Ten days ago a new site was launched, “A User’s Guide to Philosophy Without Rankings.” The response to the site has been extremely rewarding. Not only have there been thousands of visitors, people are using the Guide as I had hoped: they are visiting sites that are mentioned in the Guide to learn more about graduate programs, as well as the PGR. A comment on Reddit’s philosophy page regarding the Guide sums up an important reason for the site:
“Thank you so much. I'm going to be applying next year and this is exactly what I'm looking for after I heard all of the controversy about the PGR.”
I want to thank colleagues who have begun to send in resources to post on the site. And I want to make a request: please send more! Like the new philosophy wikis, the Guide is in part an aggregator of information. The more information, the more helpful it can be. Please do weigh in. You can email me about the Guide at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the site.
As most readers probably know, the 2014 Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), a "Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy in the English-Speaking World," was recently published; the rankings purport to be "primarily measures of faculty quality and reputation." Mitchell Aboulafia has done a series of postings analyzing the 2014 PGR. If Aboulafia's analyses are accurate, which they seem to me to be, they show why the rankings produced by the 2014 PGR ought not to be relied on.
Some might think that some of these problems are at least partially the result of the September Statement. However, the editors of the PGR made the decision to publish the report and seem to stand by it, so the reasons behind the problems (whatever they might be) seem beside the point.
...is online! It merges the different lists hitherto available with specific underrepresented groups within philosophy and for different areas into a single directory. From the description:
The UPDirectory publicizes information about philosophers who are members of traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy. The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the work of philosophers who belong to underrepresented groups within the discipline. [...]
For the purposes of the UPDirectory, traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy include women philosophers, black philosophers, Asian philosophers, Latina/o and Hispanic Philosophers, Indigenous/Native philosophers, LGBTQ philosophers, and philosophers with a disability, among others. [...] Inclusion in the directory is primarily a matter of self-entry.
So, philosophers belonging to one or more of these underrepresented groups: go add yourselves! And everybody else: go check it out! Make sure you use this amazing resource next time you plan a conference, an edited volume etc.
We're talking about rankings this week. (Do we talk about anything else, any more?) While we're doing so, I'd like to encourage everyone to read and meditate on this extraordinary post by Kate Bowles, which takes off from the heartbreaking story of Professor Stefan Grimm, "a senior UK academic who has died after being put on performance management for the insufficiency of his research. He was 51."
The piece is a meditation on the professional culture and the emotional world, all too familiar, that almost inevitably surrounds not just a death like this but also any number of other real abuses which we have become all too capable of overlooking, if only by virtue of their excessive familiarity. It bears, heavily, on rankings, and the uses to which they are put. But it also calls us out for the way in which we participate in, and facilitate the whole process. As a tease, I'll simply leave folks with these two paragraphs.
Some days they will also drive each other for you. They will whisper about each other, and turn a blind eye to each other, and not quite find the time to act on their own secret critical thinking about any of it. They will also surreptitiously maintain each other through care and coping practices and shrugs in the corridor and exchanged glances and raised eyebrows in meetings and Friday drinks that become chronic, secretive drinking problems so that they can get some rest without writing emails in their heads at 3am.
In fact, if you get the scarcity, intermittency and celebratory settings for occasional reward just right, then the toxic alchemy of hope and shame will diminish their capacity for solidarity, and they will keep the whole thing going for you, in the name of commitment, professional standards, the value of scholarship, academic freedom, the public good of educational equity.
A graduate student in my department, Shawn Miller, has created a wiki for graduate programs having faculty who specialize in philosophy of biology: philbio.net It gives an at-a-glance overview of schools and faculty, with links to websites, CVs, and PhilPapers profiles for individual faculty. The wiki thus serves as an excellent springboard for those who are researching graduate programs in philosophy of biology, both Ph.D. and terminal M.A. As the wiki notes, "The primary intended audience is prospective or current graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology who want to get the lay of the land by seeing who works where, and on what."
Some important features of the site:
Anyone can edit the wiki, with or without an account. Faculty and students are encouraged to add listings and update listings.
The criterion for program inclusion is just that a philosophy (or a history and philosophy of science) Ph.D. program have at least one full-time faculty member who self-identifies as a philosopher of biology.
