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The end of political philosophy at the CGU

An empty classroom in Claremont.


The Claremont Graduate University administration has ended its graduate program in political philosophy after nearly six decades. Over the years, some of America’s most influential politicians and intellectuals have passed through its ranks. The program had a national reputation for the serious study of political philosophy, characterized by careful reading of philosophical texts. Many faculty, students and alumni of the program were blindsided by the decision.

Admissions to the doctorate. The program was discontinued in 2021, according to an email sent to graduate students on April 16. In the email, Michelle Bligh, then dean of CGU’s School of Social Sciences, Policy and Evaluation, said that after conversations with faculty, students and administration, CGU determined that they “simply don’t have the core faculty to support to these fields to advance.”

However, longtime CMC and CGU political philosophy professors Mark Blitz, James Nichols and Charles Kesler report that the CGU administration did not consult with them before making the decision. Professor Blitz allegedly heard the news secondhand from his graduate students. When the administration granted a meeting to the teachers, “the impression I got was that the decision to cancel the program was already final,” Professor Kesler said.

The cancellation followed the death of CGU American politics professor Michael Uhlmann, who often served as a liaison between the CGU administration and the political philosophy program. “He was very important at CGU,” Kesler said.

“CGU could not hire anyone with a similar portfolio, great experience and passion for the program. [Professor Uhlmann] he is sorely missed,” said former CGU Dean Bligh.

Uhlmann had a unique affection for CGU, which led to him taking on far more work than a traditional non-tenured professor. He was constantly relied upon to smooth the gaps in the American policy department. “If a student needed independent study in something that wasn’t taught at the time, he would help,” Blitz said.

While Kesler acknowledged that Uhlmann’s death was a blow to American politics at CGU, he did not see why the political philosophy program needed to end, given that there were still several qualified professors. in political philosophy at Claremont. CMC also paid the bill for most political philosophy professors. “When I was hired, it was part of my contract that I would teach one course a year in graduate school on a dime from CMC,” Kesler said.

Kesler added that student funding was not an issue, as funding for graduate students was acquired entirely outside of CGU. “We brought our own money to support our own students. We weren’t asking them to give us anything or pay us anything,” Kesler said.

Dean Bligh also stated that it was against CGU’s accreditation and policies to have a department that was entirely dependent on CMC faculty. When asked to specify those policies, he did not. According to Professor Nichols, “For many years, if not every year, the political philosophy program was entirely dependent on the faculty of [the undergraduate colleges] for courses, examination committees and theses committees”. It is unclear whether the political philosophy program has been in violation for its duration.

According to Professor Kesler, “The idea of ​​the [graduate] the school was that they would use the undergraduate faculty, the general faculty of the Claremont Colleges. Most of the teaching would be done by people whose home institutions were the undergraduate colleges.”

The cancellation has left the existing Ph.D. students in a difficult position. “I have almost nothing positive to say about the CGU administration,” a current Ph.D. in political philosophy. said the candidate. The student was admitted to the program the semester before the cancellation and received no notice that the program would soon end. After the cancellation, the student felt abandoned by the University. “When it became clear [CGU] would abolish the concentration of political philosophy, it was obvious that it was not going to receive many supports”, he said.

CGU did not wait for the current political philosophy Ph.D. students to finish their studies before canceling classes. Professor Nichols intended to teach a graduate seminar on Rousseau Emily in the spring of 2023 which was cancelled. This meant that most of the student’s work would be taught at degree level.

“It probably doesn’t make a big substantive difference because these teachers teach at such a high level, but the big difference is the waste of that time working through a single text like Emily and the rigor of this experience. This in-depth study is something unique for a graduate program that is no longer available at Claremont,” the student said, “It could also make a difference to future employers looking at my transcript.”

A former political philosophy master’s student who graduated in 2022, Karl Heintz, opposed CGU’s actions. “You can’t accept anyone [promising] that they will be able to complete their thesis and then make it impossible, or at least very difficult, for them to finish their work”.

Heintz says he attended several school-wide town halls in which students from many other departments complained about the administration. “Their argument was basically, you accepted us, we paid for our degree, we want to finish, we need courses and we need mentorship,” Heintz said.

The cancellation has left some alumni of the program questioning CGU’s motives. One graduate said: “Although the future has never looked so bright for political philosophy work in the academy, the CGU decided, for reasons that appear to be ideological or progressive-bureaucratic, to end the program. It is literally puzzling.”

Another doctorate from the CGU. said, “It’s not a big program and it never was. Unlike many other programs at the school, CGU cost next to nothing. Although political philosophy professors still teach at Claremont, they should be able to teach graduate students who want to learn from them. I see no legitimate reason for the pause in admissions.”

Both Professors Nichols and Blitz denied that the decision was political. However, Professor Kesler said: “I think so [political philosophy] he left and never came back [the CGU administration] I would be very happy. They don’t believe in the political philosophy or the kind of approach we take. They think it’s old, unscientific, not cutting edge.”

Kesler’s expectations for the future of the CGU are bleak. “If you look at the courses they teach now, there is little hope that good students would be attracted to study there,” he said, “the material taught there is unremarkable and could be studied in a hundred different places . It lacks both distinction and distinction. It’s in a death spiral.”


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