In Defense of the Liberal Arts

[The following is a letter received by our department by a former graduate and current Harvard Divinity School student. He has agreed to allow us to post his letter here.]

My name is Cary Dabney. I am currently a graduate student at Harvard University’s Divinity School. I am also an alumnus of Youngstown State University, class of 2013.  I want to thank you in advance for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this correspondence. I promise this message will be brief, but it is a message I feel needs to be shared in light of the changing academic environment at my beloved Alma matter.

On October 18, 2015, I was instructed to turn in an excerpt from my master thesis to be completed and defended before a board next spring. This excerpt is generally an opportunity for the professor who has been assigned as your director to offer criticism and suggest appropriate modifications to your approach and overall theory. After reading my excerpt, this Harvard professor of over thirty years made the following comment, “It’s rare that I find myself without critical comment on a paper, but such is the case here… this paper is final draft quality, with nothing more needing to be done as far as I’m concerned. I have never read or experienced a student so adequately prepared for this area of work…you are one of the most promising students of medieval philosophy and moral theology I have ever worked with.”

I share this with you not due to any need of recognition; rather, I share this with you to make you aware of the work that is being done in the classrooms of the liberal arts college at Youngstown State University, particularly the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department.  The faculty and staff of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department prepared me, a non-traditional student and a first-generation college graduate, in such a way that I am now considered a top candidate for doctoral work in my field.

I have heard rumors that several liberal arts programs are at risk of being reduced or cut altogether. I will be the first to admit that I am completely ignorant of what it takes to effectively run a state university, but I also know that if it were not for the foundation laid by the men and women in the college of liberal arts, specifically in areas of language, philosophy, and religious studies, I would never have earned a fellowship to Harvard University, and I most certainly would not have been able to excel at the graduate level.  My fellow students here at Harvard all come from academic institutions that have a commitment to the liberal arts.  This includes students from all Harvard graduate schools;  the medical school, business College, and law school.  If Youngstown State wishes to continue to send its graduates to the leading graduate schools in the country, then it must maintain its commitment to the liberal arts, including language, philosophy, and the study of world religion. If not, graduates from Youngstown State will simply not be able to compete with students in the academy.

Again, I share this with you out of my love, pride, and concern about MY Youngstown State University.  Thank you for the work that you do, and your commitment to the students of YSU. I know their welfare are you chief priority.  My aim here is only to give voice to some of those who may no longer walk the halls of YSU, but always carry a piece of YSU with us.

Penguin for life!

Cary W Dabney

Master of Divinity Candidate, 2016

Harvard University, Divinity School

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2015-2016 Shipka Speaker: Dr. Shaun Nichols

On October 15, 2015, Dr. Shaun Nichols of the University of Arizona presented a talk on the relationship between morality and emotions entitled: “Morality and the Emotional Brain”.

2015–2016 Shipka Speaker: Dr. Shaun Nichols from YSU Phil and Rel Studies on Vimeo.

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Youngstown Torch Club Invitation

The newly elected president of the Youngstown Torch Club has invited any interested persons from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies or any students of philosophy to their meetings that take place in Kilcawley Center every month. The first meeting of the 2015–2016 season will be Sept 21st. The schedule is: 5:30 social time; 6 to 7 PM dinner; 7:15 Discussion Time. September’s topic is historical, economic and philosophic: “The Nashville Experiment 1863: how should the Market be regulated”. Anyone is invited to any phase of our meeting. If you are interested, please contact Don Butler, at 330–856–5897

History of the Torch Club (from the International Torch Club website:

From ancient times a torch has been a symbol of Light and Truth. It is the same today. Torch International proudly uses the torch, with the addition of a triangle – – a symbol of Deity – – Recognizing the source of all intelligence as its emblem. The Association of Torch Clubs was founded on June 18, 1924 by William Bullock, who had the vision of forming an association of clubs across the country with a purpose of broadening intellectual and social horizons. “The objective,” he said, “is to be cultural and educational, to get light and understanding on all vital subjects.”

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Who Said Philosophy Doesn’t Pay?

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine compares the salaries of humanities graduates. Guess who comes out on top? &nbsp

The Earning Power of Philosophy Majors

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Dr. Deborah Mower Received NEH Grant

Congratulations to Dr. Mower who, along with her co-winner Dr. Phyllis Vandenberg, professor of Philosophy at Grand Valley State University in Michigan has recently received a $150,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to run a four-week long Summer Institute for College and University Teachers on “Moral Psychology and Education”. The YSU Newsroom Center has published a nice article discussing the award. The article can be accessed here.

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Alumni Update: Michael Poljak

Image of Michael Poljak

Michael J. Poljak: Bethel Park, PA

Dr. Bruce Waller has received more good news about one of our graduates.

Michael Poljak graduated with a degree in philosophy and a minor in psychology in 2013. He was also a YSU hockey player, and national rookie of the year. He would eventually hold the poistion of head coach for 2 years.

Michael recently completed a Masters of Science in Education, Counseling/Student Affairs and Leadership. While pursuing his masters’s degree he worked for 3 years in the Center for Student Progress as a Graduate Assistant Intern and Peer Mentor.

Michael informed us that he has recently been hired as the Academic Counseling Coordinator in the Office of Academic Development at Carnegie Mellon University. He will be responsible for supervising, guiding, training, managing, and hiring 15 to 20 Academic Counselors. These counselors will meet one on one and occasionally in small groups with CMU students in order to support their academic, social, and emotional needs. He will also be responsible for assisting student led tutoring and supplemental instruction sessions along with creating educational workshops.

The department wishes Michael the best of luck in his new position.

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Alumni Update: Sean Geizer

Recent graduate Sean Geizer is currently working at an after school academy on the south side of Seoul, South Korea. He teaches approximately 7 classes per day of 40–50 minutes each with a 5 minute break between classes. He works with elementary and middle school students after their public school lets out.

In a recent email to Bruce Waller, Sean had some very nice things to say about his experiences in our department:

My time with the department was to brief but still the cornerstone of my time at YSU. I didn’t know anything about it [philosophy] when I enrolled at YSU, but I eventually got sucked in and am glad I did. It changed my life and I am eternally grateful. Even if I weren’t preparing for graduate studies in philosophy, it has helped me teach logical fallacies in debate class for ESL Korean children, and get annoyed every time someone on TV says, “that begs the question. ..” incorrectly. If there’s ever something I can do for the department or you personally, please please please let me know.

The department wishes Sean the best of luck with his teaching in Korea and with his future graduate studies.

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Letter from Peace Corps Volunteer Terry Walters (UPDATE)

[Terry Walters is a graduate of our department, and was inducted into the Peace Corps in August 2014. He recently sent the following letter to us updating his work in Moscovei, Moldova.]

Hello to All,

I hope this email finds you in good health and high spirits. I wanted to give you an update on my work’s progress here in Moldova. On May 29th, I finished up my first school year and on June 4th, I celebrated my one year anniversary in country. Hard to believe a year has gone by already. It’s truly been a whirlwind of an experience.

My partner teachers and I finished the first year’s worth of Health Education Curricula, Long Term Plans, and Daily Lesson Plans. We also organized our first 6 week long Health Campaign on the negative effects of smoking cigarettes. The students developed posters and decorated their homeroom doors. While the teachers developed information bulletin boards and power point presentations that were presented to the student body throughout the campaign period. It was a great success and something they will continue to develop in the upcoming years. This coming fall, we plan to implement an after school Health Club made up of 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students. The plan is to develop leadership skills of the club members so they can, in turn, help influence their peers in making healthy life decisions.

Lastly, I am in the the process of filling out a Peace Corps Project Partnership (PCPP) application. The PCPP gives family, friends, and organizations back in America, and abroad the opportunity to donate to a project headed by the volunteer, specifically. I will be personally responsible for the allocation and distribution of all funds and ensure that monies are being used appropriately. The school principal would like to purchase and install a Smart Board in the health education classroom for this upcoming school year. This technology will not only benefit the health education students but can also be used for special presentations for the entire student body, utilized by the local Mayor’s office, healthcare facility, and social organizations. This technology not only has the potential of enhancing the education of the students, but also, providing greater access to information for the entire community.

If you would like to have your name and mailing address added to my list of potential donors, please feel free to reply to this email with your information. Then, in the near future you can expect to be contacted by Peace Corps directly. You will be given directions on how to donate. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO SEND ME MONEY DIRECTLY. All funds must go through Peace Corps and then will be distributed to me.

Again, I want to say how thankful I am for all your support and tutelage throughout the years. I am truly blessed to have you as my friends, mentors, and colleagues.


Terry Walters, MA

Peace Corp Moldova
M29, Health Education
r. Cahul s. Moscovei

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2015 Shipka Speaker: Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby, an independent scholar who now focuses on American intellectual history, presents “The Culture of Distraction: Why the Young Need to Fight It,”

2015 Shipka Speaker: Susan Jacoby from YSU Phil and Rel Studies on Vimeo.

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More on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education: Fareed Zakaria


“In his new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, Zakaria writes that America’s success was built on a liberal arts education – on multidisciplinary study for the sake of learning rather than vocational study for the sake of a set career path. Liberal arts subjects – such as English, philosophy and political science – teach people how to think, write and communicate; those skills remain useful through the many twists and turns of a career in today’s ever-changing digital economy, he argues. And, he says, it is dangerous to overemphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as separate from or more important than the liberal arts.”

Fareed Zakaria on the Liberal Arts

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