Should the Philosophical Gourmet Report Continue? (Several Updates Added)


Brian Leiter (Chicago), who created and organizes a reputational survey of philosophy graduate programs known as the Philosophical Gourmet Report, is asking whether he should continue producing it. He opened a poll on the matter on his blog Tuesday evening, twice stopping and replacing the poll with new versions. The current poll is accessible through a link at the end of a post at his site, here. (As of 9:20am EST, September 25, the “no” vote is winning 1851 – 1201.)

The current polling follows the publication by Sally Haslanger (MIT) and David Velleman (NYU) of several emails Leiter sent in which he calls other philosophers “sanctimonious assholes,” refers to someone’s employer as a “shit department,” and warns a correspondent that “If my e-mails to you ‘get around,’ rest assured that other things will get around.” Haslanger and Velleman preface the emails with the following:

We are concerned about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report to individuals whom he apparently perceives as critics. We hope that colleagues will report any steps by the author to carry out his threat that “things will get around”.

Leiter responded to the publication of these emails in a post which contained the initial poll and its replacement. In the post Leiter claims to supply the needed context for understanding his emails. More context is provided here. For some additional perspective, see this.

UPDATE: Several readers and a commenter have informed me of this statement (see UPDATE 4, below), signed by a number of philosophers. It reads, in part:

The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.

UPDATE 2: A reader informs me of this site, which summarizes the aforementioned emails and describes other events possibly related to the current controversy.

UPDATE 3: Commentary Elsewhere:
Do we need rankings at all?
• A report by philosophy grad students?
• The public face of philosophy in light of controversies like this.
More on the emails to Jenkins.
• Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa comments here.
• On whether the PGR should continue to be a “one man show.”
• What kind of information do prospective graduate students need?
• Brian Weatherson would like a plurality of rankings (as would I).
• The connection between departmental rankings and student evaluations of professors.
• Maybe the problem is the combination of the blogging and the ranking.
A case for rankings.

UPDATE 4: The original site for the statement about declining to participate in the PGR appears to be down. A new version of it is here. SUB-UPDATE: The original site appears to be back up.

UPDATE 5: David Chalmers writes:

Over the past day or so, 24 members of the advisory board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report have signed a letter saying that they value the extraordinary service that Leiter has provided with the PGR, and that they now urge him to turn over the PGR to new management. The letter (drafted by David Chalmers, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and Jason Stanley) has been delivered to Brian Leiter, who received it with good grace. We are in the process of collecting more signatures, and will soon make the letter public.

UPDATE 6: [Since the post previously referred to here has been taken down, I have removed the contents of this update.]

UPDATE 7: David Velleman writes:

Now that the cyber-storm has somewhat abated, I want to say a two things about the Statement of Concern that Sally Haslanger and I posted a few days ago. (Sally is traveling and we have not consulted recently, so I speak here only for myself.)

First, about the publication of private emails. The emails we published contained serious and credible threats aimed at silencing the recipients. Such threats are not protected either by academic freedom or by confidentiality. The target of these threats may have no means of self-protection other than to expose them, and therefore cannot be obligated to suffer them in silence. If she responds that “insulting and threatening emails” may “get around”, she is merely threatening to exercise her right of self-defense against prior, far more serious threats. To deny her the right to make this counter-threat would be to further empower a bully. His response that “other things will get around” has no similar justification.

Second, about the aim of our statement. In publishing our statement we had no agenda other than to express our concern about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report. We mentioned the Report only because it is the original source of the power that the writer used to intimidate the recipients.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Perhaps the salient question is not simply whether the PGR should continue (Yes/No), but whether it should continue under a new editor. I’d be in full support of the latter; I’m more ambivalent about the PGR continuing as is.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Anonymous
6 years ago

I guess one question I’d have for you on that proposal is: why are the rankings a useful service to the philosophy profession, and why should they be continued?

It always seemed to me that Leiter’s major contribution to the philosophy profession (for which he should be thanked, completely apart from the well deserved drubbing he’s getting for his bullying) is that departments are now much more transparent about what happens to its graduates. Now that’s a real service, and I hope departments continue this transparency.

But what’s the value in knowing what a small selection of philosophers think about e.g., whether Brown is #14 or #16?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

The rankings give a newcomer to the field (such as an undergrad, or potential PhD applicant) useful information about how an influential slice of the profession regards various departments, their subfield strengths, and so on. Such information is helpful because if one is planning to go into academia for one’s career, one can learn quite a bit about which subfields are perceived to be strong at a given dept. And if one is considering certain subfields for specialization, this is extremely helpful information: one typically wants to make informed decisions about whether a particular dept is worth applying to, or enrolling in, and not just rely on the advice of a few of one’s faculty members at one’s own institution. The really helpful information is in the faculty make-up and the specialty rankings, not in the differences between being (say) #14 or #16 in the overall rankings.

I relied on the PGR information over several years as I was getting into philosophy, and it helped me immensely. I later went to one of the top-2 PGR-ranked depts (neither of which, in all likelihood, would be known as world-class depts, to me or many others, were it not for the PGR).Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Those are some good points. What’s your take on Helen’s proposal below as an alternative?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

I do like some of Helen’s ideas, though the APA’s guide to grad programs already provides much of what Helen’s (1) is after: http://www.apaonline.org/?page=gradguide

And I am a bit wary of the PGR methodology as used: some PGR evaluators admit that they just don’t know what to do when confronted with a faculty list very few of whom are recognized names. On the other hand, I don’t see how it would be helpful to craft a PGR in terms other than a ‘quality’ assessment: it provides a measure of faculty quality and reputation. Having that information widely available is quite valuable, at least insofar as perceived quality/reputation is valuable to a great many in the profession. If such measures of quality/reputation were not used as heuristics in hiring, promotion, publication, etc., then the philosophy world might be a much better place. But until that conditional’s antecedent is true, the PGR’s measure of faculty reputation will be quite valuable (taken with a big dose of salt of course).Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

It might be a matter of getting clear just what’s wrong with the PGR as a tool, and that’s no easy task. One, I think the problem you raised (evaluators not knowing most of the names) is very serious, and probably affects most PGR evaluators. It seems an almost perfectly suited method to bias the rankings in favor of departments that hire famous people. Two, it not only gives prospective graduate students good information, but it also negatively affects their decision making in some ways. Prospective graduate students I’ve met spend too much time hand-wringing over whether to attend PGR #21 vs. #31, and not enough time asking questions like, “is this department the right size for me?” or “do I want to live in this city for 5-7 years?” or “what kind of relationship does the faculty have with the graduate students?”. Three, it seems to me pretty clear that the PGR’s methodology carries an undesirable bias in favor of larger departments over smaller ones. If you’re in the position of the evaluator, it’s surely tempting to, ceteris paribus, give a higher rating to a department with 25 people you mostly don’t know than to a department with 15 people you mostly don’t know. Four, it negatively affects the way departments hire new faculty. When I was a prospective who visited departments, departments were explicitly working the PGR into their “sales pitch.” One department even claimed to have an ongoing effort to improve its PGR ranking. It started to sound a little like a college football program. This encourages departments to over-hire the sorts of philosophers (e.g., narrowly focused on analytic M & E, possibly famous or well known philosophers) who are not going to help cure the profession of its problems with diversity of demographics and ideas.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

None of this is to say it’s all bad. I think the quality assessment part of the PGR has undeniably helped departments like Rutgers and Pitt. But I’m just trying to get clear on what needs to be improved, or what sorts of climate benefits might arise from a reworking of the PGR.Report

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

And let’s not kid ourselves: many fine departments, with fine graduate programs that give fine graduate training, are not on the PGR. Some of those departments choose not to be ranked; others perhaps think that the departments are no good, but the latter is usually an inference of the form “I haven’t heard of them, so they must not be good.” That is a very faulty inference, but it’s also what some PGR reviewers have admitted to doing *when they submit their rankings*!

Full disclosure: I came from just such an unranked program. The PGR has made my career harder because of it, even though I was very happy with my graduate training, and I think my record attests at least in part to its quality.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  Rachel
6 years ago

The names of the departments are not on the ballots, so certainly reviewers can’t be saying “I haven’t heard of that department so it must not be good.”. And if a competent reviewer hasn’t heard of any of the philosophers in a department, that is surely some evidence that the department isn’t stellar.

Finally, as far as I know departments do not choose whether to be ranked. How would that choice work?Report

Rachel
Rachel
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

You’re just wrong, some departments actively opt out of being ranked. I know of some.

