Launching a PPE Program


A philosopher writes in seeking advice on starting a new program at his college:

I teach at a Catholic small liberal arts college. My department teaches philosophy in the core and offers a minor. I’m thinking of pushing for an integrated major common to many colleges and universities called PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics). I need to gather evidence, testimonials, and other sources of evidence about the success of such programs elsewhere. I thought I would ask you fellow philosophers if you have such data and/or testimonials, and what if any challenges does your current PPE program face? Has enrollment prospered since its adoption? 

Fellow philosophers, if you are part of a PPE program or something similar, or looked into starting one, please share your experiences, insights, and advice.

Wassily Kandinsky, “Yellow Red Blue”

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Andrew Jason Cohen
4 years ago

If you haven’t, join the new PPE Society (http://ppesociety.web.unc.edu/). I’d be happy to talk about the process of starting a program if you’d like; I’ve almost got a PPE program started here (a few final approvals are expected shortly). -Andrew J. Cohen, GSU
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Jonathan Weinberg
Jonathan Weinberg
4 years ago

We launched one fairly recently here at UA, so you might reach out to some of the folks here who are closely associated with it:
http://www.u.arizona.edu/~ggaus/Report

Kevin Vallier
Kevin Vallier
Reply to  Jonathan Weinberg
4 years ago

At BGSU, we used AZ, Penn, Michigan as models for our major and UNC Chapel Hill as a model for our minor. You can read more about our program here: http://bgsu.edu/ppel. I second Andrew’s recommendation of joining the new PPE Society.

There are a few pitfalls you’ll want to look at for, especially that some other departments might be threatened by the fact that PPE minors and majors are often quite successful and can, at some places, move students away from other majors, even majors other than political science and economics, like history, psychology, or sociology.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
4 years ago

I suspect that if you contact Mike Munger at Duke, he would be willing to help you, perhaps even come to your school to convince your dean himself. Report

Matthew Gibson
Matthew Gibson
4 years ago

Do you have any interests in the views of a current undergraduate reading PPE, or are you more interested in purely administrative advice?Report

jdkbrown
jdkbrown
Reply to  Matthew Gibson
4 years ago

I’m not the one who asked the original question, but this idea has occasionally come up at my institution. I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.Report

Matthew Gibson
Matthew Gibson
Reply to  jdkbrown
4 years ago

@jdkbrown. Personally, I think that PPE is an incredible program. My experience so far has been incredibly academically rewarding really allowing me to feel like I can take control of my education in a way that I don’t really think any other program does. If your institution has the capacity to offer the degree, I could not recommend it more.

A few things from my program that I think make it particularly good:

(1) My university has one person in charge of the PPE program, who has stayed in charge of it for about a decade. I think having one person who is fully prepared to commit to the course is very important. Prior to this individual organising the course, PPE was passed between departments every two years. From what graduates during this time have said, apparently the program was very chaotic and ended up being less satisfying because they were treated like add-ons to the core programs within each department, rather than as a program in and of itself.

(2) All of the departments at my university actively aid a student run PPE society. As there are naturally gaps in a PPE student’s education, the society offers a great chance for students to run events on things they feel like they want to know about but don’t have space in their timetable (e.g. for many having one guest lecture aesthetics may be preferable to taking a whole course on it). The society also provides us with a very good forum for interdisciplinary discussion (we ran a conference on Morality and Economics last year for example), which takes the pressure off departments to offer a range of interdisciplinary modules and feeds into the whole “students taking charge of their learning” thing.

(3) I have to study at least one module of P, P and E at every level of my undergraduate degree, though this includes interdisciplinary modules, such as Philosophy of Economics. I think this balances very well gaining a general education, while also allowing students to specialise. Some departments don’t do this, and allow students to drop one or more of the subjects after first year, but I really think that this defeats the point of the program.

A few things from my program that could be improved:

(1) I think that there needs to be a mandatory first or second year module that cover the basics of the methodology and academic apparatus of each discipline, ranging from the very basics of referencing that is expected in each discipline through to how to construct papers and so on. Without this it can become a lot harder at higher levels, particularly with the undergraduate thesis, to perform as well as a student can, not because they lack knowledge, but because they are not well enough “acclimatised” to a particular discipline (something which can also hamper students when they move on to graduate program from what I’ve heard as well).

(2) Ensuring that there is a marking standard between departments. This is a particular peeve for those who concentrate on Philosophy at my University. Within Economics the department there are statistics and maths modules that it is possible to get full marks, which literally never happens in our Politics or Philosophy department. As such a lot of students end up focusing on Economics simply because it will leave them with a better grade average than other departments. Its little things like this that do really impact upon the quality of the program but are probably difficult to sort out at an institutional level.

Sorry about the length of this post- take it as being generated by my love for PPE, rather than as avoidance of writing my thesis.Report

jdkbrown
jdkbrown
Reply to  Matthew Gibson
4 years ago

This is really helpful. Thanks!Report

Matthew Smith
4 years ago

I designed and launched our PPE program. I am still its director.

Feel free to email me ([email protected]) if you have any questions.

Things operate differently in the UK (e.g., only 3 years at university). But, the essence of running an interdisciplinary program isn’t too different in the UK vs. the US.

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Jeppe von Platz
Jeppe von Platz
4 years ago

I designed and now direct the PPE Program at Suffolk University.
Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you think I can be useful.Report