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03 January 2012


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Anon A

" virtue of its existence as a robust metric." The PGR is neither a metric nor is it robust.

This does not mean that it is useless and random. It is simply a misused, and misunderstood, confection.

Eric Schliesser

Grant for the sake of argument, that it is a robust metric.

Reinhard Muskens

I can't help thinking that a little more focus on "interdisciplinary fields of inquiry with widespread interest within and outside the academy" would be very good for philosophy as a discipline. Maybe the metrics you are referring to and, in general, external pressure to (a) make clear what we are doing and to (b) engage with the intellectual pursuits of other people are a blessing in disguise?

Eric Schliesser

Reinhard, as somebody who engages in interdisciplinary work with economists and with special focus on policy science, I share part of your sentiment. But we are both employed in a grant environment where there is almost no research funding for un-applied philosophic inquiry. It is something of a scandal that you (and your intellectual friends) have remained silent over this.

L. A. Paul

One way in which the PGR rankings can be extremely useful is that they can be brandished to Deans by savvy department chairs looking for support. Since the PGR has an empirical basis and is a much better instrument for evaluating philosophy departments (and especially areas of specialization) than anything else out there, one can go to the Dean and make a compelling case that, say, the department needs more support for area x or needs more graduate student fellowships or what-have-you. Deans like numbers, and in an environment with limited funding it puts the chair of the philosophy department in a much better position relative to the chairs of other departments (who are also clamoring for resources) who have nothing empirical to back up their testimony.

So, I really like the way the PGR can be used to support departments: the value of this should not be underestimated or overlooked. In addition, one must not forget that PhD applicants who do not come from mainstream departments need the resource. Those who did not come from privileged backgrounds need access to the information that privileged applicants get via word of mouth.

Don't get me wrong: rankings can have bad effects too, e.g., entrenching reputations that are no longer deserved. But the good effects may outweigh the bad.

David Wallace

At least in the UK funding environment, there's a distinction to draw between

(i) the criteria used to award specific grants (which inter alia pay for research-only staff and for research leave for teaching staff)
(ii) the criteria used to award general research-support funding (which inter alia pays the core salaries of teaching staff).

I have the impression that the bulk of non-interdisciplinary philosophy research in the UK (and possibly the bulk of philosophy research simpliciter in the UK) is funded through (ii), i.e. indirectly, through the research carried out in vacation time (and normal sabbaticals, if you get them) by teaching staff. (Notice that in philosophy, like some of maths and theoretical physics but unlike in most of the sciences, the cost of research is basically staff costs.)

I don't have a deep point to make here, except that I suspect the pressure for interdisciplinarity in the two funding streams is often different.

Eric Schliesser

I agree that the positive effects you describe really exist. (And I would add that I suspect that such positive effects have moderately raised salaries in the philosophy profession among a certain class of beneficiaries--not bad at all!) Nevertheless, I worry that we may not be attentive to possible bad effects in the long run. But, of course, this is no more than a hypothetical concern.

Eric Schliesser

Yes, at the local level many fine-grained discussions need to be made! (For example, the funding regimes in Flanders and the Netherlands while superficially similar turn out to be very different in practice.)

L. A. Paul

I agree that it is worth reflecting upon. Two things that come up for me when reading your post. First, since the PGR rewards departments with excellence in traditional areas of philosophy, perhaps it acts to counterbalance the way that FSM rewards applied areas. Second, since the PGR only ranks the top 50 or so Phd granting departments, it isn't clear to me how it could be used to support the elimination of departments, since being unranked by the PGR is certainly not evidence of not being a good department. Lots of excellent departments are unranked, and I think it would be hard for administrators to make the case for eliminating a department simply because it wasn't in the top 50, or because it didn't grant the PhD. (But I'm not an administrator, so perhaps my thinking is wrong on this. I'd be interested in any anecdotal evidence one way or the other.)

Eric Schliesser

My post meant to acknowledge your first point. So, yes, PGR may well counterbalance other FSM. Second, maybe elimination of departments may be too strong a consequence. Maybe more realistic would be to use persistent low or non ranking in the PGR as an argument to move from PhD granting status to, say, MA granting status? (That might indirectly also cause fewer lines to be devoted to philosophy departments.)

