The funding situation in the California State University system being what it is (scary-bad), departments at my fair university are also scrambling to adjust to a shift in the logic governing resource distribution. It used to be that resources followed enrollments — that the more students you could pack into your classes, the more money your department would be given to educate students.
Now, in the era of enrollment caps (because the state can’t put up its share of the cost for as many students as it used to), it’s looking like resources will be driven by how many majors a department can enroll (without violating caps on total enrollment for that department’s course offerings — this is a seriously complicated optimization problem).
Plus, because we (i.e., the bean-counters and the tax-payers) don’t want students frittering away tax-payer subsidized coursework (i.e., taking a single unit in excess of the minimum number of units needed to earn a degree), there is an imperative for incoming frosh to declare a major within two semesters, and for incoming transfer students to declare a major within one semester — and then, once the major has been declared, it is permanent. Like a tattoo. (Because, see, changing majors often requires doubling back to complete the requirements of the new major to which you have switched, which pushed you beyond the minimum number of units needed to earn a degree.)
Among other things, this means my department is working hard at this summer’s weekly freshman orientation events to drum up prospective majors. To that end, my colleagues Anand Vaidya and Jim Lindahl put together something of a top 10 list:
Top 10 Reasons To Pursue a Philosophy Major:
1. Because investment bankers are corrupting the economy and we need philosophers that can think about ethics to fix the economy.
2. Because even software engineers aren’t getting jobs.
3. Because being smart and being able to talk about anything in a logical manner is important.
4. Because with a philosophy degree you have a better chance of getting into law school, business school, or medical school.
5. Because the meaning of life is not reduced to what you do, it consists of being able to think about and take pleasure in things beyond work, which is what philosophy teaches you how to do.
Not so Seriously, but Seriously
6. Because you can interpret any Spongebob episode as being insightful social criticism.
7. Because unlike all the non-philosophers who smoke cigarettes and try to be profound, you will actually know what you are talking about.
8. Because it is not about navel gazing, it is a serious discipline that has produced some of the greatest minds and ideas.
9. Because it is not what everyone else is doing.
10. Because some classical and contemporary film is bad philosophy. On the other hand, though, some really good classical and contemporary films are philosophical:
2001: A Space Odyssey, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Matrix, Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Star Trek, Memento, A Clockwork Orange, Rope, Munich.
And Super Seriously:
YOU CAN MOST PROBABLY GRADUATE IN 4 YEARS, WHICH IS SOMETHING YOU CANT SAY ABOUT MOST OTHER MAJORS
The ability to graduate in 4 years issue is a local one, related to our major requirements, the variety of courses that will fulfill them, and the frequency with which we offer courses that allow a student to meet those requirements. Local graduation rates at your institution of higher learning may vary.
In hard economic times (and when the College of Business is turning away hordes of would-be majors), will students major in a field like philosophy? We’ll let you know when we find out.