As a philosophy department at a great public university, we play a critical role in higher education, and we are accountable to many people and communities in our department, across campus, throughout Illinois, and around the world. Much of our work occurs through the development, cultivation, discussion, and dissemination of ideas. It can help us meet our professional obligations to develop shared understandings of some issues that may affect our common enterprise; our faculty, students, and staff; our departmental culture and climate; our relations with other people, departments, and groups on campus; and, hence, the conditions under which we do philosophy, produce our work, and seek to have impact.
The academic freedom that is essential for higher education and philosophy to function well, along with the need to appreciate distinctive intellectual, personal, and working styles, may seem to limit success for such an endeavor. There are nevertheless some core tenets that we, in fact, share and unite us. When that is the case, it can help to articulate those core tenets in a clear, thoughtful, and collaborative manner.
In the 2022-2023 academic year, the philosophy faculty convened a series of intensive culture and climate sessions for that purpose. Our aim was to articulate a set of guiding principles which — while specified for local conditions and consistent with broader campus and system principles, policies, and practices — might serve as a national model for philosophy departments seeking a world class culture and climate. Other stakeholders, including graduate and undergraduate representatives and staff, were invited to key sessions. Working groups took what they learned from those conversations and drafted broad-based guiding principles on the topics that were discussed. The entire faculty – along with graduate and undergraduate student representatives and staff – further reviewed these drafts and provided valuable input to produce the guiding principles found in this document. The text of each guiding principle was developed and modified until it obtained unanimous faculty support.
These guiding principles are rooted in reflection on best aspects of our practices and provide touchstones to guide our future. They are not meant to be detailed policies or general rules, which bind absolutely or address every possible scenario we might face. Instead, more like the ropes placed along rocky paths to guide safe passage through difficult terrain (from which the term “guideline” is derived), these principles can help guide the department toward its collective missions more surely, even while allowing individual faculty members to contribute in different ways. These principles are also living documents, which means that they can and should be adjusted, when needed, through similar collaborative processes to accommodate important changes or incorporate new issues.
At the end of this process, we can all be proud of what the results of this inclusive and deliberative set of discussions say about our values and about the strength and cohesiveness of the Illinois Philosophy Department today. We can be proud of the seriousness with which we seek to fulfill our responsibilities to our faculty, our students, our campus communities, and the people we serve more broadly. These principles are, finally, very much in keeping with the original – and fundamental – ideals of the land-grant institution: advancing society through education, knowledge, and understanding, and contributing to the public good.
Philosophy has played a key role in many of the most important intellectual and social developments in human history, including the birth of the natural sciences, developments of contemporary forms of religious tolerance and democratic self-government, and more recent revolutions in computing and digital technology. A strong philosophy department is, therefore, not only valuable in its own right but can also play a vital role in society and the larger academy — e.g., by proposing distinctions, methodologies, and reflections that aid other fields; by fostering an intellectual environment where foundational assumptions are examined and cross-fertilization of ideas may occur; and by providing a suitable home for rigorous ethical thought within higher education. Philosophy is itself a seamless web: insights from some disciplines — like metaphysics, epistemology, or the philosophy of language — can have implications for others — like aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, or moral, social, and political philosophy. And philosophy spans many disciplines, focusing on issues like logic, the nature of right and wrong, the character of reality, how we come to have knowledge, what science says about the basic fabric of the world, and how our political and legal institutions should be structured. In order best to serve our discipline, other disciplines, our university, and society at large, it is critical to maintain an intellectual climate that supports the discussion and development of philosophical ideas, while remaining sensitive to philosophy’s highly interconnected nature, thus helping give philosophical thought vitality and wide impact.
- Internally, we shall foster an intellectual climate that supports the pursuit and enjoyment of philosophical research, scholarship, and ideas that advance knowledge and understanding across a wide range of philosophical disciplines — sometimes through careful focus on the questions that animate those disciplines and sometimes by exposing interconnections among them and with other fields throughout the academy. We shall seek to balance breadth with depth, while providing ample opportunities for constructive exchange among our faculty members and other members of our community. Because the pursuit of truth — like the enterprise of philosophy — is bigger than any one of us, we shall seek to show how even fundamental disagreement can be a catalyst for growth and thought.