Also, having not heard of anyone in a department is at best very weak, highly defeasible evidence. But it’s so unreliable (ceteris paribus) as to be no better than guessing. Do you really take yourself to know all the people doing good work in all of philosophy (at least at schools with grad programs)? I should hope not.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

What departments have opted out? I’m just puzzled because it isn’t clear *how* a department *could* opt out. You don’t have to do anything to be ranked, as far as I know. The PGR will just use your list of faculty from your webpage. Are you talking about before there were lists of faculty on webpages?

I certainly don’t think using “not having heard of someone” as no more reliable than guessing. Do you really think that? Obviously, I don’t take myself to know all the people doing good work in all of philosophy. That would be absurd. But I would bet a lot of money that, if presented with a list of faculty members at different but unnamed departments, I could do much better than chance at, say, ranking them in terms of the number of Oxford book contracts those faculty members have received in the last 10 years. Not perfect of course, but much better than chance.

In any case, no one person is doing these rankings, so it doesn’t matter if they’re not perfectly reliable individually. The wisdom of crowds etc.Report

Helen De Cruz
Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

We don’t need to wait for the outcome of this vote. A new Information for Prospective Grad Students in Philosophy could be constructed independent of the PGR, and hosted by PhilPapers+,
(1) This new information database should not be primarily about rankings of “quality” (which is problematic – since it comes with assumptions about what counts as central in philosophy), but rather provide grad students with clear measures of placement rates and places where they could study the topic(s) of their choice. PGR could provide info on a wide range of topics, e.g., experimental philosophy, continental French etc. One can give that info *without* giving an overall rank of perceived quality.
(2) The methodology by which specializations and placements rates are assessed, and by which assessors are recruited, should be empirically informed by the social sciences
(3) PGR shouldn’t be in the hands of one or a few individuals but shared responsibility, e.g., a task force in the APA, input from AAP and other philosophy societies
(4) It would be nice to expand PGR to departments outside the English-speaking world. There are lots of grad students elsewhere who could benefit from lists of placement records and specializations of faculty members who are not working at English-speaking departmentsReport

Amber Griffioen
Amber Griffioen
Reply to  Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

This seems like a good idea – especially in terms of expanding the PGR beyond departments in the English-speaking world. A lot of grad students don’t know just how many possibilities there are for finding jobs abroad. Further, many international departments are very excited to have scholars coming over from the English-speaking world, as opposed to the other way around. Granted, not everybody in the English-speaking world can/wants to go abroad, but for those who are open to the idea, there are a lot of opportunities out there. Further, for students who live abroad or come from foreign countries, it would be nice to have departments from elsewhere included. It might be a little difficult to implement, but I think it’s well worth it – especially insofar as it moves the discipline away from the idea that the only “good” philosophy is done in English-speaking countries, which is a real problem for many international scholars when looking for jobs or trying to get papers accepted.

As an American scholar who has secured a position in a philosophy department in Germany, I can attest that there are very good programs out there. And many of them accept grad students and hire postdocs who speak (only) English. My department encourages research output in both English and German and offers teaching opportunities in both languages. We have scholars from around the world who are well-entrenched within English-speaking philosophical circles, and our professors strongly encourage collaboration with the international philosophical community.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

Helen, regarding your #2, I would be very interested to hear input from social scientists on how to assess placement statistics. As I’ve posted in several different contexts, I think there are so many complicating factors in this area that it is hard to know what a sound quantitative assessment would look like.Report

GBT
GBT
Reply to  Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

I don’t see the appeal of having PhilPapers host a ranking service, whether they are (in part) responsible for producing it or merely hosting it on behalf of another body. PhilPapers and Philjobs (and Philevents) serve the profession well based on what they already provide philosophers. That is to say, I like that Philpapers (et al) stay out of these matters and give philosophers what they need most: an index of papers, job ads, and events lists. I do not think it is a good idea to suggest that Philpapers also play host to a system for rankings if we can’t all agree on whether rankings are even a good idea on the face of it, and especially given all of the snark going back and forth regarding current matters (that is _not_ to say the the comment to which I am replying is at all snarky; on the contrary.)Report

Justin
Justin
6 years ago

For what it’s worth, I disagree that the APA should have anything to do with ranking graduate programs. First off, it is unclear whether a ranking at all promotes the official mission of the APA. But more importantly, whatever virtues such rankings may have, they are exclusive and divisive, and an organization that is purportedly there to serve the interests of all members of the profession will find itself instead alienating a good number of those members if it gets into the rankings game.

I also disagree with the apparent presumption that there should be a single or chief ranking of graduate programs. If there are lessons from the development of the PGR and its effect on the profession they include the idea that, though rankings may be informative, we should be on guard against exclusivity and the concentration of power. This appears to speak in favor of multiple rankings arranged by distinct individuals or organizations.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

If you want the perspective of someone outside philosophy:

As someone in a different academic field (and I’ve studied in three discrete fields, and this applies to all of them) the idea of the members of a discipline ranking themselves in terms of reputation is kind of bizarre and the vast majority of professional academics I know of would find the idea far beneath their dignity. That’s something US News and World Report does, or the NRC, or some other entity outside the field. It’s actually kind of sad that philosophy, which I always respected as an extremely important field for humankind does this.

Obviously the graduate program you graduate from is highly determinative of your job prospects but in the interests of collegiality and intellectual honesty (you judge scholars by what they produce, not the department they came from) you recognize each other as peers. Obviously transparency in outcomes is a good thing but you can easily get that without adding “reputation” scores. It makes your field sound like a bunch of pretentious high school seniors trying to outdo each other in the colleges into which you were accepted.

The fact that this guy apparently started doing it when he was a graduate student(?) makes it even stranger; it would be considered amazingly impertinent for someone with that little experience to judge people who have been in the field for decades, at least in my field. They would be either ignored or dismissed, and their own reputation would be negatively impacted in the field.Report

Nate
Nate
Reply to  DC
6 years ago

Thanks for this — I’ve heard exactly this opinion from people outside my (philosophy) department. PGR is sort of an embarrassment.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  DC
6 years ago

I would be interested to know what reasons there are for thinking that US News would provide a more accurate ranking of quality than the PGR. Or any group of non-philosophers. Please explain. Furthermore, no group of non-philosophers provides such a ranking (or at least, one worth looking at).

Obviously, support for the PGR doesn’t entail that we shouldn’t recognize each other as peers. Tracking outcomes is a backward looking measure–if the faculty at a historically (by outcomes) great program were switched with the faculty at a historically (by outcomes) bad program, that change would not be fully accounted for by backward looking measures for years while it would be immediately accounted for by the methodology of the PGR.

None of this is to say that the PGR is flawless, or that we shouldn’t try something else.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

I don’t think US News or any other group would provide a more accurate ranking of quality than the PGR; my point was solely that reputational rankings themselves are not really necessary at all and reflect poorly on the field that they are even a thing.

As an analogy, saying I don’t think The Journal of Philosophy to cover celebrity gossip doesn’t mean I think that US Weekly is better at it. I just think it means it shouldn’t be covered at all.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

I guess I am having trouble understanding why I would be embarrassed by a ranking of graduate programs in philosophy by perceived quality. As I said below, for better or worse, the perceived quality of one’s department makes a huge impact on one’s job prospects. For that reason, it is extremely valuable to many prospective graduate students to have information about the perceived quality of programs (and specialties within programs) they are considering. The PGR provides such information. Hence, the PGR is extremely valuable to many prospective graduate students. I myself think it a rather good thing that this service is provided to prospective graduate students in philosophy, and it an embarrassment to other disciplines that they do not provide a similar service.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

If you don’t see the embarassment factor we might be coming at this from two dramatically different perspectives that would be hard to bridge. It smacks of pomposity, of “I’m better than you because I’m pedigreed.” The benefits of knowing overall “reputation” seems to be dramatically outstripped by the drawbacks of creating a circular system where a program places people because it has a good reputation because it places people because it has a good reputation ad infinitum.

Backward-looking measures are flawed but they might just be the only way to really understand the system.

Like I said other programs don’t do this; do you really think that EVERY SINGLE OTHER discipline is doing it wrong and philosophy is doing it right?Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

If you are right that every single other discipline doesn’t provide prospective graduate students with a ranking of programs by perceived quality (overall and with respect to various sub disciplines) then yes, I am strongly inclined to think that they are doing it wrong and we are doing it right. So?

