United Academics represents tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure track, and adjunct faculty in addition to librarians, research assistants, post-docs, and other academic employees at UO. United Academics is a joint affiliate of the American Association of University Professors (www.aaup.org) and the American Federation of Teachers (www.aft.org). In addition to UO, AAUP and AFT jointly represent faculty at the University of Alaska, the University of Vermont, Wayne State University, and City University New York (CUNY).
A few days ago we published a letter from the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women to Penn State on Penn State's planned discriminatory violations of privacy rights. The Chronicle reports that "has dropped a controversial plan to levy a $1,200 annual fine on
employees who fail to answer health-related questions that many faculty
members called too invasive." The Chronicle reports that:
In addition, this week the chairwoman of the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Status of Women wrote a letter*
to Penn State administrators saying questions about female employees'
pregnancy plans were not only invasive but discriminatory.
"Penn State's health-care provider targets women employees by
imposing on them a special burden of disclosure about their sexual
intent," wrote Hilde Lindemann, a professor of philosophy at Michigan
State University. "Are male employees required to disclose their
intended sexual activity over the year?"
One small note: the university has not "dropped" the plan, but only suspended it (as the Chronicle's article makes clear); so vigilance is required. Meanwhile, congratulations to the employees of Penn State! And thank you to the APA and to Prof. Lindemann as well as her whole committee for your efforts.
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....
[Rachel McKinnon solicited this post from me. She should be blamed for any insights.--ES]
Refereeing a book manuscript for a university press can be a daunting enterprise. If you don't watch out, it can be very time-consuming (some of us should be kept off the streets--you know who you are). Crucially, the norms that apply are not entirely clear. For example, if you find an invalid argument on p. 275, it might, after all, be worth repairing given all the other riches. But what if you find lots of problems (lack of citations, garden path arguments, etc), yet judge that the book will make a major contribution? Now, book-refereeing is rarely masked--referees nearly always know the identity of the author. Is there something to be gained to see the -- let's stipulate, dead-wrong -- views of, say, an influential PhD supervisor in print, rather than propogated in the works of the students?
More subtly, the interests of presses and the discipline do not coincide. Here's a concrete example: whatever you think of the substance of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, it is undeniable that it could have benefitted from more exacting refereeing. Leaving aside his engagement with the (philosophy of) sciences, it is undeniable that if Nagel had engaged with more recent
analytic metaphysics he could have given a far better and more favorable account of the
nature of the problem-space. But, of course, if it had been seriously revised in light of serious refereeing it would have been almost certainly less readable and, perhaps, less controversial; it might also not have read anymore as Nagel's last will to the profession.
Here follow some de-feasible considerations that might inform book refereeing:
1. [A] Your main job as a referee is to help an editor -- almost never a professional
philosopher -- figure out the significance of the book and anticipate how people
in the field might respond to it. [Bl Your duty to the profession is to uphold scholarly standards (quality, citation practices, etc.).
We sought ways around the gridlock of current debates over the role
of religion in public life by examining the way an early 18th century
philosopher and theologian had responded to similar circumstances by
refashioning the concept of God to accommodate modern ways of thought.
The Australian Research Council’s panel of experts, acting on the advice
of independent specialist assessors, deemed it worth pursuing. On the
basis of its title alone, however, Briggs deems it “ridiculous”.
TO: David Gray, Senior Vice President
for Finance and Busines
Susan Basso, Vice President for
Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. Gray and Ms. Basso:
According to an article in the 10
September Centre Daily Times and the
15 September New York Times, a health
risk assessment questionnaire that is part of Penn State’s new employee
wellness program asks women employees whether they plan to get pregnant in the
next year. If the employee refuses to disclose this she is penalized $100 for
every month she fails to yield up the information.
By requiring women employees to disclose information about their sex
lives, Penn State violates their privacy rights and likely violates their
rights under federal law (Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title
IX, privacy law, and equal protection). Highmark, Penn State’s health care
provider, targets women employees by imposing on them a special burden of
disclosure about their sexual intent. Are male employees required to disclose
their intended sexual activity over the year? To avoid paying a fine, is a
woman employee forced to lie? And if she has no plans but becomes pregnant
accidentally, does that increase her insurance premiums?
In discussion at LGM, this well-known "infographic" (a term I loathe, though not quite as much as "webinar" -- but I digress) about the highest-paid state employees was criticized for implying that big time university athletic coaches get paid directly from state tax monies.
Below the fold I'll discuss that criticism and show what is the true public support to college athletics we need to think about: it's not direct state funds paying salaries of coaches, but it does directly involve faculty labor.
