As higher education institutions continue to make cuts to humanities departments (Millsaps College, Tulsa University, Wheeling Jesuit University), we are working to collect and share successful strategies for making the case for studying the humanities as an undergraduate, helping humanists to secure their rightful place on campus.
This month, we’re reaching out to scholarly societies to learn how they are helping their members make the case. In this spirit, I recently discussed the Departmental Advocacy Toolkit the American Philosophical Association (APA) launched this past fall with Executive Director Amy Ferrer. “We heard from departments who were concerned about funding crises and wanted to figure out ways to [confront these threats] before they emerge,” recalls Ferrer. “But there weren’t really resources on how to do that.”
Philosophers are of course not alone in needing to work harder to demonstrate their value to various constituencies. Much of the APA’s toolkit applies to all humanities fields. Hence the enthusiastic response to Ferrer’s report on the initiative at the annual meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies in April. “It certainly resonated with other scholarly society directors with things they could take from it and be inspired by it,” says Ferrer. “Most of these things are not exclusive to philosophy. A lot of the strategies would work for any department that wants to make sure it’s place is secure.”
The APA began by convening discussions among representatives of departments that had been threatened with cuts to share their experiences and lessons learned. From there, APA’s Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession compiled strategies that proved most successful in changing perceptions of philosophy. They sought additional input from the Board of Officers and various committees, particularly pedagogical insights from the Teaching Committee. Together, these bodies worked to ensure the toolkit represented the perspectives of both tenured and contingent faculty across different types of institutions. “The development of the toolkit from early draft to final draft really benefited from the number of different constituencies that we reached out to,” says Ferrer.
The resulting 50-page document presents dozens of advocacy strategies. It explains how to effectively engage prospective students, parents, legislators, the broader public, and potential partners on campus, including admissions and advising offices, alumni, career services, internship offices, study abroad programs, other departments, upper administrators, and student ambassadors. It outlines best practices for promoting the study of philosophy, from articulating key skills and competencies students acquire to developing attractive course offerings to effectively advertising on campus, online, and beyond. And it presents resources for confronting misperceptions about job prospects and clarifying career pathways.
The toolkit’s concise style, modular structure, and alphabetical organization make it accessible. “It’s not meant as a checklist,” says Ferrer, but rather a handy reference to cherry-pick. “We wanted something flexible and dynamic. Any department can choose low-hanging fruit or bigger projects and tailor which things they focus on to their particular circumstances.”
Moreover, APA provides additional resources to make it easier for departments to implement these strategies, including a customizable 1-page flier entitled “Why Study Philosophy?” It clarifies the benefits of studying philosophy and illuminates common career pathways for admissions officers, advisers, and career counselors who may have little understanding of the discipline. APA has also created a “Who Studies Philosophy?” poster series featuring philosophy graduates who have found success in a variety of fields.
APA launched the toolkit this past fall, sharing it with department chairs and via its website and social media channels. The toolkit figured prominently in recent divisional department chair discussions illustrating how curricular innovation can contribute to recruitment and elevate a department’s profile within the institution. “We’ve been getting really great feedback,” says Ferrer. “We intend for it to be a living resource that we update periodically with new strategies.”
Thumbnail image: Image courtesy of the American Philosophical Association.