I've written a couple of times recently about why I am reticent to discuss recent events in the profession concerning "climate", harrassment, etc. Again, the worry was it is very difficult if not impossible to discuss these issues here in a manner that is consistent with this blog's safe and supportive mission (particularly given the way discussion of these issues has gone on at other blogs). After soliciting your (the community's) feedback, the near-consensus of those who responded seemed to be that this blog should stay away from these issues, especially given that there are a number of other forums to discuss them. Because this is a community blog, I want to respect the community's majority opinion on the matter.
I do, however, think we can discuss a much broader issue about the profession in a safe and supportive way, and that is the issue of how to attract more people -- and a wider variety of people -- to philosophy. Notice that I did not say anything about climate or equity here. I mean to ask here only a very general question -- namely, how to attract more people to the discipline -- and suggest that this is an issue we can discuss here in a safe and supportive way.
Here is why I think it is an issue worth discussing. Allow me to tell a couple of quick stories. The first story is about a very talented former undergraduate major in my program, let's call him J. Here's how J ended up a philosophy major: he was interested in Chinese philosophy. J didn't have any interest in metaphysics or epistemology, but he was very interested in Chinese philosophy. Fortunately, our program offers courses in the area. So, J became a major. Then, in time, J came to have more interest in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc. Here is my feeling: if we hadn't offered Chinese philosophy, J -- a very talented student -- probably would have been turned off by philosophy. At the very least, he probably wouldn't have majored in it.
Here's another story. A couple of years ago, I had several talented undergraduate students who were absolutely obsessed with Ayn Rand. Rather than cast her aside as unworthy of their/our time, I worked some of her material into a course on justice and then taught an independent study on her philosophy. I think it was time well-spent. In time, many of the students came to believe that Rand's philosophy is very poorly defended, and they became philosophy majors. Here, again, is my feeling: if I hadn't encouraged their interest (despite my own misgivings about Rand), they might not have become majors.
Here's a third story. Several semesters ago I had a nursing student who had no antecedent interest in philosophy take my biomedical ethics class. She asked me if I would be willing to do an independent study on the ethics of cosmetic surgery. I said yes. The independent study went very well, and she became a philsoophy double-major. In job interviews this year, I had at least one person on a search committee look at me in disbelief when I discussed this independent study. The person basically asked me, "Is the ethics of cosmetics surgery a serious area of inquiry?" I didn't know what to say, but what I wanted to say was this: "The student was interested in it!" Anyway, as it turned out, I think there are a lot of important ethical questions regarding cosmetic surgery. But, more to the point, it arguably attracted another student to the discipline.
My department has attracted an unusually diverse body of majors. Among other things, well over 50% of our undergraduate majors are female (something which is way outside of disciplinary norms). I can, of course, only speculate as to why our majors are so diverse -- not only in terms of backgrounds, but also of interests. I cannot claim to take credit for our numbers (I am only one faculty member among many), and of course it may be a statistical anomaly. That being said, my feeling is that we attract many different types of people because, as a department, we are open to and encouraging of a diversity of interests. My feeling is that this is not only philosophically healthy, but a good policy for students and for the discipline. If we want philosophy to thrive (I do!), then -- it seems to me, particularly in today's economic/educational environment -- we should strive to make philosophy more inclusive in terms of methods, content, and questions we pursue and encourage students to pursue. Note that I am not suggesting that we "sell our souls" or lower our standards as philosophers. I am merely suggesting that -- as individuals, departments, and a discipline -- there are philosophical, prudential, and (I think) ethical advantages to "casting our philosophical nets" wider than some parties seem to prefer. But these are just my thoughts.
What are yours?