Last October, I wrote about accreditation as a way to create support for philosophy at colleges and universities. It generated some good comments, but I wanted to reiterate my support for philosophy accreditation. After the post, I received a supportive email from a philosopher who had recently entered into an academic leadership position. With permission, here is part of what this concerned philosopher wrote:
“I am part of a public university undergrad-only department that likely faces similar issues to yours. I am writing to you specifically to ask if you know anything about efforts to institute an accreditation program for Philosophy programs, since this came up as part of the discussion related to your previous posts.
I fully sympathize with philosophy faculty who argue that the widespread push for data-driven analysis, detailed top-down assessment procedures, and things like curriculum mapping have not caught on in Philosophy for good reason. Our subject matter resists this sort of thing and could even be badly distorted and misrepresented by it, unfortunately.
I believe that in response to the current state of affairs in higher ed, philosophy departments need to take ownership of accreditation, program review, and assessment processes for themselves. This seems an impossible task: philosophers can hardly agree on anything and right now our discipline seems as divided as ever, especially on matters related to how programs are administered. However, I suspect philosophers would have widespread agreement on certain fundamental propositions: that there is no single best way to organize a philosophy curriculum, no common set of SLOs that could define its curriculum for all programs, and no particular practice of assessment that can capture what we set out to do in teaching. Or if any of us does believe there is only one best way, perhaps at least we are not willing to see that way imposed on all the departments at HLC-accredited universities!
I take it one of your important points in those past Leiter blog posts was that in order to make successful arguments for resources, philosophy programs need to be able to respond to demands related to these current trends in administration. I propose that to do this, we focus on identifying some common processes and procedures that leave content almost entirely open, as a means of evaluating whether Philosophy programs are functioning successfully. I would further propose that we create some discipline-wide means for Philosophy programs to be approved as functioning successfully according to these procedural requirements. Individual departments could then appeal to philosophy-specific standards - hopefully, seeking formal accreditation eventually - as a means of legitimizing their responses to the typical forms of intra-university evaluation.
I thought you might be in a good position to know if anyone at the APA or in the discipline generally is presently working on this or shares this approach. If we do nothing, I predict that others will impose standards upon us from on high, assuming this hasn't happened already. If you want an example, see the Lumina Foundation's Degree Qualifications Profile, which is being discussed or even implemented as a foundation for standards now, especially for disciplines like ours that have no other formal means of accreditation. I really would rather that philosophers, however difficult and messy the process might be, start coming up with their own versions (and hopefully, far less restrictive versions) of what standards in our degree programs might look like, rather than letting others do the job.”
I do not know of any concerted effort by the APA to create accreditation standards for philosophy, but I wish we could start that conversation. I do know that the former VP of the Lumina Foundation, James Applegate, is the Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). So a private foundation has given rise to public policy in a straightforward way.
I suggest we continue the conversation about accrediting undergraduate philosophy programs. Comments are open.