Eric Schwitzgebel has published really nice piece in the LA Times entitled, "What's Missing in College Philosophy Classes? Chinese Philosophers." Schwitgebel is surely right. Although some universities offer courses in the area, many do not. Further, if one looks at faculty rosters of philosophy programs, one primarily finds metaphysicians, epistemologists, ethicists, all working primary in the "Western tradition." This isn't to say that philosophy departments shouldn't have metaphysicians, epistemologists, ethicists, etc. (they should!). It's just to point out how few faculty there are in many departments in other traditions. Indeed, in all of my time as an undergrad and grad student, I never had the opportunity to take a class that included Chinese philosophy, let alone an entire class on the subject.
But, although Schwitzgebel is right, is that all college philosophy classes are missing? Far from it! In a typical philosophy program, there are relatively few--if any--courses in Indian philosophy, Africana philosophy, Latin American philosophy, Islamic philosophy, feminist philosophy, and so on; and typically, if they do exist, they are electives rather than requirements. I think this is unfortunate for a variety of reasons.
First, I think it is unfortunate for philosophical understanding. If other traditions have philosophical wisdom or value (and it is hard for me to fathom how they couldn't), failing to offer courses in them fails to expose us, and our students, to it. Similarly, if there are things amiss in such traditions (as, I would say, there are things amiss in the "Western" tradition), exposing us and our students to them can help better understand what is and is not of philosophical value, both in those traditions and the "Western" tradition. One sometimes hears analytic philosophers speak dismissively of other traditions, suggesting we don't study them because the Western tradition is "better." Yet, if we do not actually study other traditions, from what, exactly, does this confidence in the wisdom derive? It is justified, or (at least partly) a matter of prejudice in favor of "our own" tradition? How can we know without spending at least some time studying other traditions?
Second, I think it is unfortunate for the health of our discipline. It is a simple fact of life--that is, of economics--that colleges tend to fund departments to the extent that those departments attract students ("butts in seats" and all). Yet many of our students are not only from diverse backgrounds and cultures; some of our students find Chinese, Indian, and other traditions of philosophy more interesting than Western analytic philosophy. What could be a better way to turn a student away from a discipline than "telling them", as it were--even if unintentionally, through course offerings--that the philosophical traditions they are interested in, and which perhaps reflect their own background or cultural tradition, "don't really matter"?
Third, I think it is unfortunate for political/cultural understanding. One important purpose of a college education is to educate citizens--to develop a well-informed electorate, among other things. We live in an increasingly complex world, where social and political decisions often appear to be based on cultural misunderstanding. How can one know which policies to support--say, in foreign policy and global affairs--without understanding the traditions of philosophical thought that influence other societies?
Here, in other words, is my suggestion. Although some people in our discipline may not think other traditions of philosophy are as good or valuable as Western/analytic philosophy, we would all be better off giving other traditions a larger "seat at the table." We would not only improve our own philosophical understanding as professionals. We would improve our students' philosophical understanding, and probably attract a lot more students to the discipline, which would plausibly lead to more jobs in philosophy of all sorts. Finally, we would better contribute to an important component of a sound university education: better cross-cultural philosophical understanding (something which, alas, seems far lacking in this day and age). At any rate, if I could go back in time and change one thing about my own education in philosophy, this would be it.