Friday, June 25, 2010

Philosophy Department Abolished in New Jersey

Trouble in my home state! This is VERY disturbing. Here is the comment from Leiter's blog which discusses the subject:

"I recently discovered your blog almost by accident. I teach philosophy at Kean University in New Jersey. Kean is public, with 15,000 students, mostly undergrad. My Dept, Philosophy and Religion, was abolished by the Admin a year ago, along with four other Depts. Nothing so dramatic ever occurred in the many years I’ve taught at Kean. However, for the time being our major program remains, with two faculty “reassigned” to Political Science and three to General Education. The Admin’s justifications for abolishing our Dept were declining overall enrollments, a deficit of $500,000, and few majors. Except for the last--a half-truth at most--those allegations were entirely false, as it took much time and effort to establish (Admin controls and does not readily share data).

I discovered your blog when I read an article in the Chronicle quoting Wendy Lynne Lee. The article was included with some others in a recent University document announcing that all Dept Chairs will be eliminated at Kean, effective this June 30, and replaced with appointed administrators, who will be paid more than faculty. I suppose that article quoting Wendy was included in that University document to show that drastic steps are being taken all around the country, not just at Kean. Anyway, after reading her quoted comments in that article, I Googled Wendy’s name, and found your blog.

The big event in NJ public higher ed occurred sixteen years ago, in 1994, when ex-Governor Christie Whitman abolished State “oversight,” i.e, abolished the Chancellor, Board, and Dept of Higher Education. As a result, there is no State supervision of the publics, except that tuition levels are regulated. This means that each institution’s Board of Trustees is the highest authority, and there is no appeal from their policy decisions. Therefore, there are no system-wide policies because there’s no system. The Boards are, of course, political appointees controlled by the State Senator representing the district where the Board sits. Is it a coincidence that in this set of circumstances some of the Admin’s have gone on building binges, accumulating “capital construction debt burdens” in the hundreds of millions in just a few years while shortchanging most everything else (such as numbers of full-time faculty). At Kean, the debt burden is approaching half a billion (up from less than half a million just a few years ago), while numbers of FT faculty are steadily declining and reliance on PT/adjunct faculty is rapidly rising. Those who must pay off that debt burden are the students, mostly working-class, first-generation students, often with families to support.

The other part of the story at Kean has been the tyrannical character of its Admin, led by a Pres who is a former Kean faculty member. (Google his name--Dawood Farahi--and you’ll find a few things. One interesting article is entitled “Potemkin University.”) Farahi seems determined to practice every oppressive administrative policy under the sun. Some believe this is motivated by sheer vindictiveness against the faculty at large based on God-knows-what, but maybe partly on the fact that his colleagues many years ago tried to have him fired when he came up for tenure. For example, one of his stunts was to have a subordinate recommend that most of the untenured faculty be fired. Make them relive what Farahi himself went through in his time. As for professional staff, who work on multi-year contracts, he has forbidden supervisors to give unqualified recommendations for renewal. Any supervisor who does so will get it back with instructions to downgrade the rating. And he isn’t above reprisals against students as well. For example, when Social Work undergrads circulated a petition to the Board a couple of years ago protesting Farahi’s imposition of a new class-schedule on the campus without consulting students (faculty weren’t consulted either), Farahi ordered their program, the BA in Social Work, abolished, even though it had 150 majors. In addition, he seized control of the Kean student govnt’s bank accounts, turned its elected officers into his part-time employees, and also eliminated the student-run newspaper and replaced it with a newspaper he controls. And so on and so on and so on. The list of atrocities over the past seven years would take a week to recount. We have a faculty/staff union (AFT/AFL-CIO), and we’re trying to fight back, but it’s a long, hard slog. Complaints to State officials are essentially ignored (speak to your Board we are told).

Now, this is all just at Kean, not at any of the other seven institutions in our sector of NJ public higher ed. So, although my Dept is one of several abolished a year ago, this is not part of any larger, system-wide plan. Indeed, the decision to abolish five Depts a year ago apparently sprang from retaliatory motives against particular faculty members in the targeted Depts. For instance, I circulated flyers criticizing Farahi for attempting to sneak through a “Professional Code of Conduct” under which faculty and staff would have no rights of due process whatsoever if accused of misconduct. (“No rights of due process whatsoever” means, literally, that they wouldn’t even know they had been accused of anything until after they had been convicted and sentenced, and then, and only then, would they be allowed to put forward a defense, but only in writing--a scheme that would have delighted the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”) Another philosopher helped students send ex-Governor Jon Corzine thousands of postcards protesting the new class schedule (Corzine had no public email address as Governor). Still another philosopher filed grievances protesting new work rules unilaterally imposed on all faculty by President Farahi. So the decision to abolish the Dept of Philosophy and Religion at Kean seems to be a matter of punishing faculty who have dared criticize this President publicly, just as the decision to abolish the Social Work program was a matter of punishing students who dared circulate a petition. And so forth in the case of the three other abolished Depts.

What initially caught my attention in your blog was all the talk about some larger scheme in your PASSHE institutions of abandoning the humanities, indeed abandoning the traditional teacher-student-classroom arrangement, in order to move in a different direction more aligned with corporate imperatives. That caught my attention partly because of the uncertainty on my campus about why we are being subjected to such persistently oppressive administrative abuse, but mostly because of the impending replacement at Kean of faculty Dept Chairs with appointed administrators. That innovation will no doubt translate into substantially increased administrative control over all academic programs. What is the Admin going to do with that control?

And then there is the fact that Wendy kept raising the question of what you folks in PASSHE are going to DO about your situation. We at Kean also have that question. What the hell ARE we going to do? Suggestions welcome.

Peter E. Pezzolo, Professor of Philosophy, Kean University, Union, NJ"


  1. It is a scary climate out there. The recent King's College debacle shows that this kind of thing is going on everywhere.

  2. Absolutely J.R. Very disturbing times.

  3. Dear Professor Koch

    This particular account reminds me--starkly--why the state system in PA and its administrators would very much like to put an end to the faculty union among PA's 14 state schools. Is this Lieter Blog titled "Philosophy Department Abolished in New Jersey"? I'd like to look this up. Here in PA we HAVE begun to organize to resist this trend to eliminate and on-line programs (another variety of elimination). Please let me know if you'd like to be included on our email discussion/organizing list. This is very much a national issue of immense import, and my explicit aim is to get as many professors--especially humanities professors--involved in whatever way possible. For another significant CHE article you might want to look up:

    Wendy Lynne Lee

    Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
    Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
    Bloomsburg, PA 17815

  4. Professor Lee,

    The link to the comment on Leiter's blog is at the very start of this blog post, just click on the highlighted phrase "the comment" and it will take you to the pertinent comment. Leiter's blog in general is called "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog" and the specific blog post to which the comment appears was entitled "Philosophy Departments Under Attack". The post itself is actually about a school in PA. I am currently teaching in Florida in the postdoctoral position, although I am also looking for a job and so may end up anywhere in the next year. I would be very interested in being included in your discussions. You can email me at

  5. Dear William,

    Please forgive me for taking so long to get back to you. I didn't realize I had a follow up comment until now--I hadn't received any notification in my regular email. I am more than happy to include you in the ongoing discussions concerning the place of the humanities in the PASSHE System, and its national implications. Much has transpired over this past six months both at the state level and at the local level for the 14 PASSHE universities. We now also await the outcomes of the midterm and governor elections, especially as these will certainly effect union negotiations for faculty and staff in the system. Please feel free to contact me at: