The University of Florida is moving ahead with plans for its Hamilton Center. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Orlando Sentinel ]

The University of Florida’s faculty senate is advancing two proposed majors in the school’s newly established think tank and college the Hamilton Center: Philosophy, Politics and Economics and Law and Great Books and Ideas.

Not every faculty member is happy about it.

The senate last week voted 45-18 in favor for the new philosophy degree and 41-24 in favor for the Great Books degree. Less than half of the total faculty senate body participated in the special meeting.

Malini Schueller, a member of the faculty union, said she was skeptical. After years of seeing the state gut liberal arts funding and diversity, equity and inclusion programs, pouring support into the Hamilton Center seemed dubious.

“I think anybody with the slightest inkling can know what’s going on here, right?” she said.

The proposed student outcomes of the Great Books major include the ability to “identify, describe, and explain the Great Books from the ancient world through the modern world,” “analyze primary texts … (and) their significance to Western Civilization,” “evaluate multiple perspectives on politics, society, and religion” and “communicate orally and in writing the contribution of art and literature.”

The program is intended to enroll 85 undergraduate students by its fifth year. Of 10 students the university polled, according to the degree proposal, two said they’d consider it as a major and four said they would as a minor.

The proposal compared it to the University of Notre Dame’s B.A. Program of Liberal Studies, and projected anticipated careers include “management analysts,” “marketing specialists” and “lawyers.”

The proposal said the Philosophy, Politics and Economics and Law degree was originally established in 1920 at Oxford University, where it has come to be known as the “degree that runs Britain.” It also mentions management analysts and lawyers as anticipated jobs, and expects to enroll 300 undergraduate students by its fifth year. Of 10 students polled, six said they would consider the major and eight said they’d consider it as a minor. William Inboden, director of the center, said at the meeting it would serve as a more direct prelaw major.

The Hamilton Center was established by the state legislature in 2022 to support teaching and research “concerning the ideas, traditions and texts that form the foundations of western and American civilization.” Last year, a sweeping bill to reform higher education expanded its scope to eventually operate as a college and graduate students who are educated in “core texts and great debates of Western civilization and the Great Books.”

The state allocated the Center $10 million in recurring funds last year and $27 million this year. In a May news release, UF announced it was hiring 21 faculty members, bumping the total number of hires to 32, after the university said it received more than 1,000 applications.

Schueller, the union member, said other departments at the university have struggled to recruit to fill positions in light of recent higher education laws in Florida.

“We want to build the top Western civilization program in the nation here at UF, and we’re making great progress,” UF provost Scott Angle said in the a May statement release.

The degree proposals received letters of support from faulty members in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, though some identified overlapping courses and welcomed the opportunity to weigh in further along in the process.

But faculty members at last week’s meeting still had questions — including which books would be considered Great Books.

A legislative analysis of the bill that became the law mandating the center’s offerings references “the Great Books of Western civilization.” The Great Books of the Western World is a 60-volume series of books published by Encyclopedia Britannica that includes canonical Western works like “The Iliad” and “The Oddessy.” In February, New College of Florida partnered with online platform Ricketts Great Books College to offer an online degree in liberal arts that spans Ancient Greece to the Modern Age.

Robert Ingram, associate director for the Hamilton Center, pointed to similar programs at Columbia University, Notre Dame and the University of Chicago. He guessed there would be 50 to 60 books that students would read during the program. Imoden, the director, said “great books” has been a contested term, but said the curriculum would include books that “stood the test of time.” The books would get at the heart of questions that address the human condition, he said.

Esther Romeyn, a faculty senator, noted that liberal arts fields wrestle with similar questions, yet have seen decades of budget and faculty cuts. She questioned why this was being considered a new thing. Cynda Crawford, another senator, asked how employable a graduate with a degree in Great Books would be.

The proposed new majors must still go before the university’s academic affairs unit, board of trustees and the Board of Governors next spring.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.