And I have no idea where pomposity and the idea that some of us are better than others because more pedigreed comes in. Perhaps you are projecting how you would use information about the perceived quality of programs in your discipline? I know that sounds like an attack, but I’m honestly puzzled by your comments. Do you deny that having freely available public rankings of departments in terms of overall quality and specialization is very helpful to prospective graduate students? If so, then please explain why. But if not, then I think the fact that some people in other disciplines would find it “beneath their dignity” or “embarrassing” to participate in such an endeavor just shows that they don’t give a shi*t about the well being of prospective graduate students.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

I think the other fields just realize that the drawbacks outweigh any benefit to putative graduate students. Not to pile on BL, but Google reveals he actually wrote this when complaining about a judge dismissing a case brought by a buddy of him (a defamation case):

“[T]his is really crucial, the local judges in the Chicago state courts are, I have been told, mostly graduates of non-elite law schools and have contempt for elite academics. Judge Flanagan, who handed down this decision, graduated from John Marshall here in Chicago, a regional school that ranks well behind other very good regional schools in Chicago like Loyola/Chicago, Chicago-Kent and DePaul.”

This is the danger; the idea that pedigree matters, that a well-respected judge on the bench for 30 years will sell out her integrity because of jealousy over school rankings. Obviously this is an outlier in terms of rationality: I think maybe only BL is THAT obsessed with rankings, but I think it is instructive in regards to their insidious nature.

The way other fields do it is better, in my opinion. If I want to study X, I can get a general sense of who does X from undergraduate professors and literature review. I then apply to several programs that do X, talk to the people at them, and look at the research they’re producing. It’s actually worked fairly well for every other field.Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
6 years ago

I don’t have a strong view about the merits of the PGR itself. I’m inclined to think that overall it does make a positive contribution to the profession (though one that a number of people tend to put too much weight on) but I haven’t given it a lot of thought. What I’m more curious about is why the question of whether it should continue, or continue under BL’s direction, should depend on whether it turns out that BL is a mean person. If BL has done a good job of directing a project that provides useful information to prospective graduate students, I’m inclined to think that he should continue doing so if he is willing to do it, regardless of whether he is a mean (or insert other criticism of his character or behavior here) person. I’m certainly open to being argued out of this view, too, but I would want to know the reasons first. His book on tolerating religion looks interesting, for example, and I don’t find myself less inclined to read it based on what’s been said about him as a person. And if I do read it, I don’t think I’ll find myself inclined to take the contents of the book less seriously because of what’s been said about him. So if I were a prospective graduate student who found the PGR valuable prior to hearing claims about him as a person, I don’t think I’d be inclined to take the results of the PGR any less seriously as a result. This is not meant as a defense of keeping PGR running, and running under his leadership, but as a genuine question: if he’s been doing a good job of directing a project that produces valuable results, why should the decision about whether it would be good for him to continue doing so turn on whether he is a mean (bullying, etc.,) person? And, of course, if the PGR hasn’t been producing valuable results in the first place, then it should be discontinued for that reason regardless of whether or not he’s a nice guy.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  David Boonin
6 years ago

…I also don’t think it should turn on whether Leiter is a mean person. I also don’t think the goal is to adjudicate whether Leiter is a mean person. I think the issue is supposed to be the consequences of his remarks for the philosophy profession and its members. That issue can be addressed without passing judgment on Leiter as a person, and should be so addressed. I don’t care whether Leiter’s a mean person, and I imagine he’s done a lot of nice things, but I do know that he’s made a lot of nasty remarks and done a lot of nasty things that have negatively affected people. And I think that’s part (but only part) of why people object to his role with the PGR.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
Reply to  David Boonin
6 years ago

Perhaps not because it makes the PGR worse but because it makes the putative bullying worse, in virtue of the power that it confers on the putative bully?Report

Clay
Clay
6 years ago

Given the number of people declining to help Leiter produce the rankings (a number I expect will grow as more people hear about his conduct), I’m not sure how representative they’ll be if/when they do come out: https://sites.google.com/site/septemberstatement/Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
Reply to  Clay
6 years ago

That’s a good point, Clay, although in a way it simply pushes the question back a step: if BL has been doing a good job of directing the PGR, is there a good reason for people to decline to serve as reviewers who would otherwise accept? I wonder, for example, if people would decline to referee manuscripts for a journal if they found out that the editor of the journal was a mean person. Maybe they would, and maybe even they should. But it at least isn’t clear to me why they should, if they should.Report

senior fac
senior fac
Reply to  Clay
6 years ago

I can attest: it is not an easy decision to give up the status of evaluator, and I can imagine that it is even harder to give up the status of board member. There is the power and influence associated with these titles, for one thing, and it is also very easy to convince oneself that one is holding on in order to protect the status of one’s department, or one’s graduate students, etc.

But like Gollum and the ring, sometimes it is better to just let go.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

While it’s important to ask whether the PGR should continue, the first commenter raised another important question: If the PGR continues, should Leiter continue to be its editor? It seems to me detrimental TO THE PGR for its editor to be sending an e-mail in which he refers to the philosophy faculty at a significant American university as “a shit department”. Regardless of what one thinks of Emory’s department, or of the behavior of the person to whom Leiter was writing, it is not appropriate for the editor of the PGR to write that email. (Note that among his discussions of these emails, I don’t think Leiter has denied writing that sentence.)

Here’s an analogy: Imagine the editor of US News’ rankings wrote an e-mail to a detractor saying that she belonged to “a shit college”. If this information became public, I imagine people (including proponents of the US News rankings) would question whether that editor should continue in his job. People are entitled to their private opinions, and it would be one thing if the e-mail had been written to a personal friend of the editor. But in this case it was written to someone who has been a public critic of the institution. I realize this analogy isn’t perfect (for one thing, the PGR isn’t part of a larger corporation), but hopefully readers will understand my point.

I also understand that Leiter is human, and humans make mistakes. In a recent post on his blog Leiter asked us to put all of this in the context of the busyness caused by the PGR work he’s been doing. But if the US News editor contextualized his behavior by citing the burdens of the work he does as editor, wouldn’t that be more reason to think that someone else should be doing the job?

I don’t know if the PGR should continue, but I do think it’s bad for the institution to have an editor who behaves in this fashion. That leaves a number of options: the PGR could cease, someone else could take on the role of editor, Leiter could continue as editor but change his behavior, Leiter could continue as editor but significantly curtail his other online activities, etc. I don’t know which of these options is best, but the status quo seems to me to be growing increasingly unsustainable.Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
6 years ago

No, the Philosophical Gourmet should not continue. The reason for that has nothing to do with Brian Leiter’s behavior. The reason is that the survey does not filter out the effects of shared biases. Matt Drabek has listed a couple of these (mixed together with other sorts of objections), namely, a bias toward departments that have a few especially famous people and a bias toward large departments. But I think there are a couple of other shared biases that are even more likely to skew the results: A bias toward departments in universities that are strong overall and a bias toward departments that have historically been strong. Please do not cooperate with the Philosophical Gourmet Report.Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
6 years ago

Sorry, when I posted my initial response to Clay’s comment, I hadn’t read the statement he linked to (for some reason, the font was so light in color I didn’t notice it). I’ve now read the statement and I do see the force of it. Thanks for sharing the link. This does make sense to me.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

A crucial part of the difficulty with the continuation of the PGR in its present form seems to me to stem from the fact that the person who is responsible for overseeing the PGR described one of the philosophy departments in the US as “shit”.Report

Also anon
Also anon
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

This was a private e-mail, written from one professor to another, where there was some acrimony. Why think that there is anything to see here at all? This is the sort of thinking that lends support to the view that the moralizing about Leiter is just anti-PGR opportunism.Report

garrettnecessary
6 years ago

I think a lot of the fault lies with the profession. Someone said the PGR is beneath the dignity of philosophers. Well many things philosophers do are beneath the dignity of any profession, but they still do them. If we were able to take the PGR as one helpful heuristic it would be terrific. But we aren’t able to, and our administrators are not able to either. If there is a ranking that tracks some properties even mildly accurately, then in absence of other rankings it will be taken as the sole ranking. Like Justin, I think the best solution is to have a bunch of rankings — because its unlikely that there won’t be some ranking or other — and to engage in healthy critical discussion about them. This would hopefully force us — embarrassing status seeks that we are — to not rely on one ranking. But that said creating rankings is a lot of work, someone has to do it.Report

PC
PC
Reply to  garrettnecessary
6 years ago

I agree that we should aspire to an environment with a variety of rankings and healthy critical discussion around each. But it’s worth pointing out that when alternative metrics have been compiled– say, by Dicey Jennings on placement data– they’ve been met with not ‘helpful criticism,’ but vitriol by the editor of the PGR. While surely we can find fault in the profession as a whole, it’s also true that there are some very discrete loci in the profession that consistently undermine the, shall we say, pluralistic approach to program evaluation that you support. And at least one of those loci has apparent interest in maintaining a monolithic evaluation system.Report

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

David: I see three issues. First, very generally, part of the problem is just that the editorship of the PGR comes with such enormous power and influence that it should be in the hands of someone who behaves in a professional and ethical way (BL would undoubtedly object that ‘ethical’ has no cognitive content, but never mind).

