Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Other Voices: "The Terrors and Triumphs of Teaching in a One-Person Department"

There doesn't seem to be much literature on the topic of teaching in a small department, but the anthology Teaching in the Small College: Issues and Applications edited by Richard A. Wright and John A. Burden (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986) seems a fairly good repository of some reflections on small college teaching generally.

James K. McReynolds' contribution, "The Terrors and Triumphs of Teaching in a One-Person Department" is a perceptive first-person account of what it is like to be in this singular (!) situation. The terrors are common enough--being overburdened, underappreciated, and isolated--but I find that his discussion of the triumphs worth focusing on. [My term hasn't started yet, so for now I have a positive outlook on life; maybe when the first stack of grading comes due, I'll change my tune.]

McReynolds claims that the triumphs of teaching in a one-person department
emerge in three areas: (1) curricular constuction and control, (2) institutional advantages, and (3) student development. (18)
Regarding (1), McReynolds points out that in singelton departments (and this may go for 2- and 3-person departments as well) faculty exert comparatively more control over the curriculum than in larger departments, and the sense of control over the curriculum is something to be valued. McReynolds suggests creating flexible courses, the specific content of which can be varies from year to year, so that faculty can experiment either with content or pedagogical methods without having to visit the college curriculum committee every term. With fewer people looking over one's shoulder, one is freer to try out new things in the classroom, and, perhaps, teach courses that merge with one's research interests.

McReynolds also recommends (and this was suggested by some respondents to my survey) using more active-learning pedagogies. This may enable faculty members to, among other things, more readily teach courses in which they are not expert and deal with a heavy course load. [The literature on active learning is rich--I shan't recapitulate it here.]

Regarding (2), McReynolds says this:

The small college experience offers a wonderful opportunity to feel a deep sense of community--that one is supportively and constructively involved in the life of the college. A professor can have a substantial impact not only in his or her department, but in the institution in general. (20)

This may be true in the small college, but, clearly, not every small department exists in a small college, so this claim may be true for some, but not all, of those of us teaching in small departments.

Finally, regarding (3)--student development--McReynolds anticipates some of the remarks made by survey respondents regarding the value of being closely involved in the growth and development of one's students. I have found this to be the most significant aspect of thriving in a small department: faculty who are genuinely interested in being instrumental in the academic, emotional, and intellectual development of their students will do well in small departments. Not only is it the sort of attitude that chairs, deans, and hiring committees look for in new faculty, but it is one of the rewards of being in such a position. That is to say, if you do not get satisfaction from being involved in student development in this way, you may not enjoy life in a small department, as the satisfaction that comes from such involvement is one of the chief benefits offered to us.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Data Analysis: Ways of Recruiting and Retaining Majors

I've done an examination of the many helpful suggestions that survey participants made in response to the question of how they recruit and retain majors. The full list of comments is available here, but what follows is (my admittedly amateur) content analysis of those responses.

In order to recruit and retain majors, here is what survey participants suggest (in order of frequency)

1. Create high-quality courses, especially introductory level courses (15)
2. Hold outside-of-class social events with students (10)
3. Ensure that students can double-major, combining philosophy with some other field (7)
4. Connect philosophy courses with the general education program (7)
5. Engage in advertising via majors fairs, high school visits, brochures, etc. (7)
6. Promote the value of a phil. major for law school or other (non-philosophy) grad programs (6)
7. Close faculty-student relationships (4)
8. Personally inviting students to major (4)
9. Be flexible with the major requirements (4)
10. Give public lectures on campus (4)

It seems that having a respectable number of philosophy majors (and minors) is particularly important for a number of reasons. More majors means more upper level courses which means (as will be discussed in a future post) the ability for faculty teaching in small departments to connect their resesarch with their teaching, and this is an oft-recommended way to get research done while teaching a heavy course load. Moreover, in an economic situation where administrations may be looking to cut those departments that have only a handful of majors, recruiting more majors may be necessary for the very existence of the department itself.

Have other folks found creative solutions to the problem of recruiting and retaining majors?

Monday, August 17, 2009

What kind of person does well in a small philosophy department?

Is it possible to look at the survey data below and construct a description of the sort of person who would do well at a small philosophy department? Well, the data was hardly gathered from a scientifically respectable sample, and, even if it were, it would be a precarious endeavor to generalize from that data to an "ideal" faculty member in a small department, but perhaps looking at the concerns and, particulary, the advantages, it might be possible to make a first attempt.

Picking up on the questions I asked in the last post, I'm thinking about this question in the context of new folks on the job market. If you want to succeed in a small department, you should be the kind of person who...

...is happy putting teaching ahead of scholarship on your priority list
...can handle a heavy teaching load
...is content to be in a department that may not enjoy prestige on campus
...is content to be a member of a "service" department--i.e., a dept. that serves other majors.
...enjoys forming close mentoring relationships with undergraduates
...can teach a wide variety of courses
...is content to be the only person on your campus who works in your field
...can be happy without much, if any, intellectual engagement with campus colleagues
...can find intellectual stimulation interacting with people from different disciplines
...is able to recruit majors, primarily through teaching engaging and interesting courses
...is willing to advise a philosophy club or honorary society
...is willing and able to serve on college committees and in other service capacities
...derives satisfaction from seeing students learn
...doesn't require professional accolades or prominence in the discipline
...enjoys learning about areas of philosophy you've never studied before
...enjoys the freedom to create new courses
...enjoys seeing the same students in multiple courses

Again, this is a rough list, and the imprecision of social science has to be borne in mind here. Doubtless there are people who thrive in small philosophy departments who have few, if any, of the above characteristics. But given what people in the survey said about what the advantages were, and what their concerns were, this seems to be at least a fair first pass at the sort of qualities needed by people who will be content working in small departments.

