Philosophy is often criticized as being too white, too male, and too privileged. Yes, to all. Now what can we do about it? I claim the current methods of trying to diversify philosophy, though well-meaning, will not work. Syllabi with readings by diverse philosophers, summer seminars for a small group of students, or roundtables at APA meetings are all terrible ways to achieve diversity in philosophy. Terrible. Before I explain how the diversity problem in philosophy gets solved (and you won’t like the solution), let’s talk about privilege.
Now the average endowment of the top ten is 268 times greater than WIU’s. The average number of philosophy faculty is 5.34 times greater than WIU’s, and the average enrollment is 3% smaller. The PAQ is 5.5 times greater on average at the top ten endowed universities than at WIU. The WIU PAQ is 1929! This clearly indicates a lack of privilege when you consider the average of the top ten is 349 (take Penn and Michigan out, and the PAQ of the other eight is 263).
Let me deal with a few obvious objections to using these numbers as a PAQ. They aren’t precise. Faculty members at these schools usually teach graduate students, not undergrads, and they only teach a few classes to Ph.D. students, and on and on. Yes, fine. But I am sure that at some places, there are graduate students who are doing some teaching, and there are probably part time people and lecturers and post docs who teach. I only included those faculty listed on the main page—no affiliated faculty or grad student teachers. The five philosophers I list at the university where I work don’t include a dean who hasn’t taught in several years. But it does include a chair who teaches one class a year and one adjunct in his second year who in all likelihood will not be back next year thanks to the Illinois budget crisis. The real WIU PAQ for the last few years should be closer to 2,922, but I’ll go with the more conservative number of 1929. (Ideally, an analysis of credit hour production by faculty in undergraduate classes would allow for a far more precise PAQ, but obtaining that data would have taken more work than is needed to make my point in this post.)
Before I offer my solution to the problem of diversity in philosophy, let me offer up a few additional facts about WIU. We have four Core Values: academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth, and social responsibility. To these ends, we have made a significant effort to diversify our student body and faculty. We have made a major commitment to admit and educate minority students recently. According to our Factbooks from 2010-2014 our freshman classes have had the following percentages of minority students: 20%, 23.2%, 44.6%, 43.9%, and 53.4%. (I don’t have the 2015 figures yet, but it will be significant). This is what a commitment to diversity looks like. But when a university that is committed to diversity has a high PAQ, it is unlikely that minority students will achieve a long-term interest in philosophy because they just don’t have the privileged access to philosophers and philosophy curriculum.
And I should add, that the few minority students I’ve had as philosophy majors want to be attorneys or work in business. It is often a lot of work to help them convince their families that philosophy is a good major for law and business. It’s a high bar to convince diverse students to major in philosophy, and when they want to be lawyers so they can go home and do good for their community, their philosophical training ends at the undergraduate level.
The Solution to the Problem of Diversity in Philosophy
The problem of diversity in philosophy can only be solved in one way: grow the discipline. And I mean this literally. We must make a concerted effort to get more philosophers working in high schools, colleges, and universities at all levels. We must grow the discipline in places where diverse populations are likely to come into contact with philosophy. Places like WIU, places like HBCUs and Women’s colleges, places like community colleges in the south, and anywhere people have less access to higher education and philosophy more generally. I don’t want to wade into a debate about what constitutes diversity in philosophy, but I do think that more economic diversity in philosophy would be a good way to combat claims of privilege while at the same time increasing diversity more broadly.
Now you may be wondering. How in the hell are we as philosophers supposed to “grow” the discipline? That will be the subject of my next post. As always, comments are open.