On the main page, faculty specializations can be listed and willingness to work with new students can be indicated. Programs can also create a separate page that lists further information about the program, such as lab groups (see UC Davis's entry for an example).
I would encourage others to update this site and help make it a useful resource, and to recommend the site to prospective graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology. I would further encourage those who work in other areas of philosophy to create similar sites to facilitate prospective graduate students in doing the sort of deep research that an important decision like applying to graduate school calls for.
By now, many readers will be aware of the events which have unfolded around Cheryl Abbate, a Ph.D. student and instructor in Philosophy at Marquette University. Those who are not up to speed should read this excellent post by Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous. Briefly, Ms. Abbate has been the subject of public, political attack by an associate professor of Political Science at Marquette, John McAdams, concerning matters that took place in her classroom, after class, and in a subsequent meeting of the class.
Leaving aside the highly problematic evidentiary basis for Prof. McAdams' claims (the report of a single student who had attempted to record Ms. Abbate covertly and without her permission, and had lied to her when confronted about what he was doing), and the extent to which McAdams' version of events seems to have misrepresented what took place in material ways, there can be no question that it is categorically inappropriate for a senior faculty member (or indeed any faculty member) to publicly attack a graduate student over what happens in his or her classroom, regardless of whether that student is in the faculty members's own department.*
The fact that Prof. McAdams' intervention has, rather predictably, led to Ms. Abbate becoming the subject of a number of gendered attacks only exacerbates the wrong here, which is certainly a matter of principle as well as of consequences. But it does make it even more urgent that Marquette should address the situation and do whatever is necessary to offer Ms. Abbate support.
In the same spirit, many of us throughout the philosophical community have sought to express our support for Ms. Abbate and our dismay at the conduct of Prof. McAdams. Justin Weinberg has suggested writing the provost and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette. John Protevi has taken that suggestion up in the form of an open letter, to which he invites others to add their signatures. Keeping in mind that a public wrong needs to be countered publicly, I am posting this, here, to further express my support—and I invite others here to add their names in the comments should they wish to do so.
A few years ago, I read the Philosophy Smoker on a regular basis. In the comments threads, several job seekers complained about older professors who didn't retire. If only they finally went away, more tenure lines would become available for junior people. In a provocative essay, professor emerita Laurie Frendrich argues along similar lines. She argues that professors have a moral duty to retire. The reasons why they don't, she argues, are largely self-serving: the large income of a senior faculty member, the pleasure of teaching: "Professors approaching 70...have an ethical obligation to step back and think seriously about quitting. If they do remain on the job, they should at least openly acknowledge they’re doing it mostly for themselves."
Unlike in the US, where the mandatory retirement age of professors at 70 was lifted in 1994, European professors are still obliged to retire when they reach a given age (usually between 65 and 67). It is certainly a good thing that tenured lines eventually open again and younger academics can step in. But does that mean that older professors in the US also have a moral obligation to step down when the time comes? For one thing, many tenured positions aren't being replaced by junior tenure lines but by contingent (VAP, adjunct etc) positions. Also, pension schemes were gutted during the 2008 and following years crisis, which made it financially precarious for older professors to retire.
I agree high retirement ages are problematic, but I disagree that individual older professors have a moral duty to retire. If the total effects of scrapping the pension age for professors are negative, that should be a reason to reintroduce mandatory pension age in academia in the US, but it does not put the burden of that decision on individual professors in their late 60s or older. Let's look at some of the main arguments Frendrich offers:
I've written before about the question of boundary policing in philosophy, occasioned at the time by a remarkable essay of Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman's. It's a question, and a habitual tendency within the discipline, that certainly continues to deserve our attention.
In the same spirit, I want to call readers' attention to an essay that Adriel Trott has published today on her blog. The piece is subtle and quite complex, beginning with four anecdotes and developing from there into a meditation on what it would mean to stop policing the borders of philosophy—but also engaging a series of related—and urgent—questions. How can philosophy remain attentive to the singularity of different sorts of experiences? How can philosophy embrace the insights of intersectionality? What, especially in light of these first two questions, might it mean to do philosophy while resisting the drive to universalize or ontologize? And how do we deal with the ever present danger of appropriation or colonization involved in our attempts to theorize or conceptualize what is at stake in lives at the border, even if we have given up attempting to police those borders?