Other suggestions?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Preparing graduate students for jobs at small departments

My first year on the job market, I was very close to getting a campus visit at a small (2-person) philosophy department at a good liberal arts school in the midwest. I wasn't invited to campus, and the department chair told me that the reason was that I did not have any experience at a small college: I didn't attend a small college as an undergraduate and, clearly, as a graduate student I was at a large university. It being my first year on the job market, I had no experience teaching at such colleges. I can't remember his exact words, but his point was that working in a small college, as a member of a small department, requires an understanding of the nature of small colleges and since I didn't have that, I wasn't going to be invited to campus.

At the time, I thought this the height of injustice, but now, having worked at a small college for 10 years, I can see that he was right. The demands of working at a small college require a certain set of skills, and, unless a job candidate has small college experience, it can be difficult to tell if he or she has those skills.

All of this leads me to ask what steps, if any, are graduate departments taking to prepare their students for jobs at small colleges? What suggestions do faculty who teach at small colleges have for our colleagues in Ph.D. programs? What would you like to see in potential job candidates? What do job candidates think about their preparation for jobs at small colleges? Do you feel well-prepared for such jobs? What could be done to make you more prepared?

I can offer one suggestions--perhaps readers will have others. For the last few years I have been helping out the big university down the road from mine by mock interviewing their students as they enter the job market. Very few, if any, of the faculty there have experience at a small college, so while they conduct mock interviews from the perspective of a research university, they are unable to accurately simulate what an interview with a college like mine would be like. So I come in and mock interview the students. This has been, from the reports of both faculty and students, incredibly helpful. Are others doing anything like this?

Welcome to the Small Philosophy Departments Blog

In the spring and summer of 2008 I conducted a survey of faculty working in departments that consisted of three or fewer full-time philosophers. I called these "small philosophy departments". Survey respondents were asked to comment on the challenges and advantages of life in a small philosophy department, and I'm using this blog as a forum both to present the results and to take up discussion of the issues. The results are preliminary, and I plan to do some further analysis of the data presented here. I hope this will be a forum for faculty working in small philosophy departments to engage with each other and share advice, best practices, and stories of our success.

The statistical analysis below was performed by Dr. Michele Acker of the Psychology Dept. at Otterbein College.

Please feel free to comment on the posts below, which encapsulate the survey data. I plan further posts with content analysis of the comment sections and with links to resources that can help faculty who work in small departments to thrive.

Survey Results: Concerns

Survey respondents were given a list of 14 possible issues of concern for faculty teaching in small philosophy departments. They were asked to rank these issues on a scale of 1-5 where 1 indicated "no concern at all" and 5 indicated a "high priority concern" Here is the list of issues, along with the mean scores, standard deviations, and number of respondents for each item. They are listed in order from most concerning to least concerning.

For each of the concerns listed here, respondents were asked to indicate how, if at all, they had addressed these various issues. Clicking on the concern listed below will take you to a separate post that lists those responses.

Respondents were also prompted to list any other concerns that they had, and a list of these other concerns can be seen here.

Concern N Mean S.D.
1 Finding time and resources to support scholarly work 107 4.12 1.007
2 Recruiting and retaining majors 97 3.59 1.214
3 Convincing undergraduates of the value of philosophy 108 3.35 1.146
4 Excessive teaching responsibilities 108 3.25 1.382
5 Creating a sense of community among majors & minors 103 3.15 1.115
6 Acquiring resources from college administration 108 3.13 1.305
7 Effectively preparing majors for graduate school in philosophy 99 3.08 1.104
8 Excessive college service responsibilities 107 3.02 1.251
9 Convincing administration of the value of philosophy 107 3.01 1.450
10 Effectively teaching courses outside one's area of expertise 100 2.77 1.230
11 Convincing faculty colleagues of the value of philosophy 109 2.68 1.353
12 Excessive departmental service responsibilities 108 2.54 1.286
13 Finding faculty to teach philosophy courses 101 2.44 1.244
14 Managing interactions with any non-philosophers in the department 79 2.16 1.245


Survey respondents were given a list of potential advantages to working in a small philosophy department. They were asked to rank these issues on a scale of 1-5 where 1 meant "I don't like this at all" and 5 meant "I love this" Here is the list of potential advantages, along with the mean scores, standard deviations, and number of respondents for each item. They are listed in order from most loved to those seen as least advantageous.

Respondents were also prompted to list any other advantages they enjoyed as members of small philosophy departments, and those other advantages can be seen here.

