Much of Europe (and the world) may be in recession, cutting back on spending on the universities (among other services), but Germany has in recent years begun a major investment in its leading research universities, similar in ways to what Australia and Canada have also done in an effort to recruit or retain leading academic talent. My own university tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Rainer Forst, a leading German political philosopher (mentioned below), to the Political Science Department several years ago. Forst, as a leading international figure on the German philosophical scene, has received excellent support for his work. Detlef von Daniels, a philosopher at the University of Witten in Germany, invited me to share some observations about the effects of the new funding system. I've opened the thread for comments, though they will have to inclue a full name in the signature line and a valid e-mail address. His comments follow:
Meet the establishment: The future of political philosophy in Germany
Detlef von Daniels
Predicting the future is notoriously difficult. This also holds true for future trends in philosophy. However in the case of German philosophy, one trend for the next decade can already be predicted with near certainty. Regardless of social and political developments or international turmoil, political philosophy in Germany will be dominated by a blend of Frankfurt School and post-Rawlsian thinking. A constant stream of publications reflecting this line of thought will also be appearing in English language journals. The basis for this bold prediction is quite simple. In soccer we say money scores goals, and in philosophy we could similarly say that money makes propositions come true. The money comes principally from a major federal research initiative. As part of that initiative, what is known as a "cluster of excellence" has been established in Frankfurt (www.normativeorders.net) under the auspice of Rainer Forst and Klaus Günther. In addition, Rainer Forst has just been awarded a Leibniz prize, which comes along with another 2.5 million euros for research. Therefore, a research program with a specific bent will dominate the field of political philosophy.
[After some initial correspondence] Brian Leiter [invited] me to briefly explain how this development came about, what opportunities it might offer for Anglo American scholars, and what it means for the philosophical landscape in Germany. The establishment of the cluster of excellence goes back to an initiative launched six years ago by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research aimed at jump starting German "elite universities" by providing extra funds and pooling resources at a few selected places. Universities could enter a competition for federal funds by presenting ideas for graduate schools, interdisciplinary "clusters of excellence" and "future concepts" (university wide strategies to promote top-level research). The idea of nominating elite universities by state fiat (and setting up a "market" with only one "buyer") may sound strange to American readers. However, one has to keep in mind the framework of the German university system. All major German universities are public institutions and in most federal states, take in no student fees. Since attempts to introduce even modest student fees (500 Euro/Semester) proved politically unfeasible, universities still have to rely exclusively on state funding, which means they are chronically underfunded.
Until recently, the self-perception of universities was that all universities and all professors are equal by default. Thus, every professor of equal rank in Germany (speaking of the humanities) earned the same salary as a civil servant and had the same teaching load. One effect of the federal initiative was to dissolve this illusion. Universities started to focus on their strengths and to establish collaborations, while others were forced to realize that self-perception does not always translate into competitive success. Even if we consider only the events organized during the last two years by the cluster of excellence in Frankfurt (a much smaller "Graduate School of Mind and Brain" in Berlin is also funded from this initiative), the initiative can said to be a success. For the first time in years, there is a place in Germany with sufficient funds for regularly inviting international scholars to give guest lectures and join conferences. Professors can be attracted with reduced teaching loads and dozens of graduate students create a vibrant intellectual atmosphere. For Anglo-American scholars it means that Frankfurt will be the venue for a number of conferences, and there will be Ph.D. scholarships, postdoc positions and opportunities to spend sabbaticals. This is especially attractive for people working in the tradition of the post-Habermasian Frankfurt School, but some others might be welcomed to add "exotic" flavour.
However, concentrating resources on one field also has ramifications for the German intellectual landscape. Even though the federal initiative prescribes no explicit political aims, the way it is set up and the way the money is spent channels research in a specific way. Since the initiative is also being looked to as a model by other countries, it might be worthwhile to reflect on the changes it is bringing about. The initiative requires that all proposals be interdisciplinary, wide ranging, and include multiple collaborators. Moreover, research aims must be formulated for several years in advance and, since they are evaluated every five years, they have be formulated de facto in a way that assures success but always leaves room for the necessity of further research. Thus, someone like Derek Parfit would arguably not fit in any cluster, since his work is not interdisciplinary and does not require collaboration. Simply putting together different views that might be represented at a single university will not work, either. One might argue that the Harvard philosophy faculty of the 1970s, including Rawls and Nozick, would be the worst possible team to enter an excellence competition, since they would likely never have been able to agree on common research objectives. Including hypothetically Oakeshott and Skinner would make the case even worse. Thus, one ramification is that the idea of a university providing room for diverse and unorthodox thinkers is getting lost. Moreover, since research plans have to be fulfilled and people in the humanities are very bad at designing fake objectives (theoretical physicists admit that the SDI program worked for them as a financial shield for curiosity driven research) there is little room for irritations from the scientific community or society at large, as both would threaten the plan.
