In my experience at multiple different universities, both public and private, there is a sizable gap between the number of undergraduate students who are interested in philosophical questions and the number of students who ever take a philosophy class. As an instructor, I work to bridge this gap through recruiting new students, engaging with them, and matching their passions. Below I discuss each of these strategies in a bit more detail.
One of the most successful strategies I have used to recruit more students into philosophy classes is targeted outreach. For instance, my a class on law, political theory, and race I taught at UCLA, I made sure the class description was sent out the Critical Race Studies program and Criminal Law and Policy listserv. I also attended related events that were put on by the law school such as its series on “Visions for Reproductive Justice.” At these events, I advertised that my class would cover issues at the intersection of law, race, and reproductive freedom.
Recruiting students into philosophy is only the first step to ensuring their success in class. One tactic I’ve implemented to engage with each student in my class is what I call ‘bulk office hours.’ In bulk office hours, I concentrate my time at three critical junctures during the semester: the beginning of the semester, about one-third of the way through, and about three-fourths of the way through. The first of these three meetings is preliminary, and the second and third usually focus on the students’ writing. In my experience, bulk office hours not only allow me to get to know my students better, they also result in a more equitable distribution of my time.
Matching Their Passions
One of the biggest payoffs of engaging with each of my students personally is that I can tailor my assignments to their interests. For instance, if a student wants to pursue philosophy, law, or political theory in more depth, I suggest that they both submit drafts of their papers to me and revise their final papers in light of my comments. For those with more of a passing interest in the class, I let them know that it is fine if they simply submit complete and thoughtful papers. In addition, I distribute what I call “Engagement Worksheets” to accompany each reading assignment. For those who are very interested, the worksheets allow for an in-depth exploration of the author’s arguments; for those with less interest, the worksheets allow for a focus on the highlights.