1Having the freedom to create new courses924.260.982
2Knowing the Majors and Minors well924.230.891
3Having the same students in multiple courses923.990.989
4Having the ability to teach a wide range of courses973.931.092
5Having the ability to effect change in one's department933.711.079
6Having fewer departmental administrative obligations613.431.087
7Interactions with non-philosophers in the institution993.410.904
8Interactions with fellow philosophers783.331.181
9Being a/the prominent "campus philosopher"903.061.193
10Having the opportunity to teach non-philosophy courses722.971.267
11Interactions with non-philosophers in the department642.941.037
12Having a small number of philosophy majors.922.531.296

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Other Advantages

Here is a list of some other advantages to working in a small philosophy department noted by survey participants.

  • Basically, knowing you are making a difference in the students' ability to think critically and to cope with complexity in the world. Being able to connect what students learn in other disciplines with what I am teaching. This enables me to continually learn.
  • We are not driven by professional ambition.
  • Having the ability to debate and shape curriculum in philosophy.
  • I don't know if it has anything to do with the fact that our department is small, but it is a very congenial place. Nobody is a hotshot researcher, and nobody has a hotshot researcher attitude.
  • Total scheduling freedom!
  • None. I wish I had colleagues and the opportunity to have intelligent discourse with members of my profession. If I knew that this situation was my future, I would not have attended graduate school for philosophy and instead gone to law school. I consider my study of philosophy valuable on an intellectual level but worthless with regards to making a career/life.
  • Collegial relationships with philosophers and non-philosophers; the liberal arts curriculum and the values embedded within it; ties to alums, esp. given our smaller size;
  • Energy levels are high!
  • Wide range of areas in which I train myself. Downside, of course, is being a "jack of all trades."
  • The department is so far beneath the radar in the faculty and university that we tend not to get caught up in internecine warfare over lab space, allocations of teaching assistantships, etc. Our insignificance removes us from scrutiny and gives us great freedom in our individual research programs and teaching.
  • Life is much better in a science department. My colleagues generally tend to be smarter and nicer people, the department itself runs smoothly, and there are ample resources, so people are not fighting over copy paper and chalk. My work is genuinely interdisciplinary, so most of my contact with philosophy is through professional conferences and editorial duties. I much prefer having logic / mathematics / computer science students to having philosophy students and, although I sometimes miss having philosopher-colleagues, I thoroughly enjoy my non-philosopher colleagues.
  • No faculty meetings with philosophers! (Downside: faculty meetings with the entire college.)
  • The above questions relating to number 22 reveal some misunderstanding of the life at a (or at least my) community college. For instance, I don't have fewer departmental administrative obligations. There also is not a small number of philosophy majors here. And I don't have that much freedom in creating new courses. So I had a difficult time answering some of the questions.
  • I am totally puzzled by the "fewer departmental administrative obligations" item. I've got service obligations coming out my ears and can't imagine what you mean.
  • Freedom to teach what I want to teach--though I realize that might not be something that results from my being in a small department.
  • About the above list: it is not true that I have "fewer dept'al admin. obligations." There are fewer of us, so we each must take on more. And it is not true that I have the freedom to create new courses -- we have so few people and resources that we can't even get our required courses taught often enough, so there's no room for anything new.
  • You've already got this, but I'll repeat: it's a strong community with tremendous autonomy.
  • It is natural to have many good relationships with colleagues in other departments. No strangers within the department!
  • There is a deep satisfaction knowing that one is the sole or perhaps one of only a few representatives of philosophy in an academic community. It puts a constructive pressure on one to maintain the standards of the discipline, to represent it well, and to be recognized as an active participant in the larger community of philosophy outside of the walls of one's small institution. One becomes the (or at least a) "local expert" on the subject (as one of my colleagues put it, the "philosopher laureate"), so one is in the spotlight and one's contributions are magnified accordingly.
  • Lack of comparison to another faculty member who works in a similar area.
  • Less paperwork, fewer departmental meeting. (We had one last semester.) Being able to plan and carry out my own agenda within the department, both in course offerings and departmental service.
  • Very easy "department meetings" since there are only two of us. I also have a very cordial relationship with my Chair and administration, since they know that I don't really have to go back and bring various options to a large body of faculty.
  • I think there are lots of advantages. At this point in my career (2 years out of grad school), I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The freedom to create new courses and get to know students personally is the best!
  • I can more or less shape the philosophy curriculum (such as it is) by myself. I also assume that when we hire another philosopher I will have more say than anyone else in whom we hire. (I could be wrong about that though).
  • Less bureaucracy, red tape. Easier to achieve consensus. A spirit of harmony (mostly!) prevails.
  • I am blessed with departmental colleagues who are also once in a lifetime friends.
  • Department politics are simpler.
  • Working closely and sharing interests is almost obligatory--no room for factions.
  • Sometimes opens opportunities to meet philosophy faculty from departments outside of my institution.
  • This may be out of place, but it seems odd to have a category "having fewer departmental administrative obligations." I have far more obligations at this university than most of my peers at larger universities.
  • Freedom from the most destructive forms of campus politics. I don't have to attend troubled and fractious departmental meetings.
  • Truth is, the advantages are not generalizable. It depends on one's department. For example, I would like the opportunity to work more closely with the other philosopher in my department, but that person is generally engaged with those from other disciplines. I would like to be able to say what I would like, rather than what is the reality at my school. Or, to be able to express both.

Other Concerns

Survey participants mentioned these other concerns regarding life in a small philosophy department.

