Opinion: Philosophy and the Modern University System  


By Justin Currie, guest contributor


PC: Dakin Kane/ Flickr

PC: Dakin Kane/ Flickr

“What are you studying at school again?”
It’s the same every time. What am I going to do with it? Where will I get a job? Law, right? Sometimes I play along, other times I opt to defend my personal interest in the field, to the dismay of my company. But it is a troubling trend indeed to see philosophy being abandoned as a field of study—as both a major and through electives. The fact is that to most, university is nothing more than a means to an end. It will propel you into a real career; it’s necessary for success.

And if you’re lucky, it just might pay for itself.

Philosophy is the original academic pursuit. It has laid the framework for every field of study that has followed over thousands of years. Yet, the vast majority have little idea what it consists of, short of having maybe read about Plato in high school. Philosophy is also something in which everyone has some degree of knowledge through its emergences in other fields of study: film, music, and art.

It is a discipline with many categories, subcategories, and schools of thought—almost to the point where it can be exhausting. But at its core, it is inquiry. It is the quest for understanding, through critical thought, open-mindedness, and argument. To me, this is the very soul of academia. It is a means to open your mind to new ideas, new frameworks and new understanding. It is a field with no right answer, no end in sight. The reward is in the pursuit itself.

“What do you plan to do with a degree in philosophy?” I plan to make the most of my ability to think critically, to evaluate arguments and ideas, to open up new connections, and be part of the changes I want to see in the world. The bigger picture can be seen more clearly through the lens of critique. You get to refine your ability to relate ideas, and communicate them clearly and meaningfully. So I intend to use my education’s strengths to help my cause wherever I might find myself, be it in law, an NGO, teaching, or consulting. The options are endless. Philosophy has found homes in almost every field: theoretical physics, medicine, law, finance, technology and politics just to name a few.

So why are philosophy students so rare? Today our world is plagued with propaganda and advertising. The notion of a population capable of thinking is under attack, replaced by the perceived need for those who can produce desired results. All around me, students are only interested in their career opportunities, so they can make enough money to buy the things they’ve been told they need. At every level our education is under attack, because a less educated populace is easier to control and subjugate.

The problem of the modern university is two-fold. On one hand we face a growing struggle to produce employable graduates and receive more private funding as an institution. On the other, an increased student base allows us to receive more public funding. So, the quality of the students, and our education, continually decreases. All this is in response to decreases in public funding for universities, which is a core tenet of the current state of our governance—a Neoliberal Capitalism that thrives on increasing corporate profits and cutting social services.

The divergence from a place of education and research towards an institution run like a business puts public debt into the hands of students. Our tuition increases by the maximum legal amount each year, and yet the quality of our education steadily decreases. Through this secretive process, the core schools of academia are being lost. The humanities like Philosophy and History, that are essential to higher education, are being cut because they aren’t profitable. This, like so much else in the world, is not okay.

Take a philosophy class! Use your electives to explore new fields. There are many exciting classes offered through Lakehead Philosophy Department. You just might be surprised how fun learning can be, when it isn’t treated as a factory. More exciting than Accounting, I promise.

Shameless Plug: The Lakehead University Philosophy Society (Philosophy Club) will be having a social at The Study, Tuesday, March 1 at 4 p.m. Come join us for pizza, coffee, beer and the most interesting conversations you’ve ever had!