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A senior philosopher elsewhere writes:
Over the years dossiers for applicants for junior positions have gotten larger and larger. Some dossiers we have received for our current search number more than 80 pages, One thing that is particularly striking to me is the number of letters of recommendation that each dossier contains. Back in the dark ages, when I was in graduate school, dossiers included on average three letters. In this year's search not a single dossier that I have seen includes that few. Many include six, seven or even eight letters. I don't fully understand the reason why, though. I am tempted to attribute at least part of the ever increasing number of letters to understandable anxiety on the part of job seekers. There seems to be a view that the more people you can get to say good things about you, the better off you will be. I certainly understand and sympathize with the anxiety. On the other hand, I doubt that there is a single search committee that is eager to read an average of six or seven letters per file. Nor do I think that more letters means more information or a more honest assessment of the candidate. Just for comparison sake, a typical tenure file at my own university will generally include around eight outside letters. Do we really need the same number of letters for a junior appointment as for a tenure case? Personally, I don't think so. But I am sure reasonable people can disagree on this score and would like to know what others think.
To stir the pot just a little, let me add the following. In some number of cases -- though I'm not prepared to quantify whether it be many, most, or just a few -- the additional letters come from people not from the candidate's home institution. Sometimes this makes some sense and is helpful -- if, for example, the outside writer has taught, supervised, collaborated with, or been colleagues with the candidate. Outside PhD examiners are often asked to write, for example. And you would certainly expect people who have moved a bit from place to place to have letters reflecting that fact. Or, in another vein, if a candidate has worked in somebody's lab, say, as sort of the philosopher in residence. All that makes sense and I have no beef with it. On the other hand, many outside letters seem to be the result of proactive networking on the part of candidates. Perhaps the thought is that it is important to have letters from prominent people in other departments with whom one has had some degree of contact. The thought may be that this networking will help increase and demonstrate the reach and impact of one' s work. In a few rare cases, such letters may carry some tiny bit of weight. But that, I think, really is the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, most such letters are relatively bland and pointless. They are neither particularly helpful nor, thank goodness for the candidates, particular hurtful. I suspect that it's an issue of divided loyalties. Seldom have I seen a letter from prominent philosopher P from institution X writing for candidate C from institution Y that directly compares C to P's own students at P's own institution. Most of what such letters add is generic praise. But there's usually enough of that in the "core" letters to suffice.
I'm not sure anything can stop the momentum for more and more letters. And maybe I wrong to think the momentum needs to be stopped. Maybe I'm just tired from reading thousands of pages of files. But I thought this might make a good discussion point for your blog.
I generally recommend candidates have not more than five or six letters, on the assumption that the 5th and/or 6th letters really add something--e.g., a letter from someone outside the department who is expert in the candidate's area and can add something useful about the candidate's work. What do readers think? Signed comments preferred, though grad students and job seekers may post with a pseudonym (pick a distinctive one).
I get this question all the time; here's the most recent version:
I’ve been attending a community college for a few years now, and I’ll be earning my AA in Philosophy in a couple of semesters. I’ve been checking out some of the local universities, but nobody offers a philosophy degree achievable by night classes or online. I found an online undergraduate degree program at Arizona State University, but I’m not sure if they’re credible. Do you have any suggestions or advice for someone like me?
Readers? Signed comments preferred; details would be helpful (i.e., details about the program, why it was good, or why it was bad, etc.).
Jonathan Wolff (UCL) comments. At the end of the column, he runs together two issues that should be kept separate: the combative nature of philosophy and how one should treat students. Professor Ishiguro's approach on the latter seems the right one, but that is independent of whether philosophy as practiced among peers should, or should not be, combative. Insofar as truth is at stake, combat seems the right posture!
...which will be published by Cambridge University Press. That's a very good choice, though the inaugural editorial board is yet to be announced, and that will tell us more about interest group "capture" and about whether JAPA will be like the Eastern Division program or a consistently high quality professional journal.
(Thanks to Joe Hatfield for the pointer.)
A graduate student writes:
What do people think of grad students making their work available online early in their careers? It seems pretty common for students still doing coursework to post paper drafts on Academia.edu, even when the drafts are far from publishable, and I'm not sure if the potential advantages outweigh the potential costs. Having your name known is probably good, as are generating interest in your research, starting conversations with people working in the same area, and maybe showcasing your potential; on the other hand giving people a preview of your immature work might cut the other way if rather than recognizing in it scholarly potential they just see bad grad student papers. Having early drafts online also means that reviewers for a journal can google the title of your paper and see who wrote it, thereby removing anonymity. I recently had a paper of mine show up in a collection of links on a blog I'd never heard of and suddenly Academia.edu was informing me of dozens of views per day. For a moment I was excited, but then I remembered that people were reading a hastily-composed workshop draft. I think the ideas and prose represent me well but there are sections missing and the argument needs substantial work (as I learned when certain parts of it got shredded at the workshop). I thought about taking the paper down and leaving just an abstract, or removing it altogether, but I never made it past worrying. Did I err in leaving it up for public scrutiny?