The essay is carefully composed and deserves to be read on its own terms. But as a teaser, I will leave readers with this short section from Trott's conclusion, about which I will add a few remarks below the fold.
I am only just now coming to see that changing the way we think about philosophy in order to make it more inclusive means making those of us who are happy with the way the thinking in philosophy currently operates uncomfortable and not-quite-at-home with philosophy.
There are two important posts up today elsewhere in the philosophical blogopshere that deserve your attention—both of which raise the question of how those of us in the profession at large can support those members who, because of activism or simply their social position, are vulnerable to various official and non-official forms of retaliation.
Above the fold, I will simply point readers to the Open Letter of Support for "for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims" published on DailyNous by John Greco, Don Howard, Michael Rea, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Mark Murphy: and to NewAPPS emeritus blogger Eric Schliesser's more concrete suggestion about how to address the retaliatory deployment of legal means against complainants. Both pieces deserve to be read and reflected upon.
In what follows, I'll say a bit more about my sense of the importance of both pieces, and the larger phenomenon of retaliation against those contesting the inequitable state of the profession.
I just got back from the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Chicago, held in conjunction with the History of Science Society. My co-chair Holly Andersen and I knew we had better-than-ever attendance for the 5th PSA Women's Caucus Breakfast, but after counting the names on the sign-in sheet, I can report that we had 83 attendees! (mostly women, plus a few welcome supporters). We didn't get to all of the items on our packed agenda, but there was some serious energy in the room, and hopefully we can really get things done in the next two years. Thanks again to the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science and individual donors for sponsoring.
I don't know if anyone else noticed (and maybe I shouldn't point it out), but Saturday was a good day for philosophy of biology. Helen Longino is finishing her term as PSA President, to be succeeded by Ken Waters; Helen also won the PSA Women's Caucus Prize for Feminist Philosophy for her recent book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality, while Elliott Sober won the Hempel Award. Congrats to all.
My own session, "Beyond the Lab Experiment," with Sharon Crasnow, Eric Desjardins, and Emily Parke (ably chaired by Chris Eliot) was one of the best I've ever participated in. At the end of it, I realized that all four papers sought to make positive contributions; none was a critique (not that I am against critique -- I think critique is important and have done it myself -- but sometimes it's nice to make forward progress without having to trash what came before). We had a half hour at the end for general discussion, and the audience used it appropriately, probing connections between the four talks that I was certainly too bleary-eyed to see. And speakers responded thoughtfully and openly to suggestions. It was a really positive experience and I got a lot out of it.
It was also announced that this was the largest PSA meeting ever. I think we still have work to do to increase the diversity of topics and attendees, but I know that work has been done in that area and that more is planned. The PSA is looking healthy.
There’s an important piece up at Inside Higher Ed today about a developing debate concerning whether universities should offer blanket indemnity to students who file internal harassment and assault complaints, as they regularly do for faculty and other employees. While the IHE piece is a news story, and so doesn’t take a position on the matter, it seems to me that the arguments in favor of extending automatic indemnification to student complainants are very strong.
You have to be a full professor, that’s what it takes. This is an entirely absurd, obsolete system – in particular in view of the fact that many PhD studentships are financed by external funding obtained by researchers who cannot be the official supervisors of these students (and who in practice do all the supervising work). The system is not only unfair; it is also nefarious for the functioning of academia in the Netherlands as a whole. (See a statement (in Dutch) by three philosophers and members of the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences – Ingrid Robeyns, Arianna Betti and Peter-Paul Verbeek – with nine objections to the current system.)
Reinhard Muskens, a very distinguished logician-linguist-philosopher at the University of Tilburg, has started a petition asking the board of his university to revise this policy and extend the rights to be the official supervisor of a PhD thesis to non-full professors. Muskens himself has attracted very large amounts of external funding in his long and fruitful career as a researcher, has de facto supervised a number of PhD students, but still does not have what is referred to as ‘promotion rights’ around here.
