MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 13--LOTS OF INTERESTING COMMENTS, MORE WELCOME
Almost everyone agrees there are too many PhD programs in philosophy in the Anglophone world, and perhaps especially in the United States. In a prior post, we mentioned nine programs whose offering a PhD didn't seem to make much sense: three used to be very good terminal MA programs that converted to PhD programs (Arizona State, South Carolina, Texas A&M); the six others mentioned were Kansas, Michigan State, Tulane, Emory, Oregon, and Villanova. Faculty from Arizona State and Tulane responded constructively to the questions raised, making a fair case for their programs. A graduate of one of the programs mentioned (not Arizona State or Tulane) made a particularly striking comment on the earlier thread (I verified the identity of the commenter and all of his/her claims are accurate):
As a recent graduate of one of the programs called out by name, I would like to add my (quick) thoughts. First, Brian is correct to call it out: outside of one specialized area, no one other than myself has achieved a TT job in years. Had I understood the terrible placement track record and the way in which the school is assessed by other philosophers, I would have left after the MA. And I have a TT job!
The difficulty of seeing your program called out is nothing compared to that of watching talented colleagues struggle year after year to get an academic job. Attempting to overcome a program's negative reputation is nearly futile given how many other candidates are on the market. And, one should question the amount of job-search support you'll get from a program that is so accustomed to not placing students (and of covering over that information).
Here are some other PhD programs whose existence, again, seems hard to justify in current conditions. The State University of New York system offers four different PhD programs: at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook. Buffalo and Stony Brook each have a niche to fill: Buffalo with its more clearly "analytic" orientation and a number of strong faculty, Stony Brook with its niche in the SPEP universe of departments. Albany used to have a terminal MA program, and one recommended in past iterations of the PGR; it is not clear that they should be offering a PhD. Binghamton, despite having hired a number of good younger faculty in recent years, also seems ill-suited to offering a competitive PhD.
University of Florida, Gainesville is a major public research university, but its Philosophy program has fallen on hard times (mostly due to administrative decisions that harmed it). The PhD program was closed for a period of time, but is now reopened. A decade or so ago, Florida had a top 50 PhD program, but in the interim several important faculty were lost to retirement (Michael Jubien) or departures (David Copp, Kirk Ludwig). Florida already has two quite strong PhD programs (at Florida State and at the University of Miami), and one niche program (with a focus on the history of philosophy) at the University of South Florida. A terminal MA at the University of Florida would be a competitive choice.
It is not uncommon for state flagship universities to offer PhDs in most subjects, though a number of state flagships (wisely, I think) do not (some offer, once again, good terminal MA programs). But many state flagships that are not as strong as research universities as Florida do offer the PhD: for example, the Universities of Arkansas (Fayetteville), Georgia (Athens), Oklahoma (Norman), and Tennessee (Knoxville). Should they? A number of years ago a faculty member at one of these schools told me that, like Arizona State, they did encourage their best students to transfer to stronger PhD programs, so that they were de facto operating as a good MA program.
Comments are, once again, open for pertinent information and responses to the considerations raised; please include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.