We did touch on aspects of this topic briefly once before, but these questions are more specific. I'll note that this is a major issue in academic law because of the substantial use of SSRN. The question there is when junior faculty or job seekers should put their work on-line; my advice is not to put anything on-line until they think it's ready to be submitted for publication. The reason is simple: first impressions are sticky, and if you put a half-baked piece of work on-line, you're unlikely to get a second chance with that reader. I think the same advice applies to grad students--great to put work on-line that's at a stage where you and the faculty you work with think it's ready (or very close to ready) for submission to a journal, otherwise not.
What do readers think? Faculty, please use your name; students may use a distinctive pseudonym, but must include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.
Speaking of the importance of the humanities, this program features, among others, philosopher Debra Satz from Stanford, where 45% of the faculty are in the humanities, but only 18% of undergraduates are humanities majors.
(Thanks to Dirk Felleman for the pointer.)
The PGR recommends a number of terminal MA programs with strong faculties (as an important sidenote: financial aid varies quite a bit among these programs, and does not correlate at all with the relative strength of the faculties--in general, I would advise students *not* to take out loans to earn an MA in philosophy). Often students wonder about MA programs at the PhD-granting programs. I want to emphasize the advice in the PGR:
Many Ph.D. programs also admit M.A. students. Students should be more wary of the M.A. programs at schools in roughly the top 25 that grant the PhD: often M.A. students take a back seat to the Ph.D. students (in terms of faculty attention), and students with weak philosophy backgrounds may find the pace and level of seminars geared to Ph.D. students daunting. Students considering M.A. programs in top-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions should investigate the situation of M.A. students at the school carefully before enrolling. However, some PhD programs that are less highly ranked, but still have strong faculties, may in fact turn out to be very good choices for the MA.
A student who can get a funded MA at a top 25ish PhD program should probably pursue that over an unfunded or only partially funded MA at one of the terminal MA programs. While some of the terminal MA programs would no doubt rank in the U.S. top 50 if they had a PhD program, and while all of the recommended ones have serious, research-active faculty, their main advantage is usually that when it comes to graduate education, the faculty's entire focus is on the MA students. But PhD programs vary quite a bit, based on anecdotal reports, in terms of how they integrate their MA students into the program, and what kind of faculty supervision and mentoring they receive. In general, a high-powered PhD program with terrific PhD students is going to be one where the PhD students command most of the faculty's time--hence my general note of caution about those programs which also offer an MA. But I've also heard good reports from MA students at ranked PhD programs, which is why that option should not be wholly neglected by prospective students.
I'm opening comments so that students or faculty might post links to PhD programs that fund their MA students.
A more detailed story about the former adjunct French professor at Dusquesne, whose death generated substantial national attention. As one might have suspected, the story had more complexities than the original report suggested, though the complexities make it more, not less, tragic. One thing not in dispute: Dusquesne has resisted efforts by its adjunct faculty to unionize. Shame on the university!
"Minorities and Philosophy," the website with links and resources.
A job seeker writes:
I hope that you can find the time in the coming days to blog about the current state of the academic job market vis-a-vis the exorbitant rates that interfolio charges for uploading letters vs emailing them. This problem would seem to have a rather easy solution though a consensus on the problem itself would be needed before it could be implemented.
The problem, in short, is this. Interfolio charges 4$ per letter to upload letters to application websites. This means that a typical student who has 5 committee members and one teaching letter is paying 24$ to send out a single application in most cases. Multiply this by the 50 or so applications a student will send out and the price of uploading letters alone costs 1200$. Given that you have written about the high costs of traveling to the APA this issue would appear to be on par with that one.
Obviously there are issues of justice here as well. Those with deep pockets can afford to send out more applications and upload a greater number of letters than those without who must be more judicious. The result is two tiered system that favors the already fortunate.
Frankly, I don't see how Interfolio justifies charging 24$ and up for pressing 'send' but this issue has ben cropping up again and again on my FB feed and in conversation. Further there seems an easy solution. Job posters could use interfolio for the application procedure thus minimizing costs or they should be encouraged to include an email in the ad where letters can be sent for far less than the upload fee.
Thoughts from readers?
...based on his or her on-line presence, including tweets. (Earlier foray into the topic.) Whether this generalizes beyond the case of college admissions is an unknown.
For starters, I want to thank Brian for the opportunity to once again guest blog here at Leiter Reports. When I was last blogging here back in 2006, my goal was to satirically rant about the dangerous political state of affairs at the time. For this upcoming week, however, I will try to be a bit more serious. Rather than stirring the political pot (and trying to get a few laughs along the way), my goal instead will be to highlight some issues within the profession that I feel deserve attention and to generate some discussion about what, if anything, can and should be done about these issues. Given that it’s presently job market season, I thought one issue that merits discussion is the interviewing process—especially people’s experiences with video conferencing.