- Externally, we shall seek to maintain strong and constructive connections between philosophy and other disciplines, so that our department functions — and is well known throughout the University to function — as a critical, constructive hub for foundational thinking that connects many fields, ranging from the humanities to the sciences, thus helping develop ideas vital for the public good. Some special attention will be paid to applied ethics and the fields of computer science, economics, fine and applied arts, history, law, linguistics, mathematics, medicine, physics, political science, and psychology.
- We shall serve as a central hub within the University for rigorous ethical thought and debate, thus seeking to add strength, nuance, and credibility, whenever needed, to university-wide efforts to consider ethical questions and integrate them into other inquiries or aspects of academic mission. In the great traditions of philosophy and public education, we shall seek — as a department — to be non-dogmatic in our approaches to ethical thinking. We shall be expansive in our efforts to give impact to ethical thought in all its complexity.
- Recognizing the central role that the University of Illinois has played in the computing, digital, and artificial intelligence revolutions, along with its national strengths in these areas, we shall seek to be a world leader among philosophy departments in linking philosophical reflection to developments in technology. That shall include both reflections on logic and the nature of intelligence and computation and reflections on the moral, social, and political questions raised by technology in the digital age. Given the increasing integration of computing technology into so many aspects of contemporary human life, we shall seek to develop thoughts and leaders to ensure that our technological developments during this fundamental historical transition may be guided by human intelligence and values.
- Because the history of philosophy is the record of some of the best minds in each time and place wrestling with some of the most profound questions presented to the human mind, we shall seek to preserve this extraordinary record and draw insight from it. By engaging in critical dialogue with this record, including insights from other traditions, we can gain inspiration; identify insights, distinctions, and forms of argument that may prove useful to contemporary debates; broaden our understanding of the breadth and diversity of human thought and imagination; attain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our projects; and develop richer understandings of philosophy’s critical role in major social, political, intellectual, and technological transformations, including our own.
- We shall also encourage and support other philosophical research agendas that may not align with any one aforementioned aim or goal. Our department seeks to be inclusive and pluralist in its efforts to grow and become an important voice in the broader academic community.
Graduate Student Experience
Graduate education is a unique — and, indeed, crucial — aspect of higher education. Through our graduate program, we provide a select group of students with opportunities for close, intensive, and long-term interactions with world class thinkers and hence virtually unmatched opportunities for minds to develop. Graduate students are also budding colleagues, who are integral to our department, our intellectual culture, and our teaching and academic missions. At the same time, some of the same factors that make graduate education potentially transformative can create well-known power differentials and relations of dependence that can undermine excellence in graduate education, especially in a highly competitive academic job market. This is a national problem. Hence, it is critical for all faculty members to engage in intentional, collective, and unified efforts to promote a healthy culture and climate for graduate student success.
- Our primary purpose with respect to graduate education shall be to help graduate students develop confident capabilities for original, cogent, and important philosophical work, expressed in their own voices, even while helping ensure their contributions are properly grounded in — and responsive to — other relevant thoughts, views, and objections, so that experts may deem their contributions worthy of attention and engagement. We shall pursue this aim while showing concern for the holistic wellness of our graduate students and remaining mindful of the impact of graduate student teaching responsibilities on our primary purpose for them. We shall never seek merely to replicate ourselves, because that can be a death knell for independent thought.
- Because it can take a village to cultivate the skills needed to produce rigorous and original philosophical work, we shall encourage our graduate students to learn, grow, and draw inspiration from our faculty. Our culture of graduate mentoring shall blend expectations of formal advising with expectations of broader informal support from the entire faculty. We shall seek to apply fair mechanisms to reward both formal and informal contributions to graduate education in proportion to their impact on graduate students’ capabilities to succeed.
- In part to support graduate students’ holistic wellness and to temper the power dynamics inherent in advisory relationships, we shall foster a climate that encourages graduate students to experiment freely with different advisory and intellectual styles or distributed forms of supervision as their needs and interests evolve, and seeks to protect them from being unnecessarily involved in or harmed by faculty politics.
- We shall maintain state-of-the-art mentoring guidelines — which will include directions to advisors to set and communicate reasonable expectations for graduate student work and to provide constructive and timely feedback, even while allowing the flexibility needed to adapt formal advising programs to graduate students’ distinctive needs and learning styles. We will go beyond formalities to help graduate students learn about other aspects of professional development that may be critical for long-term success. Some examples may include networking, collaboration, conference participation, professionalism, publishing, and the skills needed for advancement or navigating job markets.
