Various blogs have been remarking on this study about faculty hiring networks and hierarchies: the short version is that very few graduates of PhD programs place at higher ranked programs, and most research-oriented tenure-track jobs are secured by graduates of a small number of elite PhD programs. The same, of course, is true in philosophy, though that was not the focus of this study. Particularly striking is the data reported here to the effect that in 2013-14, 88% of all reported tenure-track hires were graduates of PGR-ranked programs, and that a whopping 37% of all reported tenure-track hires that year took their PhD from one of the PGR top five programs. Fortunately, the PGR makes the relevant information about the hierarchy available to everyone, not just a select group of undergraduates.
Much of the discussion pertains to whether there is any correlation between these patterns and "merit." The original study (the first lilnk, above) looks at this in terms of publications, which isn't a very useful measure in philosophy. Based on my own experience, I'm inclined to say that, on average, graduates of the top programs (or the top programs in some specialties) are stronger candidates on the merits than others, but there are substantial minorities who are mainly riding the prestige effect out of the top programs, as well as substantial minorities handicapped by not have the halo effect of a top program.
ADDENDUM: Mason Westfall, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, writes:
While the correlation between graduates of top programs and tenure-track placement is robust, there are at least two causal hypotheses consistent with that fact. One explanation is the one that you highlight---a halo effect students enjoy by being from top programs. Another explanation is that the best undergraduates get into the best programs and choose them over less prestigious programs. That would mean the best students entering graduate school would be disproportionately at the most prestigious departments. It may be that the best students entering graduate school tend to be the best students leaving graduate school and then the best students leaving graduate school get the jobs. In order to test the contribution made by the department in particular, it seems like it would be necessary to locate a population of students who got into both higher and lower pedigree programs, but chose to go to lower pedigree programs. Even this would conflate the teaching/training contribution of the school with the halo effect, but it would give us substantially more information than the correlation highlighted.
I agree with all this. To be clear, I think there are some relatively weak candidates from top programs who nonetheless do well because of the "halo" effect or, in some cases, the loyalty of alums in teaching to graduates of the program.
ANOTHER: David Wallace (Oxford) writes:
Let me add to Mason Westfall’s two causal hypotheses a third: the training you get from top programs (undergraduate or graduate) makes you a stronger philosopher. I wouldn’t find it at all surprising, given two basically equally strong undergraduate philosophers who went to very different-strength grad programs, if one turned out much stronger than the other at the end. Indeed, I’d be depressed if that wasn’t so, at least on average and other things being equal: it would suggest that all the effort people put into providing a good education and good educational environment for students is pretty much epiphenomenal.
I'm opening comments if others want to weigh in.