Three years ago, there was a series of posts here on Leiter Reports about whether departments should forgo using the Eastern APA for the purposes of first round interviews when video conferencing technology was both widely available and largely free (see here, here, and here). Before I say more, I should confess that I was the “young[ish]” philosopher who originally emailed Brian in the wake of the debacle in Boston at the Eastern APA. So, it’s unsurprising that I think departments should use video conferencing for first round interviews (which has been the practice of my own department here at College of Charleston since last year). And while I am happy to rehash some of those arguments in the present discussion thread, I think it would be more helpful to hear about people’s actual experiences with video conferencing, both good and bad, since it's been a while since we've discussed this issue.Given that more people have now had the chance to navigate job interviews via video conferencing, it would be helpful to hear not only from those who have been interviewed but also from those who have been doing the interviewing. It would be just as illustrative to hear from those of you who belong to departments that choose instead to continue interviewing at the Eastern APA. If you think your department should make the switch, let us know why. If you think instead that your department should stick with interviews at the APA, it would be helpful to hear from you as well.
In the meantime, you can read more about the supposed trend towards video conference interviews here, here, here, and here (although you can read a more recent cautionary tale here). You can also get some advice concerning how to prepare and what to avoid during video conference interviews here, here, here, here, here, and here. If some of you have found any additional helpful articles, please post the links in the discussion thread.
p.s. I will be moderating comments, so please be patient. Also, as always, signed comments are preferred (although I appreciate the importance of anonymity for those of you presently on the market--which is why I needed to remain anonymous three years ago!)
A student currently in an MA program writes:
How widespread a problem is this? Please provide links to other examples. I assume these policies are overwhelmingly set by the central administration, not the philosophy departments. Do any departments have their own policies/procedures to waive fees based on economic need? Signed comments will be very strongly preferred.
I am writing to you at the suggestion of several professors of philosophy, who thought this might deserve the attention of the greater philosophical community. I am in the process of applying to graduate schools in philosophy for Fall 2014 (in the United States and Canada).
I am shocked that there are several institutions that do not offer need-based fee waivers for applications. Many top programs do offer waivers for those with demonstrated need or who qualify based on participation in specific programs, but several major programs (Harvard, UNC*, Toronto, etc.) do not.
Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are already playing a game pitted against them. Besides those things which I surely do not need to repeat, but which are known to keep promising students out of undergraduate and graduate programs, applying to graduate school also means paying $165 for the GRE and $25 for each school a report is sent to.
Everyone is aware of how difficult it is to get into graduate school, and I have not met anyone that is applying to less than 10 schools. Even if half those schools waive their fees, that's $250 in GRE reports and probably close to $500 in the other application fees. With small chances of admittance for even highly-qualified candidates, it seems a poor investment to put in so much money when one is lucky if they have that much disposable money at all. For a student like me, there is no option but to remove my application. What was a small chance becomes no chance.
Schools that do not provide the fee waiver option send the message that they have no interest in students who cannot afford hundreds of dollars in application fees. Financially disadvantaged students are faced with a decision: do they use their limited funds to apply to the (likely higher-ranked and more competitive) program they would love to attend, or do they apply to the program they are more likely to be admitted to?
*At UNC, it's not possible if you had any period of time for which you weren't enrolled; a condition is "no breaks in enrollment from point of entry at the undergraduate level." This seems to target a particularly vulnerable group: people who took time off to work, either during or after undergraduate programs.
A reader writes:
I'm wondering if you could have a discussion for your website about manuscript referencing styles. Some journals, mostly European-based, require in-text citation referencing. My own work is usually written in the style typically seen in the top journals in my subfield (which involve the use of footnotes or endnotes), which happen to be American-based. I have found that if a paper of mine is rejected in these journals, I have difficulty getting them accepted for review at European journals; to my surprise, most seem to require manuscripts be submitted in their referencing style, which in some cases would require significant revision to meet (my work is footnote-heavy). I am wondering what philosophers think of this practice. It seems to me that journals should be willing to accept for review papers of any referencing style, and only later request the author to convert the paper to its style after it is accepted.
A curious story in CHE about some cases where things went wrong (it's behind a paywall); an excerpt:
[Sara Rachel] Chant and her husband, Zachary Ernst, were recruited [to Missouri] in 2006 from two faculty jobs at Florida State University. The philosophy department here wooed them with higher salaries, they say. The department also paid to transport Ms. Chant's horses from Florida and agreed to allow her dog—Alexander, a Great Dane—to accompany her to the campus....
Mr. Ernst went up for tenure first, in 2008, and got it without a hitch. But when it was Ms. Chant's turn three years later, the department voted her down. Most of the other decision makers up the line, all the way to the university's chancellor, agreed with the department's decision. They said Ms. Chant had failed to design new courses, that her syllabi weren't detailed enough, and that she had cowritten too many publications with her husband rather than publishing articles she alone wrote in top journals, Ms. Chant says.
To complicate matters, a few years before Ms. Chant came up for tenure she had had an affair with a philosopher outside Missouri, and Mr. Ernst, who was crushed at the time, is said to have told a colleague here that he actually wrote most of his wife's work. Mr. Ernst now says that's something he never claimed, but Ms. Chant says she believes that it was a factor in her tenure proceedings.
