The Pomona College Philosophy Department hosted a discussion Wednesday afternoon in response to the articles published in the first issue of The Pomona College Dissent. The talk was organized by the Philosophy Department liaisons, Rebecca Raible PO ’14 and Edith Harris PO ‘13.
In the first issue of The Dissent, the authors argue that Pomona fails to offer students a truly interdisciplinary education and that its academic community is plagued by a discourse that often prevents the exchange of authentic ideas. The longest article in the issue focused on what the magazine’s staff sees as problems within the philosophy department.
“We don’t see how, given the current academic situation, a student can leave Pomona College passionate about philosophy,” an article in The Dissent with no byline reads. “We don’t see how the professors can be content with the education they are imparting. We think it bad that Analytic Philosophy professors deal with issues of no concern to anyone but the professors involved.”
Harris said she felt that the Wednesday discussion was necessary because The Dissent raised some serious questions about academics at Pomona.
“We’re looking to deemphasize whatever rhetorical problems people may have had with the article and really just focus on the issues,” she said. “Is this stuff actually happening? Is this a problem in other departments, too? We really want to know whether many students can relate to the article or not. Some of my professors were very concerned and said that if this is what our students think, we need to take this up, and it’s a big issue.”
A discussion had previously been planned for philosophy students and faculty, but Raible and Harris felt that there was a wider interest beyond those directly involved in the department. The discussion encouraged student participation but also featured professors who spoke about their experiences within their own departments.
“The authors hadn’t talked to the members of the department who were talked about in the article, so I was surprised and disappointed by the tone of the article,” Philosophy Department Chair Peter Kung told TSL.
“We feel like we didn’t, as far as these students are concerned, do as good a job as we could’ve explaining what philosophy is and the myriad of ways that people approach it,” he said. “We want to try to do a better job as a department letting students know what philosophy is and which aspects of it might be most appealing to them.”
Because a wide variety of topics were discussed in The Dissent, the discussion was not limited to the criticisms of the Philosophy Department.
“Some people want to talk about the political correctness part,” Raible said. “Some want to talk about the criticisms of the Philosophy Department, or the tone of the article, or the fact that they criticize the academics at Pomona in general. Even though it’s hosted by the Philosophy Department, we don’t need to focus on the article criticizing the department.”
Raible hopes that the discussion facilitated a genuine and open conversation.
“I think it’s also a good opportunity for professors to listen to what students have to say and ask, ‘Is it true? Are we not serving you well enough? Are we not teaching you in the way that you want to be taught?’” Raible said. “I’m just hoping that students feel like they had a chance to express themselves and hear other people’s opinions.”