The following letter was adopted by the Northwestern University Philosophy Graduate Students by way of a vote:
As many in the philosophical community already know, sexual misconduct is a prevalent problem in the discipline. Our department is currently bearing the weight of its own controversy regarding sexual misconduct, and we fear that particular developments in the situation at our institution could have far-reaching consequences for victims elsewhere and going forward. After being accused by two different students of sexual assault, and being found responsible for sexual harassment by the university’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office in each case, a member of our faculty responded by suing (among others) the university, one of his colleagues, and, most troubling to us, a graduate student.
While some of the legal matters await final resolution, litigation itself raises new practical and ethical considerations. Anyone named as a defendant in a legal complaint will naturally be advised by her* attorney not to discuss the matter with others. The silencing effects for a student who is sued by a professor for alleging sexual misconduct within her university's own reporting procedures must be distressing: she will likely be isolated against her will from educational, professional, and personal support networks by someone who has proven willing to sue not only her, but also those who would support her.
Many instances of sexual misconduct go unreported, in large part because the risks of reporting are many and serious while the potential gains are very slim. The risks of further loss of community, of damaging actual and potential professional relationships, of not being believed, or of being reduced to how one has been treated, rather than being perceived as an intelligent, talented, and valuable individual and member of a community, already deter victims from reporting. Add to these risks the possibility of being named in a lawsuit (and the consequent potential for financial ruin if not indemnified) as well as having personal information and details of a traumatic experience made public, and the hazards are substantially multiplied.**
The pursuit of this legal strategy and its silencing effects should be troubling to the philosophical community. Suing a graduate student for filing an internal, and otherwise confidential, sexual misconduct complaint is intolerable. If the legal strategy implemented by this faculty member is treated as acceptable, it is not only injustice to our fellow graduate student that is at stake--though this is a substantial concern in itself. The implications for victims going forward, within the profession and otherwise, are staggering. Treating such an approach as acceptable effectively amounts to accepting those implications, as well as silence for ourselves. It should be noted that even if a faculty member feels that their due process rights have been infringed upon, and even if no university grievance process is available, there are other courses of action available under, for example, Title VII and Title IX. Consequently, we feel we must vigorously repudiate this legal tactic and provide vocal support to those whose voice would be taken from them.
One necessary step to adequately supporting victims is opening up communication between administrators, faculty, and graduate students, both within departments and across them. We hope that the discipline’s internal conversation regarding sexual misconduct will continue, that it is honest yet sensitive to issues of vulnerability and power dynamics, and that we do not avoid confronting discrimination and exclusion because we are too concerned with privacy to do anything at all. When we act as if privacy concerns cannot be appropriately balanced with substantive communication, we only exacerbate the stigma that victims already feel. The fact that philosophy departments have become a central battleground for rights to non-discrimination in academic settings is a result of a collective failure on the part of our discipline, and as such will require collective action to rectify it. We hope this letter will serve as a small step towards that end.
We admire our fellow graduate student for her strength and bravery and are proud to share an intellectual home with a colleague who is both uncommonly brilliant and courageous. We stand with her, and in support of victims everywhere.
*While we are using the feminine pronoun, this is applicable to persons of any gender.
**Here, we do not mean to claim that personal information need accurately be made public. Unfortunately, whoever initiates a legal complaint has the advantage of being able to make public a narrative of events that indeed need not be accurate, or even approximately accurate, unless it is to prevail in court. When filing a motion to dismiss, a defendant does not have the opportunity to dispute matters of fact. This only underscores our concern about the impact this new precedent may have on victims.
In a forthcoming paper, John Schellenberg forwards the following argument: anatomically humans have been around 200,000 years. That's a very short span of time for any species, and only in the past few thousand years ago have we been reflecting on the world around us. If we our species survives even as long as Homo erectus did, we've only completed a very small part of a potentially long future of thinking about religion, metaphysics and other matters.
At present, philosophy of religion in the analytic tradition is quite narrowly focused:
"in the west – and I expect I am writing mainly for western readers – philosophy of religion has been largely preoccupied with one religious idea, that of theism, and it looks to be moving into a narrower and deeper version of this preoccupation, one focused on specifically Christian ideas, rather than broadening out and coming to grips with its full task."(p. 3).
