From the outside looking in, it’s easy to speculate, in general terms, why professors seem to be fleeing higher education in increasing numbers. But it’s not every day one gets to hear from a scholar who spent years building specialized knowledge and expertise—landing tenure and a department chair—only to give it up and walk away.
Carrie-Ann Biondi, a philosophy PhD and Aristotle scholar, taught in universities for twenty-five years, becoming associate professor of philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. But in mid-2020, she jumped ship. Here, she shares why.
Jon Hersey: Carrie-Ann, I feel lucky to count you as one of my friends, and when I went to visit you in January 2021, you shared some pretty upsetting news. After twenty-five years’ teaching philosophy, you’d decided to leave academia. I want to talk about the illiberal ideas on campus that drove your decision. But, first, I’d love to hear about the values that led you into a teaching career, specifically philosophy in higher ed.
Carrie-Ann Biondi: I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old. When I first started kindergarten, I knew I wanted to be in school all my life because I was excited by the whole experience of learning, and I also loved sharing what I learned with other people. My brother is a year younger than me; I’d race home and tell him all the cool stuff I was doing, then watch him learn how to do it. I loved that!
I thought, How can I do this all my life? And, of course, the answer was: Be a teacher. I went to college thinking I would teach younger kids. But I loved the college learning experience so much—the higher-level demands it required—that I said, “No, no, I’m going to teach at the college level.” I was an American studies major as an undergraduate. I studied ideas at the intersection of literature, history, and political science. But when I went to graduate school, I realized that American studies there wasn’t what I had been studying as an undergrad. It was a mash-up of some of the worst of the day’s culture, and I quickly thought, What did I get myself into?
But based on questions I was asking in one of my courses, somebody suggested I take a philosophy course. So, I enrolled in an epistemology seminar. It was the most difficult thing I ever took—and I loved it. So, I switched to majoring in philosophy, and eventually I became a college philosophy professor. . . .