- As graduate students progress, their goals and interests may evolve. Philosophical training can have critical impact in a wide range of domains, both within and beyond the academy. Hence, we shall seek not only to maximize graduate students’ capabilities to compete on traditional tenure-track job markets but also to connect graduate students with broader forms of campus support, as needed, to navigate wider career and professional opportunities.
Philosophy teaches people how to think clearly, creatively, rigorously, and with great flexibility. It is thus unsurprising that our undergraduates go on to pursue a wide range of careers and graduate studies — from law, technology, business, software engineering, artificial intelligence, communications, governmental affairs, and more, to PhD programs not only in philosophy but also in mathematics, computer science, political science, music, and more. It is important for our mission that we seek to understand our undergraduate students’ evolving needs and interests so that we can prepare them to succeed and bring important insights and thinking skills to bear on a wide range of problems and industries. To that end:
- We will seek to engage with undergraduates to ensure that students from a wide range of backgrounds who can profit from a major in philosophy know that fact and are welcomed into the field. We will seek to do that by, among other things, engaging in honest and accurate outreach, countering common misperceptions of our field, and seeking to create a welcoming culture and climate for undergraduates from diverse backgrounds.
- We will seek to help our undergraduates know and be able to articulate how a strong philosophical training can help prepare them for a rapidly changing world and a wide range of vocations. To that end, we will stay informed about the job skills that modern employers most value — like problem-solving, communication, open-mindedness, a strong work ethic, adaptability, self-management, teamwork, leadership, and technology skills. We will consider how a philosophical training can help build those skills when making teaching and curricular decisions. We will seek to build strong bridges between our undergraduate academic advising, career counseling services, and alumni networks.
- We will seek regular input from undergraduates on how best to build a supportive culture and climate for our majors and how to help them develop a community, while here and after graduation, to help them meet their changing needs and goals.
Healthy Interpersonal Relationships
As part of the University of Illinois System, we have the privilege and responsibility to cultivate the immense talents of a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, and leaders. Healthy relationships — defined by mutual respect, trust that is well earned, and a shared commitment to transparency and fair treatment — are the collective responsibility of all our members; no one can afford to be a bystander when it comes to supporting the full participation of everyone in every sphere of our campus communities. The University of Illinois System, of which we are a part, is committed to engaging in ongoing, intentional efforts to foster healthy relationships through educational programming, early intervention, incentive structures, rewards for positive contributions, and opportunities for productive engagement. We are committed to doing our part too. To that end:
- We will strive for healthy, productive working relationships that allow for disagreement while fostering cooperative problem solving among different stakeholders, including faculty, students, staff, and administrative leaders; this shall include collective deliberations on departmental matters that aim for a fair appreciation of different sources of input, support for reasonable differences of opinion, focus on the common good of the department, and thoughtful productivity on practical matters that is evidence-based, reason-based, and efficient whenever needed to promote our larger departmental missions.
- We recognize that a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, methodologies, viewpoints, and subject matter expertise can enrich both philosophical and campus conversations in and out of the classroom, inspire our creative endeavors, and drive innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Our capacity to listen to and learn from one another is fundamental to our mission of excellence in teaching, research, and learning — and to the cause of the common good.
- We shall seek to cultivate and maintain strong conditions for trustworthiness and hence the interpersonal trust that should accompany those conditions — by acting with integrity, transparency, compromise, respect, and humility (where reasonable); by supporting informal or formal restorative processes to repair damaged relationships and support positive changes in behavior (when both parties agree and understand the full ramifications); and by extending principles of charity and good faith whenever reasonable to try to understand one another’s thoughts and contributions.
- We are dedicated to academic freedom and free speech. These rights provide a bedrock for higher education and the pursuit of truth. But we also recognize that some protected speech can undermine healthy relationships, harm other people, and lack bona fide academic purpose. Because philosophy can teach special skills to engage in thoughtful discussion and deliberation, we will seek to model civil discourse and debate and teach our communities how to address controversial topics in a manner that is both respectful and advances the values of our communities and democracy.