The founder of WSC’s philosophy department deemed unqualified to teach philosophy by HLC

Mason Schweizer, Staff Writer

After Wayne State College’s liaison to the Higher Learning Commission, Sue Sydow, referred questions to department deans of exactly which faculty members would be affected by the HLC’s new accreditation guidelines, only Humanities Dean Dr. Alan Bruflat responded to “The Wayne Stater” for comment, noting that philosophy Profs. Drs. Andrew Alexander and Katherine Butler would be essentially swapping classes with English Profs. Drs. Rodney Cupp and Becky Zavada
Most notably, Butler is wrapping up her 51st year teaching philosophy at WSC and created the Philosophy Department when she came to Wayne. Because her master’s and doctoral degrees are in English, she is no longer qualified to teach philosophy at WSC.
“I think it’s a shame that over 50 years of experience teaching philosophy doesn’t count in the HLC’s eyes,” Butler said. “I would like to talk to one of these people in the commission, because I don’t think this is what they intended.”
The new guidelines from the HLC, the accreditor for WSC, concerning qualified faculty states that faculty members must have a degree above the level they are teaching and in the specific field they are teaching. However, exceptions are made based on tested and equivalent experience.
Equivalent experience means that the faculty member has 18 credit hours of graduate coursework in their desired field. Butler believes she has met those qualifications, but since she has been a graduate for over 50 years, confirming that is difficult.
“My graduate courses contained philosophical material, but I can’t reach out to my old professors for confirmation, because they are all dead,” Butler said.
“The registrar notes that each of my three-year-long seminars were 10 credit hours. Even if they took partial credit, since my thesis had been philosophical, (it should be 18 credits). I know I had a philosophy background before I even came here.”
And that background has only grown during her tenure at WSC. By her count, Butler has taught 19 current faculty members and taught 246 philosophy sections, and she said that she was teaching ethics courses at WSC before there were ethics textbooks.
“When I got here, we had no library for philosophy, only yearbooks of the Anti-Saloon league,” Butler said. “I made up a list of 147 texts to buy, and still have that list to this day.”
Cupp is the Language and Literature Department chair, and for him, there are still questions to be answered concerning the new guidelines.
“I’m looking to (Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Elliott) to provide additional guidance. Our linguistics professor will retire, and the linguistics classes are required, but are listed as English courses,” Cupp said. “So, do we have to get a linguist? Or, since it’s an English course, do we have to get someone with a background in English? It’s clear cut with people like me and Becky, but the HLC guidelines don’t say (what to do in this situation), so we need more guidance.”
Cupp was understanding of the new guidelines, but, like Butler, was curious as to how the guidelines should be interpreted.
“I understand why they are doing this. They want to make sure the people who are teaching these courses are qualified to do so,” Cupp said. “It just seems odd that teaching experience doesn’t count as tested experience. There is someone in our department who has taught for over 50 years and is now not qualified, and that seems very strange.”
While Alexander agreed with Cupp and Butler in questioning why teaching experience doesn’t count, he added that he was not totally surprised by the move, noting that faculty had known this was a possibility since the guidelines were first announced in 2015. He also had a message for those students he taught in philosophy.
“I always tried to give students the best course I could,” Alexander said. “Hopefully, most of them were reasonably satisfied.”
Alexander will leave behind his beloved Ethics and Values course, which he has taught at WSC for 24 years.
The three shared similar feelings of disappointment with the new guidelines, all mentioning it on multiple occasions during their interviews for this story. But Cupp noted that all affected members will be returning to their original fields of study, saying it’s “kind of a mixed bag.”
Butler questioned the interpretation at WSC of the guidelines, and called Sydow’s comparison of faculty qualification changes to speed limit changes as “kind of a ridiculous comparison.”
WSC must be in compliance with the new guidelines by Sept. 1 for all on-campus instructors. Dual-credit instructors will have five years to acquire the proper credentials, after the school was granted an extension on the deadline.