Amongst my duties as Director of Studies in Philosophy atOxfordUniversity’s Department for Continuing Education is to set up each year’s programme of philosophy courses. All our courses are open to the public, and it is important that they represent a broad and varied programme covering as many different topics within philosophy as I can manage.
This can be quite a challenge. It involves organising tutors to do weekly classes, both inOxfordand outsideOxford(places like Gerrard’s Cross, Stokenchurch, Iver andReading) and allocating tutors to our ten online courses. I have a panel of just over 30 part-time tutors who between them span an impressive array of specialisms and competencies. But every year there’ll be about 5 of them who do not want to teach because they have another job, they’re finishing a thesis or a book, or they are abroad for some reason. Luckily there’ll be others who are desperate for work: being a jobbing philosopher is certainly not the way to become a millionaire. I am very conscious of exploiting their wonderful willingness to go that extra mile. The programme is like an intricate jigsaw and it is always a relief when I finalise it and send it to the administrators.
I next have to identify speakers for our weekend schools. I do this by looking at who has recently written a book and then inviting them to come and speak on the topic of their book. This sometimes works. Once I have a couple I look at the programme as a whole and wonder what other subjects will complement the ones I have. Having identified speakers and secured an affirmative response to my invitation (not always easy), I must then persuade them to come up with lecture titles, reading lists and biographies at least a year before they think it is necessary. This is because, as they’re lecturing on a public programme, we must advertise widely and well in advance. Each year we have 7 weekend schools. Next year they’ll range from The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (Luciano Floridi) to The Philosophy of Literature (Peter Lamarque of York, and Eileen John of Warwick). I always find that as I write the blurb for the leaflets, my own appetite is whetted: The question of why we become so involved in the lives of fictional characters, for example, really is interesting it seems to me. (I have been reading Trollope lately, and I was completely delighted when, in the Little House at Allingham, Alphonsus Crosbie got his comeuppance!)
Then finally there are the summer schools. The same panel of tutors comes in handy here. But I also have a few tutors who have done summer schools for years though they do no other teaching for us. I can see why. It is quite an indulgence to be able to spend a week on a topic that fascinates you. The students adore their summer schools and they work really hard. Many of them come from overseas, and for some it is their first time in the magical city ofOxford. It must be lovely: after 25 years I still get a lift in the heart from the sun’s striking the golden city stone.
If you haven’t been to any of our classes, have a look on the website: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/results.php?search=philosophy&submitbutton=Search&multisearch=single&search_startdate=Starting+on+or+after+%28date%29
It doesn’t matter where you are – if you are overseas, the online courses and the summer schools are ideal. It would be lovely to have you join us!