Philosophy department to stay in Foggy

The Department of Philosophy will remain on Foggy Bottom in light of faculty resistance to last month’s decision to move the department to the Mount Vernon Campus.

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peg Barratt reversed her decision after an outpouring of opposition from faculty, who said the move was made without their input.

Gail Weiss, chair of the philosophy department, rallied against the relocation by launching an online petition that garnered 117 signatures from professors.

“There was a lack of consultation in the way it was originally handled. We were told we were moving and that we wouldn’t be able to change that decision. It was a done deal,” Weiss said.

Barratt said after discussions with the college’s dean’s council, Provost Steven Lerman and philosophy professors, the move’s negative impact on student and faculty interaction became clear. Lerman said the two decided “that in retrospect their arguments were reasonable and compelling.”

“[The philosophy department] indicated that the nature of the material and the engagement of the faculty led to heavy use of office hours,” Barratt said. “They?wanted to ensure that students would be able to have these important conversations at their convenience.”

Weiss said students would have suffered from the proposed relocation because their classes are writing-heavy and require more faculty attention.

“To do the kind of intensive work outside of class that we do, it’d be a hardship for students. They’re lined up sometimes out here, outside the doors,” Weiss said.

Landon Elkind, a philosophy major and a sophomore, said he values the ability to visit professors during office hours.

“The concepts of philosophy are dense and difficult. For me it’s really useful to be able to go to teachers’ office hours to ask clarification and just ask a quick question,” Elkind said. “For the department to be healthy, it needs to be accessible to students.”

Philosophy professor William Griffith heralded the outcome of the reversed decision, but said Barratt should have considered faculty opinions before the initial move.

“GW has always had a history of strong assumption by faculty of shared governance,” Griffith said. “A successful dean needs to consult with faculty.”

Barratt initially designated the move in order to fill academic space in newly renovated Ames Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus, which will be completed before the end of 2011. Now, the future of academic space on the Vern remains up in the air.

Lerman said he would convene a “strategic planning group” this month to try to “create a strong identity for the Mount Vernon Campus.”

“It’s opened up the bigger question, as we’ve expanded out the capacity of the Mount Vernon Campus,” Lerman said. “I want to put together a group to explore how we can create something more strategic there.”

The University announced last month that all University Writing courses, which are required for freshmen, will be taught on the Vern starting next spring. The campus is already home to the Women’s Leadership Program, the forensic science department and the interior design program.

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