By the height of Ms. Chant's tenure battle, a few years after the affair had ended, Mr. Ernst had become a more outspoken advocate for her case than she was herself. He accompanied her to administrators' offices to wage appeals. And he dashed off a treatise he put on Facebook, accusing the philosophy department of sexism.
Some blogs covered Mr. Ernst's accusations at the time, though not this one--as I suspected, there was a lot more to the story. (Ms. Chant did subsequently get tenure after appealing the decision.)
A junior philosopher writes:
While the vast majority of my students are perfectly happy to study philosophy in college and never crack open another book , I periodically meet with someone interested in pursuing graduate school. While these range from academically-inclined and hard-working students to those who clearly lack the academic credentials to be admitted anywhere, there are some for whom I just think graduate school would be a bad idea. I wonder if folks who’ve been in the profession longer have developed good strategies for talking to students who they wish to dissuade from pursuing a graduate career. Part of my concern is that such students may end up in poor PhD or expensive terminal MA programs that may result in great quantities of debt and few job prospects (I know that an MA can be a wonderful place to “try it out”, but in this economic climate, allowing students to accrue more debt seems morally troubling). I try to be as dire about the prospects for success in the profession as I can, but this doesn’t seem sufficient.
What do readers think?
A student considering graduate school in philosophy writes:
My own view is that such explanations are worth offering if there is something pertinent and substantive to say: e.g., "Y had the flu when he took the GRE," or "his grades last fall were anomalous, no doubt due to the death of his mother." Comments are open; what do readers think? (Signed comments strongly preferred; all comments must include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.)
I was hoping to receive comments on the attitude of admissions committee members towards the attempts of a letter-writer to defend a weak element of a student's packet. For example, when professor X vouches for student Y, despite Y having something like low GRE scores or a poor mark in a core philosophy course. If the letter-writer goes on to explain why such blemishes should not immediately disqualify an applicant, will committee members take such reassuring remarks seriously? That is, can such remarks really serve as justification for why a weak element of an application should be discarded? Or does skepticism about the potential of the applicant often creep into the picture in cases where the letter-writer has to defend the applicant in some way, shape, or form? Are committee members worried that the letter writer might be inflating a student's performance by downplaying a smudge on an application? Lastly, is it even appropriate to ask a professor to defend weaknesses in your application? Or should one simply let the rest of the application do the talking?
Mr. Carson, to his credit, has been fixing some of the errors in the original version of his post. He has limited the study to US and Canadian programs; he's corrected a number of errors in the original data, with help from philosophers at various departments; and he's revised the comparison of the placement results to the 2011 PGR rankings. Here's what he writes in the new version:
I had compared placement rankings based on data from 2000 to 2013 to faculty rankings from 2011 only. However, this was unfair. Either I needed to compare a school's overall placement ranking to a school's overall faculty ranking, or I needed to compare a school's placement rank by year to a school's faculty rank by year instead of mixing the two approaches together. I correct that mistake below by looking at the average overall faculty ranks compared with the average overall placement ranks.
The overall assumption of the Leiter Report seems to be that if you go to a school with well ranked faculty, you will get a better placement in both the short term and the long term, and hence, have a more successful philosophy career overall, than if you went to a school with lesser ranked faculty. I wish to test that assumption.
I calculated the average faculty rank for each school from 2004 -2013 and then compared this with the overall placement rank for each school (based on TT/T/permanent placements) from 2004-2013. If the overall assumption of the Leiter Report is correct, schools with overall faculty ranks that are great should, in general, have placement ranks that are great as well. Similarly, schools with overall faculty ranks that are poor should, in general, have overall placement ranks that are poor as well. Is this the case?
Looking at the initial placement ranks, it appears that this assumption is moderately supported. Looking at the chart below, one can see that there is a positive trend between overall faculty rank and overall placement rank. As a schools overall placement rank gets poorer (moves to the right), the overall faculty rank gets poorer as well (moves upwards). However, one can also see that there are many schools that do not follow this trend. In particular, there are several schools that rank very well in placement but do not rank well in faculty. Similarly, there are several schools that rank well in faculty but do not rank so well in placement.
How strong is this relationship? Using the correlation coefficient, the faculty rank explains (roughly) about 50% of the placement rank (Note: I am assuming faculty rank determines placement rank, not the other way around). However, that still leaves about 50% of the placement rank explained by other unknown factors.
He also found that specialty rankings had a slightly stronger correlation.
This is less ridiculous than what Mr. Carson did first time around, but it still does not make a lot of sense, since placement is backwards-looking and faculty quality is, at least as far as placement goes, forward-looking. If one is looking at placement from 2000-2013, it would be most meaningful to look at PGR ranking from, say, 1995 to 2008, since the students placed 2000-2013 would have been looking at schools during that period. My guess is the correlation would go up considerably, though it still wouldn't be anywhere close to 100% given all the other variables that go into placement success. (As a side-note, when I first ranked NYU highly in the late 1990s, I was lectured by various people that this wasn't reasonable, since the school didn't have a placement record yet. As I pointed out to those posing this objection, Ned Block, Kit Fine and others all had placed students in their prior jobs, it seemed a tad odd to think they wouldn't now. Now that Mr. Carson has fixed some of his data, guess who is #1 in his placement ranking?)