Therefore, the future of political philosophy becomes very predictable. In the Canteen News Network, one can hear complaints about the rise of a clone army or even about insider corruption. However, such insinuations usually come from people who fancy about building a cartel themselves, and miss the point that it is not people but "things," the institutional setup, the logic of collaborate research, etc. that "produce" the agenda. It is readily apparent, however, that no other university currently has the resources to compete with a cluster of excellence so promising graduate students are naturally drawn to Frankfurt. As a consequence, all philosophical traditions that cannot be integrated into the new Whig history of the Frankfurt School will have difficulties getting heard. This applies not only to historical and libertarian traditions, but curiously enough, also to reflections about the dark side of Germany's past. Thus, the idea of a university with an extraordinary dream team faculty, like Harvard in the 1970s, or of a multitude of diverse intellectual centres will remain just an idea – in German terminology of course: a necessary idea of reason.
Excerpts from a recent Philosophy Bites collection here. (The quote from me is actually my attempt to explain what Nietzsche meant by describing "genuine" philosophers as "legislators of value." Most philosophers don't do that, needless to say.)
This article poses the question in the context of a nurse who talked to the dying about their regrets. Readers? Anonymous comments fine on this one. I will moderate for content and relevance, of course.
Mitch McConnell is a rather notorious reactionary Senator from Kentucky. Brandon Look (University of Kentucky), recent winner of an NEH, shares the following funny story regarding his award:
Before I received official word, my wife Ingrid got a phone call in Kentucky, "Hi, this is Sarah [Something-or-other] from Senator Mitch McConnell's office. May I speak with Brandon Look?" -- Ingrid: "He's not here. And we're sick and tired of calls from politicians. We're not giving any money to anyone. Good bye!" -- "No, no, no, don't hang up! It's not about that. It's about the grant." -- "What??" Anyway, what a surprise: McConnell tries his best to ax everything of this sort; but if you bring some money back to the state, you get a congratulatory phone call.
Graduate students applying to US institutions, or non-Canadians applying to some Canadian schools, don't have the same chance for consideration due to budgetary constraints such as lack of tuition waivers for foreign students, etc. This is, in the cases I've heard about, a University-wide issue and not something a department can control. But if this is the case, this information needs to be made clearly available to potential applicants. Many grad school applicants have a very limited budget and application fees are increasing at a staggering rate; to not let a student know they have a diminished chance of acceptance because of their nationality amounts to theft of their application funds by withholding germane information. Some departments may not want this widely known because it will, inevitably, diminish the overall quality of their applicant pool. But this is not a burden that grad applicants should bear - it is a problem the University (in these cases) is imposing on the department. If a school cannot make an equivalent offer to a Canadian versus US student, this fact needs to be clearly advertised on their webpage for grad applicants so that grad applicants with limited funding can make decisions about where to apply in the way they deem best for themselves.
I have to agree with that--it's a waste of everyone's time, and the applicant's money. I hope departments will make an effort to make this information as transparent as possible.
UPDATE: One foreign student writes:
As an international applicant to PhD programs this year, knowing which schools had limited aid for foreigners was a very relevant issue for me. I thought I would bring to your attention some programs that do make this information clear, which I certainly appreciated as I was deciding where to apply.
One of the clearest on this matter is UC-Riverside, with a separate section titled 'Warning for Foreign Applicants' on their main program information page. UC-San Diego also has a separate, detailed section, but it is not as clearly marked (it is in small, gray font rather than in the large blue one used for all other section headings.) UC-Irvine also addresses the issue, but it is much quicker and, therefore, easier to miss.
ANOTHER: Lucas Thorpe, a philosopher at Bogazici University in Turkey, writes:
I know that [the original] post is liable to cause mild panic amongst some of our students. I think it is worth mentioning that some programs are willing to waive their application fees for students from poorer countries.
And I think that the philosophical community should push departments at universities where foreign applicants are at a serious disadvantage to be more willing to offer foreign students from poorer countries an application fee waiver. In fact I think that philosophers at departments where foreign students are at a serious disadvantage have a duty to either make this clear on their webpage [which means that many top students will not apply] or to persuade their administrations to allow fee waivers for students from such disadvantaged groups. We learn about which departments find it hard to fund foreign students and if our students have to pay a hefty fee to apply to such departments we advise them not to apply. I'm sure that many people give the same advice to students. Good departments can lose many very good applicants this way. Most of our students can only afford to apply to a few departments - but they are good. We have former students at many to 20 departments.
...in this interview with Richard Marshall. (Point of personal privilege: I think he's rather silly on Nietzsche [the proof, for Nietzsche, that the "Jewish" slave revolt in morals was victorious is that the Catholic Pope now rules in Rome] but that's OK, it's very much worth reading anyway!) Here's a nice quote:
The US is the leading militarist power in the world and will be, even broke, very hard to stop. The US has for instance 1280 bases abroad; France its leading “competitor” has 5 in former French colonial Africa. Even Obama, the anti-“dumb” Iraq war candidate – the war was one of aggression, crimes of torture to the fore, and to call it merely “dumb” is to say something, unfortunately, at best ambiguous and, prima facie silly – is waging aggressions or occupations in 6 countries, not counting Iran. The use of drones in Pakistan, irrelevant to taking out Bin Laden, has murdered many civilians – called “collateral damage” by the killers – created justified mass hatred of the US, and turned a nuclear power into, increasingly, an enemy of the US. The addiction to war and the forces in imperialism/capitalism that lead to it – particularly given US dependence on militarism as the main productive and innovative part of the economy (creating both the internet and drones for murder abroad/internal surveillance) – will be hard to turn around. If one adds in the speculative casino of finance capital – it has always been parasitic, but with derivatives it now beats the band for perversity (Goldman Sachs advised and made loans to the Greek government and simultaneously took out derivative bets that the Greek government would fail, driving up interest on renewing loans) - and the encouragement of consumer and student debt, one sees the causes of economic collapse.
