Part 1 of this series focused on (1) development and (2) pre-college philosophy. In part 2, I’ll focus on identifying the geographical distribution of philosophy to get a better understanding of where access inequality occurs and where we can strategically grow the profession. I am going to focus on comparing HBCUs, Women’s colleges, elite universities, and community colleges to help us determine where we should focus those efforts, which are crucial to the long-term success and health of philosophy. Growth at public and private universities with large enrollments and little to no philosophy should be part of the growth and diversification strategy, too.
If we as a discipline think ALL students, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, or race should have reasonable access to philosophy, then we need to take a look at what we can do to support that goal. In my view, the diversity problem in philosophy is a structural problem arising from the lack of access to philosophy by diverse populations.
To illustrate that point, let’s take a look at HBCUs with the largest endowments mostly concentrated in the South. HBCUs don’t generally have robust philosophy departments unlike some well-endowed Women’s colleges like Wellesley or coed, elite universities. Remember the PAQ (Philosopher Access Quotient) is calculated by dividing the undergraduate population by the total number of teaching philosophers at the college or university. I have also included a new column calculating the endowment dollars per enrolled undergraduate. (See the charts below)
As you can see, four of the schools have no philosophers. The average is 2 philosophers per department and a PAQ of 3137. Tuskegee University and Morehouse College do not report their endowment dollars to the site, but I got endowment numbers from their WIKI pages. They both have about $130 million dollar endowments. Tuskegee has two philosophers for 3112 students for a PAQ of 1556, and Morehouse has one philosopher for 2200 students.
Now compare the “richest” HBCU numbers with the “best” women’s colleges…
The nine Women’s colleges, with an average of a half a billion dollars in endowments, over five faculty for 1800 students for an average PAQ of 351.1, have access to philosophy at rates nearly identical to the largest endowed, elite universities (349.7). This is in sharp contrast to HBCUs.
To see where race, socioeconomic status, and access intersect, let’s take a look at the southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, which have the 1st, 2nd, and 6th highest percentage of African-Americans in the population and are ranked 51, 49, and 48, for poverty by state (including DC), and have a low geographical distribution of philosophers and philosophy programs. According to the APA guide to graduate programs, the three sates share one Philosophy Ph.D. granting university, a private university, Tulane, and an M.A. program in a “Departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies, ” and two M.A. programs in “Departments of Philosophy and Religion.” Alabama has no graduate programs in philosophy that I can find. Yet these three states are a big geographic region with a total population of about 11 million people. To compare, the state of Illinois has about 12 million people and six Ph.D. programs in philosophy (three at public universities and three at private universities) as well as bachelor’s degrees offered at 10 of the 11 state universities; only Chicago State is lacking with just a philosophy minor. Clearly access to a high quality public education in philosophy isn’t uniformly distributed across the country, which leads to poor access for some, less diversity in the profession, and fewer professionally employed philosophers.
There is another important component to growing the profession and increasing socioeconomic diversity and student access to philosophy: community colleges. Many students begin their college education at community colleges. I was one of those students. Moreover, let’s not forget that a general education class in the first two years is often where students discover philosophy.
Let’s take a hypothetical look at community college PAQs…
I have listed the “best” community colleges according to Community College Review (2013) and the community colleges with the largest student enrollments in the chart below. It is difficult to find endowment figures and accurate faculty listings for the programs in these colleges, so I am going to assume a PAQ of 3490 (10 times the most endowed university average) to show how many faculty it would take to achieve one-tenth (1/10th) the access to philosophy as the best Women’s Colleges and most well-endowed, elite universities. Others can help fill in the data if they have it or want to help find it. (Of course, faculty FTE numbers and credit hour production numbers would be the ideal.)
According to the American Association of Community Colleges factsheet, there are 1,132 community colleges. Imagine that each one of those schools hired on average 1.5 new faculty members. That’s 1,698 philosophy jobs. Even if they hired on average just .5 faculty members each, we will have just employed 516 philosophers. These won’t all be “great” jobs, but there are lots of people who would like a job near their home or near their spouse’s home to keep teaching and practicing philosophy.
Here is the analysis I’m proposing the profession undertake to discern the severity of the access problem and formulate a strategic response for growing and increasing diversity in the profession:
(1) List every college and university in the country by student population and diversity criteria.
(2) Identify all the schools with philosophy programs to learn which colleges and universities lack philosophy or have it under represented.
(3) Finally, have a professional full-court press to increase access to philosophy in those schools that lack reasonable access to philosophy by all available means. (At this point, I would suggest a PAQ of 1000 to 1400 as a start to reasonableness.)
This can be done in a number of ways. It can be legislative, grass roots activism, alumni driven, employer driven, or some combination of all these strategies. Of course, different strategies for different kinds of institutions will be necessary since they have different missions and different student populations.
Remember the chart of the elite universities with the largest endowments? I have again listed the top ten universities by endowment, the number of philosophy faculty, the number of undergraduates, the ratio of philosophy faculty to undergraduates or PAQ, and have included a new number in the final column: endowment dollars per enrolled undergraduate.
Philosophy is elitist in the sense that students who can afford to go to more well-funded schools have greater access. The question, though, is what can we do to level the playing field, employ more philosophers, and potentially increase our discipline’s diversity? Since the problem of diversity in philosophy is a structural problem, we’ll need to take measures to address the structural causes of privileged access within our discipline. This will require focused effort—not a shotgun approach. We’ll have to do the hard work of determining where philosophy is missing or in short supply, and because we are dealing with scarce resources, we can’t waste effort on small or unlikely gains.
It’s been a long time getting to this point. Correcting the problem and diversifying the profession through growth is going to take a long time—several generations. Understanding these time constraints should allow for a few pressure release points because there is no cheap, quick fix. Growing the discipline and solving the diversity problem cannot be fixed immediately, but rather will take steady, continual, and focused progress. If we can’t do that, then the profession will continue to suffer from structural elitism and remain less inclusive and sadder still, less relevant. We will become the new Classics.
I will have another post in this series where I offer additional, positive strategies for solving the problem of diversity in philosophy by growing the discipline. As always, comments are open.