In addition, Mr. Carson still has no categorization of jobs other than tenure-track. But if he were to incorporate something like the widely used Carnegie Classifications, then I would be astonished if he didn't find an even stronger correlation between, say, PGR rank and placement at doctorate-granting institutions. Breaking out that information would be useful for students, since students have different preferences and aspirations for the kinds of jobs they hope to get.
UPDATE: It was just pointed out to me that while Mr. Carson, correctly, removed the UK and Australasian schools because he didn't understand what it meant to be placed into a job as a "Lecturer," it also turns out that he's not counting any North American graduates who get these jobs (which are typically better than tenure-track jobs, i.e., they are de facto permanent) in the placement results. So even for the North American programs, the "placement rankings" are undercounting significantly (especially, I should add, for the highest ranked PGR departments, whose graduates often head overseas [and often come from overseas]). I would urge the Philosophy News website to put a major WARNING on this data, something like, "Work in Progress--Not Yet Reliable."
A much more sympathetic account (that is, sympathetic to McGinn's version of events), with some supporting details. (Bear in mind, of course, that Katie Roiphe made her 'career' as the anti-feminist to her mother's well-known feminist work, so she can hardly be considered a disinterested journalist.) No doubt this will spur another round of revelations and claims and counter-claims. In any case, readers who have been following this saga should take a look at this latest report.
(Thanks to the many readers who sent this along.)
UPDATE: Regarding Roiphe.
ANOTHER: A rejoinder from philosopher Heidi Lockwood.
This story is a bit worrisome!
(Thanks to Clifford Sosis for the pointer.)
(Thanks to David Livingstone Smith for the pointer.)
We've touched on this topic before. Philosopher John Doris (Wash U/St. Louis) writes:
Thoughts from readers? Solutions or strategies? Is the APA on this?
As we again enter letter writing season, I'm reminded of how onerous are the "efficiencies" of the new electronic submission culture/disaster.
There really ought be serious efforts at standardization. Repeated uploads for each candidate, often requiring entering and re-entering personal information and reformatting letters, is not only unnecessarily time-consuming, but also maddeningly tedious. I don't care if it's Interfolio, but let it be something. Sooner rather than later.
Jonathan Wolff (UCL) comments.
Here; an excerpt:
[N]otwithstanding the current spin from the Providence College administration, my event is not being rescheduled. It is being replaced with a different event.
In February I agreed that I would come to Providence to give a lecture, which would be followed by a Q&A period. Although Professor Arroyo and I had previously (last Fall) discussed the possibility of a debate, that idea was dropped for budgetary reasons. Then, just last week, I agreed to change the format so that I would have a lecture with an official respondent. Now, finally, I am being invited for a debate. These are three different kinds of academic events, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I have plenty of experience with all three, and (as I’ve long said) I’d be happy to do a debate at Providence College. What I’m not happy to do is to aid the administration in the pretense that “the September 26 event was merely being postponed, not cancelled, until we could be sure that it went forward in the format in which it was originally proposed,” as Provost Lena’s statement said yesterday....
The truth is that it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask. This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.
That’s where “damage control” should be focused right now: the personal harm to LGBT Providence College students, not to mention faculty, staff, and alumni. Pope Francis has called for a “new balance” in the Church’s pastoral ministry, and there is an opportunity—yet unrealized—to implement that balance here.
This horrifying story comes from philosopher Darren Hudson Hick, now a VAP at Texas Tech:
I started at Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA) as a tenure-track assistant professor of philosophy specializing in aesthetics in the fall of 2011, having done three years of prior teaching elsewhere as a VAP. In June of last year, I met with the Dean of my college to discuss the possibility of going up for early tenure, taking three years off my tenure-track. She informed me that this had never been done successfully at Susquehanna, but given the strength of my research, teaching, and service, she advocated this move. So, I went ahead with the requisite administrative hoop-jumping,
which involved moving my mid-tenure review up to this past year with the presumption that I would be up for tenure the following year.
A month later, I got a call for a meeting from the Dean. I arrived at the meeting the next day also attended (to my surprise) by my department chair and the CFO for the university. In a nutshell, I was told that somebody in Human Resources had screwed up and missed the deadline for filing my green card application. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that I’m Canadian, and so would ultimately need a green card for my job. Susquehanna took on the task of the green card application. If you’re not familiar with this whole system, the applicant needs to apply for the green card within 18 months of the date of hire (being when I signed the contract—December of 2010), where the HR employee had been working towards an imaginary deadline of 18 months from the date I actually started the job (August, 2011). Nobody in HR, nor in their outside immigration firm, seemed to have noticed the error until it was too late to do anything about it.
The Dean and CFO apologized profusely for all of this, but I was told that what this ultimately, legally, meant was that the university had to go back to square one and re-advertise the job I had already had for a year, meaning (unless I wanted to be supremely confident) I had to go back on the market again. And so this is what I did. (In the meantime, the HR employee was let go.)
