My university had events on campus today for newly admitted students. My department tapped me (and two of our fabulous philosophy students) to man the Philosophy Department table at the College of Humanities and Arts open house.
Hundreds of admitted students — many with their parents — milling around in a room with such enticing major departments as English & Comparative Literature, Art & Design, Music & Dance (yes, the cool ones have ampersands), and we were supposed to sell Philosophy.
We opted for brazenness, and wrote in big letters on the white-board/easel we had brought with us:
PHILOSOPHY: Proudly corrupting youth since Socrates.
While we had a fair number of parents tugging the hands of their offspring to get them past our table as quickly as possible (“Avert your eyes, children! They may assume different shapes!”), we had at least as many admits who seemed unable to look away. And many of them came up to us to talk to us about studying philosophy.
Another item that may have played a role in the bimodal response (i.e., love us or fear us) we elicited: One of this year’s additions to our big board of famous people who have studied philosophy: Jake Gyllenhaal, pictured in a still from Brokeback Mountain. Since, as an administrator pointed out as we were setting up, many parents would feel a little bit better about their kids becoming gay cowboys than philosophers.