I want to begin by thanking Professor Leiter for letting me blog on his platform, and as I did in the fall, I will entertain discussions. I finished last fall with two posts and said there would be a third. I’ll get into some topics later this week that will explain why my attention was diverted away from this third post until now.
If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, I recommend you get started there. In this post, I am going to discuss ways we can grow the philosophy profession: lobbying/advocacy, public relations/advertising, cultural influence ideas, and using philosophy allies.
(4) Lobbying and Advocacy
The APA needs to have a lobbyist (or lobbying firm) to promote the professional interest of APA members both in federal and state government, but also to lobby university and college accrediting agencies for philosophy related concerns. See this IHE story on accreditation and assessment if you haven’t already done so. At the state level promoting philosophy in high schools as part of the common core solution for college and career readiness is one idea. Promoting the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) and groups like Sphere is another. Promoting philosophy is one major reason why development (as discussed in Part 1) and maintaining an active APA membership base is so important—MONEY!
If you think having an APA lobbyist is a silly idea and that I need meds, then perhaps you should take a look at what the American Political Science Association (APSA) is doing in terms of advocacy. I recommend philosophers read the APSA’s mission statement on advocacy as a starting point. They have tools, sample letters, and a coherent strategy for advocating for their discipline and funding for their work. As a profession we need to do this as well. The APSA grew their advocacy plan in response to proposed cuts to social science research, but we should be involved in the exact same kind of advocacy for philosophy and the humanities more broadly. If Political Science’s advocacy activity isn’t enough to convince philosophers of the benefits of advocacy, then perhaps math advocacy or chemistry advocacy or some focused AAUP Humanities advocacy or Digital Humanities advocacy will be convincing.
For the record, here is the APA’s idea of advocacy—a letters policy. That’s right, a letters policy. Philosophers are old school. Use your university franking privileges if you have them. But perhaps the new APA blog will be the public face of philosophy advocacy.
Philosophers need to realize that by doing nothing, by talking to no one with political power, money, or influence, and by not advocating for philosophy, we are essentially letting our future be determined by others who don’t understand the value of philosophy and by those who do know the value of advocacy and lobbying for their disciplines. Philosophy’s value to university education is only part of the story; philosophy also provides value for the labor force and for citizens in general. The current approach, I’m sorry, the current lack of an approach to advocacy by the APA and philosophers is antiquated, neglectful, and ineffective. We have to do better as a discipline and profession.
Here’s a reminder of the APA’s stated mission:
“The American Philosophical Association promotes the discipline and profession of philosophy, both within the academy and in the public arena. The APA supports the professional development of philosophers at all levels and works to foster greater understanding and appreciation of the value of philosophical inquiry.”
(5) PR/Advertising and Cultural Influence
Some of you may remember my poster that Leiter displayed in October 2010 promoting a philosophy major. I am happy to see that some departments have used and modified it for their own use. Positive media campaigns and trying to get videos to go viral are important ways to promote philosophy in the digital age. WiPhi is a nice example of short philosophical videos that are useful in helping people understand philosophy. Some of these are really good, and this group should be lauded for their efforts. For slightly longer interviews, I can’t help but recommend Philosophy Bites podcasts. Really good stuff, and people clearly like it because it’s a top download in the U.S.
Explaining how philosophy is useful when it uses public dollars is not going away. We need to be seen as useful and we need to be though of as useful, which shouldn’t be hard because philosophy and philosophers are useful especially to disadvantaged students according to this story. Every time there is a major conference, the Chamber of Commerce should be told that X number of philosophers are going to be in town. Positive interactions are needed. Alert the media. If you don’t feel like a shill for philosophy, you are doing it wrong not just for yourself, but for current and future philosophers. Let me ask philosophers this: When was the last time you read a story in a local paper about the APA being in town? The gem and mineral show, check. The Ag & Mech show, check. Dog adoptions at the park this Saturday, check. We have to let people know we are in town spending money and doing our philosopher things. Philosophy needs to have better PR, period. Here is an example of how one university newspaper promoted a local conference.
As great as the APA public philosophy op-ed contest is, it’s not enough. The APA, because of its mission, should be the clearinghouse for news and promotional materials for the discipline. It should be much bigger and crowd sourced like the Value of Philosophy page at Daily Nous. Individual blogs shouldn’t have to do the work of the discipline. It is nice that it is being done, but the APA should be keeping track of all this. We have a profession full of smart, talented people who love their discipline and want to promote it, give them a place to do that for everyone’s benefit. So, I am suggesting a public value of philosophy committee for the profession much like the other committees.
And of course there should be more TV and movies made about philosophy and philosophers. The Matrix is old and Inception was in 2010. So help out the APA blog here for movie and TV ideas.
(6) Use our allies
I am a philosopher because a political science professor at a community college told me to take a philosophy class. Why did he do that? He did it because I really liked the Plato and Aristotle readings in his class. It’s that simple. Philosophers need to maintain good relationships with people on their campuses. Philosophers need to be good colleagues and engaged with the rest of the college or university where they work. We need to develop and use our allies.
Here are some suggestions on being involved in your university in terms of service:
- Have faculty sit on curriculum committees (like general education) and your faculty or academic senate.
- Branch out and make connections to other departments that are natural and contain potential future allies.
- Try to get philosophy incorporated into the curriculum of other programs on campus.
- Know your academic advisors and meet with them to explain what philosophy can do for students.
Let me explain how important this last point is. Academic advisors have a tremendous amount of influence on students these days. The reasons are numerous, but one major reason is that my university, like most, no longer prints a schedule of classes for students each semester. So students don’t thumb through class schedules looking for classes. Now they sit with an advisor and the advisor makes their schedules with them. This is worse than Amazon book shopping where at least they have an algorithm to help finds books you might like based on past purchases. Students can search for a time of day and get a class because it fits their schedule. And since our system produces a list of available classes that is alphabetical, all the humanities classes come up before philosophy (‘p’ is the 19th letter of the alphabet) except two: Religious Studies and Women’s Studies. (And the latter is changing their name to Gender Studies this year). That’s a lot of general education classes to get to look at before stumbling upon philosophy. And we know that philosophy is a discovery major. If you never see that open philosophy class, you never register for it. If you don’t register, you don’t take it. And if you don’t take it, you don’t discover philosophy.
But if your advisors know that philosophy classes are good for students who want to go to law school or business school or medical school, then they can send those students to those classes. Advisors can make or break an academic program, and if your department hasn’t met with academic advisors to explain your programs and missions, then they will be relying on the public perception of philosophy (“you want fires with that”), rather than what philosophy actually does for students. We have the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and income data on all this somewhere, right? Philosophers have to let people know what philosophy does and how it is good for students. It’s that simple. We have to do that work, and it’s not a one-time thing. It is a constant requirement that we explain the value of philosophy to those outside our discipline.
The plans for growing and diversifying philosophy can’t be a shotgun approach. We need to find places every year where we can advocate and promote philosophical growth with precision because of our limited resources. We can do this through a robust development and advocacy process along with PR and advertising campaigns.
There are lots of ways to grow and diversify philosophy--philosophers just have to make it a priority. If we don’t, we know the outcome will be less access to philosophy for everyone. Most of all it will mean that philosophy remains at primarily elite institutions only available to the most privileged in society. That would be a tragedy for all.