How hard to become adjunct teacher of philosophy?
March 24, 2008 12:23 PM   Subscribe

My formal educational background/profession is in a different area, but I would be interested in teaching a seminar on spirituality, comparative religion, and philosophy at a university. I've studied these areas informally. Anyway, I want it to be mostly a participatory, discussion-oriented class, not one where I pass down my knowledge from on high. How hard would this be to do and how should I go about doing it -- esp. at a well-known university like, say, NYU? I don't need much if any compensation.
posted by Malad to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Without a degree, you have 0 chance.
what's your real motivation? do you want to teach? go to a community center.
posted by k8t at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, teaching is my exact motivation. So what kinds of community centers could I teach at in, say, New York?

How about community colleges or lesser-known universities -- are they as picky?
posted by Malad at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2008

yes. without at least a master's degree and teaching experience, even a community college will turn you away. especially in new york, which is crawling with unemployed phd's in philosophy and religion.

you might have a shot at your church or synagoge, or maybe some kind of community center, but even then it's unlikely you'll be taken seriously without some proven expertise in your field.

probably the best thing to do is get some articles published in a respected journal or two, to serve as some sort of informal credential.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2008

Teaching classes in subjects you've studied "informally" is precisely not what universities are for. In many humanities fields (like comparative religion and philosophy; as far as I'm aware "spirituality" is not an academic field) there are absolute legions of Ph.D.-bearing candidates, often experienced teachers with significant published research, competing for teaching jobs at any accredited community college, college, or university. This is even more the case in a desirable location like New York.

What you want is not a college or university but a community center, senior center, afterschool, church or other religious or meditation center, Y, center for ethical culture, public library, or some other community-based group setting in which you can offer your class. There are lots of places like this, and being more specific about what you want to teach might help narrow the choices a bit.
posted by RogerB at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2008

The thing is, philosophy is a profession. Furthermore, philosophy is a profession that inspires a lot of quacks. Professional philosophers set up a lot of hoops and hurdles to ensure that they can keep themselves separate from, say, the timecube guy. Professional philosophers are extremely wary of non-professional "philosophers" who want to join the field--sure, it's insular and elitist, but that's just how it works. I don't mean to dissuade you too much, but the reality is that someone without a degree and letters of recommendation from other professional philosophers will not be taken seriously.
posted by Ms. Saint at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2008

What Ms. Saint said. And by coincidence, NYU has one of the most elite philosophy departments in the world.

Also, most philosophy departments in the US do not teach courses in general spirituality or related matters. There are schools of mysticism and meditation etc that teach courses in those kinds of areas, and I don't know if they require any kind of credentials.

The situation where you would be able to teach a university course with no formal degree is if the university/college is absolutely desperate to get staffing and cannot get qualified people to teach. That situation might arise in an isolated rural area, or a subject matter that's really obscure and you happen to know (eg if you were a native speaker of an obscure language you could teach a course on that language without academic credentials). It emphatically does not arise in New York City, where there are unemployed philosophy PhDs waiting tables. (One other situation would be if you are a once-a-generation genius in a field like logic, where your proofs speak for themselves. In that case you could get by without credentials. I'm guessing just by statistics that this is not your situation.)

In a situation where you were qualified: To apply for a job as an adjunct, you would email the department chair and ask if they need adjuncts for X, Y, and Z courses that you are ready to teach; you would attach your CV to the email. If you got a positive response (and you might get no response at all), it might say yes, send a paper CV and cover letter to the department and we will get back to you about an in-person meeting. (Specifics depend on department.)

Also, teaching one-off courses as an adjunct (what you would be if you were hired to teach but were not part of the tenure-stream faculty) is extremely poorly paid work. Like $2000 or less for a semester course. (You mention that you don't need much compensation, so I want to offer a rounf figure of the best-case scenario compensation that you could get for this.)

But - happily - what you want is not to teach a course. It sounds like you want to lead an open-ended discussion of texts or ideas. You can do this at many community centers (call around); you could also just put up a sign in your local coffeeshop advertising a guided discussion group of Text X, meeting at such-and-such a time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2008

Malad, take this seriously, have you thought of preaching or becoming a pastor or minister?
posted by parmanparman at 1:30 PM on March 24, 2008

Philosophy is one of the most over populated group of PhDs without jobs, by the way.
Also, as an adjunct you'll probably not be given a choice of classes to teach.
posted by k8t at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2008

While I agree with all of the answers about how unlikely is the possiblity of teaching a subject for which you have no academic training, I will give an example of how I was able to do exactly that. I was a regular, ongoing adjunct in my discipline at a university that had a "first year experience" seminar program. The goal of the seminar was for students and faculty to explore a topic together that was outside of the faculty member's discipline. I taught in the program for about 7 years and was able to run 16-week seminars on all of the topics outside of my discipline that I ever wanted to teach.

