This is part 3 of a 3-part series of interviews with philosophers who left academia right after grad school or in some cases later. See part 1 to see what jobs they held, and part 2 on how they evaluate their jobs. This part will focus on the transferrable skills of academics.
The burning question of academics who want to leave academia is: What transferrable skills can they bring to the private sector? The responses of the seven people I interviewed clearly indicate that the skills that are transferrable are broad and fairly high-level.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series of interviews I conducted with seven philosophers who went on to a non-academic career after obtaining their PhDs. For more background on these philosophers, the work they currently do, and the reasons they left academia, see part 1: How and Why do they end up there? This part will focus on the realities of having a non-academic job.
One of the main attractions of an academic job, especially one of a tenured academic professor, is the autonomy (intellectual and in terms of time management) it provides. However, there are downsides as well: the increasing pressure to churn out publications (which some of the respondents already alluded to in part 1, lack of support, and isolation lead to mental health problems in some academics. So how do philosophers with experience in academia and outside evaluate the work atmosphere?
This is the first of a three-part series featuring in-depth interviews with philosophers who have left academia. This part (part 1) focuses on their philosophical background, the jobs they have now, and why they left academia. Part 2 examines the realities of having a non-academic job and how it compares to a life in academia. In part 3, finally, the interviewees reflect on the transferable skills of a PhD in philosophy, and offer concrete advice on those who want to consider a job outside of academia.
Does having a PhD in philosophy mean your work opportunities have narrowed down to the academic job market? This assumption seems widespread, for example, a recent Guardian article declares that programs should accept fewer graduate students as there aren’t enough academic jobs for all those PhDs. Yet academic skills are transferrable: philosophy PhDs are independent thinkers who can synthesize and handle large bodies of complex information, write persuasively as they apply for grants, and they can speak for diverse kinds of audiences.
How do those skills translate concretely into the non-academic job market? To get a clearer picture of this, I conducted interviews with 7 philosophers who work outside of academia. They are working as consultant, software engineers, ontologist (not the philosophical sense of ontology), television writer, self-employed counselor, and government statistician. Some were already actively considering non-academic employment as graduate students, for others the decision came later—for one informant, after he received tenure.
These are all success stories. They are not intended to be a balanced representation of the jobs former academics hold. Success stories can provide a counterweight to the steady drizzle of testimonies of academic disappointment, where the inability to land a tenure track position is invariably couched in terms of personal failure, uncertainty, unhappiness and financial precarity. In this first part, I focus on what kinds of jobs the respondents hold, and how they ended up in non-academic jobs in the public and private sector. Why did they leave academia? What steps did they concretely take to get their current position?
I hope this series of posts will empower philosophy PhDs who find their current situation less than ideal, especially—but no only—those in non-tenure track position, to help them take steps to find a nonacademic career that suits them. And even if one’s academic job is as close to a dreamjob as one can conceivable get, it’s still fascinating to see what a PhD in philosophy can do in the wider world.
Thomas Frank has a nice analysis up on Salon.com on college tuition and debts. In it, he points out that the crisis is of long duration, and people have been asking for more than a generation when the “college bubble” will burst. Along the way, he shows that a number of standard explanations (overpaid professors, insatiable student demand for gymnasiums, etc.) don’t make any sense, at least not on their own. His concluding point, though, seems vitally important. Here’s a good-sized chunk of text (with significant ellipses); I’ll follow with a couple of additional thoughts:
A few years ago in a discussion thread at Leiter Reports I was roundly pilloried for suggesting that universities would be better off if they went back to the system where university administrators worked part time and were appointed by faculty senates.*
But consider the takeaway from this article about university executive compensation during the great recession:
“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”**
How many people reading this got merit, let alone cost of living, raises during the three year period from 2009-2012?
While the average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent from 2009 to 2012, to an average of $544,554, compensation for the presidents of the highest-paying universities increased by a third, to $974,006, during that period.
