at Berkeley for Mills credit and that Berkeley graduate students could be hired as adjuncts to teach general education classes in the field at Mills.

Dear Board of Trustees, President and Provost of Mills College,

I have been hearing about the proposed layoff of one of the tenured Philosophy professors at Mills College, and the story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle prompted me to write.  I’m writing in particular with respect to (1) reports that the College anticipates offering Mills students the opportunity to cross-register for philosophy courses at Berkeley (2) reports that Mills might seek to hire Berkeley graduate students or recent graduates as adjunct instructors.

Regarding (1), I thought I should let you know that over the last several semesters our philosophy courses have been consistently and very substantially over-enrolled, and since we are required to give enrollment priority to UC Berkeley students, I think it very unlikely that we will be able to accommodate  students from Mills College in our classes.  With increased UC enrollments and the threat of diminished faculty hiring, I expect this situation to continue.  It would be a mistake to think that the Berkeley philosophy department can be relied on to fulfil demand for philosophy courses created by the layoff of one of your professors.  I myself, as Chair, will register my opposition to any arrangements made between Mills College and the UC Berkeley to give Mills students special priority in enrolling, and I anticipate that my colleagues in Philosophy will join me in this.

Regarding (2), after consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and Placement Director in our Department, I have written to our graduate students to recommend that — for both ethical and practical reasons — they not accept any adjunct position in Philosophy offered by Mills College.

I would like to add — here simply in my capacity as a faculty member in Philosophy, not as Chair — that although I very much understand the desire that Mills College should remain a women’s college, I am dismayed both at the proposed elimination of the philosophy major, given the centrality of philosophy in a liberal arts curriculum, and at the layoff of tenured professors.  I very much hope that it is possible to find a solution to the College’s difficulties which does not require taking these drastic and deeply problematic steps.

Yours sincerely,

Hannah Ginsborg

Professor and Chair
Department of Philosophy
University of California, Berkeley

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