The caveat is that I have a graduate degree (though not in the subjects I was teaching) and I had a pre-existing relationship as an instructor with that university.
posted by hworth at 1:51 PM on March 24, 2008

I know your OP mentioned "a university," but what about leading a seminar/ discussion group at your local community center, church, after-school program, or in an otherwise volunteer capacity? You may get the kind of dialogue you're looking for, and participate in your community in the process.
posted by nkknkk at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2008

(...which is what RogerB said. Sorry!)
posted by nkknkk at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2008

Your only real options are to become a motivational speaker, found a cult or write a book first. Then, you will have opportunities to lecture at places like the Learning Annex, Open Center, etc.
posted by Maias at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2008

Another choice is to move to somewhere very remote. If a town of 10,000ish in Idaho is in the cards for you, you might have a chance to teach a seminar. I say 10,000 because you've got to be somewhere big enough to have a technical college, 2-yr school, or community college. So move somewhere with a Wal-Mart and you've got a chance, I'd say.

You've got to go somewhere you're in demand. And New York is already full of people with opinions / hobbies (sorry, snarky!).
posted by zpousman at 4:05 PM on March 24, 2008

Imagine if your question said that you had done some informal reading about evolution and you want to find a university where you can become an adjunct professor in biology. Sounds hubristic, doesn't it? That is how college administrators will read your request.
posted by painquale at 5:02 PM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: Great, this has been very helpful so far. Thanks.
posted by Malad at 8:17 PM on March 24, 2008

There's a thing around here (Charleston, SC) called "Socrates Cafe," where people get together to discuss philosophy. I've never checked it out, but it sounds like fun. If what you're really looking for is an open-ended discussion of philosophical topics. Something like this might suffice. Or you might consider starting your own philosophy reading group. You might advertise in your local alternative weekly and/or college newspaper.

But the teaching thing is out, unless you have a degree in a closely related area and find a department desperate enough for teachers that they'll write an "alternative justification" for having you teach. At a junior/community college, you'll still need a master's degree in the discipline even to pick up some courses as an adjunct. And you'll find that, in some departments, even at the junior colleges, many of the full-timers will have Ph.Ds.

However, I had a friend who was about nine tenths through with an MFA in poetry that he'd decided never to finish. He put together some classes at the local public library and had a little writer's circle going, with himself as the teacher. So, there are some avenues in which you might be able to teach, but it would be strictly informal teaching and probably for free.

Better idea: start a blog/site/podcast and share your knowledge with the net. You'll likely reach more people that way, and no credential is required.
posted by wheat at 9:20 PM on March 24, 2008

Wheat's mention of the Socrates Cafe is pertinent, and there is a populist philosophy movement encouraging philosophy cafes in general. These would be very good options for you.

Teaching at a university without graduate qualifications and publications is very unlikely. Academic philosophy is a highly competitive field, and to be given the opportunity to teach philosophy in an institution requires professional qualifications which you don't have.

However, keep in mind that *academic* philosophy is not the only form of philosophy. Many great philosophers did not teach in universities at all. And there is no reason, given your aim of a participatory, discussion-based format, why you should focus on pursuing your goal in an institutional setting. In fact, such settings often actively discourage the kind of exercise you're contemplating.

Philosophy as a public, participatory practice is not philosophy as is usually practiced at universities. It should be, but it simply isn't. Yet that sort of thing is in many respects more in keeping with what most people find to valuable and inspiring in philosophy. Moreover, if you're bright, thoughtful, sincere, and really do want to explore the intellectual territory as opposed to preaching about your pet theories or reiterating some form of naive sentimentalism, then you'll probably find that professional, academic philosophers will be well-disposed to something like a philosophy cafe and may well be tempted into participating themselves, and in that regard you'd be doing a genuine service for the field. (It can become wearisome for a philosopher to philosophize only in the usual academic settings -- most of us are philosophers because we love the activity of philosophy, not because we love its contemporary institutional format.)

So I would strongly recommend that you look into participating in or starting your own philosophy cafe. You and the other participants can learn a great deal and can have fun discussing and working through philosophical topics. It may be the case that you'll get to do more philosophy than you would in an institutional setting anyway!

So go for it!

(Please do feel free to email me if you'd like to talk about this further.)
posted by alaaarm at 6:47 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

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