Robert P. George criticizes Liberty University for dissolving philosophy department

The Freedom Tower at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Tower is the home for Liberty's School of Divinity.
The Freedom Tower at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Tower is the home for Liberty's School of Divinity. | Courtesy Liberty University

Notable Catholic political philosopher Robert P. George is pleading with the prominent Virginia evangelical institution Liberty University to reconsider plans to dissolve its philosophy department.

In a blog post submitted to the site Mirror of Justice on Saturday, the 64-year-old Princeton University law professor and author called Liberty's decision “a mistake” and asked the school’s leadership “to reverse course.”

“You cannot have a true liberal arts college or university that does not have a vibrant philosophy department or some equivalent institutional way of teaching students what is taught in departments of philosophy,” George wrote.

“Philosophy gives us the tools and motivation and rational justification for asking and seeking by proper methods honestly to answer all the questions that we categorize in other disciplines, from history and economics to chemistry and astronomy.”

Last week, the Lynchburg-based university announced that it will collapse it's bachelor’s program in philosophy amid a declining trend in enrollment and “declining trends in degree-seeking philosophy students across the United States.” 

“Due to the lack of interest, over several years, in a B.A. in Philosophy, we began in the fall of 2019 to collapse the program and to stop accepting new students as we had less than [20] students enrolled and five faculty to service them,” a statement from Liberty University reads.

“A team of some of Liberty’s best theologians, apologists and philosophers convened to ensure that Liberty continued to integrate and expound upon its curriculum with a deeper focus on theology, apologetics and philosophy.”

George said that his plea to Liberty comes “from a friend” who “believes in your mission.” George added that he had positive experiences when he visited the campus last year and spoke with Liberty students and staff. 

“I know that some people do not regard philosophy as ‘practical’ (though in truth it is the most practical of all academic disciplines). And I am aware that the need to cut costs often tempts people to cut things that seem ‘impractical,’” George continued.

“But far from abolishing philosophy as a course of study at Liberty, you should be strengthening the department (which was already a good one) and encouraging more students to enroll in its courses and even major in the field.”

Professors impacted by the program’s collapse have been offered “generous severance packages,” according to the university.  The school states that the impacted professors are “immediately eligible for rehire in any area that they are qualified for at the university.” 

One professor impacted by the decision is Mark Foreman, a professor of philosophy and religion who has taught at the school for over 30 years. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Foreman reportedly wrote that no advanced warning was given to department faculty and that there is no retirement program. 

In a follow-up post, Foreman assured that he holds no “ill-feelings” or “grudges” against Liberty. 

“My 30 years on the faculty have been rewarding and satisfying,” Foreman wrote. “I have loved my students and colleagues and have been treated well by the administration. I only wish for continued success for the school. Nobody should read anything negative about the university or its administration from my comments.”

Liberty dissolved its master’s program in philosophy in 2015 “due to waning enrollment.” At the time, Liberty began the process of evaluating it’s bachelor’s program and worked toward trying to increase enrollment numbers.  

In 2012, the bachelor’s program in philosophy was moved from the School of Divinity to the College of Arts & Sciences.

Last June, Liberty cut faculty from its Rawlings School of Divinity due to decreased student enrollment in the department programs.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. explained to Inside Higher Ed last year that the cuts were “a purely business decision” that should have been done earlier.

“It’s a cultural shift from full-time ministry workers to Christians in all professions working to make a difference,” Falwell explained at the time.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Liberty University, one of the largest Christian colleges in the country, has over 79,000 total students enrolled. 

The decline in the divinity school's enrollment comes as similar trends have impacted other divinity schools around the country. 

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