One student writes with a series of questions that may be worth answering publically; I intersperse my answers and comments:
Student: "I just read your Leiter Report post on the philosophy job market. It is reassuring to know that candidates from top-5 programs still have a good chance of landing a tenure-track job. How fast do these odds diminish as you move down the ranking scale? For example, how do the odds of top-10 or top-20 graduates compare to those of top-5 PhDs?"
Leiter: It's hard to give a general answer, since while there is a quite strong correlation between faculty reputation and job placement, it is not perfect. Fortunately, most departments now post job placement data, so it is possible to do some checking. But bear in mind that a faculty with a relatively weak overall reputation may nonetheless have areas of real strength, where its graduates are routinely employed. (An example would have been Texas, which was not in the top 20 overall until fairly recently, yet almost all graduates in ancient philosophy got tenure-track jobs, many at research universities, going back to the 1970s.)
Student: "I'm also curious about the prospects of an excellent graduate from a merely adequate program. The admissions cliche is that top-ranked PhD programs reject several highly qualified candidates for every student they accept. Statistically, one would expect at least a few Princeton-caliber applicants to end up in lesser programs--whether by bad luck in admissions, seductive funding packages, or strong desire to remain in a particular region. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that students should think very carefully about doing a PhD anywhere besides the very top programs."
Leiter: I didn't mean to imply that. But the weaker the PhD program, the more carefully a student needs to think about the decision to attend. The prospect of becoming an "invisible adjunct" goes up at a less reputable program. That was the only point I wanted to make in the original posting.
Student: "PhD program strongly predicts marketability, but academic ability strongly predicts where an applicant is likely to get in. So, the placement records of top programs are confounded by academic ability. How does your advice apply to students with high academic ability and poor admissions options? Would it be foolhardy for this type of applicant to attempt to prove their mettle in a respectable but undistinguished program?"
Leiter: This is tricky, for epistemic reasons: how can the student be confident in his or her "high academic ability" when he or she can not secure admission to any reputable (say, top 50) PhD programs in the US? This may seem like harsh advice, but my inclination is to think it is in the student's best long-term interest: if you are unable to get in to any reputable PhD program, you should take that as a judgment on your likely success in academic philosophy. A reliable measure of "high academic ability" in philosophy is that at least some admissions committees consisting of professional philosophers at reputable PhD programs judge the student to be someone worth admitting and funding for graduate study.
UPDATE: Timothy O'Keefe (Philosophy, Georgia State) writes with the following sound addendum to the preceding:
"I think you gave good advice on the philosophy job market in your 5/31 posting. But here's one thing you might want to add (similar to a piece of advice already in the gourmet report):
"If a student is unable to get into the sort of Ph.D. program she'd like to get into (and with the sort of funding she'd like), she might want to consider applying to a good terminal M.A. program. This will allow her to shore up her philosophy background, polish a piece of writing as a sample, and get additional letters of recommendation. She may then be in a better position to reapply to reputable Ph.D. programs. From the POV of long-term success in the academic job market, I think a student would probably do better pursuing this strategy rather than going directly to a really weak Ph.D. program."
UPDATE: More on the general topic here.