Saturday, August 15, 2009

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.


  1. Andrew:

    I've noticed your blog with interest. I am beginning a job at a community college this Fall. Most community colleges have small philosophy departments and this led me to wonder about the differences between small CC departments and small departments at other institutions. CC philosophers teach almost only introductory level courses, often are part of combined departments or divisions, and seem to have fewer opportunities to develop students beyond the introductory level, since students transfer or enter the job market.

    Did you include CC instructors in your survey? If so, how might this have influenced the results?
    If not, might this be a fruitful area of discussion?

    Bob Muhlnickel

  2. Bob,

    CC instructors were included in the survey, and it would be an interesting idea to look at the results and see if instructors at CC's gave significantly different responses from instructors at other types of institutions. I haven't done that yet, but will consult with my colleague who does the stats work for this survey and see what, if anything, that reveals.

    What issues do you think are particularly relevant at a CC? I understand you're just starting out in that job, but do you have a sense of the issues you might be facing?

  3. Andrew:

    Here are some statements based on what I've heard, guessed. I don't necessarily believe them but forming them as assertions might make them clearer, more accessible to data analysis:

    (1) CC students are not as well prepared for academic work and philosophy as other college students
    (2) CC students are not as motivated for theoretical disciplines such as philosophy as for practical (i.e., job preparation) disciplines, again in comparison to other college students
    (3) The CC culture of accessibility and aiding disadvantaged and less well-prepared students leads to faculty evaluation that gives much less weight to research & writing than other colleges
    (4) The CC where I am starting has no sabbatical program, in contrast to the liberal arts colleges where I had one-year contracts, an indicator that faculty are not understood to have the professional needs and responsibilities of research.
    (5) Teaching only or nearly only introductory courses deprives faculty of the opportunity to develop interests and expertise that can be developed teaching upper division courses.

    As noted, these are guesses - any insight from your data base would be appreciated