Second, more specifically, BL has abused that power in at least one case when he calls a particular philosophy department ‘shit’. That may be his personal opinion, but if the editor of the rankings displays such extreme biases and hostility towards certain departments this is surely a reason to have him replaced. (Although, as someone else points out elsewhere, since he owns the PGR it will not be that easy.)

Finally, as those initiated the online petition point out, there is no easy way to separate off the PGR editor Leiter from the person who launches vicious threats and hostility at junior people, because clearly his threats and insults have the effect they have mostly because of his position of power qua PGR editor.Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  Tom
6 years ago

to clarify, with regard to the second point, I meant that qua editor he has some professional duty to preserve a neutral stance as to the value/quality of particular departments (or so it seems to me). He is entitled to his private opinions of course but they should not affect the way he coins the perception of these departments.Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
Reply to  Tom
6 years ago

Thanks, Tom. This all makes good sense to me. As I said in my brief follow up to my response to Clay, I had not noticed the online statement at first and had not thought in terms of participation in PGR contributing power to someone that was then being used in objectionable ways. One thing I like about this approach is that it would (it seems to me) enable one to draw a distinction between linking BL’s behavior to one’s attitude toward the PGR and linking BL’s behavior to one’s attitude toward, say, his book on religion and toleration,, which was part of my initial query. If that book’s success doesn’t give him the kind of power in question that the PGR’s success is presumed to do, then this kind of argument for in effect boycotting the PGR would not (at least by itself) justify boycotting his book. That seems to me a good feature of the argument (though maybe not everyone will agree!).Report

Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I would welcome a robust discussion of the value of rankings in general. Other academics have pointed out to me, somewhat forcefully, that these in house rankings do not exist in their discipline, and that they find the very concept of in house rankings of this kind both intrinsically problematic and just plain weird. It is important to take this perspective seriously.

For me, I have obviously benefitted from PGR. My PhD is from a department that, to my knowledge has always been ranked in the top 4 of philosophy departments in the US since the PGR began. This no doubt helped me enormously on the job market. Still, I am open to the idea that the rankings are problematic, and that professionally we are better off without them.

Also, this conversation should take place without recourse to speculation about “ulterior motives”. This is simply not helpful.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

It would help me take the perspective of these other academics seriously if they would say, or you would convey, what a better alternative is. Perhaps in house rankings are like democracy–the worst system imaginable, except for all the others.

In any case, for better or worse, the perceived quality of one’s department makes a huge impact on one’s job prospects. For that reason, it is extremely valuable to many graduate students to have information about the perceived quality of programs (and specialties within programs) they are considering. The PGR provides such information. Hence, the PGR is extremely valuable to many graduate students.

I am having trouble seeing how that line of reasoning could fail to be cogent. Help?Report

DC
DC
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

Why do you need an alternative? Why not just have a website that simply lists how many the basic demographics of each department and how many students it places in TT jobs?Report

CW
CW
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

j/k, one complicating factor is that the existence of the PGR might make it more likely that ‘the perceived quality of one’s department makes a huge impact on one’s job prospects’. At least, that seems to me to be a plausible hypothesis. If it is right, we shouldn’t assume that the degree to which perceived quality influences prospects is fixed, when we are thinking about whether it is good that the PGR exists.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

If the list doesn’t distinguish between 4/4 and 2/2 TT jobs, it seems like it will be pretty misleading. I believe that Notre Dame, for example, has a very high placement record–higher than its PGR ranking. But a disproportionate number of those placements are will small religious schools with a 4/4 teaching load. Many people aren’t interested in teaching at a small religious school. For the placement data to be non-misleading, it seems like would need to distinguish between “better” and “worse” jobs. But to distinguish those, one needs something like a ranking of departments.

Presumably the objective way to do this would be to distinguish schools on the basis of their teaching load, and perhaps whether they are a religious school. But I am very reluctant to give programs an incentive to cut students that they do not think will be able to get R1 jobs. If we evaluate schools on the basis of placement, schools like (e.g.) Michigan will have an incentive to raise the proportion of their students that get R1 jobs when they go on the market. One obvious way to do that is to cut students who do not seem like they will get an R1 job, even if they might be able to get a job at a SLAC. That is not something I would want to encourage.Report

BB
BB
Reply to  j/k
6 years ago

CW: The perceived quality of one’s department made a huge impact on one’s job prospects in philosophy before the PGR. And it continues to make a huge impact on one’s job prospects in disciplines without an equivalent ranking. Putting it mildly, there is no evidence that there is anything that distinguishes philosophy as it is now either from other disciplines or philosophy pre-PGR in virtue of which it would be different.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

I am someone who has signed the statement. I did this nervously despite finding it hard to see how my life might be negatively effected by this. I know from exchanges with friends and colleagues (especially junior ones) that there is a genuine fear regarding the possible consequences of signing the statement and that that is leading people not to do so. It is in part against the culture of fear under which our profession is now forced to conduct itself too much of the time that this statement seeks to speak, I hope that it will not go unheard and without consequence.Report

contrary anon
contrary anon
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

I feel the opposite. This is a frightening – almost McCarthyite – moment, with a bunch of intemperate comments presented without context being deployed in favour of broader political goals, and with anything remotely like a coherent process being displaced by public shaming. I have considered laying out some objections under my own name but I am genuinely too scared to do so. This is the first time I have ever felt forced to comment anonymously on a blog.Report

Jennifer Frey
Reply to  contrary anon
6 years ago

Can you be specific about the “intemperate comments”? Surely, Brian Leiter is the one who has been lobbing around the most intemperate comments, and not just in this “moment.” Also, why are you scared? Are you simply afraid that folks will disagree with you (common enough in philosophy) or do you actually have evidence that you might be retaliated against somehow professionally? Again, Brian Leiter has publicly insulted and denigrated other academics for years (not simply disagreed with, but viciously insulted and denigrated their characters, motives, and intellectual capacities). It also turns out that he has personally threatened other academics with lawsuits (I’ve seen this myself; not everyone is coming forward). Finally, after years of this, people are finally saying they are “concerned” and are divesting themselves from cooperating with the PGR. What is McCarthyite about this? People are free to divest themselves of professional projects; they are also free to express their opinions about what constitutes behavior befitting a professional philosopher. Why does this make you personally afraid? Is it because you also engage in such behaviors and now feel vulnerable? No one is calling for Brian Leiter to be fired or punished in some way (so, the McCarthyite label seems unfair; this isn’t a witch hunt to run anyone out of the profession). Many philosophers are simply saying that they don’t want to be involved in the PGR so long as he is running it. They are simply saying, in other words, that he is a bad example.

Perhaps you are simply alarmed that emails were made public without the author’s consent? Well, that seems worth talking about, actually. I don’t see why you couldn’t just make your case, as if a pack of pitchfork bearing, rabid philosophers would obviously attack you in response, or try to sabotage your reputation. I don’t see any evidence of that happening, and in absence of specific evidence, I cannot take the charge at face value. I am less concerned about Brian Leiter and more concerned about those he threatens and the reasons he threatens them, because I am concerned about abuse of institutional power by those who have a great deal of it. There is nothing McCarthyite, in my mind, about expressing these concerns. And nothing intemperate either. And, it turns out, I’m hardly alone in this concern.

Philosophy should not operate under a culture of fear and intimidation. We agree about this much. What I’m not seeing is how Leiter is the true victim of this climate, rather than one of its principle architects.Report

contrary anon
contrary anon
Reply to  contrary anon
6 years ago

I think the inference from “you are made afraid by the current climate” to “you have done something wrong” speaks for itself. Beyond that I have little to add (and dislike conversations from anonymity). I just wanted to note that the view that speaking one’s mind in the current climate is dangerous is held by people with very different starting points. That may be irrational – but then, I think having that reaction to Brian Leiter’s supposed power is irrational; ymmv. I won’t comment further.Report

Jennifer Frey
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

contrary anon:

no one made any inference from “you are afraid” to “you have done something wrong.”

