Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fantasy Philosophy Recruitment Scenario

The gender inequity in philosophy is undergoing another wave of recognition. In other places (like the SWIP list), there have been discussions about how to make philosophy less of a 19th century male bastion. We could work on the hiring of women, their chances at completing grad school, their grad school application rates, and their participation in undergraduate majors.

The more of these we can do, the better, and I think that multiple simultaneous projects have a better chance for success. Contributions to professional service, of course, cut into one's research time, so it would be nice if any efforts could be well-funded and appropriately recognized.

I think that in the past there have been efforts to attract women to graduate school and to help them stay there (for example in my graduate school while I was there). These efforts tend to get more attention than the strategy of focusing on undergraduates, and I think it's partly because there are a small number of graduate schools, so it seems like a more manageable agenda.

But I'm particularly a fan of the strategy of recruiting more undergraduate majors. This strategy combines two of my commitments: to increasing gender equity in education and to promoting philosophy.

Leaving reality for the realm of fantasy, I've concocted a (fantastic!) plan, with the goal of making the project of recruiting to the major seem more manageable:

There are almost 750 universities in the US that offer a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Since there are about 6500 degrees awarded every year, that comes to an average of 9 students per institution. (Many with zero and some with huge numbers--this is fantasy, remember?)

If you teach at one of those institutions, then ask yourself: Could I attract just one additional woman to major in philosophy?

If most universities attracted just one more woman to the philosophy major, the number of degrees earned in philosophy would increase by over 10% and the percentage of philosophy majors who are women would increase from 30% to 37%.


Sharon Crasnow said...

I love this idea! Perhaps we could start a campaign with slogans and so on. "Have you recruited your woman this year?"

Khadimir said...

I love that the "fantasy" part is execution, not the goal. The goal is reasonable and attainable.

I have another idea. Is it that women tend to cluster in certain fields in philosophy? Is there something to be made of this--perhaps such fields might be emphasized? (At this university, it would be Asian philosophy, which is generally popular.)

Also, for an example of what I always thought was an ideal department in such matters, you should visit the math department (school) across the way, Dr. Brister. Say hello to director Sophia Maggelakis for me!

Evelyn Brister said...

Anecdotally, at the PhD level, a higher percentage of women specialize in ethics than the background rate of 27% and a lower percentage in analytic M&E/philosophy of language. Historically, women have been encouraged to write in the history of philosophy, also (presumably on the assumption that it's more like history and less like philosophy).

Someone once told me that, as a women, I'd be happier if I did graduate work on "philosophy and literature." Clearly he didn't realize that I'd rather read a scientific article than a novel just about any day of the week!

From what I know about the ways that data have been collected, it ought to be possible to figure out where women specialize. But I don't believe it's been done.

So that's all in reference to graduate school, and I had never thought of applying it in quite those terms to undergraduate education. Namely, courses that tend to enroll a more equitable gender ration could be offered more often. It sounds like a simple and effective step!

What I have said before, and I'll say it as often as I can--educational research shows that undergraduate women are attracted to courses and research areas that attempt to solve social and practical problems. Philosophy does this--but not often enough.