(Side-note: I was informed by a colleague at another school—who had been through an eerily similar situation—that there was another route to the green card which got around this issue. I brought this up with the administration at Susquehanna, and I was informed that they would pay for an initial consult with their immigration firm on the matter, but that if I wanted to go that route, I’d ultimately have to pay for it myself. The price tag was $7000—too rich for my blood.)
I did get an interview for my job—two in a series, actually—and it was all very casual. Everyone essentially said, well, we already know you, so what shall we talk about? I went out for dinner with the department, and a grand time was had by all. In the meantime, my mid-tenure review was still underway (these being two distinct processes).
In early December, I was informed by the Dean that the job had been offered to another candidate (actually, I had to e-mail her because nobody was telling me anything, and it took her three days to get back to me). I was not told why. The next week (again, after e-mailing her and waiting three days), I was informed by the Dean that the other candidate had accepted the job. (My mid-tenure review, as you might expect, had been cancelled.) I received an official letter that same week from the President of the university, stating that I was not being retained.
I appealed to the university’s Faculty Affairs Committee—whose job is to deal with faculty grievances that fall outside the ordinary lines of complaint—who replied within hours to say that this was not their jurisdiction, case closed. I also appealed to the professional ethics committee of the American Philosophical Association, who investigated the case (declaring the matter “outrageously immoral”), though they ultimately felt that the administration’s actions did not fall within their grounds for censure. And I had been dealing with the Pennsylvania branch of the AAUP, who felt that there were definite legal grounds for grievance here. (PA employment law is complicated, and an employer can effectively fire an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, unless it amounts to discrimination within the bounds of the law, or violates contract. The AAUP legal counsel argues that my case constitutes a violation of contract as a result of negligence.) However, their legal counsel isn’t exactly the best at communication, and I haven’t heard from him in months, and rather than spending several more months chasing him down, I decided it was in my better interest to simply let it go and get on with my life. My year, as you might imagine, had already been stressful enough.
In the end, bottom line, because someone in HR missed a deadline, my job was taken away. I was—and have been—given no further explanations, by anyone. From December (when it became clear that I wouldn’t be staying at Susquehanna), up until I left this summer, no one in the department said so much as “hello” to me. The Dean apologized again several times and that was about it. As it turns out, this wasn’t a good year for the market it aesthetics (is it ever?), and so I count myself very lucky that I was able to secure a VAP position at Texas Tech University, where I taught before taking the job at Susquehanna.
I wanted to write this little missive as something of an object lesson to non-American academics on the tenure-track (and those going on the market) here in the U.S. Almost without exception, everyone I have told this story to has responded either by saying that it is one of the worst academic horror stories they have heard, or by telling me about someone else that the same thing has happened to. I’m hoping that, in some small way, this will help to reduce the number of the latter.
A reader writes:
Readers? Students may post anonymously, but must use a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.
In my department's recent annual graduate student meeting, one colleague brought up the idea that our department should strive to achieve gender balance for each incoming class. There were a lot of armchair speculations about the positive and negative effects of imposing such an 'affirmative action' policy, but very little empirical evidence presented. I am wondering if it would be possible for you to put the question to your blog's readers. I would especially be interested to hear from departments who have implemented some version of the policy and what they perceive the effects to be.
Several readers have sent this appalling story.
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Dusquesne begs to differ with the account by Mr. Kovalik:
Yesterday an op-ed piece appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, purporting to describe certain circumstances preceding the death of adjunct instructor, Margaret Mary Vojtko. This piece was authored by Daniel Kovalik, a United Steelworkers lawyer, and was met with shock and dismay by the many individuals in our community who, with great compassion, attempted to support Margaret Mary during a very difficult time in her life. Margaret Mary taught as an adjunct for over 20 years at Duquesne, and had numerous close relationships on our campus. Despite the assertions made in the op-ed piece, individuals across the University community attempted to help Margaret Mary through her last trying days. Spiritan priests, support staff, and University and McAnulty College administrators reached out to assist Margaret Mary with the challenges she faced. Father Dan Walsh, University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry, was personally involved in helping Margaret Mary. The following letter from Fr. Dan, published in today’s Post-Gazette, expresses his feelings about the inaccuracies in the op-ed piece:
I was incredulous after reading Daniel Kovalik's op-ed piece about Margaret Mary Vojtko. I knew Margaret Mary well. When we learned of problems with her home she was invited to live with us in the formation community at Laval House on campus, where she resided for several weeks over the past year. Over the course of Mary's illness I, along with other Spiritan priests, visited her regularly. In addition, the University and the Spiritan priests at Duquesne offered several types of assistance to her. Mr. Kovalik's use of an unfortunate death to serve an alternative agenda is sadly exploitive, and is made worse by his description of the circumstances that bear no resemblance to reality.
