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The administration at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) has slated the philosophy programs (among others) for closure. It claims that cutting these programs is necessary for the health of the institution.

It's odd to claim that doing away with philosophy would promote the health of an institution of higher education. It seems clear that it would do the very opposite.

Consider just some of the issues grabbing headlines today:

What is a person? In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, laws have been proposed to define a fetus as a person.

How should we argue with each other? The state of civil discourse in America has made this issue crucial for the future of democracy.

How should we understand AI? As AI becomes ubiquitous, there have been controversies over whether AI can be truly intelligent or conscious, and what sort of threats it poses to humanity.

These are all philosophical issues; they pertain to critical reasoning, metaphysics and ethics. An educational institution can be healthy only to the extent that it prepares people to deal with important issues such as these.

SCSU has been facing a series of financial challenges, and of course it can't fulfill these functions if it can't sustain its own existence. But it seems that the administration believes that its existence depends on eroding these functions, abandoning the essential functions that studies like philosophy and other liberal arts provide in order to survive.

But SCSU is not an end in itself. Its continued existence matters only to the extent that it serves the critical purposes of education. In a free society, liberal arts are essential for everyone. If we don't embrace this, we risk reverting to a society where only the rich can access an education that prepares them to think deeply about issues of fundamental human importance.

But the message the university repeatedly sends to students and the community is that the value of education lies in job preparation and professional success. It conveys this message directly and through the programs it chooses to promote, advertise and support. (Although it ignores the fact that philosophy majors' salaries average over $77,000 a year, 33% over the national average —

The administration may not agree with me about what the essential purposes of education are. Fair enough; we philosophers are used to disagreement.

But in that case, this question should be a central topic for discussion, especially at an institution of higher education that claims to offer an excellent education that emphasizes critical thinking. Instead, the administration leaves unexamined its own assumptions about this issue.

Of course, an institution may be able to fulfill several functions. But an education that focuses on job training to the increasing exclusion of deeper issues mistakes a means for the end.

The stakes here are not just about the future of SCSU. They're about the future of all of us.

Carolyn Hartz is chair of the philosophy department at St. Cloud State University.