Theism, in a generic, omni-property sort of way, is one position that philosophers of religion commonly defend. The other is scientific naturalism. These seem to be the only games in town:
"most naturalists too assume that theistic God-centered religion must succeed if any does. Naturalism or theism. These seem to be the only options that many see. The harshest critics of religion, including philosophers such as Daniel Dennett, seem to think their job is done when they have, to their own satisfaction, criticized personalistic, agential conceptions of a divine reality." (pp. 3-4).
At the end of 2013, I conducted a qualitative survey (summary here, but I am writing up the paper presently) among philosophers of religion. Next to a series of open questions, there was a question for open feedback. I was quite surprised to see so many philosophers of religion openly lament the lack of subject diversity in their discipline. Just a few choice examples written by anonymous respondents:
John Protevi, founder and emeritus member of New APPS, has posted an "October Statement." By signing, one states one's opposition to the ranking of philosophy programs, whether in the form of the current PGR or in some other revised form. The statement contains links to those who have offered reasons for taking such a position.
Protevi seems to have found a second statement to be necessary because he thinks that the September Statement implies that ranking systems confer a (net) benefit on the profession. I don't think that it implies any such thing, and in a comment over at the Feminist Philosophers blog, Daniel Elstein nicely sums up why:
I guess what we should try to remember is that it’s really hard to write a statement that pleases everyone. People who support (PGR-style) rankings and people who oppose (PGR-style) rankings can (and should) agree that it is worse if Leiter is PGR editor than if he isn’t. The phraseology in the September Statement that seems to irritate ranking opponents is clearly there to reassure the ranking supporters that signing on is compatible with supporting (PGR-style) rankings. Ranking opponents should recognise that it is a good thing if all those who oppose bullying (including ranking supporters) can sign a unified statement, and so interpret the relevant parts of the statement charitably. The problematic sentence could be read: “With a different leadership structure, the benefits [that some attribute to] the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.” That’s true, right? And it’s all that the authors will have intended.
That being said, I do understand why some might share Protevi's interpretation and for that reason not feel comfortable signing the September statement. I would encourage those who feel similarly to sign the October Statement, while also pointing out that it is consistent to sign both statements (as I have done).
Folks, there is a new initiative underway to 'change the face of philosophy.' (It was brought to my attention by my Brooklyn College colleague, Serene Khader.) I urge all of us to get behind it.
For nine years, PIKSI, or the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, has been helping students from underrepresented groups develop the skills, confidence, and community needed to pursue graduate study in philosophy. Our students include women, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and people from economically disadvantaged communities.
PIKSI aims to change philosophy's status as the least diverse in the humanities. Only 16% of full-time academic philosophers are women. Of the 13,000 professional philosophers in the United States, only 156 are black. The experiences of members of diverse groups can cast new light on traditional philosophical questions as well as raise new ones.
PIKSI needs funding:
PIKSI has traditionally received two sources of funding. The program is housed at the Pennsylvania State University’s Rock Ethics Institute, who together with Pennsylvania State University School of Liberal Arts, have pledged to continue their partial financing of PIKSI, conditional upon funding from a partner organization. Until recently the American Philosophical Association (APA) has co-funded PIKSI, but beginning 2014, this is no longer funding we can count on.
Rarely, if ever, does the term 'intellectual property' add clarity to any debate of substance--very often, this is because it includes the term 'property' and thus offers an invitation to some dubious theorizing. This post by Alex Rosenberg at Daily Nous is a good example of this claim:
Locke famously offered an account of the justification of private property, one that Nozick brought to our attention in Anarchy, State and Utopia. The account worked like this: morally permissible private property begins with original acquisition, and that happens when you mix your labor with nature, and leave as good and as much for others. Alas, this “Lockean” proviso is impossible to satisfy. Or at least it is in every original acquisition other than the case of intellectual property. Here one mixes one mental labor with nature—empirical facts about reality, including social reality. Since there are an infinite number of good ideas, the creator of intellectual property leaves as much and as good for others, and therefore has an unqualified right to what he has created.
Brian Leiter’s ownership of the PGR satisfies the most stringent test of private property I know. It’s his creation and he excluded no one else from mixing his or her labor with nature to produce a substitute for or for that matter a complement to his creation.
