Thursday, August 13, 2009

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.

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