Addressing Philosophy Departments’ Lack of Diversity


The Demographics in Philosophy project will be holding a session at the upcoming Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in Vancouver.

Noting that women account for just 25% of all philosophy faculty in the U.S., black philosophers account for only about 1-4% of all philosophy faculty, and that disabled philosophers continue to be underrepresented, those involved with organizing the session are looking for ideas about what departments of philosophy can do to address these disparities.

The session, scheduled for the morning of April 18th, will start with a brief presentation on diversity in philosophy departments and then continue with an open discussion with a panel of representatives from sixteen philosophy departments.

After the session, the organizers—Sherri Conklin (UC Santa Barbara), Nicole Hassoun (Binghamton University), and Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside)—hope to partner with departments to collect more data on what works to improve diversity and to develop a toolbox of helpful practices.

Readers are encouraged to share ideas in the comments here, at the APA session, and by email to [email protected].

Sarah Morris, “No One Can Play A Game Alone / Sound Graph 5” (detail)

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Jaime Chapa
Jaime Chapa
2 years ago

Do you have a link to the rest of the data? Like on hispanics?Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Jaime Chapa
2 years ago

Jaime, I am not on this project, but our project did not find underrepresentation for disabled philosophers or Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx philosophers: https://www.dropbox.com/s/exv5szay8t6c3o3/diversity-inclusivity-survey.pdf?dl=0Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
2 years ago

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for the link to this data. I’m not clear on the sense in which the project didn’t find under-representation for Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx philosophers, however.

It appears that 9.5% of your survey respondents (mostly PhD students in philosophy, along with some “graduates”?) identified as Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx, while 17.8% of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx, and 17.4% of undergraduates are Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx. That looks like under-representation, at least on one pretty natural understanding of it. It’s true that only 6.3% of doctoral degree recipients (for all fields?) in 2014-15 identified as H/L/C, so that other fields may be even *worse* that philosophy in terms of under-representation, but that is of course compatible with there being under-representation in philosophy.

Leaving aside your particular study, the demographic statistics collected by the APA tell a story of notable under-representation of Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx people in philosophy, with only about 2.7% of APA members identifying as Hispanic/Latinx. That data is gathered here: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.apaonline.org/resource/resmgr/data_on_profession/fy2018-demographic_statistic.pdf

It does seem worth having a general conversation about how to think about “under-representation”, what baseline is appropriate, and so forth.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
2 years ago

Fair point. I assumed for this study that baseline was other doctoral programs. That way we can separate representation in philosophy as a discipline from underrepresentation in academia as a whole. It helps to see, for example, that philosophy underrepresents those who identify as Asian or Asian American, even though our numbers approximate the population numbers. (5.3% in our study, 10.7% all doctoral recipients, and 5.6% total U.S. population.) But it may be worthwhile for me to state that while philosophy may do better than other disciplines, in terms of representation among graduate students, it doesn’t do well qua academic discipline. Thanks for that. Of course, the usual caveats about any survey apply.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
2 years ago

(As for your 2.7% number: Isn’t it around 5% of all APA members who answered questions about race/ethnicity, and almost 9% of students, according to that chart?)Report

Joseph Rachiele
Joseph Rachiele
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
2 years ago

Thanks for the link to the paper, Professor Jennings!

For people that didn’t click through, it looks like disabilities that aren’t mental health conditions are probably also underrepresented in this sample of philosophers, though not as extremely as some other groups, is that right?

From the “Americans with Disabilities: 2010” report, 19% of people aged 15 and older have some disability that isn’t in “the mental domain”–that is, it isn’t a mental health condition or a learning disability. And 13% of your philosophy respondents have at least one disability that isn’t a mental health condition.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Joseph Rachiele
2 years ago

My understanding is that the 19% number includes mental health: “Approximately 56.7 million people living in the United States had some kind of disability in 2010.” The overall number in our survey was higher than 19%: 27.9% of our respondents reported having at least one disability. But, as we note, this is complicated by the fact that the doctoral population may have a higher incidence of mental health disabilities: https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4089 (I couldn’t find numbers for disability in the doctoral population, in general). The census report doesn’t include, I think, a number that excludes those in the mental domain. It does report how many have a disability in the physical domain (some of whom may also have disabilities in the mental domain), and that was 14%. In our study, if I exclude all those in the mental domain that leaves 13% (but this also includes those in the communicative domain). If you find better numbers on this, please do send them to me. We will update all of this for our final report to the APA at the end of the summer.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Joseph Rachiele
2 years ago

I found this, which is helpful: https://cgsnet.org/data-sources-graduate-students-disabilities

“According to data from the most recent NPSAS, about 8% of master’s students and 7% of doctoral students in academic year 2007-08 had some type of disability (NCES, 2009).”Report

Joseph Rachiele
Joseph Rachiele
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
2 years ago

Thanks for your replies and work, much appreciated! Here’s how I came up with the 19% figure. 21.3% of people aged 15 and over have any kind of disability whatsoever as opposed to 19% for the total population. I used this age group because at the bottom of page 19, in Table A-1, the report lists percentages of those aged 15 and over who have disabilities in the different domains. And 2.1% of those in this age group have exactly one disability that is in the mental domain.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Joseph Rachiele
2 years ago

That makes sense. I will need to go back and look at the numbers and see if I can get a closer match. It looks like the percentages shoot up for that group in particular, with lower values for the 21+ group, which is closer to our sample. Alternatively, I could just report on the total population as well as the doctoral population, in keeping with Alexander’s concern, above. I will keep this in mind for the final report. Thanks!Report

