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02/08/2024

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anon

My experience with these clubs, at multiple universities, is that they need a lot more help with the basics of coordinating events than you might expect - e.g., there's a tendency to advertise events at the absolute last minute rather than in a way which gets a better turnout, that sort of thing.

Dan Larkin

Over the past 15 years, I’ve run philosophy clubs for two departments now, both in grad school and now at my current department, both of which has a regular weekly attendance averaging around 15-20 students every week, sometimes as many as 25 or so. I can think of a few things that I believe are directly responsible for our success.

1. We always meet off-campus at a local restaurant/bar. I know some departments may have an issue with this choice of location, but I’ve found that the informal setting of an off-campus spot significantly increases student participation (and attendance). The classroom can be an intimidating place for some (and a drag for others), and so removing that barrier not only creates a more relaxed atmosphere, but also makes the weekly meetings a social event to boot. If you set the tone that it is not a party despite the availability of beer, students will follow your lead.

2. Adding to this last point, we meet on Thursday evenings, officially running from 6-7/6:30, though students will often stay way longer to continue the conversation (sometimes as late as 9pm). I chose Thursday as it allows the meetings to serve as a kick-off for the weekend for the students. Fridays are typically light days as it is for them, so the club serves as a kind of transition from the rigor of the school week to the fun of the weekend.

3. I know it’s tough to get such a significant service commitment from faculty (who are often already overloaded with service demands not to mention family obligations), but another major contributor to our success is that we have the same 2 professors go every week (and often stay for at least two hours). Bottom line, many of the students are going because they want to have these discussions with their professors. And, having 2 professors that consistently go every week makes all the difference. If your department has a grad program, it might be easier to rope one or two of them in to going consistently instead of faculty. When I was on the job market, my work with my department’s club was a major talking point in my interviews, and was instrumental in getting me my TT position.

4. It has to be every week, same time, same place. Consistency is key, as the kids that do go will talk about it, and being able to tell their friends “Just go to the brewery at 6 on Thursdays, you’ll see us there” is incredibly helpful as far as building the club goes. We consistently have students randomly show up from a wide variety of majors who heard about it through the grapevine, many of whom loved it so much they ended up declaring major as a direct result.

5. As for the actual discussion itself, the format is an open, informal (yet rigorous) discussion of a pre-selected topic (I typically write up a general description of 3-4 sentences along with 2-3 guiding questions to kick things off). After that, the students do most of the talking, with professors chiming in to add to the discussion, and to moderate if need be, Keep a queue going so people don’t talk out of turn, as otherwise some students may dominate the conversation. Oh, and when I do add to the conversation, I try to do so in such a way that is not lecturing so much, but acting as an actual participant. Doing so only adds to the “we aren’t in a classroom” vibe, which again, the students really respond to.

Finally, running the club this way has been INCREDIBLY helpful with recruiting majors over the years, which as we all know is becoming more and more of a necessity for many departments facing potential cuts. Further, it creates a sense of community for the students, which not only makes it more fun for them overall, but also serves to significantly reduce retention problems.

Ok, I know that’s a lot, but hopefully some of it will be useful to you. Good luck with the club, and congrats on the new gig!

doctopus

Dan's points are excellent. I would add, to sort of echo anon, that faculty can help a lot with the logistics of these clubs. In my experience as a club mentor, students are very willing to do a lot of the work, but they don't know what departmental/institutional resources are available for them. My role has largely been to arrange dept funding for snacks, arrange AV support for movie nights, find the right office to submit paperwork to, and that sort of thing. These don't take a lot of energy/effort for faculty once you know how your institution works, but it helps make the club more fun and less of a chore for the students. Keeping it fun keeps them participating, which is good for enrollment reasons.

j

I don't run the club, but I work very closely with the faculty advisor. We're a peripheral state school, so if you're at a bigger school with a bigger budget and full department, some things might be different for you. Our philosophy club is really vibrant and is honestly the light of our small and in-danger program. My favorite thing about my current institution.

1. We let the students run the weekly meetings themselves and don't go. In part this is because – as a small program – we see the students constantly and so we are always in touch about what's going on with the meetings. For our circumstances, it gives the students an opportunity to bond on their own terms without us around.

1b. We have committed officers who are willing to take the time to prepare weekly meetings. They usually do a (very) short presentation of an idea or topic and then the students either discuss all together or break down into groups. If they want our guidance, we come. We also do a few faculty presentations here and there, but only upon student request.

2. If you have philosophy courses that are part of your general education or core curriculum, encourage faculty to advertise heavily in these classes. One of the primary strengths of our club is that we have students from all different majors who want an outlet to discuss philosophy related issues (one of our officers is a finance major!). I can't stress enough how central diversity of students is to the 'vibe' and success of the club.

3. Some ways to encourage engagement from non-majors: have on campus social events with a bit of food if you have the funds; have philosophy majors come into your class and talk about the group; offer minor incentives like a bit of extra credit. Sometimes it is difficult to get undergrads interested in extra curricular stuff, but once they meet the club members and philosophy majors, they get really into it.

4. We run our speaker program through the philosophy club. We shoot for 3-4 speakers per semester. We offer a bit of extra credit to gen ed students and often wind up with ~100 students in attendance. This also leads to more participation in the club. One or two students will always be like "oh yea this philosophy stuff is actually pretty cool". We try to curate our speakers around interesting topics with broad appeal (we've had people talking about everything from prison reform to messianic ideas).

5. While we don't hold meetings off campus, we do have informal dinner/drinks after guest speakers and other major events. This gives students access to the speaker and to us in a slightly less inhibited setting. In my two years here, we've had absolutely no problems with crossing professional boundaries. The students remain extremely respectful and are grateful to have interactions with us in a different setting...and especially grateful to have 2-3 hours to chat up and question our guests. As Dan said, set the example and they'll follow.

6. Encourage students to use the club to do offshoot events as well. We have an art/phil double major who does semesterly collaborative art projects (public, engaged-art is his thing) and use the club to fund these events. I am currently running a small reading group on French post-structuralism (now you all hate me) for a few students interested in grad school and wanting to be exposed to material not found much on our curriculum. The students should know the club is a vehicle for their expression and interests outside of the classroom and philosophy is a very broad field touching on many many things. Don't be narrow!

Final word of encouragement: I do this as a VAP on a 5/5 teaching load. Service may seem like a drag, but helping cultivate and facilitate a club like this can be extremely rewarding. Though I may never get a job with all the time it's taken me (:

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