Sorry for being MIA the past several days. Freshman orientation and week-before-class meetings have thoroughly side-tracked me. Fortunately, they also got me thinking about something: namely, about the importance of selling our discipline. Let me explain.
Several converging experiences this week got me thinking about the importance of selling our discipline to students, parents, the public, and administrators:
- The academic job market is almost upon us. In philosophy at least, it is almost sure to be awful, with far fewer jobs than qualified people (note: this is not the case in all academic disciplines. It is not in my wife's discipline -- I/O Psychology -- where there are more and more jobs every year).
- An annual college meeting at my university where we went over major enrollments and the intended majors of incoming students (note: our department is the smallest at my university, with among the fewest majors, and only one incoming student intending to major in philosophy).
- A discussion which followed about how new tenure-stream lines depend on major enrollment (hint: no majors, philosophy jobs!).
- A presentation that followed which gave data on students' reasons for choosing majors (hint: it's money and jobs).
- My freshmen orientation students, most of whom intend to major in communication, business, and nursing, presumably out of the belief (and their parents' belief) that those majors promise the most jobs and the best money.
Long story short: (A) there are fewer and fewer (tenure-stream) academic jobs in philosophy, because (B) there are fewer and fewer students who major in philosophy, because (C) students (and their families) want jobs and money and think a philosophy major doesn't promise them these things.
The thing, though, is this: the assumption that seems most causally responsible for all of this -- the assumption by students and their parents that a philosophy major is a "bad deal" -- is patently false. Philosophy majors:
- Enjoy some of the highest salaries of all majors, higher in fact than most majors (e.g. business, nursing, etc) traditionally associated with jobs and industry,
- Have the best med-school-acceptance rate of all college majors, and
- Have some of the highest LSAT, GRE, and GMAT scores.
In short: we are useful, and we give students and parents what they want -- they just don't know it. If parents and students did know how useful a philosophy degree is, we just might be able to steer more students our way, have more majors, more donors, and more academic jobs. Which raises the obvious question: why don't more parents and students know how useful a philosophy degree is? The obvious answer, it seems to me, is staring us in the face: we do a terrible job, as a discipline, of selling our usefulness. Yes, of course, some of us (who I have to thank for directing me to the data above) are working very hard at selling our discipline. My experience, though, is that, by and large, people in our discipline aren't doing it. We need to do better. We need to do more than just write papers and teach our classes. The APA needs to do more than organize APA meetings and the other stuff it doesn. We need -- as a discipline -- to engage in a concerted effort to sell our discipline to students and their parents. For we do have something good to sell, and given recent budget and faculty cuts, it seems our future increasingly depends on it.
Or so say I. What say you?