  • I am highly motivated to write, I have two women who work in the library who I have hired to edit my manuscripts, and I spend the summer in Greece because I have a colleague in Greek philosophy, a professor emeritus from the University of Athens, who really likes me work. But this year I received no funding from the school. I pay my editors out of pocket. This year I paid for xeroxing the manuscripts out of my pocket. I have tried to apply for grants, etc. but my school is small and has no public reputation, even though it is a good school. My work focuses on a broader audience, the same audience as Plato and Aristotle were writing for and teaching:a class of generally educated people. I write to show why Greek philosophy is still relevant to US citizens today. I do not write to please the professionals who are making hair-splitting distinctions and basically just talking to each other. I write books that improve my teaching because they are about liberal education. But I can't find a way to get any funding. This is the hardest part of teaching at a small place: I focus on a broader notion of liberal education but I get to strokes from my profession for doing so. It's tiring.
  • Finding time for regular philosophical dialogue with other members of the department.
  • I have recently returned to the USA after teaching at a major university overseas for a number of years. I have been unpleasantly reminded of the dismissive attitude that colleagues at large universities sometimes have towards philosophers working in small liberal arts colleges.
  • At the vocational/technical school, there are no colleagues, no academic exchange/discourse, no possibility of convincing anyone in power of the value of philosophy. When the general education department attempted to assess critical thinking, my perspective on the effort was disregarded entirely. In short, I along with all of the other liberal arts professors, am nothing more than a teaching machine designed to provide general education courses for our institution. It is a far cry from an engaging occupation.
  • In a university where ours is the smallest department there is a tendency to equate size with quality, so we are routinely viewed as being intellectually backward, unengaged, etc., in comparison to departments with PhD programs; and here in Canada where we are likely the smallest university department of philosophy among our peer universities (approx 10000 student body) we tend to be viewed as having failed to show the sort of skills needed to do the obvious job of convincing 'the administration' that we ought to be larger. Negative attitudes from colleagues within and without philosophy are evident within and without the university.
  • I would say that life in a Computer Science department is much better than life in a Philosophy Department.
  • A big concern is finding the expertise for a search committee when hiring a new philosopher. How do you find a "real" philosopher when, by necessity, most of the search committee is made up of non-philosophers (who may be well-intentioned, but bring their own disciplinary background to the search).
  • Finding time to talk philosophy with colleagues. Also, there isn't much overlap in philosophical concentration. Nevertheless, the philosophical conversations are very rewarding in my small department, probably because we get along so well.
  • Akin to finding teachers, we simply cannot offer enough courses, especially electives, to truly serve our majors and minors. Life in a small department is therefore a bit unvaried and dull for scholars who could teach their specialties in a larger and more robust program.
  • Difficulty remaining friendly with philosophers in my department. Difficulty giving a damn about the Philosophy major or the students after a decade of trying -- burn out.
  • attracting non-majors to courses in philosophy, not in an attempt to recruit majors, but just to have non-majors taking philosophy courses (rather than some other course that satisfies their distribution requirement)
  • lack of travel and meetings funds lack of library funds
  • All my philosophy teaching is in ethics subjects. Another concern is convincing colleagues that ethical issues are not the same as legal, social, etc. issues.
  • You did not ask an obvious question: "Managing interactions with the other philosophers in your department." There is one person in our department who is extremely short tempered and hard to get along with. In a larger department, this would be little more than a nuisance; but in such a small department, it creates considerable difficulties.
  • It is so crucially important that everyone get along. To put it bluntly, if there happens to be one crazy, it can make everyone's work more difficult.
  • Having to be a generalist requires many courses to be taught alternate years, which means more prep time and more difficulty advising majors so that they get all their required courses in time.
  • Yes - since we're a mixed department, our budget is mixed with the other two departments (religion and classics) so we have no discretionary funding for lecturers and other expenses; it is controlled by our religion department chair.
  • We are limited in the number and range of courses we can offer majors. One conflict with another course a student needs has a major impact on their ability to take philosophy in a given semester. Providing a rigorous major program is challenging when so many courses have phil majors as a small minority and must include freshmen. Covering a wide range of courses to support major leaves less time and energy for research.
  • Finding colleagues with whom I share philosophical commitments and interests.
  • Reduced ability to keep up with field since have fewer interactions with philosophers
  • Looking for ways to stay in communication with other philosophers in my subfield
  • In a small department, one person's irrationality can control the conversation or be contagious very easily. One person's vote can substantially change not only decisions made about the department, but entire areas of departmental concern. One inactive person can make the entire department less effective. One misinformed person can substantially change the flow and course of discussion.
  • Right now, the greatest concern of mine is to be hired in a tenure-track line. I am currently the Director of the Philosophy Minor but am a Visiting professor (non-tenure track). We are currently waiting for the college to give us a split-line for me: either an English/Philosophy or Communications/Philosophy. Although the minor was just established this year, it has become very popular and we already have 16 declared minors in a student body of 2500. It is becoming increasingly difficult to coordinate the program given my visiting professor's teaching load of 5/5. Administration has, however, given me a paid course reduction to a 5/4 load, which is still difficult.
  • 3 preps every semester with no opportunities for leave or course reductions makes finding time for research tough. Almost all of our philosophy courses also fulfill general eds--this is bad for our majors since then all classes must be taught at an intro level.
  • Under finding faculty to teach it is a concern both for full-time faculty (with no major and 4-4 load it is difficult to attract candidates) and part-time faculty (difficult to find qualified faculty).
  • Too much teaching. Hard to replace staff if someone is sick/on sabbatical.
  • Collegiality
  • Small private institutions such as mine rise and fall by the numbers. We were created three years ago ex nihilo. One philosopher was added then, and i was added two years ago. We are constantly mindful of numbers, and put quite an effort into attracting majors and minors. It is our belief that the growth of the department will consist in minors, not majors. We,together with all other faculty, compete for travel and research money. So much more...but I'll see what you ask on the next page.
  • Finding (or, more precisely, lacking) people to talk to about my own area of specialization....
  • personality issues
  • The main problem is the sense of isolation; which I make up for with close links to larger philosophy departments in the region.
  • My head of department is in Eastern religion; it is extremely hard to be fairly evaluated by someone so outside and ignorant of my field.
  • All members of staff are overworked though our majors do well than students in other departments. In fact, so many majors go on to read other special disciplines both at home and abroad.