Brian Leiter and Simon Evnine have already signed this letter from students at The University of Saskatchewan who are attempting to convince university administrators not to gut their humanities programs. The organizers are inviting people to add their signatures by sending an e-mail to email@example.com with your name and any relevant information you would like to share (institutional affiliation, education, etc).
It's a very nice letter, citing Nussbaum and Bromwich on the value of the humanities while still explaining to the administrators how fantastically bizarre it is to claim to be building a top research school while destroying the humanities. With respect to the proposed changes, the authors write:
Such poor definition entails that the university has failed in whatever duty of clarity it possessed. We know from reading the brief only that some future program shall exist, taking ‘the best parts’ from each of four programs: Religion and Culture, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies and Modern Languages. Forgive us if we remain sceptical of the virtues of such a combination. The attitude of presumption that must be required for university administrators to suppose that they, and not the cumulative force of tradition, are sufficient to develop a new program from the base materials of these four programs is beyond us, and our understanding. Most plausibly, the four programs shall be made into one ‘interdisciplinary’ program, which offers more upper-level classes than any of the four previous programs individually, but fewer than the four programs collectively. Most students, however, are not interested in a poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ program, but instead are interested in Modern Languages, or Philosophy, or Women’s and Gender Studies, or Religion and Culture. Most universities, considering applicants for postgraduate degrees, are not interested in students who have taken poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ programs, but are instead interested in philosophers, or linguists, with a thorough education in their subject.
Anyhow, please take time to read the letter and if you support it send in your info to the above e-mail address.
There’s a new piece up at TheAtlantic by Elizabeth Segran on the adjunct crisis in U.S. Higher Ed and the growing movement to contest the situation. The piece has a number of helpful aspects, including providing a summary of some of the most recent research on the effects of adjunctification on faculty, students, and the overall shape of the institution of U.S. Higher Education. Especially welcome is the recognition that, aside from its obvious economic consequences and its effects on student outcomes, faculty precarity has significantly eroded academic freedom, scholarly production, and done a great deal to compromise the university as an institution of learning and critical thought. This makes it all the more disappointing that the solutions the author seems most inclined to accept would only improve the economic situation of contingent faculty while doing nothing to make them less precarious or offer more support for research and scholarship.
In what follows, I’ll explain the above in a bit more detail.
In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
However, one additional factor needs to be put into the equation: undergraduate student-workers, who do lots and lots of service and clerical work: checking books out of the library, answering phones in department offices, and on and on. Marc Bousquet estimates in How the University Works that UG student-workers are the largest labor component, by number, at some big public schools.
Should they be part of the bargaining unit, or should the bargaining unit negotiate their work conditions and limits to the number of them employed relative to full-time clerical workers, is a good question, but one or the other is needed I think.
On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in a very long time....
Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit....
The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.
One of our issues in this strike is to take back decision-making power over the issues that matter to us — curriculum, teaching conditions, the distribution of monies, and the like. The administration is fighting ferociously to retain that power — since giving it up would in effect be returning it from management to workers.
This Slate article* about the recent Johns Hopkins plan** is symptomatic of a seriously -- and unfortunately widespread -- mistaken approach to the political economy of higher education, namely, a short-term and ahistorical focus on the TT section of the entire labor system, mislabeled as "the job market."
Abstracting for the moment from the details of the Hopkins plan, the article's premise that "there aren't enough [tenure-track] jobs for PhDs" is an unfortunate reification of the multiple decisions of university administrators to produce the current situation by their hiring decisions. The endorsed conclusion "therefore we should restrict the number of PhD students," by unquestionly accepting the premise, just reinforces the dynamic that produces the current situation.***
In the discussion that followed Anca Gheaus' guest post on the gender situation in the German academy, there was some mention of the fact that in many European job-markets, faculty searches are not truly 'open,' so that internal candidates are strongly preferred to those from outside the hiring institution. Clearly, when taken to an extreme—institutions becoming highly resistant to hiring anyone but their own PhDs and/or post-docs—such a practice can be very detrimental to any process of diversification within the academy. But I wonder if there might not be other situations in which an over-emphasis on 'open' searches is actually detrimental.