In my response to your comment, I was supplying potential reasons for fear one might have (I offered many, in the form of questions, not accusations) and gave you the opportunity to clarify the nature and cause of your fear and to back up charges that something that has happened in the past two days is “McCarthyite”–a very strong charge indeed. I have accused you of nothing, and have made no inferences about your character or your actions. Asking a question is not making a statement. Moreover, the question of whether you approve of or engage in similar behaviors makes sense in the context of many anonymous posters claiming that they see nothing wrong with Leiter’s behavior, and that the real unethical behavior is by those who drafted and signed the september statement, and who brought Leiter’s emails to public attention and concern. I was asking you to clarify if you stood with that crowd. that’s reasonable, because if you are among those who think that or do that, then I would address this issue rather than something else. And I would do it, for the record, without attacking you personally, since I would have absolutely no basis for doing that, and because it would be unproductive. The point of the conversation would, of course, to be to persuade you that such behavior is problematic. But it would simply be a dialogue. Trying to persuade people about right and wrong is what I do for a living.

I would also note that I attempted to highlight the respects in which we agree, and I have said repeatedly on this thread that I find a climate of fear problematic.

If you prefer not to clarify your remarks or substantiate them in any way, that’s fine. But please do not suggest that I am making claims about you personally. I have no idea who you are. The whole point was to try to get a handle on why you feel you must remain anonymous despite the fact that you don’t like it, because that’s very important to seeing how things might be changed to prevent that.Report

anon22
anon22
6 years ago

The PGR should not continue. Everything is being monetised in our culture but philosophy should not join in this—at least they should not initiate this kind of thing themselves.

Whatever happened to the idea of studying with a philosopher on the basis of her or his work? It is kind of horrifying that, e.g. placement statistics should enter into a young philosopher’s decision where to apply to graduate school.Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  anon22
6 years ago

Anon22 – what is so horrifying about the idea that young philosophers would be concerned about whether they will have a means to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families at the end of their studies?

Or – if philosophers are to be so untied to such conventional needs, why should they care about getting into graduate school anyway? Socrates didn’t have a job (though he did have an inheritance), but he didn’t go to grad school either.Report

keaswaran
keaswaran
Reply to  anon22
6 years ago

Of course, the real problem is that an undergrad who only got to know one or two professors doesn’t have a good sense of what the work is that is being done at every department. The point of a ranking system of this sort is to give that undergrad the information of where to go looking for work that other philosophers find interesting and valuable, to see if they agree.

Placement statistics are only important to people who want to continue eating after they graduate. But they come with enough caveats that they shouldn’t be folded into any other ranking, but should just be provided in some clear format.Report

L13
L13
6 years ago

I don’t like Brian Leiter as a person, but a. the PGR serves as a kind of roadmap to the field, a panoramic view of the profession in which many people can see themselves in relation to their colleagues, and I think the fact it helps to constitute this shared vision of philosophy makes it valuable; and b. I think that, “I like the PGR but not Leiter, so someone else should edit the PGR,” is a crushingly entitled thing to say. Leiter came up with the concept, methodology and logistics of the PGR. Both the idea and the realization are entirely his. Taking the project away from him seems impossible, and pressuring him to pass it on to someone more likeable, unfair.

Thus I believe people should avoid equivocal statements on this subject. If the PGR is to continue, it will be headed by Brian Leiter; it is unreasonable to ask for different leadership. If the majority, or enough, of English-speaking philosophers dislike him so intensely, or find his visibility and influence so harmful, on the other hand, those people can collectively bring about the termination of his project. In that case, any new ranking system would have to be built from scratch by another person (or, more likely, team of people).Report

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  L13
6 years ago

You’re ignoring the huge effort undertaken by the rankers and the board. It was his idea, but it’s now a team effort.Report

Marcus
Marcus
6 years ago

Is it time for a thread asking what should happen given the results of the poll(s)? Or perhaps better formulated: what should happen given the potential results of the poll(s)?

I’m not sure how long the poll will run, but the ‘No’ vote is certainly not the isolated group that perhaps Brian had anticipated. If the vote were to swing in the “Yes” favor and the PGR were to continue, would the mere fact of the poll and the large “No” vote create a novel reason (or reasons) for modifications to the PGR? And what if the “No” vote holds? Are there any reasons that could be given that would justify the PGR continued existence in that case? And if so, how would the ‘No’ vote change the way we ought to view the PGR and the way those working on the PGR ought to view themselves?

In other words, how ought the outcome of poll change the debate about the PGR?Report

Brawny McTighe
Brawny McTighe
6 years ago

The statement website appears to have been taken down.Report

anon
6 years ago

note that the ilnk to the pledge not to assist PGR is temporarily down. There is a temporary link here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.html (I don’t run this, just noticed).Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

A temporary replacement is here, I believe: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.htmlReport

Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I think this comment from “senior philosopher” over at Leiter’s blog is worth considering in this discussion:

“As a former chair at a ranked department, I can attest that the PGR proved invaluable when I dealt with central administration. Because PGR was available and because our administrators were persuaded that it is a credible peer-ranking, our department ranking was taken seriously and our department therefore enjoyed considerable prestige within the university. Moreover, if we were trying to recruit someone from another department, or were in competition with another department for someone, having the rankings of the competition helped me leverage resources the availability of which would otherwise have depended upon my own credibility with the dean. I could also draw on the PGR to make persuasive cases about the strengths and needs of departmental sub-fields.

In disciplines without comparably trust-worthy peer rankings, administrators are forced to depend too heavily upon chairs honestly to self-report the quality and needs of their own departments. Needless to say, the chairs with whom I was competing for resources were not always as reliable or unbiased as I would have liked. We are lucky to have the PGR and I hope it will be continued.”

If its true that almost no other discipline has in house ranking, I wonder why a dean would put so much trust in the PGR. I’m not casting doubt on what this person says in any way, I’m just curious. At any rate, I wonder how something like the PGR gets played out at an administrative level. This is important, and I hadn’t really considered it. I wonder if anyone has experiences to share in this regard.

Also, I think its important to remember that all of this was started because Leiter’s email correspondance (which is truly incredible on so many levels) was made public, and the behavior evinced by that correspondance was “of concern” to many of us. also, some of us are aware of other such emails and threats, though they are not public, and that colors our reaction. At any rate, I find this behavior extremely disturbing, but even more disturbing is the fact that Leiter doesn’t see anything wrong with it. I am surprised to see at various places online that some people (who prefer to remain anonymous) are not disturbed at all by it, or even welcome it. This is quite difficult for me to understand, since it looks like textbook bullying. No amount of “context” would render these emails ethical, professional, or even remotely appropriate, in my mind. A culture of fear and intimidation is unhealthy for professional philosophy; that culture may be a norm for some, but that is what is being called into question here. The kind of elitism on display in the emails is also unhealthy for philosophy (speaking of “shit departments” and the like). And, I would argue, the fact that if there is evidence that PGR is run by someone who promotes a culture of fear, intimidation, and elitism this is a matter of genuine concern.

I am the last person who wants to indulge in smearing people or name calling. I am concerned with professional behavior. In large part, that is because I have been on the receiving end of unprofessional behavior, both on the job market and as junior faculty, and I’d like to see the culture of philosophy improve on this score, because it makes professional life deeply unpleasant. And frankly, we can do better.Report

anon
anon
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Bravo!Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

A couple of comments.

1) In response to Jennifer, I think that senior philosopher’s experience is very common. A Dean will have any number of chairs saying their department is super-eminent in this and top in that, with no way of deciding who’s telling the truth and who’s making it up. The PGR can help a philosophy chair by providing something more objective, and it’s done that both at my previous university and at my current one. While other Humanities departments don’t do rankings — they seem to distrust anything that involves numbers — Law, I’m told, is even more rankings-driven than philosophy, with people caring to move from the #9 law school to the #8 because it’s a move up. So philosophy isn’t unique in having rankings, and has benefited from being somewhat distinctive in that among humanities departments.

2) I was for quite a while on Brian’s PGR board, though I recently stepped down because I’m no longer sufficiently in touch with who’s doing what to have intelligent opinions about relative quality. And I actually wouldn’t vote in the past on the overall rankings, as against on the ranking in my specialty, because I didn’t think I knew enough about work in e.g. M & E to have an informed opinion about who did good work in it.