Rev. Daniel Walsh,
C.S.Sp., University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry
As the administrator responsible for communications, I can describe the feedback we have received in response to Mr. Kovalik's op-ed as falling into two categories. The first category includes individuals who have been intimately involved and familiar with the situation, and who immediately recognized this op-ed as a reckless attempt to use Margaret Mary Votjko's death as a means to further the self-interest of Mr. Kovalik's external organization. These individuals have expressed both outrage and sadness that Margaret Mary has been used in this way. Then there are those with no direct knowledge of the actual circumstances. They have also expressed outrage, using social media to attack Duquesne based on their acceptance of Mr. Kovalik's published mischaracterizations. Our defense is the truth. Mr. Kovalik has tried to frame this as an issue of human resources policy, but he is wrong. The support provided and offered to Margaret Mary Votjko was broad, involving the Spiritan community, student housing, EAP, campus police, facilities management,and her faculty and staff colleagues. It was wholly unrelated to her employment status or classification, or to any issues of adjunct unionization. This was not a case of human resources policy, but one of concern for a human being - the type of concern and care that those in the Duquesne community have shown for each other for generations.
ANOTHER: It is probably worth noting that for all its huffing-and-puffing, the University does not dispute that she was fired after 25 years of adjuncting at wages as low as $10,000 per year. The silly reference to the "self-interest" of Mr. Kovalik's organization is a reference to the attempt by the UAW to unionize the adjuncts at Duquesne--a move that Ms. Vojtko apparently supported.
One job seeker writes:
I thought you might be interested in a posting on the effects of decentralization of job advertising on both job seekers and letter writers. Personally, I hate it. I most certainly appreciate that I no longer have to pay to see ads, but in terms of being able to plan your semesters has gone completely out the window, and I am sure it is even harder on letter writers. My first deadline this year is Sept 22, followed by on on Sept 25th. Might Philjobs consider scheduling the posting of jobs?
What do others think? As a letter writer (though the season is still early), I've not found this to be a problem, esp. because many candidates use Interfolio. But it may still make it more complicated for the candidates to manage the varying deadlines. Job seekers may, if they want, post without their name, but please include a real e-mail address (which will not appear).
A reader writes:
I'm with my correspondent: one should secure permission from a co-author before reprinting the paper in the other co-author's own volume. Quite apart from copyright issues, it is the only decent thing to do. Does anyone disagree? And, if so, why? Signed comments will be preferred.
I have a written a number of papers with a particular philosopher, who has now included one of our papers in a volume of his essays on a particular subject within our AOS. My co-author did not contact me before asking and being granted permission to publish our paper in his volume. I am wondering about the ethics of this. My thought is that I should have been contacted before the fact.
As a first, crude attempt, I’ll describe philosophical work as work with and on "concepts". Philosophers are concerned with concepts in the same rigorous sort of way that, say, a pathologist is concerned with diseases, or a mathematician with numbers. This may look like philosophers apply their energies to other-worldly things (“staring at the ceiling”, “head in the clouds”) or to the contents of their own imaginations, but this is based on a misleading account of concepts.
Concepts are not the contents of so-called thought-bubbles. They are the hinges or links of reasoning processes. They describe those aspects of thought that enables it to make the right connections: connections with the rest of the world; with other thoughts; and with actions. I use the word "right" here to indicate the possibility of getting these connections wrong.
Looked at this way, a concern with concepts can seem important indeed. To recycle an idea from Aristotle, it’s the capacity for conceptual thought that allows us to reason and act on the basis of reasons, and not just react to environmental stimuli. That we all work with concepts at some level allows us to exercise reason and act freely—to be more than mere bundles of conditioned responses. Concepts are what make us distinctively us.
In the division of intellectual labour, philosophers work mainly at the level of the hinges between thoughts, on those concepts deeply embedded within the argumentative threads weaving through our culture. But these are threads that have started somewhere with the formation of beliefs, and end somewhere in actions. As the concepts on which philosophers work are typically located a long way from where these threads start or terminate, philosophical research is generally described as "pure" rather than "applied". But "pure" does not mean "irrelevant". Who would question that the activity of finding and attempting to fix problems in our collective thinking was a relevant thing to do?
Although that's not my conception of philosophy, it is certainly an important and legitimate one. Given Australia's out-sized place in the modern philosophy canon (relative to the size of the country), one may hope that the party now in power there will come to its senses and find more constructive things to do with its time and its power than trash philosophy.
(Thanks to Phil Gasper for the pointer.)
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--SEE UPDATE
Interesting infographic, courtesy of Jack Kelle. One point to bear in mind is that the less well-regarded the PhD program you attend, the higher the probability of ending up an adjunct.
UPDATE: My colleage Michael Kremer writes:
The page to which you linked on the adjunct crisis overstates things by *a lot* in one crucial respect.
He reports over 140,000 doctorates awarded last year. That seemed incredibly suspicious, so I checked the link he gave for that datum.
The 140,000 figure "Includes Ph.D., Ed.D., and comparable degrees at the doctoral level. Includes most degrees formerly classified as first-professional, such as M.D., D.D.S., and law degrees." footnote 1 at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72
The number of actual PhDs is actually closer to 50,000. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf10308/
So it is more like one "professorship" position (whatever that means; I didn't check further) for every three PhDs rather than one position for every 10 PhDs.