I'm thinking of the situation in the U.S. academy, where the norm is very strongly against not only hiring a department's own PhDs, but also hiring any currently employed non-tenure track faculty into tenure lines, or even adjuncts into full-time NTT lines. Given that the galloping precaritization of the professoriate as a whole is fast becoming a structural crisis, I wonder if it is not time to examine the possible merits of encouraging departments to commit to making at least a certain percentage of their full-time and TT hires from within the ranks of their current part-time and NTT faculty.
My six year old Thomas is reading Star Wars books designed for six year olds. He's actually very good at it, but he does consistently misread the word "universe" as "university." Since it occurs quite a lot in these books, he's constantly telling me things like the following:
My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.
I am a Jedi.
The Jedi are a very special group of beings.
For many thousands of years, we have worked to promote peace and justice in the university.
Michael Kremer calls my attention to this post by Alex Usher (itself a response to this one). The significance of the post is three-fold: (i) one of the big corporate players in MOOC (massive open online courses) world, Udacity, is changing its strategy from competing with traditional universities to focusing on corporate training--this is accompanied by very forthright commentary by one of the intellectual (and corporate) pioneers of the very idea of MOOC; (ii) the mainstream press is silent on (i); (iii) there is, in fact, no mechanism to keep score on the opinion-leaders of the mainstream press (who have by-and-large been cheerleaders for MOOC and their corporate sponsors).
Anyway, here is a generous excerpt from Usher's post:
There was a big story in MOOC-world last week, which the mainstream press has surprisingly yet to pick up on; namely, that Udacity, one of the three big corporate MOOC players, has just left the building.
Udacity, if you recall, was created by one Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist at Stanford. It was he who kicked off the current MOOC craze by opening up one of his computer science classes to the world, and then finding out that 160,000 people around the world had signed up. Thrun left Stanford to start Udacity which, along with Coursera and EdX, has been part of the Holy Trinity of the MOOC revolution.
Last Thursday, Fast Company Magazine put out a story (hagiography?) on Thrun, which contained some staggering statements from the man himself, including:
(on looking at data on drop-outs) “We don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product”.
(on providing remedial education) “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives… it’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit”.
(on the value of Udacity courses) “We’re not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you”.
From a guy who cockily said he was on the verge of finding a “magic formula” for education, and that by 2060, thanks to MOOCs, there would only be 10 universities, this is some funny stuff.
Philosophers should read this online issue of MLA Profession, since so far MLA > APA on professional issues. (Don't believe me? Check the date on this APA page.) Which doesn't mean it should stay like that; but it does mean we have a good model. Think of the leading folks writing on US HE issues: Bérubé, Massé, Newfield, Bady, Bousquet: they're all English folks. Let's fix that by developing a robust set of philosophers working on HE in general and philosophy work conditions in particular. IMO, these issues require us to drop the near-exclusivity of focus on the TT sector of the employment system, and to see it as one sector only. The last slides of this presentation tries to do that; the earlier slides are a stab at a brief historical survey. A conversation starter rather than a definitive statement.
There is a growing body of evidence that student evaluations not only 1) do not measure teaching effectiveness, and may well be negatively correlated with it, but also 2) that women and other visible minorities fare worse across the board on them. In other words, they're ineffective at measuring what they are frequently seen to measure and highly discriminatory in what they do measure.
The current state of the research is nicely summarized by Philip Stark in this post at The Berkeley Blog, which should be read in its entirety. Even having previously known about much of what Stark discusses, I was particularly stunned by the following:
• students’ ratings of instructors can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters
• the genders and ethnicities of the instructor and student matter, as does the age of the instructor
It's enough to make one wonder how we have allowed the practice of conducting these evaluations to go on for so long and why anyone takes them seriously at all.