N.J. Jun

Perhaps it is worth asking ourselves what constitutes "the philosophy profession."

In the United States, there are hundreds of philosophy departments and programs collectively employing thousands of philosophers. Only a small percentage of these are research-oriented graduate programs, and an even smaller percentage are ranked in the PGR.

If the American "philosophy profession" consists of all the philosophers actively working in the United States, then my sense is that rankings are mostly irrelevant within the philosophy profession at large, for obvious reasons.

In the short run, I suspect Professor Paul is right that rankings are marginally helpful to some research-oriented graduate programs. But will they prove helpful in the long run? I doubt it. At best rankings prove that other philosophers think highly of your program. What will happen when the administrators and bureaucrats come to regard philosophy as an enormous waste of resources? At that point the opinions of other philosophers won't matter very much, will they? That day has already arrived for some smaller departments. It make take awhile to arrive for the NYUs and Princetons of the world, but it is most definitely en route...

Reinhard Muskens

Hi, Eric. My intellectual friends and I hardly think of our work as being "applied" and in fact the usual criticism is that it is so damned theoretical! It's nice to be perceived as being on the side of the winners, though. At least for once.

I don't think that the applied/non-applied distinction is what really is at stake here. Grant agencies (at least NWO here in Holland) are interested in interdisciplinarity (but I have seen quite a few projects in the humanities that---quite deservedly---got nice grants but weren't interdisciplinary at all). Interdisciplinary work obviously does not necessarily mean applying things to other things.

All the same, I really think that hooking up philosophy to other and more general interests is the way to go for the discipline, intellectually, but also in terms of legitimizing it to the rest of the world. If grant agencies are going to help that come about, power to them.

Eric Schliesser

Philosophy does not get legitimized to the rest of the world by emphasizing inderdisciplinarity.

David Wallace

Suppose some dean/provost did indeed propose moving a philosophy department from PhD granting status to MA granting status, based partly on persistent low or no ranking in the PGR. Is that particularly problematic in itself? Presumably not all universities should have Philosophy PhD programs, and in making an assessment in a particular case, PGR ranking looks like it could be a legitimate - albeit defeasible - component of an overall argument.

Eric Schliesser

I did not say that it would be illegitimate. But a permanent down-sizing of the number of research-focused philosophy departments may create a vicious cycle (of the sort that geography experienced for a while).

Eric Schliesser

I am more optimistic about the future of professional philosophy.

N.J. Jun

I'm just saying that a day is coming when philosophy departments will have to fight like hell to keep their doors open, and appealing to PGR rankings isn't going to help. I hope I'm wrong, but the evidence suggests otherwise, especially where I'm living.

warm and fuzzy

"One way in which the PGR rankings can be extremely useful is that they can be brandished to Deans by savvy department chairs looking for support."

Are you thinking of a case in which the chair wants to convince the dean that P and the PGR rankings "support" this goal by being evidence that P?

"Since the PGR has an empirical basis ..."

In what sense? For example, if having an empirical basis means nothing more than being a function of some thing that is potentially observable, then I don't see why your "empirical basis" distinction is of any significance since reading the tea leaves would also qualify.

"is a much better instrument for evaluating philosophy departments ..."

Please explain the sense in which it is better. It seems as though you are hoping to clarify matters surrounding the evaluation of philosophy departments by making assumptions about how to evaluate instruments for evaluating philosophy departments.

Anon A

Very reasonable points, W&F.


Look, I agree that W&F makes some reasonable comments in reply to Professor Paul, but I think that we can conclude that she has her reasons for not continuing the conversation and we should respect that. I do think that it would have been interesting to hear Professor Paul's response, as I'm told that she is the same person who is mentioned in Glymour's manifesto. I think that if the community has concerns about the PGR, whether they are questions of the sort raised by W&F or calls for the release of the raw PGR data so that it can be examined by the community, the concerns should be directed to Professor Leiter.

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