3) Anyway, several comments about the PGR made above seem to me inaccurate. For example, it’s said the PGR favours large departments — but in a large department the “stars” will be accompanied by many people an evaluator doesn’t know, and he or she can hold that against the department, as bringing its average quality down. Brian’s view, as I recall, was that the PGR shouldn’t have an official view about whether big departments are better; it should be left to each individual evaluator — and weren’t there typically around 300? — to use their own judgement, if they have one, on the issue. For what it’s worth, I can see going either way on it. It’s an advantage of a large department that it has more potential supervisors in a given area; it’s a disadvantage that in many such departments many of the additional members will be less eminent or less able, so there’s the risk of getting a worse supervisor than in a smaller department if that department has hired well. My overall sense was that the rankings favoured middle-sized departments, e.g. not MIT and not Toronto (my current one) or Notre Dame.

4) In general, Brian didn’t decide things by himself but let the board discuss them and vote. For example, I and a few others thought evaluators should take into account something like a department’s intellectual atmosphere, collegiality, quality of graduate supervision, etc., so far as they knew about them. Others thought that shouldn’t be considered, because people would only be going on hearsay, gossip, etc. and their judgements wouldn’t be reliable. The debate went back and forth, a vote was held, and the second view prevailed. But Brian wasn’t deciding these things himself; he was letting the board do it. And I think several of the comments above exaggerate his influence on the PGR. After an earlier round of criticism, 10-15 years ago, he created a board, to make the PGR less his personal domain, and in my experience that board functioned reasonably well. Decisions were to a large extent collective rather than made by one person. In another thread someone said people can underestimate the impact of social relations of power, but they can also exaggerate the power of those they label as “powerful.”Report

Anon senior philosopher
Anon senior philosopher
6 years ago

Should the PGR continue? No. I remember thinking it was silly when it just reflected Brian Leiter’s opinions, and I don’t think it got any less silly when more people were asked to come in as evaluators. I think it is silly partly for the reason that I think rankings of movies, novels, rock albums, and tourist destinations are silly, but in the case of philosophy departments I think that a ranking is not only silly but also damaging because people make life decisions on the basis of it. And in spite of the fact that graduate students say that they are grateful to the report and find it useful, there is no evidence that it leads them to make decisions that are, in fact, best for them.

Even if there could in principle be a ranking of departments in terms of faculty quality, the PGR methodology would be hopeless for providing it. I was once asked to be an evaluator for the PGR and, in fact, made an honest effort, but I had in the end to give up because I realized that, given that I did not know the work of half of the philosophers in each department I was supposedly evaluating, I was not in a position to determine how to rank one group of faculty over another. (Even if I had known and been in a position to make a value judgment about their work, I wouldn’t have known how to weigh, say, a department with one person whose work I found excellent over against another department with two people I found merely good.) I suppose some people might take the attitude, “If I don’t know their work, they can’t be any good,” but that seems arrogant, to say the least. I don’t want to cast aspersions on the people who choose to be evaluators — I am sure that many of them have good reasons for doing it — but I think that most of us simply don’t know enough about work being done in the profession as a whole to be able to make reliable judgments of relative quality using the PGR methodology. Presumably the people who choose to be evaluators don’t share that view, but that makes me question their judgment, which is a further reason to be skeptical about whatever ranking they come up with.

Perhaps the methodology has become more sophisticated since then (I would be curious to know) but even with the best methodology ranking departments by faculty quality seems like a sheer impossibility to me. It’s hard enough ranking individuals (as one is sometimes asked to do) in tenure letters. And don’t tell me that, when you have lots of different people doing it, the limitations in each person’s knowledge and judgment somehow get evened out — I can’t imagine how aggregating the opinions of a lot of different people with limited knowledge and hazy views can yield a more reliable guide to quality than any of the opinions taken in isolation.Report

annejjacobson
annejjacobson
6 years ago

The National Research Council ranks doctoral depts in about 40 different areas. A major component of their rankings is based on reputation. All the rest are, I think, purely quantitative, using department reports for the data. So the idea that other fields do not do in house assessments strikes me as inaccurate.Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
6 years ago

I went to grad school at Emory and am surprised and dismayed to see it called a “s***” department. Many terrific professors work there and in my experience they don’t deserve that kind of harsh and inaccurate judgment. I am uncomfortable responding to something written in a private email but that ship has already sailed. I hope you’ll forgive my posting this here because I don’t have my own blog. I chose Emory because I wanted to study Ancient Greek philosophy and at that time both Dr. Richard Patterson and the late Dr. Steven Strange were teaching there. They were the most wonderful mentors I could have wished for, both intellectually and as respectful, kind human beings. (I hesitate to mention their names in association with this bizarre situation, but I’m trying to emphasize the positive.) Unfortunately, I don’t know Dr. McAfee because she arrived after I had already finished coursework. Although Emory is known for history of philosophy and particularly for continental philosophy, some of my favorite professors there also worked in the analytic tradition. For brevity I won’t list all their names, but I want these professors to know how much I appreciated them and how little they deserve that rude remark made about the program.

To my colleagues in philosophy, whether you think I’m a [****] philosopher who went to a [****] school or not, I wish we all could try to be more supportive of one another and promote the value of our shared discipline. Philosophy often isn’t in the strongest position within the university, nor does the public outside academia always find great value in what we do. I don’t see the good purpose of tearing one another down. Can’t we learn to disagree constructively? I’m not too concerned what people think of my own relative merits, but I do worry about how it is for the students and recent grads from my school, as well as those many beloved professors, to be unfairly tarnished this way. We are so lucky to be able to do what we do for a living. I hope we can learn to cherish that gift and treat one another kindly, even when we disagree.Report

ChrisTS
ChrisTS
Reply to  Laura Grams
2 years ago

I also did my grad work at Emory – though long before you, I think. I went there specifically because I thought I needed more history of phil. I am glad the program served you well.Report

annejjacobson
annejjacobson
6 years ago

Also, i’m inclined to think it should be the pgr or nothing, except that those who want to could use the NRC rankings. From what I understand of the collation and publication end of a big report, it seems very, very difficult to get it done, and still more so to get it right. It comes months later than anticipated, unless someone is prepared to get on the backs of participants, and then there’s a big negative outcry when it is published. “Doing something else” will not be simple.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

To anon senior philosopher:

The alternative to having something like the PGR is for students considering graduate school to go to their undergrad teachers for advice and then being told to go to the grad school the teacher went to, or to the schools where people he or she went to grad school with now teach, or grad schools that were highly regarded 15-20 years ago, or something equally idiosyncratic. This is especially likely at smaller or less prestigious schools, whose undergrads most need advice.

No, aggregating 300 people’s opinions doesn’t remove all sources of inaccuracy, but it sure as hell removes some.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
6 years ago

I wonder whether ranking departments in different areas, without trying to compile these ranking into a “master ranking,” might not provide equally useful guidance to students while avoiding some of the headaches that go along with trying to compare departments all things considered. If M&E people were ranking departments as places to study M&E, ethics people as places to study ethics, etc., there would surely be fewer cases in which an evaluator didn’t recognize the names of the people who were pertinent to her evaluation. And it would eliminate the need for individual evaluators to make decisions about the relative values of, say, analytic and continental philosophy.Report

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

Tom: That’s true except if there’s a common bias shared amongst many of the reviewers, which, given the longevity of the PGR, is a non-negligible concern. In a sense, the PGR has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why might I think Rutgers is an awesome dept? Because the PGR has consistently ranked it highly. I may form that judgment even if I don’t know much about the work of many of the people there.Report

anon senior philosopher
anon senior philosopher
6 years ago

Tom Hurka, thanks for responding to my comment. I’m not sure that going by the PGR rankings is actually a better guide than the alternative (which presumably involves doing some of one’s own research into places that seem like a good fit). It might well lead to strong students going to departments which are highly ranked by the PGR, which they might not have done otherwise, but whether you think that’s a better outcome depends on whether you think the PGR accurately tracks “quality”.

I still don’t see the point about the aggregation of opinions. I think if the opinions are not well-informed at the outset, then you’re more likely to get the kind of bias effects Christopher Gauker was talking about. If you really don’t know a lot of the work that is supposed to be the basis for evaluating, then you’ll probably fall back on vague ideas about who is “well thought of”, fueled by knowledge of how prestigious the institution is and how it was ranked in the last PGR. If it were a matter of aggregating individual well-informed opinions about particular subfields, it might be different, but as I understand it, that’s not how the methodology works (though I am not up-to-date on how it’s done now, so correct me if I’m wrong about the facts).Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
Reply to  anon senior philosopher
6 years ago

Thank you for stressing this. The effect of shared biases is likely to be very strong because, as you explained in your first post, people doing the ratings usually have very little first-hand acquaintance with the work of the faculties they are evaluating.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I’m with Dale Miller here. The PGR specialty rankings were INFINITELY more informative than the master ranking. The master ranking presumes that there is some way to translate sub-discipline expertise into a single metric that can be used to weight all departments against one another.