Well, this isn't really about "conservatives," it's about those who are called "conservatives" in the United States, who are more correctly described as "reactionaries," the kind of people the Republicans used to try to ignore until Reagan let them out of the basement. They're the people who have been keeping the Republican Presidential Primary rolling on for months as one crazy after another gives the imprudent plutocrat of choice, Mitt Romney, a challenge for the nomination. In any case, it turns out that even the "educated" ones now no longer accept scientific findings. No surprise, really.
College tuition for state universities have risen in part because of cutbacks in state appropriations, but academic college costs (appropriations plus tuitions plus academic fees) have risen as a whole. Frank offers an interesting explanation for this. The productivity of labor in labor-intensive industries (e.g., services such as teaching) has tended to increase much less than the productivity of labor in industries in which machines and technology play a much greater role (e.g., the production of physical goods). Nonetheless, salaries in teaching have risen to remain competitive in order to continue to attract the same high quality labor force (not to lose them to other industries). The result of increased salaries without comparable increased productivity is increased cost of the service provided. This, apparently, tends to be true in general in high skill service industries and not merely in teaching.
It's now available in the Routledge Philosophers series. Coming soon are volumes on Adorno by Brian O'Connor (University College Dublin), Habermas by Kenneth Baynes (Syracuse), and Plato by Constance Meinwald (Illinois/Chicago), among many others.
A philosopher running admissions at a top PhD program writes:
When April 15th falls on a weekend, the IRS takes the Monday after that day to be the day Federal income tax returns are due. In view of this, and in view of NYU's very late open days, I would like to suggest the profession adopt the same policy for PhD acceptances this year.
This seems to me to make obvious sense. Is there any department out there not observing this? Comments are open.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST YEAR, SINCE RELEVANT AGAIN (posted Mar. 2, 2011)
Keith DeRose (Yale) writes:
Since prospective graduate students read your blog for information and advice on applying to graduate programs, I was wondering whether it might be a good idea for you to run a short post on an important way that applicants can help one another.
Every year, many applicants get into better programs than they otherwise would have by eventually being accepted by a program that initially put them on a waiting list. (I myself got into the program I attended off their waiting list. In fact, I think I was quite a ways down UCLA's waiting list.) Often, though, the management of waiting lists gets extremely messy, especially right before and on April 15, and the consequences of this messiness are often results that are far from optimal for the students involved.
I don't think there's any feasible way to completely solve these problems, but the applicants themselves can make things much better for one another by declining offers as soon as they're in a position to, so the programs involved can then go to their waiting lists.
Sometimes this can be done simply by making one's decision earlier. Once they have all the relevant information, given it a little chance to sink in, mulled it over a bit, and talked things over with their advisers, students can often do everyone -- including themselves!-- a favor by making a decision significantly in advance of April 15.
However, I realize that for various reasons, some will delay making their decision until the bitter end. In addition to reasons of personal psychology, sometimes this is done because students are hoping themselves to get into a better program than they've so far been accepted at off of a waiting list.
That's why it can also be extremely helpful not to wait until one has decided where one will accept before starting to decline some offers. If a student has been accepted by more than two programs, then even before they decide which offer to accept, they should decline all the offers of the programs they are in a position to rule out. And if they know which of the programs that have already accepted them that they most prefer, but are still hoping to get into a better program off a waiting list, then they should decline all the other offers they have.
Sometimes students delay declining offers because they fear it will be an unpleasant communication to make and/or because they think departments will feel insulted if they're turned down quickly. In fact, I'm pretty confident that almost every program will appreciate being told as early as possible that a student is declining an offer, once they're in a position to make a settled determination that that's what they are going to do.
I think this is sensible advice, though it bears emphasizing that departments may not require admitted students to decide before April 15. But applicants can help each other by making timely decisions, and making them before April 15 if at all possible.
ADDENDUM: Tim O'Keefe (Georgia State) writes:
I appreciate your printing Keith DeRose's suggestion, which is spot on. I'd like to add that the same considerations apply to withdrawing oneself from consideration by schools where one is on the waitlist when you know you wouldn't accept an offer if it were forthcoming. Although it's not as crucial as declining an offer in hand, doing so is still quite helpful to graduate programs and to fellow applicants. Especially during the crunch time immediately before April 15, being able to move down your waitlist expeditiously can make the difference between being able to make an offer to somebody (who would be overjoyed to receive it) in time for them to be able to accept it and its being too late.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)