Managing Interactions with Non-Philosophers in the Department

Here are comments from survey respondents describing how, if at all, they have dealt with the issue of managing interactions with non-philosophers in the department. (Many small philosophy departments are administratively linked with faculty from another discipline. There are, e.g., Departments of Religion and Philosophy, English and Philosophy, etc.)

  • I've learned how to teach. Teaching is an art; Socrates is the model teacher. His model is nothing like the current hyper-specialized professor who finds students just like him and tries to make clones. I get to know each student, I assign lots of short papers in which they can compare their own views with what we have read, I keep track of what they have written to let them know I care about who they are, I point out to them how much they have grown and changed over the semester, I let them speak up in class so they can see how each other is growing and changing. We all take an interest in each other as human beings. Those who are in the honor society I work with closely over the year. We program events that highlight values and lifestyles connected to religion and philosophy. I get to know they students in this capacity also. I have volunteered to participate in the spring break mission trip which gives me another wonderful chance to bond with students. Philosophy is a way of life, not a way of using words. Students can recognize this and learn more philosophy from a teacher who they respect and know as a human being.
  • I try to cultivate friendships with the other liberal arts professors. This effort has been successful. We sometimes do reading groups, outside lunches, etc.
  • Professionally, keep them to a minimum.
  • Participated in the department meetings of other departments and kept in close contact with my colleagues about good students.
  • It is general career advice: find an unmet need, fill it, and gently point out to people that you've filled it. I would add that you should be picky, too, and select things that you *want* to do.
  • It's never been addressed by me or coworkers, it's just a continuing sense of disjunction.
  • Be polite.
  • none successful since the non-philosophy areas claim resources are necessary for the major programs
  • trying to engage with the problems they see as important - ensuring I regularly consult with them so they can "see" that my teaching is relevant - trying to convince them of reasons why ethics is relevant to police generally and as part of a police-training course more specifically - not 'talking down' to them [this is important, as many of the police practitioners don't have uni quals and it can be 'easy' to talk to them in a jargon-ish sort of way that they find offensive]
  • For curricular consultations, we usually separate by discipline. Ditto for the brunt of job searches. From my point of view as a Continental philosopher, the chasm between my analytic colleagues and me is comparable to that between philosophy as a whole and religious studies as a whole. (This personal perspective is doubtless influenced by the fact that I also hold a doctorate in religious studies. My philosophy colleagues feel that they have little in common with the religious studies wing of the department.) Basically, we leave each other alone as much as possible.
  • Nothing to offer you here. We have an excellent rapport with our non-philosophers right now.
  • Confrontation is generally a bad idea. The most useful strategy I have found is to show interest in the research of others and to suggest ways in which philosophy is relevant to other disciplines.
  • I don't understand this question -- there are no non-philosophers in my department. Do you mean non-majors?
  • This one's not hard. We get along pretty well, and my colleagues in other disciplines appreciate the value of philosophy in their own disciplines.
  • Happily, I am part of a collegial department.
  • Largely interact on a social rather than an intellectual level. There are some exceptions for those in literature, but this is mostly the case with the linguists and theatre folks.
  • We have hired 2 lecturers without philosophy degrees as a result of the bias of one philosophy faculty member. This makes our department wildly unbalanced in its offerings (we teach many, many courses on Freud and on Evolution, neglecting ethics and philosophy of language and science, even though Freud and Evolution are usually not considered to be "core" topics in the undergraduate major). There is not much chance to remedy this, as the lecturers are hired and get good teaching reviews. They are good, scholarly people who deserve to have positions at a university. They just do not have areas of expertise in traditional philosophy
  • We're in a religion, philosophy, & classics department. Mostly my colleagues recognize the value of philosophy so that hasn't been a problem. Because there are 6 religion fac and only 2 philosophers, we're sometimes left out of decisions, but for the most part relations are collegial.
  • It's tricky, especially when I hear them making fun of philosophy to my students or other colleagues. I really think several of them have very little idea of what philosophy is, but I can't address this without insulting them (in my opinion). So I try to be polite and put pro-philosophy propaganda on my office door for people to read.
  • Religious studies faculty are supportive.
  • Be clear about our distinct methodologies, and work together on planning co-curricular activities.
  • We run an interdisciplinary BA and MA programme ("Philosophy, Media, Arts"), so we have to cooperate closely with the colleagues from the media and arts departments, which works out quite satisfactorily (with some tensions time and again). For many years the department has organised and hosted an interdisciplinary lectures series to foster discussions and cooperation across department affiliations.
  • We share a department with religion - three atheists in philosophy, and three believers in religion manage to get along just fine. But our merger is for administrative purposes only. Our students tend not to overlap, and we pretty much stay out of each other's business. The concerns that we do share unite us, and they are the same concerns that belong to any of the teachers in the humanities.
  • I have learned that the way philosophers speak to each other comes off as being a smart-ass to everyone else. Be kind, listen, etc. Be a decent human being.
  • We all pretty much do our own thing--the religious studies folks have their own major, and we have ours. We're a combined department purely for administrative purposes.
  • Regular departmental meetings.
  • I have kept up friendly interactions with a number of non-philosophy colleagues, which is very important. The philosophy program is well supported because the Dean of the faculty is a philosopher, though he does not teach into the program he is very supportive of it.
  • I have none. There is no possibility pre-tenure to manage "interactions" with hostile faculty to philosophy.
  • Well, I have to say that I am not very good at this.

