Open Letter: Jonathan Demers ’11

(NOTE: Open Letters hosted on Let There Be Light reflect the express views/concerns of the author(s), and not necessarily those of our entire organization.) 

Honorable Board Members,

Please consider this letter as a formal expression of my deep concern for the Cedarville University Board of Trustee’s recent statements regarding Dr. Ruby and the Philosophy major.

First and foremost, please understand how fondly I look upon my time at Cedarville. During my four years, I served as a Resident Assistant, a Writing Center Peer Tutor, the 2011 Class President, a council member on the Student Advisory Ministry Council, a Discipleship Group leader and as a Student Ministry Leader to inner-city Dayton. I graduated with highest honor, was recognized by Who’s Who, Walsh University’s “All Politics is Local” Political Science Conference, and the Ohio Federation of Independent Colleges. I assisted in the coordination of the nearly $45,000 raised for Haitian survivors and Changing Lives Now in the 2010 and 2011 SGA philanthropy efforts. I was discipled by faculty and staff, met my wife, and created lasting bonds of friendship. I say these things not to recapitulate my resume, but to illustrate how robust and meaningful my time at Cedarville was. Indeed, I consider my Cedarville years as one of the most meaningful, catalyzing periods of my brief yet blessed life.

My deep concern for your recent decisions is, in many ways, born from the aforementioned blessing. I have been deeply discouraged in observing the university’s recent actions. I send this letter after contacting, through phone and email, members of the Vice President team, the Public Relations Department, the Alumni Relations services, and other leaders on the Cedarville campus. In sum, I strongly object to the Board’s decision to confirm Dr. Carl Ruby’s resignation, and to conclude the Philosophy program. Moreover, I am deeply concerned over the hostile and toxic environment undertones plaguing the University community today. As I explain each concern, I humbly request you consider them thoughtfully, that you would respond with your own thoughts on the matter, and that you would finally reconsider your recent statements and decisions.

First, I strongly object the confirmation of Dr. Carl Ruby’s “resignation.” Dr. Ruby is a godly man, a voice of timely moderation, a consoling voice to the countless many students struggling with their Christian faith. He has guided CU through dozens, if not hundreds, of student life challenges, and regularly emerges from those challenges with reconciliation and dignity for all parties. I have been not only confounded, but exasperated to see no action taken on the part of the university to explain his resignation, or to offer genuine gratitude for his nearly thirty years of service. Coupled with the misleading statements of the January public relations article, the puzzling efforts to shroud this decision under the guise of “concern” and “privacy,” and the apparent existence of a binding non-disclosure agreement – formal or informal – barring all parties from transparency, I have seen a considerable degree of un-Christian like ethic acted on throughout this situation. For these reasons, I have been deeply concerned with the University’s treatment of Dr. Ruby.

Second, I strongly object to the University’s decision to conclude the philosophy major. As a former philosophy student, who has since gained acceptance to the Teach for America urban education program, earned the district’s top-Teacher honors, earned a 100% tuition scholar position to law school, and will soon serve as the Executive Director of an inner-city Christ-centered Detroit-based community development corporation, I know firsthand the value of a philosophy education. Given philosophy’s fundamental relationship to a rigorous humanities education, I am baffled that a self-proclaimed liberal arts school would so quickly rush to cease such an important major.

I specifically wish to critique the leadership’s “pragmatic” rationale for concluding the program. My understanding, from personal correspondence and through the recent student Town Hall recording, is that the program is concluding due to the digression in student retention, and thus the lack of financial viability. I would humbly suggest the following:

  • Though the major has in fact suffered three years of decline in total majors, this year’s total number of majors represents only the freshmen to junior class, as there are no current senior philosophy majors. Invariably, the total count next year would have almost certainly risen.
  • The idea that one would suggest a statistically significant digression – evinced vis-à-vis an approximate drop of 15 to 9 students over a three year span – defies any data analysis model with which I have been trained or am familiar. The suggested “digression” is so flimsy that the recent “surge” in the program to 13 majors would call into question the entire digression argument in toto.
  • If such a small “digression” – less than a six student drop in total, over a three year span – were applied to every major on campus, nearly a dozen other majors should be considered for conclusion. That goes without mentioning the nearly thirty other programs that should likewise be considered for review (notably, some have).
  • The costs associated with the program are insignificant. Two faculty members provide all coursework, with no lab costs, additional program costs, etc. Can this limited “re-allocation” benefit of a single faculty’s expenses, as it has been described, justify the removal of such a fundamental humanities program?
  • In contrast to program costs, students in previous years have been published and awarded in significant venues, including the Evangelical Theological Society, and accepted to prestigious institutions, such as Georgetown School of Law. Not only will those sorts of opportunities cease, but that academic community will be confirmed in their suspicions that Christian academics remain narrow-minded.
  • Moreover, consider the argument offered by a fellow 2011 alumnus:

Students graduating with a philosophy degree have been shown to score higher than most other majors on significant standardized graduate admissions exams, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The rationale is simple: a robust philosophical education affords training in critical thinking, argument, verbal and written communication, and information management needed to succeed at the highest levels of career and profession.

The ETS reports that students intending to major in philosophy on average receive the highest scores on the Verbal and Analytic Writing portions of the GRE, the most common entrance examination for graduate school, compared with any other intended field of study. On average, philosophy majors also receive a higher Quantitative score on the GRE than any social science major. On the GMAT, the most common entrance examination for business school, philosophy majors outperform all common/traditional business majors (i.e. accounting, finance, or business management) by an average of 15% and place 2nd best overall, behind only mathematics majors. On the LSAT, the required entrance exam for all accredited law schools, the Journal of Economic Education reports that philosophy majors on average score the second highest of any undergraduate major, behind only physics/mathematics. Indeed, philosophy majors generally score significantly higher than political science, history, communications, public administration, and government majors, all popular pre-law majors. Importantly, pre-law majors ranked 28th of 29 categories – above criminal justice but lower than each of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities fields.

Again, is it worth compromising our students the opportunity to achieve this sort of success for the re-allocation of a single faculty’s funding?

  • Finally, the idea that the philosophy minor could somehow not only continue, but be strengthened by the recent news is decidedly short-sighted. Given that the interest is to cut costs, at least one faculty member would necessarily lose their position (neither have attended seminary). Yet, if the less-senior faculty member were to lose his position, he would take with him nearly all of the actively offered philosophy upper-level coursework and electives, many of which are required by programs in Biblical Studies, History and Government, Business and Communication. The philosophy coursework offered simply cannot be maintained by a single professor, who will likely be leading a recently-doubled honors program and the Intro to Humanities coursework.

I raise these seven points because, after careful consideration and a survey of the information available, I find them a compelling counter-narrative to the university’s allegedly pragmatic proposal to conclude the program. It is for these reasons, among others, that I strongly object to the Board’s most recent statements regarding the philosophy major.

Finally, honorable board members, I humbly suggest you look to the unhealthy environment that is Cedarville’s students, faculty, staff, and even your own Board. Many students have already begun to research and consider the transfer process, and are looking to competitor schools like Wheaton. Numerous faculty and staff, though concerned about recent decisions, have self-silenced out of fear of losing their own positions. Many others are making arrangements to pursue employment in other venues, while others plan to resign before the beginning of next year. Chris Williamson, a recent addition and respected Board Member by the Cedarville Community, not only plans to resign over your recent statements, but remove his son from the school and initially declined the offer to give the commencement address.  The vast majority of this toxicity is the direct result of Cedarville’s drastic decisions to cut approximately $4 million in budgetary expenses. I ask you, as an alumnus who looks incredibly fondly on his time at Cedarville: are these costs worth these consequences? Is Cedarville University, in its currents state, the Christ-centered learning community which you have hoped to foster?

It is for these reasons that I humbly and formally state my convicted, deep disapproval over your recent decision. I encourage your reply and hope to continue this conversation as needed. Please know that my family, which has set aside a sum of money to begin an endowment scholarship at Cedarville, will find other uses for that funding, given the recent decisions and actions by our alma mater.

Please, as your fellow Cedarville community member, and as a concerned alumnus, I humbly ask that you reconsider your recent decisions.

Best,

Jonathan Demers

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4 responses to “Open Letter: Jonathan Demers ’11

  1. Pingback: That’s So Cedarville? | Let There Be Light·

  2. Pingback: That’s So Cedarville? | Soli Deo Gloria·

  3. Pingback: My Unforgettable Cedarville Experience (pt 2) | Soli Deo Gloria·

  4. Pingback: That’s So Cedarville? | Let There Be Light·

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