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Testimony to Mills College Board of Trustees: Associate Professor of Philosophy Jay Gupta

My name is Jay Gupta, associate professor of philosophy.

Philosophy is often said to be a cornerstone of a liberal arts education. And there are powerful reasons why this must be especially acknowledged at a preeminent women’s college like Mills. I will quote from my colleagues at Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr, who wrote a letter to President Hillman about the special role philosophy plays at a women’s college:

“Philosophy remains a male-dominated field, and women’s colleges are uniquely positioned to bring new voices to the discipline. More importantly, however, we occupy a political climate in which truth and reason are under assault, with particularly adverse consequences for women, people of color, and others who have been the subject of systematic injustice. Philosophy teaches students powerful skills that will enhance their ability to make a difference in the world, and women have an essential role to play in that mission. The dismissal of philosophy thus impoverishes both your students and our society. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision.”

The FSP effectively proposes to eliminate philosophy from Mills College. There have been reassurances sent out to potentially affected students that they will still be able to take philosophy while at Mills, presumably in the form of cross-registration or courses taught by adjuncts. I urge the Board to recognize that this sort of plan cannot be a replacement for an actual program that has been carefully nurtured by tenured philosophy faculty committed both to vitality of Mills College and to teaching philosophy to its students. “Academic freedom” is often rightly cited in defense of tenure, but tenure is equally about continuity, coherence, and community. Marc Joseph and I for the last ten years have carefully developed the philosophy program, tailoring our courses to the specific needs of Mills women, always rethinking and revising, always striving to substitute what works for what doesn’t. We have sought to create a kind of philosophical ethos, a world that Mills women may productively inhabit during their time here, a world that fosters genuine communication and community, a world of thought and meaning that stays with them even after they have graduated.

That Marc and I have succeeded in creating such a community, one that survives and thrives past graduation, is attested to in the numerous, passionate testimonies you have received by our former students, majors and non-majors alike. The systematically misleading focus by the Provost on numbers of majors obscures the strong, steady enrollments in our core courses, the many departments they serve, and the perennial interest in studying philosophy.

I respectfully ask the Board to be skeptical of the vague rhetoric attached to “MillsNext,” with phrases like “transformative educational opportunities” and the “changing needs of students.” What can these phrases mean if they involve the effective elimination of philosophy? To use an ugly word for an ugly thing, there is something nihilistic about eliminating, in one blow, a program that has been carefully nurtured and developed by dedicated faculty who have committed their professional lives to Mills, a program with a real history and community, a program that diverse Mills alumnae have avowed to be crucial to their well-being, empowerment, and productivity. If MillsNext is to be anything beyond an empty promise, it should not be possible to eliminate in one stroke the robust philosophy offering Marc Joseph and I have created. Thank you kindly for your consideration and attention.