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Academics

Changes In Philosophy Department Highlight Financial Struggles in the Humanities

by Nathan Gower, staff writer

The philosophy department at Warren Wilson College recently introduced a third full-time professor, Matt Whitt. Whitt, who earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 2010, comes to the college after the departure of part-time professor Jessica Mayock, who now serves as Associate Professor of Philosophy at the California State University of San Marcos.

Whitt earned his bachelor’s from William & Mary with studies in government and philosophy. He primarily specializes in political philosophy and social theory.

His interest in working for a college with more emphasis on teaching is what drew him to Warren Wilson College. He was careful to stress Vanderbilt’s commitment to educating undergraduates, but feels there are times when a professor’s research is prioritized above their teaching. Warren Wilson’s commitment to teaching students is evident in areas like service and work programs.

Whitt, who was on a three-year guaranteed deal at Vanderbilt, first applied to the college in June after seeing the part-time position held by Mayock posted to a national philosophy board. In July, he was granted an interview. At that time, funding for the position was still two-thirds time. Upon being offered the job, however, department chair Sally Fischer was able to offer Whitt a full-time position. These funds came from the departures of religion professor Tsering Wangchuk and the shift of Alison Climo from teaching social work to an assessment role.

The struggle for increased funding had proved frustrating for department chair Sally Fischer, who witnessed the department’s steady growth over the years and considered the addition of a third full-time professor crucial for its continued development. She feels universities worldwide are stripping support from the humanities.

At this time, Warren Wilson College’s philosophy department has 17 declared majors and four declared minors, per the registrar. Philosophy courses currently enroll around 150 students.

While the acquisition of Whitt would seem to imply some stability has been granted to the philosophy department, his contract ends at the end of this academic year, when a nationwide search must be undertaken per stipulations laid out by the American Association of University Professors. This search would be required regardless of who holds the position as a means of curbing nepotism, sexism, racism, and other potential abuses of fair employment.

Sally Fischer praised Warren Wilson’s emphasis on interdisciplinary equality in pay, claiming the disparity in salaries between the sciences and humanities at most other colleges is drastically higher than that at Wilson, where she claims the differences are negligible.

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Paula Garrett explained this, noting “I have in mind a starting salary for a year for new PhDs and I use that salary regardless of the department.” She added that “a lot of schools salaries are driven by external markets,” and that” “[Wilson’s] are mostly driven by internal markets.”

At Vanderbilt Whitt served as an advisor to 150 undergraduates and taught in some capacity for six years, receiving an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award from Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Whitt is excited to learn more about sustainability practices from Warren Wilson staff and students, and hopes that, in the instance of a contract extension, he would be able to further that learning. He is currently researching the political philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel.

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