One remarkable dimension of the story making the rounds about CUNY failing to pay some of its adjuncts is that these faculty are represented by a union. Approximately 400 faculty missed one paycheck, and 100 more than one. None of these faculty have yet been given their full back pay, nor will they until the end of the term. And their union representatives have, at very least, proven incapable of forcing the university to treat the adjuncts in a fairer and more reasonable manner.
It's worth dwelling on this for a moment. If ever there was a clear cut case for a strong union push, including for a union supported walkout, this is surely it. And yet, nothing. Not even an effective demand that the university absorb whatever supplemental costs may be involved in paying some of their most economically precarious faculty what they are owed in a timely fashion.
This situation is evocative of some of the ways that existing unions have failed adjunct faculty, and it raises some questions about how—or whether—things might improve in this regard.
An email landed in my inbox this morning about widespread non-payment of adjuncts in the CUNY system. I'll reprint it below the fold. IANAL, but those who are might want to comment on this in light of NY's "Wage Theft" law.
Here, though, read how Anthony Galluzo, one of those affected, describes his situation:
I'm supposed to be paid--finally--tomorrow, although classes started the last week of August. The explanation? Well, I was hired late--the week before said classes began--and there is a state mandated pay schedule. Fantastic. A system apparently designed with long term employees in mind, hence the glacial in-processing, even though it now runs on casualized permatemps hired at the last minute. This scenario was compounded by the fact that the secretary in the English department only submitted materials for one of my courses. I am teaching three. A fluke that happens all too often, as I've since learned from other adjuncts. Of the several adjuncts I talk to, I don't know one who was paid on time.
If you've been affected by non-payment, late payment, or partial payment, contact Debbie Bell firstname.lastname@example.org. To offer support of any kind, contact Jonathan Buschbaum. Below the fold, more details:
Speaking of placement, I can't get behind the paywall to this Chronicle article entitled "Scholarly Groups Chip Away at Taboo of Nonacademic Careers."
(This part should be read in a Troy McClure voice: "and I don't condone people sending me the PDF, because that would evade a key part of their business model.")
The headline seems off though, because for at least ten years now I haven't had any such "taboo" (and I don't think I'm exceptional here); my standard advice has been for grad students to prepare themselves for multiple job markets, academia being only one of them, so that if you don't get a TT offer, you are already prepared for non-academic fields. (To be precise, getting a TT offer only means moving from one sector to another in the political economy of philosophy instruction; TAs are *already* in the "job market.")
In fact, however, even that doesn't seem responsible, so starting this year I tell them that it's *academia* that should be their Plan B, that is, if you get a TT offer, sure that's great, give it some thought, but your primary plan should be the BGN sectors (business, government, non-profits). I also add in academic administration, too, because, hey, that's the growth market, right? No matter what I think of administrative bloat, I think I have an ethical obligation to counsel grad students as to all their career options.
[UPDATE: I have been unable to find any information on Andrew Carson, so I wonder if this is a real person or a pseudonym. I also hope that at one point the data will be released to interested parties, so we can check for accuracy; for all I know this is a hoax.--ES]
The numbers say....go to Yale, UMass, Amherst, or Northwestern! Andrew Carson (the person who crunched the numbers), explans the method here.
I haven't had a chance to look at his approach, so I will just report his bottom line:
If you are applying to graduate schools
in philosophy and are trying to decide which schools you want to apply
to or attend, and if you are concerned about your placement prospects
after graduation, you need to consider (1) how a school ranks in your
chosen specialty and (2) how well that school places students overall. You
cannot just rely on overall faculty rankings, for these bear no
relationship to how well a school places, although many will find these
rankings important for other reasons. What does appear to matter as far as placement is concerned is the school's ranking in your area of specialty. If it ranks well, then you have a much higher chance of getting a tenure track or permanent position in academic philosophy. And some schools just appear to have better placement rankings than others.
For example, both Northwestern University and University of
Massachusetts, Amherst are not ranked above a 3 in any category (except
Continental philosophy and Social and Political Philosophy,
respectively), but they have some of the best placement records.