The reality of this is that the master ranking is exactly how (and partially why) there are marginalized fields in philosophy. It is because philosophy is dominated by white men doing M&E that the master rankings have the shape that they do.

A PGR with a tiered (but unranked) list ordered by speciality would achieve all of the functions that supporters of the PGR seem to find valuable without any of the drawbacks that the master ranking brings with it.Report

Colin
Colin
6 years ago

I think the PGR should continue, especially the specialty rankings. It gave me a broad idea which departments I should apply to when I was an undergrad. I wish I had had Keiran Healy’s excellent visual representations back then too.

I’m not so concerned about bias in the PGR, and I say this as someone who works in continental philosophy. The PGR should be biased. It should be biased towards what most philosophers take to be good philosophy today. Consequently, it should reflect changes in what philosophers take to be good philosophy. It should function along the lines of peer review. Peer review suffers from biases and prejudices, but if it is implemented well, then it serves as an invaluable check on the quality of work and a guide for finding quality work. Mistakes are definitely made; good papers (even great papers) get rejected from top journals, but on the whole peer review does what it is supposed to do. Something like that should also be true of the PGR. If you want to read the hottest articles in philosophy of biology, this is the journal you should look at. If you want to study 19th Century British Philosophy, these are the schools (or school…) you should apply to.Report

PC
PC
Reply to  Colin
6 years ago

I’d suggest that the PGR doesn’t just reflect the biases of ‘what most philosophers take to be good philosophy,’ but reinforces them. When departments slanted towards a particular approach to a particular set of topics consistently end up at the top of the rankings, this doesn’t just say ‘This is the sort of philosophy that [some!] philosophers value;’ it says ‘This is the sort of philosophy that you should do if you want your work to be valued.’ While not the only (or even the primary) factor, the PGR does influence the shape the discipline takes– it doesn’t transparently reflect attitudes.

Maybe that isn’t a sufficient reason to do away with the PGR, but I don’t think it’s plausible to think that changes in ‘what philosophers take to be good philosophy’ can happen without folks addressing things like the PGR.Report

Colin
Colin
Reply to  PC
6 years ago

I have no practical suggestions, but it’s possible the PGR as it is currently done can’t do what I suggest.

I have no problem with the PGR saying “this is the sort of philosophy that you should do if you want your work to be valuable.” Some style of philosophy will always be preferred by a majority (or at least a majority of a minority), and if you want your work to be valued by people in the top departments or journals, then, yeah, you should do work like that. Before the PGR some sorts of articles were accepted at top journals and some weren’t. Some people got jobs at Harvard and some didn’t. Without the PGR that wouldn’t change. It’s not like before the PGR continental philosophy was welcomed with open arms into the top departments. Quite the reverse. If anything continental philosophy is much more prevalent at top departments now.

An anecdote to illustrate: before studying philosophy, I studied musicology. There’s no ranking system of musicology departments (or at least there wasn’t), but everyone new which departments had the most high profile scholars, departments would still try to woo top scholars, undergrads still applied to the most prestigious schools, etc. Musicology also has a similar divide to analytic/continental. All this was reflected in common knowledge, even if it wasn’t reflected at a specific website.

One difference is that the PGR makes the ranking more explicit. You know exactly where you stand on the totem pole. Without rankings you only have a nebulous idea which departments are in the top. Maybe that’s enough of a reason to make the PGR problematic. I don’t know.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

There were proposals before the PGR board to give tiered but unranked lists, as Anonymous suggests, but they were thought to have a huge drawback: that the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 now becomes enormous, so a mistake about that, e.g. putting X in tier 1 and Y in tier 2 when the reverse should be the case, is much more misleading than just putting X at rank n and Y at n + 1. It’s not as if these issues weren’t considered!

And students need a master ranking, or some overall ranking. They can’t be sure when they apply to PhD programs that they’ll retain their current primary interest. They may change their specialty, and to something they now can’t identify; if they do, what options will different departments give them? Aside from that, they’ll take many courses outside their specialty; what quality of instruction can they expect in them? And how able will the other grad students be that the department attracts to other specialties? One thing the PGR warned students against was choosing a PhD program just on the basis of their current specialty. That was very good advice, and requires some overall assessment.Report

BB
BB
Reply to  Tom Hurka
6 years ago

Tom,
I find it silly to think that there is some objective fact of the matter (at the level of granularity required for ranking like this, and on the basis of “reputation”) being recorded by the PGR as currently constituted. And I think it’s incredibly foolish to think that there is a necessary and tight connection between whatever those reputations may be and instruction/training of students.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
Reply to  Tom Hurka
6 years ago

It is very good advice not to choose a program based only on your current emphasis, but I’m not sure that avoiding this requires an overall ranking. Why wouldn’t it be sufficient to look at rankings in other areas and to prefer departments that are strong in several fields to those that are strong in only one, other things being equal?Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

If there’s any real traction here I’m willing to lose my anonymity to conduct unranked specialty tiers.Report

anon22
anon22
6 years ago

About the PGR rankings: Apart from the possibility of their encoding implicit biases of all kinds, it is a complete mystery to me why the majority opinion of a particular philosopher or department should be taken as gospel, or be taken as even minimally useful. I guess I am out of the mainstream on these things, but my first instinct is to mistrust the majority view.

I have come to this as a result of my direct experience being a witness to judgements that philosophers make about their peers in conversation, in referee reports, in discussions on program committees, and finally and most seriously, in hiring decisions.

As to the first three, these are more often based on snap judgements, gossip, star-gazing, lapses of memory, discipline bias and other badnesses, than they are by a fair assessment of the merits—again, not bringing implicit bias into it. I have been truly shocked by what I have personally witnessed in this vein, many, many times over the years.

Also, people have a tendency to mindlessly repeat the views and assessments of others—it’s one big telephone game—especially when those others are famous. Familiarity with the actual work of the person beyond having heard such assessments is rare.

Even without these problems, rankings homogenise; marginalise the quirky or unusual, the unsung.

The message to cultivate your own ideas, to read, to respond to ideas, to try to find your genuine philosophical self in spite of all the surrounding noise, to try to preserve as much intellectual independence as you can, gets so easily lost.

Bottom line: let’s have information, not evaluation.Report

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  anon22
6 years ago

“it is a complete mystery to me why the majority opinion of a particular philosopher or department should be taken as gospel, or be taken as even minimally useful”.

I find this strange. It’s useful, because it’s what people use to make hiring decisions.

What people who are hiring are interested in, is future performance, because that means money and prestige to the department. We don’t have a measure of that, and our closest proxy in the case of senior hires is past performance. Not always a perfect guide, as we all know.

In the case of junior hires, we don’t even have that. There’s no reliable data about past performance, because a lot of grads don’t publish, and even when they do, what they publish is not a reliable guide to their past work quality (as opposed to a long-running record), and because letters are inflated until they hit the ceiling (and therefore lose the ability to differentiate). (There are the theses, but not enough time to read them.)

So we need another proxy. Quality of the academic environment from which one springs is what people use. But we don’t have a direct measure of that either, so we need a proxy, and there we take rep, i.e. _perceived_ quality in the profession.

_That_ is an important part of what hiring committees use. It is also the very same thing that the PGR measures. So, the PGR measures exactly what it should, given the proxies that hiring committees use.

(Of course, a particular hiring committee can have a very different opinion of a certain department than does the profession in general (or the part of it represented by the evaluators). But students have no way of foreseeing this.)

As far as I can tell, the dynamic is really much the same in journal pubs. Committees look at CVs, and check out where someone’s published. It’s a _proxy_ for quality, not a direct measure, and again it’s the reputation of the journal that matters. So, something like the polls Leiter has carried out of the reputation of the journals just constitutes what any person concerned about their employment prospects w.r.t journal pubs needs to know, because it’s the very same thing that the committees on which they rely use.

Do correct me if I’m wrong.Report

anon22
anon22
Reply to  Ole Koksvik
6 years ago

Thanks for your reply. You say: “What people who are hiring are interested in, is future performance, because that means money and prestige to the department.”

That is exactly my point: these rankings steer people toward a focus on money and prestige and away from the basics, e.g. the writings of the job candidate/prospective supervisor etc.

Philosophy has everything to gain from work that overturns or otherwise goes against the received view. With things in place like the PGR, such work will only be further marginalised.