In light of this fact, the effort to separate him from his intellectual property owing to disapproval of his emails and posts seems rather preposterous.
It has often been proposed--most notably by Richard Stallman, free software's most fiery proponent-that the term 'intellectual property' be junked in favor of more precise usage. That is, when you are tempted to use the term 'intellectual property' use 'copyright,' 'patents,' 'trademarks,' or 'trade secrets' instead. Doing this would enable immediate grappling with the precise nature of the issue at hand--in each named domain there are separable legal and policy issues at play.
Over the past three years I have collected and reported on placement data for positions in academic philosophy. (Interested readers can find past posts here at New APPS under the "placement data" category, two of which have been updated with the new data, severalpostsatProPhilosophy, or the very first post on placement at the Philosophy Smoker.) This year, placement data will be gathered, organized, and reported on by the following committee of volunteers (listed in alphabetical order):
Over the next academic year, we aim to create a website, which will be parked at placementdata.com. This website will include a form for gathering data, a searchable database, and reports on placement data. Until that time, I am suspending updates to the Excel spreadsheet, which contains much of the data used in the past few years, plus the updates I have received over the past few months. (Many thanks to Justin Lillge for incorporating the bulk of these updates into the spreadsheet!) When the website is ready, departments will be able to update their placement data through an embeddable form. Stay tuned for these links in the coming months!
Marcus Arvan, of The Philosophers' Cocoon, had the idea of running a graduate student survey. This was something that the five of us had already talked about (and Justin Lillge had some preliminary work on this), so we have invited Marcus to join us in this project. He has posted s0me initial ideas here. Please do contribute to the discussion if you have insight!
My association with her goes back some twenty years, when I first began my graduate studies in philosophy as a non-matriculate student at the CUNY Graduate Center [in the fall of 1992]. My first class was ‘Social and Political Philosophy,’ taught by Professor Held. [During our first class meeting] on her reading list, I saw four unfamiliar names: Carole Pateman, Susan Okin, Catherine MacKinnon and Patricia Smith. Who were these, I wondered, and what did they have to do with the ‘public-private distinction’ (the subtitle Virginia had added to ‘Social and Political Philosophy’)? As we were introduced to the syllabus, Professor Held skillfully handled some questions: Why were these readings on the list? Why not the usual suspects? I was impressed, of course, by her deft location of feminist philosophy in our canon and its importance in exploring the public-private distinction, but I was even more impressed by the grace and firmness that she displayed in dealing with contentious student interlocutors.
I want to add a little more detail to this story--as well as a little follow-up; your mileage may vary with regards to your assessment of the topicality or relevance of these embellishments.
There have been lots of discussions on the PGR (e.g., here), especially on its leader, Brian Leiter, including a poll on whether the of 2014 should be produced. Regardless of the outcome of this, I think we can already start considering alternative ways, independent of the PGR, to provide information for prospective philosophy graduate students.
Ideally, such information should should not be primarily about rankings of quality. Quality is a complex concept that is vulnerable to biases and enforcing the status quo. We should rather provide prospective grad students with clear measures of placement rates and places where they could study the topic of their choice. Perhaps any type of ranking will be problematic. We could just provide descriptive info on a wide range of topics, e.g., where are places to study experimental philosophy, continental French etc. One can give that info *without* giving an overall rank of perceived quality.
The methodology by which placement rates are made and by which assessments of strengths within departments are made should be empirically informed by the social sciences e.g., in its selection of experts who make these assessments
Collecting and dessiminating this information shouldn't be in the hands of one individual but shared responsibility. I originally thought it was something the APA, or perhaps a task force consisting of people from the APA, the AAP etc could do, but I am now not so sure whether this is a good idea. PhilPapers+ seems like a good place to host the information, especially given that prospective graduate students will already be familiar with PhilPapers
It would be nice to expand information for prospective graduate students to non-Anglosaxon departments. There are lots of grad students outside the English-speaking world who could benefit from lists of placement records and specializations of faculty members outside the US, UK etc.
It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.
We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.
In the course of a discussion on Facebook begun by a colleague’s thoughtful and nuanced reflection on the kind of rankings we might want to have in the discipline, I was moved to offer an objection to the idea of ranking departments at all. I think it stands outside that particular discussion, so I’d like to reproduce it here.
