As I explained in my last post, university structure can promote both success and failure of programs. But university structure is only one source of success and failure that most of us in philosophy don’t generally consider when trying to promote philosophy.
Maybe you’ve heard that Illinois is having a serious budget crisis (especially as it relates to higher ed), but even in these difficult economic times, two programs at my university have gotten hires because those hires are needed for accreditation: Nursing and Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration (RPTA).
According to our external reviewer from a 2013 report, WIU’s philosophy program has an immediate need of two full-time faculty members (and would still be the smallest faculty in the state). Not surprisingly given our budget constraints, we did not get permission to hire. But RPTA is advertising for a therapeutic recreation position that is required for accreditation. Let that sink in.
It’s a pity Philosophy can’t make the same argument for our own discipline--no one provides accreditation for philosophy programs (or any humanities degrees that I know of). But, what if philosophers could go to their provost and say: we need a philosopher in area X for APA accreditation? Right now we can’t, so philosophy’s request for staffing fall behind the needs of “accredited” programs and even more so when money is tight and budgets are declining, which seems to be the new normal on state supported college campuses.
If you are like me, then you never really thought about accreditation. I didn’t until I was in a room and heard the director of the nursing program say: “We have to do it this way for accreditation” about every major program decision. Accreditation claims get on campus interviews, offer letters from provosts, and moving expenses to boot. You only learn these things if you are creating an accredited program from scratch, which WIU did recently, or are in some way affiliated with the accreditation process for a discipline or the entire university.
If you want to know what your college or university is accredited for, go to this U.S. Department of Education database set. WIU has the following NINE specialty accreditations:
(1) Didactic Program in Dietetics accredited by Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics
(2) Audiology (AUD) - Graduate degree programs & (3) Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) - Graduate degree programs accredited by American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
(4) Nursing (CNURED) - Nursing education programs at the baccalaureate degree levels accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
(5) English Language accredited by Commission on English Language Program Accreditation
(6) Art and Design (ART) - Degree-granting schools and departments and non-degree-granting programs accredited by National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation
(7) Music (MUS) - Institutions and units within institutions offering degree-granting and/or non-degree-granting programs accredited by National Association of Schools of Music, Commission on Accreditation
(8) Theatre (THEA) accredited by National Association of Schools of Theatre, Commission on Accreditation
(9) Teacher Education (TED) - Baccalaureate and graduate programs for the preparation of teachers and other professional personnel for elementary and secondary schools accredited by National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
The government database set also included the institutional accreditation that the university does every ten-years with the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. You might be wondering about that RPTA accreditation: for reasons I can’t explain, the accreditation does not show up in the U.S. Department of Education database set, but the department’s website explains the accreditation, and cites COAPRT and the CHEA as accrediting bodies.
What all this means is that some programs have needs that must get satisfied by the university no matter what if they want to remain accredited. These are external constraints on administrators who determine the success or failure of a philosophy program. But what does this all have to do with philosophy? The APA of course.
If you are perfectly comfortable with accredited programs picking up resources and hires and being prioritized over philosophy, then you have to starting thinking of other ways to encourage support for philosophy.
(B) The APA and Programs of Instruction
I love being a member of the APA because I am a philosopher and I enjoy being engaged in philosophy with other philosophers. But here’s the problem. The APA, and philosophers in general, do a poor job at promoting and protecting our interests and the interests of our profession more broadly even when we clearly articulate the role of philosophy in higher education. I am not interested in placing blame, rather I want the APA and the profession to move beyond simply articulating philosophy’s role to actively promoting the discipline I’ll post more about the APA next week, for now, let’s talk about issues with accreditation.
Issue 1: There is no accreditation of philosophy programs from the APA or anywhere else.
Issue 2: The APA’s “best practices” for a philosophy major are presented in its “Statement on the Major” and was accepted in 1992. If you are a philosopher and you have not read the statement on the major, then you should. There is a significant amount of good advice to be found in that document beyond the suggested four models. The concluding remarks, in my view, articulate what the majority of philosophers deem valuable about the discipline perfectly, and now we have to learn to deal with those values. So let me quote it at length.
“Philosophy is a diverse and continually changing discipline, to which people with greatly differing interests are drawn. Institutions and their educational purposes also vary considerably, and appropriately. Good undergraduate major programs thus may take many quite different specific forms, and should be flexible enough to reflect the diversity of both the discipline and the interests of different students as well. Yet they can and should also be designed to promote the various objectives of the serious study of philosophy discussed above.
It would be difficult—and perhaps unwise—to attempt to reduce the foregoing discussion of these objectives and ways of achieving them to a set of specific and concrete recommendations. A few general guidelines, however, may be helpful to the conception, perception, and framing of the philosophy major.”
The nature of philosophy and its breadth means making concrete recommendations is difficult and complex. So we don’t. Instead we offer guidelines, which are essentially suggestions. But suggestions in the mind of today’s administrator are just that, suggestions. And as with most suggestions, administrators are free to ignore them.
One thing that we should consider is that despite the difficulty of beginning an accreditation process, it may now be wise to think about offering concrete recommendations and perhaps even more strongly, accredit philosophy programs. I know, the horror, but the accrediting methodology could be highly disjunctive to be sympathetic to diversity and the mutable nature of the discipline. Bottom line is philosophy departments need support, external support, when dealing with administrators who need help making decisions about programs of instruction.
It’s been 23 years since the APA statement on the major was crafted, presented, and accepted. The economy was strong. The Internet was young. And everyone thought that philosophy was going to be fine with the Boomers soon to retire (remember that APA letter?). Well, it didn’t work out that way, and so we need to think about leveraging the authority we have, the APA, to grow the discipline for philosophers, students, and the public.
Of course there are some obvious objections to promoting accreditation. If we require accreditation, then it seems reasonable to believe that some administrators will just get rid of philosophy rather than support and accredit. And if we make this move, then why won’t other humanities follow suit, which will accelerate the worry above for closing departments. Finally, if we force accreditation, then it stands to reason that departments will become more homogeneous, which is contrary to the goals of philosophy.
Every one of these objections is a legitimate concern. What we have to ask ourselves is this: can we go forward with accreditation plans and deal with these objections or can we reject the accreditation model and find some other methods for growing the discipline. I think this is a conversation worth having. I will be making suggestions next week that don’t rely on accreditation since I think it is a long shot and we missed the boat on that a long time ago. Comments are open.