Representation at the APA

“41 of 45 the APA’s officers, or 91.1%, are from research universities. While I understand that research plays a central role in the discipline, this strikes me as potentially a missed opportunity in several respects.”

Those are the words of Marcus Arvan, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Tampa, in a  post at The Philosophers’ Cocoon, written in the wake of the American Philosophical Association’s recent elections.

Anni Albers, “Orchestra III”

Professor Arvan isn’t objecting to which candidates won. As he says, he was “pleasantly surprised that a number of people I voted for were elected.” But he thinks it would be good for the APA if it paid more attention to the disparity in the types of universities and colleges its officers work at. Why?

He writes:

First, as someone who works at a liberal arts university, my sense is that philosophers at institutions like mine face a distinct set of challenges—many having to do with pressures in higher education to marginalize the humanitiesmajor and program closures, increased administrative and assessment burdens on top of high teaching loads, adjunct dependence, and so on… My sense is that if we want to preserve the discipline of philosophy and have it flourish in the decades to come, it may be very important for professional organizations like the APA to be sensitive to these unique challenges, in ways that (I think) only representatives from such institutions may be well-placed to understand. By a similar token, I think it would probably make a great deal of sense to not only have ample representation by faculty from liberal arts universities, but also from community colleges—as faculty in those environments almost certainly have professional challenges of their own that professional organizations might help with.

Second, I think that expanding representation in the boards of professional organizations may help faculty from non-research universities feel more included and valued in the profession—and, by extension, graduate students and job-marketeers seeking such jobs. For my part, I have heard on multiple occasions of how faculty from “teaching schools” can feel left out or marginalized in the profession–ranging from how they feel treated at conferences (viz. “People just ignore me when they see my nametag”) to how the vast majority of prestigious prizes in the profession are for research rather than for teaching, service, to grad students being told by faculty in their highly-ranked programs that jobs at teaching schools are undesirable, and so on. I think, in other words, that more representation from faculty at different kinds of programs might help our discipline become less hierarchical, demonstrating more to its diverse membership that what we all do is valuable (and valued).

He also suggests it would be good to “seek out and include philosophy PhDs who have left academia for positions on the board—philosophers who are still interested in the profession, but who (for whatever reason) have pursued ‘alt-ac’ careers.”

Professor Arvan refrains from possible explanations for the disparity he notices. Part of it may be owed to institutional incentives: certain types of schools may steeply prioritize service to the school over service to the profession. Part of it may be owed to the way jobs are structured: higher teaching loads may leave professors with less flexibility in their schedules for fitting in additional service work. There may be other factors at work here. It would be especially useful to hear from professors at institutions that are not “R1“-type places as to what they think is the explanation for the representational disparity, and what they think should be done, if anything, to change it.

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