Why is that? I wish I knew. That is a question worthy of further exploration...[Emphasis in original--ES.]
In my piece over at Inside Higher Ed, I argued that the
Figlio, et al working paper recently published by the NBER “does a great deal
to sow confusion" regarding the fact that the pedagogically effective NTT
cohort studied were not badly paid, part-time, semester-to semester 'adjuncts.'
One key effect of this
confusion is to obscure how the study, when its results are fully published,
will likely contribute further evidence for a positive correlation of faculty pay and working conditions to a range of student outcomes.
Lest we doubt the
effectiveness of confusing this issue, consider this piece by Cedar Riener that apeared today
on The Atlantic's website. Misconstruing the Northwestern study as showing that adjuncts are
better teachers than tenure-line faculty, the author argues that we should stop
studying “university salaries or labor practices” or trying to argue that pay
correlates to performance. Rather, he claims, we need to make a purely moral
argument for paying adjunct faculty better.
In other words, Riener is asking us to throw out some of the strongest arguments we have for
de-adjunctification in favor of one that is unlikely to move any administrator
or policy maker—let alone to advance the cause of college faculty of any
description in the larger political arena.
Our very own Ed Kazarian writes in Inside Higher Edhere. (Congrats Ed!) He nicely summarizes our earlier discussion here at NewAPPS (here, here, here), and shows with patience how the NBER economists used very misleading rhetoric in their piece. Kazarian calls attention to why their bogus rhetoric (tenure vs non-tenure) matters. I quote his concluding remarks:
[T]here is nothing about teaching-intensive faculty that is incompatible
with their being eligible for tenure — especially if one fully intends
to build long-term relationships with them and keep them around.
Why, one is led to ask, can we not have "efficiency" and tenure? The
answer, if there is one, must have to do with other ways in which
non-tenured faculty differ from those with tenure. The authors mention
academic freedom — an important consideration.
But they otherwise ignore the degree to which non-tenured faculty lack a
secure position from which to question, criticize, or oppose the
actions of university administrators.
And here, indeed, is another sense of "efficiency" that administrators
at many institutions might well wish to cultivate, allowing them to
enjoy a pedagogically effective, but largely vulnerable, and therefore
easily controlled faculty.
Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, "She was a professor?" I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.
Of course, what the case-worker didn't understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course....
I wrote the lead-author, David Figlio, of the piece that Ed and I have critically discussed. He responded promptly and helpfully to my questions (and piece). In particular, he emphasized that "by universal agreement, I was the only person to ever
handle raw data, so Morty [Schapiro--ES] could never see individual student or faculty
member names, or even departments." I quote the rest of his response in full:
We haven't yet controlled for
class size, but I am certain, given the Northwestern circumstance, that
what you propose won't be the driving force here. An initial view of
the distribution of class sizes between long-term lecturers and
faculty showed that they have a high degree of overlap. We are in the
process of trying a variety of additional sample splits; however, I can
assure you that every specification we attempted yielded the same
Prompted by Ed's excellent piece, I looked at the NBER working paper that undoubtedly will be used to undermine tenure at a variety of universities. It is worth noting that one of the authors of the piece is the current President of Northwestern University; undoubtedly this helped with gaining access to the data. But it also makes one wonder if, perhaps, there wasn't a directed search in the data. After all, one can get a bit too close to the subject studied. It would be nice if some independent statistician can obtain access to the raw data.
Monday, Inside Higher Ed published an article breathlessly reporting that a "major new study" [summary, pdf] conducted by three Northwestern professors for the National Bureau of Economic Research had shown that "new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors." Unfortunately, the uptake by IHE and others ignores the one salient fact about Northwestern's 'adjunct' pool that the authors let creep into one of their footnotes: "[a]lmost all classes taught by non-tenure track faculty at Northwestern are taught by those with a longer-term relationship with the university" (p. 9n8 my emphasis).