I don't want in any way to diminish the problem with adjuncts making up the majority of the teaching faculty, their poor working conditions, miserable pay,lack of benefits, etc. But I don't think falsehood in the service of laudable goals is a good strategy.
AND ANOTHER: Kathryn Norlock (Trent) writes:
I have heard from students, colleagues, and reporters here in Canada yesterday and today, who wanted me to confirm the number on the infographic to which you recently linked, that the "AVG." salary of tenure-track professors in the USA is $120,000.
I do not find any evidence that this is the case, and rather than continue fielding individual emails myself, I would ask that you clarify on your blog that the data from this table:
suggests that the infographic's "avg" comes closest to reflecting the average salary of Full Professors at doctoral institutions, that is, our most senior colleagues, and the smallest segment of "tenure-track" instructional faculty. I find it shockingly irresponsible of the infographic authors to suggest otherwise.
I agree this is misleading, though full professors are sometimes said to be "tenure-stream," and it may be that an adjunct of comparable seniority (I do not know) might indeed earn an average of 20K. In any case, these two examples suggest that the 'infographic' be approached with some caution.
Philosopher David Estlund (Brown) writes:
I've heard from some people that in the current market it's a significant advantage to have your PhD defended before the APA meetings in December. Traditionally, this would have meant being in your second round of applications. But candidates might feel pressure to finish up a semester early in their first round. I just don't know if there's any basis for the empirical claim. I can't see that making a significant difference to me if I were on a search committee, but that's a very small sample. This is just one way in which the market pressure is changing conventional wisdom, but there's a danger that some of the change is based more on conjecture and anxiety than on evidence. What do you think?
I am inclined to agree with David. Letters of reference typically discuss how far along the candidate is. To be sure, if someone has been in graduate school for eight or more years, then a set defense date is a good thing, but otherwise I would think it doesn't matter. What do others think? Signed comments strongly preferred, especially from faculty.
UPDATE: Upon consultation and reflection, and with trepidation, I am opening up comments on this thread. I will be moderating them *heavily*.
FURTHER UPDATE: I will not publish any pseudonymous/anonymous comments unless there is an obvious and compelling reason to do so.
UPDATE TO THE FURTHER UPDATE: Opening up comments has turned out to be all-in a mistake for what were probably predictable reasons if I had half a brain. Some productive comments have made it through and I am now closing comments back down again.
Jennifer Saul has recently discussed sexual harassment in the profession on Salon and with Slate. Although Colin McGinn and his hand-themed brand of humor have been the catalyst for the recent round of attention to this issue, Saul rightly focuses on the broader systematic culture problem that the discipline of philosophy seems to have.
In one sense, it is gratifying to see this issue get attention in the wake of McGinn's resignation. At the same time, I have found it frustrating watching people gleefully vilify and demonize him. Not because he wasn't creepy and way out of bounds, but because the kind of remarkably inappropriate 'banter' he engaged in and his complete tone-deafness to the power dynamics that structure the performative force of that banter happen ALL THE TIME in philosophy, as far as I can tell. Through his pompous and narcissistic attempts at self-defense, McGinn made himself an easy target for ridicule. I worry that this has allowed us to write him off as a moral monster, rather than reflecting on just how pervasive this kind of behavior is. In fact, I think that McGinn's clear belief that his inappropriate sexualized communication made him somehow a bold, hip, unconventional intellectual is implicitly shared by many men in the profession.
That this kind of 'banter' is common doesn't make it harmless, by any means. It's easy to be insouciant about boundary-busting when you do so from a position of power. But in fact, this idea that we philosophers are somehow above such trivialities as social boundaries comes at the cost of the discipline's most vulnerable members (and potential members).
Here is one articulate and moving first-person account of the impact of sexual harassment on a graduate student that has been making the rounds.
UPDATE: Signed comments preferred. Non-sketchy email addresses required.
Hi all! It is, as always, some combination of fun and anxiety-producing to be guest blogging here again. Many thanks to Brian for inviting me back, and happy start of the fall term to everyone.
So my unit is making a MOOC.
I will admit that I’ve been underwhelmed with much of the hand-wringing about MOOCs. Most of the time the critique seems to be that they will threaten the traditional classroom. I’m just not that convinced that the kinds of traditional classrooms they plausibly threaten - mostly overcrowded, underfunded classrooms taught by underpaid, undersupported adjuncts - are serving anyone so wonderfully that they don’t deserve a little healthy competition. This widely-circulated letter from the San Jose State University Philosophy Department articulates powerful criticisms of Michael Sandel’s MOOC, but they seemed to me to be specific to that class and not generalizable to the technology as a whole. Watching my colleagues put a MOOC together, I am pretty impressed with the technological and pedagogical creativity involved. I am not prone to nostalgia or luddism, and it strikes me as an utterly open question whether the traditional classroom is the best educational forum for the vast majority of students who are not enrolled in fancy advanced seminars at top schools.
Now that I am in on the making of one of these, though, it seems to me that there are interesting problems they raise that are getting little to no attention. I want to mention a couple, although I can’t delve into them in detail in a blog post. I don’t claim these are the most pressing issues MOOCs raise; they are just examples.