Finding Faculty to Teach Philosophy Courses

Here are comments from survey respondents describing how, if at all, they have dealt with the issue of finding (adjunct, part-time, etc.) faculty to teach philosophy courses.

  • We have two tenure track positions. Adjuncts are rarely used, and rarely available in our small town.
  • I am it and the only game in town. The nearest trained philosopher is 90 miles away.
  • We are fortunate the the director of our Liberal Arts Institute has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is willing to teach an introductory philosophy course for us each semester.
  • An ongoing problem. We contact the director of graduate education at the giant research university in town. We sometimes advertise in the Help Wanted pages of the local newspaper. We have in the past entered notices for adjuncts in various online philosophical publications.
  • Each semester, we have (an) adjunct(s) teach two or three sections of our general-education courses. In the past, we relied heavily for this on a colleague who is a faculty member in political science at a neighboring institution but who had some interest in philosophy as well. Now, we are in the better position of having some local graduate students -- including three of our own recent alumni -- to recruit as adjuncts. This is especially promising for us because my two full-time colleagues and I are all men, and two of our recent graduates who are grad students living in the area are women (our overall college student population is something like 65-70% women).
  • Programme is interdisciplinary so a certain freedom is allowed.
  • Cancel courses when we don't have adjuncts, then ask the dean for a new hire.
  • Not applicable yet since I haven't been chair. Our department takes active steps to avoid reliance on contingent faculty: we teach our lower-level courses except when sabbatical replacements require hiring someone.
  • It is a constant battle with my institution to hire staff. We are all overworked, and rather than spending the money, they find stray hours from less than enthusiastic, underemployed and underskilled nay-saying colleagues for whom we end up having to do anything anyway. So we either work too much or drop philosophy from the curriculum.
  • Word of mouth. Local graduate schools. Ads in paper.
  • Interviewed extensively and conduct strong reference checks
  • Lowering of standards, closing of eyes and hoping, prayer to all available gods.
  • There is a research institution nearby with Ph.D. students needing to beef up their cv's. This pretty much suffices.
  • We mine the graduate pool at a nearby University of California. The problem is that the good teachers inevitably leave in a couple of years. The poor teachers or ones with terminal MAs stay. So it's really a perpetual search.
  • We ultimately won our arguments to administrators to add a line. Only increasing faculty has helped that problem. Oh, and we moved to shed our general education course, we no longer contribute to the gen.ed. curriculum.
  • We use lots of adjunct faculty. We get grad students from local PhD programs, and a few older people who are either unaffiliated philosophers looking for work or else people with masters degrees who enjoy teaching philosophy.
  • This is a problem we have not yet found a solution to.
  • sent requests to state graduate institutions for part time instruction
  • I have spoken to philosophers at other institutions, however most are "put off" by the fact that there is no "proper" philosophy dept here.
  • Ask administration as need arises.
  • We have two adjuncts, both with PhDs. We also launch a new national job search every couple of years to find a replacement for a departing tenure-track position.
  • Adjuncts, of course. It turns out in our small city there are a lot of people with Ph.D.s in Philosophy who are willing to teach a few courses. Also, I do a lot of service for other departments - teaching an overload every year, for instance - which wins our department a bit of favor and help from other departments. We recently started a joint minor in political philosophy with the Government department; we have an optional joint major with Religion; we are working on other joint majors and minors; and we collaborate a lot with Classics and Art on courses like Ancient Phil and Aesthetics.
  • Few natural sources for adjunct teaching (e.g. graduate programs) in our area. Just keep looking..
  • I call other philosophy departments in the area.
  • Maintained contacts with the local PhD granting institution.
  • I am not on the hiring committee.
  • Haven't really had a problem with this.
  • We have hired several adjuncts from the nearest university with a graduate program. This year we will be making a full-time hire, which we'll do by advertising in Jobs For Philosophers.
  • Newspaper ads. Our administration takes the view that anyone with at least some philosophy background (i.e. major as an undergrad) are qualified. Also contact nearby grad programs but they are over an hour away so rarely find any advanced graduate students in the area.
  • Most courses are taught by the two full-time faculty, and the remaining few are taught by qualified and supervised adjuncts.
  • Pressured management for more staff!
  • cooperation with a research institution situated in the region.
  • This is hardly a concern.
  • We adamantly REFUSE to become involved in this activity. The search for part-time faculty is the result of money-driven academics. Fifty years ago, the part-time professor was a well-educated community member who wanted the experience of teaching, regardless of the pay. It was fun, meaningful on-the-side employment. None of that is true today. Now, programs are FUNDED on the backs of adjunct/contingent faculty. This happens in ALL "humanities" disciplines. Need I point out the obvious irony of funding programs by having, say, poorly-paid professors teach writing intensive comp courses so that full professors can teach to classes of five on Marxist readings of literature? Together, and with the (serendipitous) approval of our dean, we have committed to never offering a philosophy course that the full-time faculty will not teach, and to adamantly pressing the Provost to make a new line when the demand for courses exceeds our contractual load. Our hand will only work, though, if we (once again) draw in the numbers.
  • Again, happily, there are faculty in other departments (classics and political science) with graduate training in philosophy who are happy to teach courses for us, some of which are cross-listed with their own department (the cross-listing option certainly helps here).
  • Not a large issue as my institution is an a large metropolitan area.
  • not an issue; no money.
  • I have recruited recently graduated doctoral students in philosophy from the major regional philosophy department. So far this has worked well, but there is a chance that the recruitment opportunities will dry up. I have had trouble finding suitably qualified people to take on our teaching of Buddhist Philosophy - and resorted to an honour student from a neighbouring university the last time the course ran. The student in question was highly qualified in other respects - with strong relevant language skills and a deep knowledge of Buddhism - and the course was highly successful. But the continuing situation is not satisfactory.
  • This has been difficult in our town.
  • I think that this is a major concern at my college that gets ignored. We have adjuncts teaching our gen ed philosophy courses who are not trained philosophers, and who as far as I can tell don't bring us majors.
  • Religious studies picks up a philosophy of religion class for us. Otherwise, we teach our courses.
  • Members of senate were convinced about the need to start a graduate programme (with the help of faculty from some American and European universities) to help fill in vacant positions. In fact, I had my Masters through such a scheme before I left to pursue my doctoral studies.

