APA Creates “Department Advocacy Toolkit”
The American Philosophical Association (APA) has produced a “Department Advocacy Toolkit” to “provide strategies that may be useful to [philosophy] programs that are at risk, programs hoping to insulate themselves against future risk, and programs aiming to strengthen and/or expand.”
The Toolkit, available here, was created by a team from the APA’s Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession led by Sally Scholz (Villanova).
It includes advice on a variety of elements that contribute to the survival and flourishing of philosophy departments, including undergraduate admissions, the skills and competencies acquired through the study of philosophy, giving opportunities to students to serve as “ambassadors” for the philosophy programs, the interdisciplinary potential of philosophy, fund raising, and more.
You can learn more about the toolkit (and view some philosophy promotional materials) here.
Philosophy students get excellent test scores. This doesn’t show us that philosophy makes you get better test scores. It could be a selection effect or a treatment effect. We aren’t entitled to claim that philosophy makes you better at standardized tests until we have strong positive evidence that there is treatment effect, and even then, we should only make a claim as strong as the evidence allows. Suppose, 80% of the higher scores are explained by selection and 20% by treatment. In that case, it’d be immoral for us to advertise philosophy as if all 100% was selection.
Also, the burden of proof is on the advertiser making the claim.Report
The test information is in the “What kinds of careers do philosophy students have?” section. There’s no actual claim that philosophy raises test scores. So if you’re the kind of person who’s naturally attracted to majoring in philosophy but worried about career stuff, the message is “If you do philosophy, you stand a good chance of getting excellent test scores and making money and doing fine.” That’s true even if it is a selection effect — the flyer takes no position on that issue.
For those who don’t feel like tilting their heads diagonally, here’s the context:
“What kinds of careers do philosophy students have? You can find people who studied philosophy in all careers and fields. A philosophy major or minor is a typical start to a law career, and philosophy students routinely outperform nearly all other majors on the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT. Philosophy students also have
among the highest lifetime and midcareer earnings of all humanities fields.”Report
P. 51: “Numerous studies have shown that the study of philosophy and other humanities yields positive outcomes on standardized tests.”
I think the most natural reading of this is as asserting causation, though you are right that it could be interpreted otherwise.Report
The data about philosophy and test scores go back at least to the 1980s — I wrote a newspaper column about them in 1989. At the time, descriptions of one study done for a U.S. government department said that, according to it, undergraduate major was the one variable that correlated with the differences in test scores, or the one that correlated most strongly (I can’t remember which– the idea, though, was precisely to suggest causation). I again can’t remember exactly, but I think parental income, SAT score — all those were controlled for and none correlated as strongly as undergraduate major or at all. Intrigued, I wrote the U.S. government department asking for a copy of the study but never got a reply. That’s the time when Philosophy started citing the test data — they were written about in an APA Proceedings — and, though I again can’t remember exactly, it’s also a time when undergraduate major was described as having a specially significant role.Report
I tell prospective students that they are especially well suited to study philosophy if they are in a position to raise concerns like this about the kinds of statistical data that tend to get included in materials of this sort (including materials I created for my own department last year). It shows some aptitude for critical thinking!Report
Your points about the data are well-taken, of course, but it is easy to draw the wrong conclusion. I have worked in research on higher education and the data that passes for evidence is rarely if ever better than this. Correlation studies lack causation. RCTs lack external validity. Studies with causal claims, if they exist, are often narrow and difficult to interpret in other circumstances.
I’m not sure about your claim that the burden is on the “advertiser.” In what context, and compared to what? Philosophy has been a core part of a liberal arts curriculum going back over a thousand years with countless success stories and proponents. That long-standing success can affect the burden, I think, at least when talking to administrators, and I think we can cite evidence with some confidence. We have to keep in mind that there are strong institutional incentives for administrators to rely on “data,” and they are not exactly all philosophy majors when it comes to interpreting evidence, if you catch my drift.
Now, if you want to tell a student to be a philosophy major because it will make her smart or make her do well on the LSAT, that is overstated. However, properly worded, I don’t think we should hide this information from students either.Report
At present I only pay my APA dues if I’m going to attend a meeting, but I would pay regardless if the APA directed more money and time to efforts like this.Report
Thanks again for this, Justin.Report
These materials are excellent! I received the email from the APA just as I concluded my opening Department meeting yesterday afternoon–we spent a good part of the meeting discussing strategies for increasing interest and enrollments! Now, I’ve spent a good part of the morning posting flyers in corridors, next to vending machines and water fountains, etc. I am grateful to the APA for the work they have done on this.Report
A fantastic resource and use of resources by the APA!Report