Philosopher Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) writes:
It seems to me that there are lots of reasons to be deeply suspicious of the area rankings here. BL and FW point out plenty of weirdnesses, and one could cite way more. Since there are no faculty lists published, one can't judge how accurate the starting data was, and there are reasons to suspect that some of the information used is not very current. For example, the advisory board contains dead people, and some of the rankings are only comprehensible if you assume that out of date information about who is in a department and available to supervise students was used. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to check for this type of source of error.
But I am much more concerned with the 'climate for women' rankings. We have no idea who answered these questions, how many responses there were for each department, exactly what questions they were asked, why we should believe the people who answered them had any good basis for an opinion, or why we should think, if they do have a strong opinion about a department, that they can serve as impartial judges of it. Nor, again, do we have any faith that the information they were working from was current.
This matters a lot because (a) the climate for women matters a lot, and (b) there is no obvious competing source of information. When it comes to departmental quality, we can each consult the Gourmet Report (and weight it how we like), or check the faculty list ourselves and do some strategic googling and reading. But when it comes to something as amorphous as 'climate for women' all we can really do is look at this list, or draw upon the lived experience that comes with being in a department for a long time.
There's a substnatial risk to female students if a department is listed as recommended, but in fact has real problems that respondents didn't know about or weren't willing to admit to. The potential damage to departments listed as problematic is obvious, and we just can't tell how strong the evidence for that listing was. There's also what I think is a serious and unfair risk to departments that may have a really good climate for women, and may be struggling very hard to attract female grad students, that get left off the list altogether just because the respondents didn't happen to have the kind of personal relationships it takes to know what's going on there.
To give just one example: My institution (Georgetown) isn't mentioned at all on this list, as either good or bad. In fact, I have been in several departments during my career and I am amazed at how wonderful the climate is for women here. We have 8 women on the faculty, 7 of whom are tenured senior faculty. We have a thriving community of female grad students, and regular course offerings on feminist and feminist-friendly topics. We have regular workshops and working groups on gender issues in philosophy - and many men in the department voluntarily make it a priority to participate in and even organize those. Collaborative work - often across traditional subdisciplinary boundaries - is exceptionally common in the department, and routinely includes women. The department is remarkably harmonious, supportive, and friendly. Our retention rate is good, faculty-student interaction is high, mentoring is taken seriously both formally and informally, and people are just generally happy.
But we are not on the list, and I suspect this is just because, quite understandably, none of the people who happened to be asked to rate departments were in any position to know what life is like on the ground here. And why should they? No Georgetown people were asked to give their opinion. On the other hand, I know of plenty of examples of women who have found the climate challenging at various departments on the 'recommended' list.
In sum, I think this list is not only untrustworthy but potentially damaging. I hope that people will subject it to critical scrutiny and not just let it earn some sort of status as official information.
Thoughts from other readers about the section on 'climate for women'? Signed comments only: full name in the signature line, plus valid e-mail address.