"We Are a Small Institution: One Person Can Make a Huge Difference"

May 27, 2020

With the launch of two bachelor’s programs in fall 2020, an exciting new chapter begins for CEU, traditionally a graduate institution. We caught up with Katalin Farkas, professor in philosophy and recently appointed head of the BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program, to discuss what this multidisciplinary undergraduate program has to offer to students, and how philosophy can help us in these uncertain times. 

You have been working at CEU for twenty years. How has the university changed over this time? 

I joined CEU in 2000, the year the Department of Philosophy was founded. Back then, CEU had no philosophy program, today the program is ranked 37th in the world and 9th in continental Europe, according to the 2020 QS subject rankings. It has moved from a promising initiative to a self-confident, mature program that ranks among the best in the world. And yet some things havenʼt changed: we still attract incredibly motivated students from all over the world who are a pleasure to teach. And despite growing, we are still a small institution where even one person can make a huge difference. 

Have you always wanted to work in academia? What does teaching mean to you?

I  donʼt know when I formulated the desire to become an academic, but I was always a good student, so I guess working as a teacher was a natural idea. Teaching for me is about ideas. At CEU, we renew our courses all the time. I donʼt think I’ve taught exactly the same course twice: even when the topic is the same, I am constantly looking for new angles and new readings. My students force me to be clear, to probe hard into the arguments. I think that pretty much all my philosophical ideas were born out of some teaching experience. 

What made you accept the position of head of the new BA program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics?

I worked on the original proposal for the program with a group of other people, including the former head, Tim Crane. I was expecting a baby then – the program and my son were born around the same time. When I returned from parental leave, I was happy to take over the program from Tim, who is also head of the philosophy department.

 Why did CEU decide to launch a PPE program?

PPE programs have been around for a long time and are increasingly popular for a reason: they make very good sense. These three disciplines have a similar outlook, and at the same time complement each other well.

What makes CEU’s new bachelor’s program different from similar programs?

CEU is a small and deeply international university. The undergraduate classes will also be small (20-25 people to begin with) and diverse. It is a completely different experience to sit in a BA class of 20 people who all come from different countries than to be a part of a 300-plus cohort where most of your peers are from the same country as you. Not to mention that the faculty consists of internationally renowned experts in the three disciplines. I am really looking forward to teaching in an undergraduate program; I believe this new chapter in CEUʼs life is very exciting.

What career paths can students explore after graduation?

A foundation in these disciplines can support careers in a wide range of sectors where professionals with excellent analytic skills are needed. Sectors include public services and administration, consulting and management, education, finance, charities, marketing and advertising, media and internet. A PPE degree should also enable a student to pursue a master’s degree in any of the three disciplines.

How can philosophy help us in this time of crisis?

This is an incredibly complex situation and our only hope is to accumulate more knowledge about the virus and about the best way to cope with it. One of the things philosophy teaches is the ability to analyze situations, to probe the consistency of assumptions and the way certain evidence bears on a hypothesis. This ability is now needed more than ever.

What advice would you give to students finishing their high school studies during these uncertain times?

Take one step at a time. Every day is an opportunity to learn something, or to experience something you havenʼt experienced before. Keep reading, keep being open to influences, and sooner or later things will fall into their place.