The study itself is flawed in other ways: 1) the narrow basis upon which these claims are grounded; 2) the authors' failure to consider specific factors about the faculty being studied, their relationship to the courses being taught, or the contracts under they were hired; and 3) the generalizability of the results being presented. Indeed, the authors' provide very little reason to think that 'non-tenure track' faculty at Northwestern are comparable to a similarly named group of faculty at other institutions. As such, the study provides a poor rejoinder to the large body of research that suggests that adjunctification is as bad for students as it demonstrably has been for faculty.
From the CHE. (This is not a critique of the ACA, dispute the attention-grabbing lead.)
Recent moves by colleges to cut adjunct hours in advance of the Obamacare employer mandate offer a reminder of why contingent faculty labor is the gift that keeps on giving to the corporate university: Not only do part-time adjuncts receive a fraction of the pay expected by full-timers for the same work; they also do not encumber the institution with health-care costs. A majority of today’s teaching faculty members are thus vulnerable not only to the first round of pink slips mandated by budget cuts but also to the predations of our health-care system....
But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.--Xenophanes
"Not all ethical issues are equally important. Many ethicists spend their professional lives performing in sideshows.
entertaining the sideshow, sideshow performers do not deserve the same
recognition or remuneration as those performing on our philosophical
What really matters
now is not the nuance of our approach to mitochondrial manipulation for
glycogen storage diseases, or yet another set of footnotes to footnotes
to footnotes in the debate about the naturalistic fallacy. It is: (a)
Whether or not we should be allowed to destroy our planet (and if not,
how to stop it happening); and (b) Whether or not
it is fine to allow 20,000 children in the developing world to die
daily of hunger and entirely avoidable disease (and if not, how to stop
it happening). My concern in this post is mainly with (a). A habitable planet is a
prerequisite for all the rest of our ethical cogitation. If we can’t
live here at all, it’s pointless trying to draft the small print of
philosophy departments should be restructured. The junior members
should cut their teeth on lesser subjects such as the mind-body problem.
As their experience, status and salary rises, they should increasingly
specialise in problems (a) and (b). By the time they have reached the
top of the tree, that’s all they should be doing. Anyone who wants to
spend their lives paddling around in the philosophical shallows, along
with Kant and Wittgenstein, should of course be free to do so, but
should realise that it will condemn them to a life of penury and
obscurity."--Charles Foster. [HT Ingrid Robeyns.]
Foster relies on the -- welcome to me (now that I am balding and greying) -- premise that philosophy has a very long apprenticeship. Let's grant this for the sake of argument and learn to ignore the purported boy-wonders in our midst (there might be other good benefits that flow from not focusing on them). Sadly, Foster does not suggests that ethical reflection requires considerable schooling in life--a point I have long been more partial to. Foster unabashedly endorses [A] a practical conception of philosophy; in fact, in the post he relies on [A] as a tacit premise because while at first he only speaks of "ethical issues," "ethicists," and "ethical cogitation," his conclusions involve the organization of philosophy an sich. This is why Foster's really important ethicist reminds me of Xenophanes' cattle and horses and lions. Foster's post (and the subsequent discussion) is primarily useful for posting what is often said sotte vocce,
especially in contexts where philosophers need to prove their
usefulness. Blessed are those who work in an environment -- primarily
rich private institutions -- where their philosophical lack of utility
President Obama has just released his
Plan to Make College More Affordable and the critiques have been coming fast and furious (for instance). A major feature of the plan is the requirement for collecting and presenting data on student outcomes; adding a requirement for faculty work conditions data would make this a much better plan. Here's how.
Much of the student data the President is asking for—graduation
rates, average debt loads and earnings of graduates, percentages of students
who pursue advanced degrees, and the income levels of students who attend an
institution—is already easily available and factors into many of the rankings
that are currently published.
But the narrow focus on student data elides the factor that may well count the most when it comes to
good student outcomes: faculty working conditions. As the slogan goes "the
working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students."