I have, basically, two reasons for thinking that the practice of ranking departments is unwise and likely to be harmful:
1) Rankings devalue the work of an awful lot of folks and, perhaps more importantly, provide the various agents of forces within the institution that may be hostile to the discipline (and to the humanities more broadly) a ready excuse to claim that most philosophy departments at US universities (or at least at research universities) aren’t worth the investment they require to maintain. Given the way we have seen some such people abuse metrics of any sort (no matter how questionable said metrics might be), I find it difficult to understand why we insist on producing one ourselves.
2) It should be evident by now that the problem of determining acceptable ranking criteria in a pluralistic discipline is tremendously fraught and has proven to be very resistant to a solution that is broadly acceptable.
Instead of rankings, I think we should be moving towards a model where we collect and maintain as much up to date information about the various programs out there as possible. The discussion I mentioned above had already produced some really wonderful thoughts on what such a ‘database’ of programs might contain, and how it would benefit the various constituencies in the philosophical community. Indeed, as Justin Weinberg notes in one of his early posts at Daily Nous, part of what has been very valuable about Brian Leiter’s effort is that it has facilitated the broad circulation of key information about the profession that had previously been difficult to access for many people, including prospective students. Surely that sort of transparency is something we want, no matter what else happens going forward, to preserve and enhance—and which the various responsible parties in the profession should be working hard to foster.
One may be forgiven for thinking, on reading Brian Leiter's diatribe against identity politics and the danger it poses for academic philosophy, that there is a swell in 'consumer demand' for expanding the philosophy curriculum in questionable directions and for the wrong reasons. To clarify: the 'consumer' in this case is graduate students dissatisfied with the lack on engagement on the part of Anglo-American philosophers with non-Western philosophical traditions. Or so the story goes.
So Leiter asks: "should we really add East Asian philosophers to the curriculum to satisfy the consumer demands of Asian students rather than because these philosophers are interesting and important in their own right?"
The reality is that there is no such large-scale demand, certainly not in top graduate programs, because one could not have gotten in by announcing one's intention of working in Indian or Chinese philosophy. That is not to deny that there hasn't been talk of opening up the discipline to non-Western traditions and perspectives (more on this below). But even the advocates don't think it can be that easily accomplished (not, at least, through curricular reform alone). Rather, the sense is that some change in the demographics of philosophy departments would have to take place for cross-cultural philosophical reflection to become the norm. Alas, we are a long way from that.
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
It seems apropos to introduce a small point of order: New APPS is a group blog, which means that there are many authors here and we all speak for ourselves--and only ourselves.
A case in point would be my strong disagreement with Jon Cogburn's post below. I find it to trade in a series of unfortunate false dichotomies: 1) between valuing or appreciating ability and seeking to avoid speaking in a way that may be hurtful offensive to people with disabilities, or which marginalizes them; 2) between recognizing that illnesses (mental or physical), injuries, or other afflictions are real sources of suffering and seeking to avoid speaking about people suffering from such conditions in a way that marginalizes, delegitimates, hurts or excludes them; and more generally, 3) between being able to express oneself adequately or take joy in life and seeking to avoid harming others carelessly or thoughtlessly, especially where they may also be subject to various systems of marginalization, delegitimation, or exclusion.
I also disagree with Jon's suggestion that some of our former bloggers were wrong to push as hard as possible for the development in the profession and among those who engaged with us here of a much greater degree of sensitivity and care with respect to how we speak about folks who have historically been marginalized, delegitimated, and excluded by the profession and by the history of 'Western' philosophy.
I expect many readers to be following the ongoing debate, prompted by a poll run by Leiter last week, on the (presumed) effects that blogs have had for professional philosophy, both at the level of content and at the level of ‘issues in the profession’. (Roberta Millistein weights in at NewAPPS, and I agree with pretty much everything she says; another summary at Feminist Philosophers.) Now, there is a sense in which I am personally not in a good position to have an opinion on this, simply because I haven’t been around long enough to know what it was like before, and thus to be able to draw an informed conclusion. But I can say that my very process of becoming a professional philosopher (not so much content-wise perhaps, but in terms of deciding on the kind of professional I wanted to be) was considerably influenced by reading in particular the Feminist Philosophers blog. Also, I won’t deny that my career as a whole has tremendously benefited from my blogging activity at NewAPPS and at M-Phi, both in terms of the opportunity to discuss my ideas with a larger number of people than would otherwise have been possible, and (more pragmatically) simply in terms of increased visibility and reputation.
