At the "start of the year" college meeting last week our dean showed some Powerpoint slides listing the number of majors in each department over the last few years. The point was to illustrate how the college is growing across the board. Philosophy wasn't exactly a good illustration of his point, however. In F08, the latest year for which he had data, we had only 39 majors. That was more than in F03, but not only is it a small number in absolute terms, it is less than in the prior two years. Next year's number should be slightly higher, and I think that we may not be getting credit for a few double majors. Still, we don't have the number of majors that we should have, and among other problems this means that important and worthwhile courses are being canceled for lack of enrollment—theory of knowledge and philosophy of natural science being two recent examples. As department chair, I need to do something to help the department recruit more majors. But what?
Drawing students into a philosophy department will always be challenging, since philosophy may be the only university subject to which students will not have received even an introductory exposure in their K-12 education. Most of our students came to the university planning to major in something else and got excited about philosophy through taking a required intro class, and I assume that this is probably true nearly everywhere. And my long-standing anxiety about our low numbers is now being exacerbated by the fact that we are about to implement a new gen ed program that will result in fewer students taking introductory philosophy courses.
At present, we do little more by way of recruitment than pass out some literature about majoring in philosophy in the intro classes, i.e, a boring sheet that tries to explain what you can do with a philosophy major. To do even that was an innovation of mine when we took over as chair—I can call it boring because I wrote it. This year, I'm going to ask people teaching intro to give me the names of promising students so that I can write to them directly about the major. I'm also thinking about a pizza lunch to which I can invite these potential majors so that they can meet some of the faculty. None of this is very creative, clearly, and I'm very keen to hear about what other departments are doing to draw students into the major.