All too often, philosophy is seen by the public, the government, and colleges and universities themselves as expendable—easy targets for funding cuts. This belief is misguided and sets us down a troubling path.
For one thing, philosophy and the humanities give schools a lot of bang for their buck. Most philosophy departments do not require the large research funds and expensive equipment that other fields may need, so their budgets can reasonably be significantly smaller than departments needing such resources. And yet with those smaller budgets, philosophy departments make a sizeable impact. Philosophy teaches students the hallmarks of a quality education: critical thinking, problem solving, writing, analysis, and argument construction, to name a few. Philosophy considers the biggest questions there are—and what is the academy for if not for asking big questions? And philosophy students routinely outperform students of nearly all other disciplines on standardized tests for postgraduate education such as the GRE and LSAT. Colleges and universities that see philosophy and the humanities as expendable are sorely mistaken.
Unfortunately, attacks on philosophy and the humanities are sometimes cover for attacks on tenure, when universities see it as more expeditious to eliminate an entire department rather than go through the required process for reducing their number of tenured professors. This too, is dangerous, as it is certainly not expeditious to deprive students of crucial fields of study in the name of purportedly saving a few bucks or taking advantage of an administrative loophole. (And we’ve already discussed the important role of tenure in supporting academic freedom and guaranteeing due process.)
When philosophy departments are threatened, the APA responds, as we did earlier this year when the University of Northern Iowa threatened deep and damaging cuts. Depending on the situation, we can offer public statements of support, connect with those at the department in question to provide resources and assistance, and reach out to those proposing such cuts to advocate for the continuation of these important programs. We will do whatever we know to do to protect philosophy and the humanities against such attacks.
And we also participate in national-level advocacy for philosophy and the humanities. The APA is a member of the National Humanities Alliance and each year sponsors the NHA’s Humanities Advocacy Day in March. NHA is currently planning its advocacy for the new Congress and newly re-elected Obama administration, and I invite you to join the APA in participating in those efforts—you should expect to hear from me with opportunities to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill.
But advocacy has to happen from the bottom up as well. Philosophers must fight for philosophy at the university level, not only for program funding but also to improve the perception of philosophy for students not intending to be philosophy professors. We all know the immense benefits philosophy offers its students—benefits that are applicable and advantageous no matter what career a student pursues. These benefits are sadly lost on many students and their parents—and, unfortunately, sometimes school administrators—which leads to lower demand for philosophy courses. What about public awareness campaigns to demonstrate philosophy’s value? What about marketing philosophy courses more widely? What about educating administrators about the benefits of philosophy before programs are threatened?
What else can we—the APA and the philosophical community—do to advocate for philosophy?
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