But obviously, my individual experience (or that of other bloggers) is not what is under discussion presently; rather, the question is whether blogs have been good for the profession as a whole. This, however, is obviously a multi-faceted question; it may for example be read as pertaining to the quality of the scholarship produced, to be measured by some suitably ‘objective’ criterion. (As a matter of fact, I do believe that blogs have been ‘good’ for philosophy in this sense, for reasons outlined here for example.) But it may also pertain to the overall wellbeing of members of the profession, in which case the putative effect blogs will have had could be conceived of in terms of a simple formula: for each member the profession (I is the set of all professional philosophers), estimate the net gain (or loss) in professional wellbeing by comparing their situation before (wb) and after (wa) the advent of blogs; add it all up, and divide the total by the number of members considered.
Here are some reasons I have found philosophy blogs to be beneficial; here I include New APPS (so my bias is obvious), but my comments here are not limited to New APPS, by any means.
First, while I had heard stories here and there of sexism and exclusion of other underrepresented minorities, they seemed like isolated incidents. One could brush them off as the occasional jerk, and think that we didn't need to worry about them as a profession. Because of philosophy blogs, it has now become abundantly clear that we do need to worry about the treatment and the exclusion of women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who are LGBT, etc. And we have started to see changes in the profession to address these longstanding problems.
Second, philosophy blogs have provided a way to share and discuss issues in the profession that aren't directly related to exclusion, but are important to discuss anyway. My recent post on methods for anonymizing papers is a small, if unexciting example of that.
Third, philosophy blogs have provided a way to disseminate news and information (e.g., statistics).
Last but not least, philosophy blogs aren't just about the profession; they are also about philosophy. They have provided a format for wider dispersal and discussion of philosophical issues. This couldn't have come at a better time; philosophy had been becoming increasingly siloed. I think it's still pretty siloed, but blogging has made connections between philosophers that wouldn't have occurred otherwise and let philosophers know about work that they wouldn't have known about otherwise.
Of course, we can all think of postings on philosophy blogs that we found objectionable/harmful or comments that we found objectionable/harmful. On balance, I still think they have done more good than harm.
Google the keywords “academic” and “mother” or “motherhood”, and you will find various websites with discussions about the baby penalty in academia for women. Representative for this literature is an influential Slate article by Mary Ann Mason, who writes “For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer. And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high price. They are far less likely to be married with children.”
As an untenured mother of two children, I find these reports unsettling. When my second child was born, several women who are junior academics approached me to ask me if it was doable, or how I managed to get anything done. They wanted children but were scared that it would kill their careers. How do children impact one’s work? This got me thinking that it would be good to hear the stories of philosophers who did manage to combine a flourishing academic career with parenthood.
To this end, I interviewed seven tenured professors who are parents. Six of them are mothers, but I decided to also include an involved father. I aimed to include some diversity of circumstance. Some of my interviewees have very young children whereas one respondent has grown children, she had them in a time when being a mother and a professor was even less evident than it is now. One of my interviewees is a single mother, who had her child in graduate school. One went to a first-round APA interview when her son was six weeks old, with a sitter in the hotel room. Two of my interviewees have special needs children, a fact that shaped their academic careers in important ways. I aimed also for geographic diversity—my respondents come from the US, the UK, Canada and The Netherlands—since countries and institutional culture differ in the formal and informal support parents receive, such as paid leave and childcare.
All papers are anonymously reviewed. Author's name, institution, or references pertaining to the identity of the author must be removed from the paper, abstract, notes, and bibliography. Papers containing such identifying references may be rejected.
There are at least two ways that one might remove one's identity:
One might leave in the references to oneself, but refer to oneself in the third person, e.g., "As Millstein (2009) argues, populations are individuals."
One might delete all references to oneself, e.g., "As I have argued elsewhere (reference deleted), populations are individuals."