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.
make their teaching and research openly – even massively – accessible? Last
year, we discussed the ramifications of free access rather intensely in the
Amherst College faculty. The content of our discussions can provide food for
thought for faculty members at places facing similar decisions.
decisions: 1) we approved a web-available College repository for College
faculty members' article publications; and 2) we approved making Amherst
College Press an open-access press; but 3) we refused to accept MOOC proposals
from the Big Three: Udacity, Coursera, and edX.
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....
Hey, I'm not ashamed; it's an excellent analysis (html; PDF), data-mining US Department of Education figures to sketch administrative bloat in public universities. I'm not necessarily onboard with their treatment plan, but I like the diagnosis.
Pull quotes from the PDF on overall trends and on admin rent-seeking below the break. Plus further analysis from (Even The Liberal) New Republic!
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
At a banquet dinner in honor of Adam Smith's 300th birthday I ended up sitting next to the local Head of the Chamber of Commerce of the Fife (the region that includes Smith's birth-place, Kirckaldy). She complained that despite the economic recession and unemployment there were still plenty of jobs that could not be filled. I suggested maybe her members should pay higher entry-level wages; she insisted that the difficulty was finding conscientious people in her depressed area. On her telling too many kids did not have the bourgeois virtues of steadily showing up on time, being dressed in representative fashion, and good manners to engage customers. We found some middle ground that the area needed better vocational training (the banquet was hosted at Adam Smith college).
I was reminded of this because recently, Marcus Arvan proposed the following sales-argument to recruit more philosophy majors:
The thing, though, is this: the assumption that seems most causally responsible for all of this -- the assumption by students and their parents that a philosophy major is a "bad deal" -- is patently false. Philosophy majors:
In short: we are useful, and we give students and parents what they want -- they just don't know it. If parents and students did know how useful a philosophy degree is, we just might be able to steer more students our way, have more majors, more donors, and more academic jobs.--Marcus Arvan
Different institutions are participating in this project, they already are part of the project: Various professors and students from the Humboldt University in Berlin, Eindhoven University of Technology, Radboud University Nijmegen, Utrecht University, University of Bern, Georg Simmel Centre for Metropolitan Studies, University of Luxembourg... and many more. [Emphasis in original--ES.]
Almost no names are mentioned except a certain "Sandra A.V. Vos", who seems hard to track down to a particular philosophy program; it seems a bit...opportunistic.
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."
"Failure to cite an earlier work with the same subject matter, even
an important one, is not by itself research misconduct.".. it can certainly be argued that it would have been
an improvement for Deacon to find and cite Juarrero's Dynamics in Action,
or for Juarrero and Rubino to find and cite Brian McLaughlin, or for
Lissack to find and cite Deacon. But that is a discussion about
academic style and comprehensiveness, not plagiarism or academic
The Investigation Committee has exonerated Terrence Deacon by finding
that each of the allegations of plagiarism made against him are either
without foundation in logic or evidence, or are demonstrably false. As a
result, it is the responsibility of the University to make a concerted
effort to repair the damage done to a wrongly accused member of our
faculty. In the Internet age, when unsupported and demonstrably false
charges can be leveled against an individual and distributed directly to
hundreds of people via email and many thousands more through
websites, as has been the case with respect to Deacon, repairing
reputational damage is an extraordinarily difficult challenge. For that
reason, the University has taken the unusual step of writing this
narrative and creating a website where the investigation report is
posted and its findings are available to any interested individual.
Penn's State's new Health Care policies, which have been rolled out quietly in the middle of the summer, include an excessively invasive "Take Care of Your Health" plan that forces employees, by imposing a massive, $1200 a year surcharge, to submit to poorly and unprofessionally mass-organized blood tests and "biometric screenings." Included in this mandate is an additional mandate, requiring all employees and their spouses/SSDPs, to fill out an incredibly invasive "Wellness Profile" that, if taken, immediately shares ALL of the person's private medical information with WebMD, a third-party agency with a far from comforting record in the area of privacy.
Comments on this thread, which began as a discussion of accusations of tokenism against women graduate students, veered off into discussions of (the perception) of effects of AA on "the job market."
A couple of comments caught my eye. One (#34) was that "Your fellow graduate students are not your competition, they are your colleagues.... Unlike your faculty advisers, your fellow students will know what it's like to be a graduate student at this school at this time, facing this job market. And they will (or should!) also be an important part of your professional network as you do enter into the job market." Another (#37) was that "people born in the 80's already have a (fairly understandable) generational grudge against the baby boomers."
