One of Penn’s oldest departments is bringing its younger members to the forefront.
The Philosophy Department, which was founded in 1755, is undergoing a “generational change,” according to department Chair Susan Meyer.
Many of the senior faculty members have recently left or will soon be leaving the department, due primarily to either relocation or retirement.
As a result, the department is in the process of making three to four new faculty appointments for the upcoming academic year.
In evaluating its candidates, the department is looking to “renew the ranks by hiring younger people,” said Meyer, who is currently on sabbatical and will return for the fall semester. “It’s a changing of the guard.”
Paul Guyer, a philosophy professor who has served as interim chair of the department while Meyer has been away, will assume a new faculty position at Brown University after spending 30 years at Penn.
Guyer said he is leaving the University for “professional and personal reasons.”
While Meyer acknowledged that the loss of Guyer will be “significant,” she said she views the influx of newer, younger faculty members as an opportunity for positive change.
Guyer added that most of the department’s senior faculty have worked at the University “beyond normal expectancy,” each having taught at Penn for more than 30 or 40 years.
In addition to Guyer, the department will also be losing philosophy professor Charles Kahn — who has taught at Penn for nearly 50 years — at the end of the year.
According to Meyer, the department is not looking to replace professors like Guyer and Kahn, but is rather looking to make several appointments in their specialities, as well as other, newer areas of philosophy.
For example, graduate student and teaching assistant Reed Winegar — who has worked closely with Guyer — said the department has plans to bring in a professor of epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge and belief.
The department currently does not have a specialist in this field, Winegar said.
The introduction of new areas of study will also allow the department’s younger faculty to have a “stronger presence in a department that was top-heavy with people over 50,” Meyer said.
“The normal course of affairs is that when very senior people retire, usually they are replaced by people early in their careers so a cycle can be maintained and the department can get a long time out of these people,” Guyer said.
Meyer added that one of the department’s major goals moving forward is to put younger faculty on the tenure track.
Meyer pointed to Elisabeth Camp — a junior faculty member who recently received tenure from the department — as an example of this evolving trend.
Camp added that she believes the department has a “strong and growing contingent of mid-level faculty” that it hopes to supplement with a “cadre of junior people.”
Graduate and undergraduate students have offered mixed reactions to the departmental shuffling that is currently underway.
College junior and philosophy major Cris Willis is pleased that the department will be bringing in younger faculty, since these instructors “have done graduate work in more recently developed fields, like experimental philosophy.”
However, according to Winegar, the changes in the department are mostly a function of what people specialize in, as opposed to their age.
“I don’t think necessarily younger people bring more energy,” Winegar said. “It’s specialty over age. That kind of thing will make changes, not just the ages of professors.”Comments powered by Disqus
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