Teaching Courses Outside One's Area of Expertise

Here are comments from survey respondents describing how, if at all, they have dealt with the issue of teaching courses outside one's area of expertise.

  • Avoiding curriculum drift. Limiting the number of courses each faculty member is responsible for helps but doesn't solve the problem. Limit the number of changes made in courses so that I'm not always reinventing the wheel.
  • I think about who my students are, what would interest them, how to connect the themes in the classes with their lives and with their other courses, focus on paper writing as a skill gained from my classes, I link all of my classes together. I have a number of students who just like to take "Dr. X classes," because they have a similar format, they are interconnected and they always lead students to lead more examined lives.
  • Here I've simply had practice with the one course somewhat outside my area of expertise, slowly refining readings and lecture notes over time. I have occasionally (though not often) read a book in this area, and that has shaped what I do in class. Conversations with colleagues have also been helpful.
  • A great deal of research and reading.
  • Essentially, it just substantially increases the prep time.
  • In teaching cross-listed courses (such as aesthetics and philosophy of history), I have consulted extensively with the faculty and students of the other affected departments in order to determine their particular needs and interests for the course. I have also done research (for instance, through various professional societies and by viewing colleagues' syllabi posted on the Internet) to explore how others have framed such courses.
  • Summer preparation.
  • There are pros and cons here. It can be enjoyable to take up a new subject-matter, teach from a non-expert standpoint, and be creative in selecting readings, assignments, etc. On the other hand, it is a burden to prepare a new course in an area in which one has not researched significantly (or at all). It is also burdensome not to be able to turn this hard work into likely research projects. Finally, since these courses might keep one from teaching upper-level courses in research-active areas, it can be dispiriting to teach these other courses. To initially prepare such courses, I look on line for syllabi and other materials. I rely on textbooks rather than my own selection of primary texts & articles. I am more likely to remake such courses as these in order to make them more successful, and this requires work over the summer when I might be doing more research.
  • Thankfully, I haven't had to do too much of this, but what there is was less complex by far than metaphysics, so I had very little problem, for instance, teaching media studies!
  • Just work harder
  • Read, read, read, and talk with scholars in adjacent areas.
  • We structure the schedule so that no one ever goes too far outside their area of expertise. For example, I'm an epistemologist so courses outside my area are limited to: modern, metaphysics, and philosophy of language (i.e., core type courses). Our ethicist teaches philosophy of democracy and aesthetics (i.e., value theory related stuff).
  • By doing it, frankly. Of course, there are degrees of 'outside my area of expertise,' and I suppose that self-selection kicks in: there simply are areas that do not get taught at my university.
  • I only teach courses in my area of expertise.
  • My training is multi-disciplinary, so several courses per year are in other areas. My college supports such interdisciplinary teaching. (If anything, being on my own in philosophy means I don't have to answer to other philosophers about my non-philosophical teaching!)
  • team-teaching, learning
  • If have to teach something outside of my AOS, I usually contact friends from graduate school who know more about that particular area than I do.
  • Guest speakers, team-teaching, and being one of the students helps a ton!
  • Do some reading in the area, and focus on aspects that I know more about and overlap with my areas of comfort.
  • This I actually like, as I am provided the opportunity to learn about new issues, problems, and thinkers. I spend a fair amount of time during summers reading new material as well as secondary literature directly relevant to courses.
  • By avoiding it!
  • prepared readings in open source textbooks with online notes for coursework
  • For me, this relates to teaching on more policing-oriented subjects (such as one concerning vulnerable populations and policing) AND to ensuring the ethics subjects I teach are relevant to police: I have spoken at length with serving police officers to try to understand the issues that they face and to ensure that my discussions of them in the class room are accurate and relevant.
  • I don't.
  • The concept of "expertise" is, of course, a relative one. Most of the courses I teach are outside of my area of research specialization, to be sure. Yet with a broad background in the history of philosophy, as well as a second doctorate in religious studies, I rarely feel out of my depth.
  • Read a lot of secondary sources and be prepared.
  • Lots of additional study. Which I really enjoy. This is one of the great things about a small department - I get to teach everything.