I want to make two points here, about when the post-PhD TT "job market" changed, and who competes against whom.
That's the closing line to this very important article from Matt Taibbi. Everyone in HE in the States (and in countries heading toward a US-like system) should read the piece. The take-away is something like this: "it's not the interest which crushes student loan debtors, it's the principal."
This is why the issue of student-loan interest rates pales in comparison with the larger problem of how anyone can repay such a huge debt – the average student now leaves school owing $27,000 – by entering an economy sluggishly jogging uphill at a fraction of the speed of climbing education costs.
One formal philosopher sees a bright future ahead:
First, from the point of view of the philosophy of science, data
science arguably does offer a new mode of inquiry insofar as we are now
routinely handling population datasets directly, or sample sizes so
immense that they behave like population data. In this setting,
inferential methods of statistical reasoning are used for an altogether
different task, namely, as a form of quality control for the direct
methods applied to these huge data sets. Second, there is now a
realignment of interests that will make for new bed fellows. The
fundamental needs of business and science resemble one another more
closely on this score than they have on practically any other in the
past, (with the exception of chemistry, perhaps) which means, among
several things, that some scientific innovations will come from
the business community. Third, one of the skills required by this
emerging field, in addition to statistical and programming savvy, is an
ability to synthesize results and, all at once, to convey the story and
the limitations of the story. This is something that formal/scientific
philosophers are particularly good at.
Last, but not least, as we see in the news, the collection and
storage of society’s “data exhaust” by governments and private companies
is easily repurposed for countless tasks, some for the public good,
others less so.--Gregory Wheeler.
Of course, down the road nobody should hold the technocratic philosophers accountable for their role(s) in serving the (commercial) surveillance state faithfully.
UPDATE: On Facebook I am being read as if I am accusing the personal integrity of all formal philosophers; that's unfortunate because (a) I am perfectly willing to believe that not all of formal philosophy is useful to the data-miners, and (b) I would prefer to generate a discussion about the potential abuses of philosophical technologies (rather than prompt 'not-me' reflexes).
The following three sub-fields are highly specialized: Ancient philosophy, seventeenth/eighteenth century philosophy, and philosophy of physics. The following sub-fields have a low level of specialization: metaphilosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of probability, philosophy of the social sciences, decision theory, and philosophy of race and gender. Highly specialized sub-fields tend to require extensive knowledge in some area beyond the typical training of a philosopher, and outside of philosophy proper.--Brad Wray.
Brad Wray, a Kuhnian-naturalistic philosopher of science, has mined the PhilPapers data with an eye toward "the degree of specialization in each area of specialization" in the discipline. (Wray is a bit too confident that this is a "representative sample of the profession;" I worry about selection and, especially, geographical effects; even so the numbers are pretty large (3,226 people in total and 1,803 'philosophy faculty or PhD') so that the results can be illuminating if used with caution.)
Wray: "The degree of specialization of an area is a relative measure of how specialized a particular area is" and is calculated as follows: "The number of people who claim the area as their primary area of specialization/The number of people who claim the area as an area of specialization." I have posted a chunk of the abstract, which contains the core results, in the epigraph above. One of Wray's finding would not have surprised Adam Smith: "an analysis of the data suggests that the size of a specialization is correlated with the degree of specialization."
Wray's crucial result (which seems to have been explored at the prompting of a referee) is this one: "a high degree of specialization is the exception, not the norm in philosophical specialties. Many specialties seem to depend, to a significant degree, on the involvement of many who work in the area but who do not identify the area as their primary area of specialization." Of course, this says nothing about the way in which specialists set the agenda with a specialization.
Either way, this data suggests that there are still quite a few generalists in philosophy (it is amusing to me that I work in a 'specialist' area because us 'early modernists' cover two hundred years of systematic philosophy with ongoing discussions pertaining to M&E, value, science, and increasingly philosophy of religion). The question as to what degree Wray's pattern is born out by publication and citation-data is worth exploring in the future.
Jeremy Gilbert (see also Monday's post) writes on the relation of social media networks and individualism; below the fold some reflections on his essay for the philosophy profession.
On the one hand we have a social logic which tends towards the promotion of egalitarian collective creativity. On the other, we have an ideology which demands that we remain commited to the liberal individualist obsession with our private, interior lives and our separability from all other beings. It insists that the outputs of all such creativity - and even the condition of possibility for those outputs - manifest themselves only as forms of private property: from the ‘transferrable skill sets’ which we ‘sell’ in the labour market [*] to the carefully-defined pieces of intellectual property that are the substance of the ‘knowledge economy’.... [**]