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Vice-provost faculty relations not signing off on anticipated philosophy tenure position

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A U of S student sits on heating vents in the Arts Building on Oct. 5, 2018.

Due to the philosophy department no longer having a new tenure position, the department may lose its graduate program because of a lack of faculty. 

The philosophy department has spent six months interviewing over a hundred applicants for a position in social and political philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan. For the past ten years this position has been filled by a yearly term staff member, and the department finally got permission to make it into a tenure track position in August. 

Even though the search committee has now officially recommended a faculty member for the position, the U of S vice-provost faculty relations Ken Wilson will not sign off on the hiring due to budget deficit in the College of Arts and Science.

Emer O’Hagan, the acting department head of philosophy and head of the search committee, is concerned over the implications of this decision. The philosophy department was hoping to use this position in social and political philosophy to improve their graduate program. 

“It’s difficult for me to understand how this decision makes sense,” O’Hagan said. “It strikes me  that the provost is asking for us to increase our enrollment, and also at the same time is being unwilling to give units a position that’s needed to do that.”

Taylor Swanson, a third-year philosophy student, says that this decision is “an attack on the humanities”. Both Swanson and O’Hagan feel that the situation shows the university is not prioritizing its humanities programs, especially philosophy.

“I think that [the university] needs to decide that if they want a philosophy department on this campus, then they need to resource it,” O’Hagan said.

Wilson has explained his decision to the philosophy department saying that he is not authorized to approve hires from colleges that have deficits. Currently, the College of Arts and Science is reportedly facing a $6 million shortfall. 

“It would be fiscally irresponsible to make 30+ year commitments to hire tenure track faculty members with no plan in place to pay their salaries over that period of time,” Wilson said in an email to the Sheaf.

In an email to the Sheaf, O’Hagan says she is discontent over this contradiction given that Wilson is still approving hires within the College of Arts and Science in other departments such as limited-term positions and hires to support the Indigenous Recruitment Strategy.

As this decision is going to impact the classes that will be available next year, philosophy  students are eager to get an update on the situation from the university.

“I really hope that this gets resolved, but if it doesn’t, there’s a lot of anxiety among the students right now regarding the future of our program,” Swanson said. “It’s causing anxiety for people who might want to consider doing something like a graduate degree in philosophy.”

O’Hagan highlights that this decision impacts many students at the U of S. She notes that the philosophy program contributes outside the department by teaching subjects like ethics to students in programs such as computer science and biomedical science.

“The concern we have with losing this position in social and political philosophy is manifold,” O’Hagan said. “It’s for our students, it’s for our graduate students, but it’s also for students across the college and even the university.”

According to O’Hagan, the average size of a U15 philosophy department is 20 faculty members whereas the U of S has only six. O’Hagan ultimately worries that because of this difference in the university’s staffing, the philosophy department will eventually burn out.

“It’s just obvious that we are under-resourced,” O’Hagan said. “We’ve been under-resourced for 10 years and we can’t continue this way any longer.”

Wardah Anwar

Photo: Riley Deacon

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