  • I have been able to select courses that I am at least quite interested in. I sometimes give assignments that help me develop course materials, such as having students submit news articles on events relevant to readings in Environmental Ethics.
  • Just working really hard!
  • I love teaching stuff that's in books, teaching students how to read. So it's a treat, not a problem, when I get to teach Shakespeare and Jane Austen regularly in an Honors "Great Books" course.
  • Participated in faculty development projects
  • I generally have about a years lead time if I am going to be teaching outside my area. I use that time to do extended prep for the course.
  • I have not had to teach courses outside my area of expertise.
  • I read a lot and talked a lot with colleagues.
  • My Ph.D. was interdisciplinary, and was awarded by an English program with a highly theoretical background. So my dissertation covered the philosophy of technology using the Philosophy of Heidegger, and other major trends/ideas from psychology, Literary Theory, and Cultural Studies. When I came to this campus as a spousal hire, the chair of my department and one other faculty member were attempting to re-establish the philosophy minor, which had folded several years before I arrived. When they read my dissertation and discovered by background, they immediately invited me to help develop the minor. So, several courses I started teaching out of Philosophy were -- technically -- outside of my "expertise" (I was hired to teach English courses). I was not shy about pointing this out to administration and others on campus. But my superiors and administration were confident that I was qualified to teach these courses. I was as well, but I wanted to avoid campus politics and be accused of not being an "expert." Since then, my dissertation manuscript was picked up by a press, and will be published some time next year. So I think I can now rightfully claim my "expertise."
  • Trial and error; researching during the summer to get up to speed.
  • I just do my best. I try not to stray too far outside my areas of competence, but if I have to I let students know that I am not an expert and assure them I will do my best to find the answer to any question they ask if I don't know it right away.
  • Hard work in preparation.
  • Rely heavily on outside research at other institutions to prepare. Often new courses are developed on the fly since one ends up teaching a course when an instructor drops out at the last minute or unable to hire an instructor.
  • I make sure that I teach brand new courses in the Fall, so that I have the summer to prepare sufficiently for the course content.
  • Use textbooks, anthologies and internet resources.
  • This institution offers a "January Term" which stresses extra-disciplinary teaching; the institution also requires a four-semester "Collegiate Seminar" modeled on the practice at St. John's College (Annapolis and Santa Fe), which is at once fairly fertile ground for recruiting and a "natural"--so far as it supposes close reading and discussion of primary texts from diverse genres--for philosophers.
  • I am not sure what it means, I am commissioned into service as Philosophy Lecturer in Higher Education wherefrom almost 200 colleges are managed. Only three to four offer graduate courses in Philosophy and even in those places I am asked to let go Philosophy and teach English literature or other social sciences.
  • We try to do this on a limited basis. Each of the three of us teaches in no more than three areas. And over the years, we have developed a little expertise in the areas in which we teach. I think that this has served us well, and the students.
  • Work my ass off.
  • Damn you for asking. I try to put it out of my mind. Recall that in a small college "outside the area of expertise" doesn't mean that the logician teaches aesthetics. It means that the philosopher teaches something non-philosophy. Our bitter pill is "Humanities". Who on God's green earth thinks that Philosophers should tell anyone anything about visual art? Perhaps Nelson Goodman can. But I really can't. Nonetheless I do. It amounts to studying, thinking, and reading. It's not all bad. In fact, I now see much more in, say, Plato's dialogues than the dialectic. I wouldn't have taken the time to catch those things had I not been forced to. I suppose I'm grateful for that. But I still would rather be reading David Lewis.
  • Lots of time in the summer preparing, preparing, preparing.
  • Primarily using summers to prep for new classes, though I have received development money to construct some courses.
  • it required extra prep.
  • I look for books and articles that can be read without any prior philosophical knowledge.
  • Generally, I start by reaching out to others who have some experience in the field. I also read several "introduction to the field" texts. But, there is not teacher like experience, so I generally am learning as I go.
  • Create a flexible major that doesn't aim to cover every possible area so as to minimize the problem. Complete coverage isn't possible anyway. Expand my area by reading. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has proved an excellent starting point. Make sure the other philosopher in the department doesn't overlap with me.