Nicole Hassoun
Reply to  Jaime Chapa
2 years ago

Can you provide some? I would love to post it if I can get the funds! We will have speakers talking about various aspects of diversity at the session and would love everyone to contribute their expertise in discussion!Report

Burner_name
Burner_name
2 years ago

I wonder to what degree the existence of other academic departments, like Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, African American Studies, etc.,–areas similar to philosophy in method (like conceptual analysis and otherwise non-empirical/statistical/scientific methods), and in which many of the groups that are underrepresented in philosophy are overrepresented–contributes to this problem by housing a lot of scholars and work that would otherwise be in philosophy.
I also wonder, if this fact does contribute to the underrepresentation at all, what this implies with regard to this issue.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
2 years ago

I think this assumes those people who are now in those other academic departments are there because they didn’t want to be in philosophy. I find the opposite true as well, people were forced out for various circumstances to go to these departments so they could do their work and be hired. I think there were people who began in philosophy but left in undergrad, grad and I even know faculty who have had to find refuge in other departments because they found the emotional/wellbeing cost to high to stay in philosophy, their work was consistently not considered philosophy, their work is marginalized to 1 or 2 journals in philosophy, they’ve seen sketchy tenure denials like the one at DePaul, it’s just not worth all the slog just to end up as an adjunct when you’re already precarious financially, it’s just not worth the slog when you’re literally the only person of color in the whole department/city/state.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
2 years ago

1. I had a similar reaction to “burner”, or at least I think I did: my university, for example, has female philosophy PhDs in a range of other departments that aren’t philosophy (e.g., women’s studies). At the same time, no males with philosophy PhDs are in any of those departments. How are these phenomena “captured” by these analyses? To put it another way, I suspect the view is that females are “underrepresented” in our department, but, if they weren’t, then they’d be “overrepresented” university-wide. So it’d be nice to have some more robust metric that thinks about these sorts of possibilities.

2. This has come up on various posts before, but the only sort of “diversity” even in play here is gender (or race). It’s still the case that something like 99% of the philosophy faculty is on the political left, whereas only something like 50% of the country is. This is a super pernicious form of viewpoint discrimination that homogenizes our faculties and eviscerates “diversity”. Yet it never seems to be “that kind” of diversity we care about, but rather more localized–and potentially idiosyncratic–kinds. If the point is that our faculties should reflect the population, for example–which is the sort of analysis various people are doing up above–then you’ve gotta conceive of that more broadly.

I hope the APA sessions take these sorts of views seriously, instead of taking a more naive approach to what diversity is or requires.Report

Eric Schwitzgebel
Eric Schwitzgebel
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

Not 99%, I think! I have some estimates from 2008 here:
http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2008/06/political-affiliations-of-american.html
unfortunately based on 5 U.S. states, with half the data from California, as well as being dated by now. In these data, about 87% of philosophy profs with a registered voter affiliation are Democrat, plus 3% Green.

You might also be interested in this recent article by Uwe Peters:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mila.12194Report

AnotherGrad
AnotherGrad
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

I agree that diversity in certain contexts has come to refer to only certain things. I also agree that intellectual/ideological diversity is just as important. I’d say even further that it is likely due to similar systematic, structural reasons that result in underrepresentation of certain racial/ethnic groups, that result in underrepresentation of intellectual/ideological groups.

But I worry your comment, Jon, can often seem like a “whataboutism” complaint. The profession has numerous issues that folks would like to address, and the folks have limited time and resources to address these issues. So, it seems to me insofar as here’s one reasonable attempt of addressing *one* issue with good intentions, it’s not the most constructive or collegial thing to do to ask why said attempt ignores the other aspect of diversity.Report

Nicole Hassoun
2 years ago

I am actually quite sympathetic to the idea that we, as a discipline, would benefit from engaging with a broader range of serious conservative thinkers. If you feel like coming to the session and talking about it, I would be interested in hearing the discussion!Report

Wes Hansen
Wes Hansen
2 years ago

I’m not a philosopher per se; I’ve taken a couple of classes and read a bit and I’m thoroughly competent with regards to mathematical logic – other logics maybe not so much. But I’m thoroughly curious – especially in this context, as to what professional philosophers think of Bryan van Norden’s latest book, “Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto?”

“Are American colleges and universities failing their students by refusing to teach the philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and other non-Western cultures? Taking Back Philosophy says yes. Even though we live in an increasingly multicultural world, most philosophy departments stubbornly insist that only Western philosophy is real philosophy and denigrate everything outside the European canon. In this biting and incisive critique of contemporary education, Van Norden lambastes academic philosophy for its Eurocentrism, insularity, and complicity with nationalism, and issues a ringing call to make our educational institutions live up to their cosmopolitan ideals. Building on a controversial New York Times opinion piece that suggested any philosophy department that fails to teach non-Western philosophy should be renamed a “Department of European and American Philosophy,” this book will challenge any student or scholar of philosophy to reconsider what constitutes the love of wisdom.”

Doesn’t it seem a rather obvious conjecture that underrepresentation of certain racial groups is directly related to the phenomena van Norden addresses here? It certainly does to me. And if you’ve read some of these Post-moderns it is very difficult to deny the Eastern influence – at the very least. Additional reading which also may be relevant:

When Whales and Humans Talk

Why These Birds Carry Flames (I don’t endorse National Geographic, due to what they have done to Rupert Sheldrake, but the story is interesting)

I just found this blog recently, by the way, and I sure do appreciate it!Report