Tom Hurka commens above that without the PGR, students will be forced to ask their professors for advice, who may not be well-informed etc. But students can use the internet!Report

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

Repeating what I have said elsewhere:

People, including Leiter himself, often stress that one should not place too much weight on the precise overall numerical ranking. But the problem is that the PGR has initiated an entrenched way of talking in terms of “top 5 department”, “top 10 department”, “top 20 department”, as if these phrases really did track significant and obvious statistical differences: which they clearly do not.

Correspondingly, I have heard a lot of evaluators – or people who eventually refused to evaluate – say that they are at a complete loss when asked to rate entire departments on a scale from 1-5; if they do it, they rely mostly on hearsay or on professional gossip as to who does good work in what area (since it’s typically impossible for any one person to have a detailed sense of the work of more than one or two people in a given department).

So I think that at least the overall numerical rankings are useless and should be eliminated entirely.Report

Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I think its reasonably clear by now that something like a consensus has emerged that we should have a ranking system (of some kind) and that Brian Leiter should not run it or be involved in it. I take this to indicate, not that a “deranged smear campaign” run by nefarious enemies of Leiter is being executed successfully, but that professionals are rationally responding to what they see as unacceptable behavior and trying to make changes in light of that behavior. What is undeniable is that all this is unfolding against a much larger backdrop of concern for professional norms, concerns about “climate”, and pressure from younger philosophers to see changes in the field they are inheriting. Some are obviously very threatened by all this, and this is understandable since they have benefited enormously under a system that is being called into question, but my hope is that whatever ranking system we do eventually come up with, it will have been self-consciously constructed within this larger context of concerns.

One last thought: there have been many discussions lately regarding improving the climate for minorities in philosophy. But perhaps a broader discussion needs to take place. I cannot help but note how many people feel uncomfortable putting in their two cents in these debates, and thus choose either to remain silent or to post anonymously. This suggests that there is a climate of fear in philosophy rather than simple indifference. A climate of fear, fueled by the sorts of intimidation tactics on display in Leiter’s email correspondence (but hardly limited to it), is obviously unhealthy for professional philosophy. Some might say that the “September Statement” contributes to that climate, but I strongly disagree. That statement, as I understand it, was an attempt to hold one accountable for practices of intimidation and bullying rather than to reinforce them. But part of the conversation here is what constitutes ‘threatening’ or ‘bullying’ in the first place. This has obviously come up in other contexts. Brian Leiter still claims publicly that he was directly threatened by Prof. Jenkins and that he thinks ‘bullying’ is either a meaningless word, or insofar as it has content, it certainly can’t be applied to his own behavior. A code of conduct (or something like it) would help to settle such disputes.Report

anon
anon
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I’m having difficulty understanding the pivot from acknowledging discussions about “the climate for minorities in philosophy” to “a broader discussion” about “a climate of fear in philosophy.”

Focus on the “September Statement” as not itself contributing to “a climate of fear” seems overly narrow. Anyone paying attention to the content and dynamics of discussion, as it were, at FP should know that mild forms of dissent or questioning (which have included no defenses for BL’s unprofessional behavior) are hardly being tolerated (in fact, some are being disappeared). FP has become the activist hub for the petition campaign directed against Leiter–so it does not plausibly have, contrary to the claim of one moderator/campaigner, the status of a merely private group blog whose runners legitimately can set whatever (ostensibly civil) terms of discussion they like. The way that some senior members of the profession have conducted themselves there certainly seems to rise to the level of intimidating or shouting down.Report

Jennifer Frey
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

I don’t really read FP that often, so I cannot speak to these claims. But I agree that some blogs can contribute to a climate of intimidation, sometimes, though I think there is a movement to change that. I don’t see, though, the connection between the “september statement” and FP. What’s the connection?Report

Jennifer Frey
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

OK, I went to FP and browsed a bit. I don’t see evidence of intolerance or shouting down there. In fact, in one thread the only swearing or making of blanket statements is done by Brian Leiter (calling the post to which he is commenting “bullshit”). So, unless you want to get specific–citing a specific example of disagreement crossing the line into intimidation and shouting down–I don’t find these comments helpful.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

Have the people utilizing mild forms of dissent or questioning being threatened with lawsuits? Is their sanity or general competence being publicly questioned? Are they being stalked online?Report

anon
anon
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

One reason you see no shouting down is because any comments that might have necessitated that have been removed, or simply not allowed to appear via “moderation”. I speak as someone whose comment was disappeared. This does not seem a good way to further any kind of discussion, much less a proper consensus.Report

anon
anon
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

“I don’t see, though, the connection between the ‘september statement’ and FP. ”

“OK, I went to FP and browsed a bit. I don’t see evidence of intolerance or shouting down there.”

If you are unaware of the central role that FP has played in this affair, you might reconsider weighing in. As my comment above stated, “FP has become the activist hub for the petition campaign,” and some “mild forms of dissent or questioning…are being disappeared.”

So it’s strange to claim that you don’t see evidence of “intolerance” at FP. Some of that evidence is still there (e.g., plainly uncharitable responses to comments deemed “troubling,” #15 in “A Statement”); and some of that evidence has been disappeared (see #24 in “Sometimes An Apology Doesn’t Help”).

Since neither of us is finding the other’s comments “helpful,” I’ll bow out now.Report

Jennifer Frey
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

Why would your response be to tell me to consider being silent, rather than simply point out the simple causality you assert is so obvious? Also, I am aware of the assertions you’ve made, I was simply asking for evidence of their veracity. Simply asserting that FP is an “activist hub” won’t cut it, and so far as I can tell (and I’m not a complete moron), the assertion is not obviously true.

I am obviously in no position to comment on the moderation policy at FP. But neither should I take the statements of an anonymous poster on that policy as obviously true either.

Finally, I would say that being uncharitable is not the same as being intolerant. But again, unless you give examples of what is uncharitable, I don’t know how to assess what you claim. This is all just name calling until examples are given.Report

anon12324
anon12324
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Hi Jennifer
I believe this is the sort of thing people are getting at: http://www.denisecummins.com/uploads/1/1/8/2/11828927/how_to_get_blacklisted_at_feminist_philosophers.pdf

I don’t know enough beyond what is written there to comment further.Report

Brock
6 years ago

As someone who applied to grad school in the pre-PGR days (1992), I really wish I had access to it, or something like it, at the time. All we had then was the Gourman Report. (I believe it was Leiter’s dissatisfaction with this that lead to the creation of the PGR.)

I went to an SLAC, and while I had two good philosophy teachers, both were nearing retirement, and they were not at all in touch with the profession as a whole. The standard career track for philosophy majors at my college was law school. Both my professors had been teaching there for 20+ years, and I think I was the first of their students to go to grad school . (There was another a few years later, and he’s now at King’s College London.)

I had no idea what I was doing when I applied to grad school. I remember talking to fellow prospective grad students when I did visits, and when they talked about where they had applied, those were places I hadn’t even considered, because I didn’t know they had good philosophy programs.

By luck, I ended up at a fairly good school (now PGR top 50), but in retrospect I should have aimed higher, but I had no idea where to aim.

Things might be somewhat different now that we have the internet, but I still think the PGR is an invaluable resource for prospective graduate students coming from SLACs.

Perhaps a ranking system would not be necessary if PhD students routinely did a terminal MA first at a research school, but that’s not the world we live in.Report

anon Grad Student
anon Grad Student
6 years ago

BL’s post referenced in Update 6 has been removed from the blog.

The original Google site hosting the non-participation signatures is back up. Although the dropbox page remains most current.Report

Justin
Justin
Reply to  anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Thanks for the update!Report

anon Grad Student
anon Grad Student
Reply to  anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Now they’ve migrated everything back to the google siteReport

Sam Tobin-Hochstadt
6 years ago

As a non-philosopher academic (I’m a computer scientist) with an interest in the topic, I find this discussion to be rather remarkable in two ways.

First, the discourse in philosophy blogosphere is truly amazing, and not in a good way (this blog is an exception). People write quite harsh things about technical topics in CS, but the personalization of the discourse in philosophy is quite surprising to me.

Second, I find the question of “should we have rankings” to be surprising. Of course you’ll have rankings, and of course they’ll have a big impact on departments. In CS, the US News rankings of graduate schools are quite important, every department I’ve been a part of has cared a lot about them, and they’re produced by a survey of chairs and PhD directors on reputation alone — people just list the departments that they can think of. A reputational survey run in a more principled way would be much better.Report

Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I find the US news rankings in general very troubling and deeply flawed (including at both the undergrad and grad level). I’m sorry to hear that administrations rely on them.Report

Sam Tobin-Hochstadt
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

In the places I’ve been, the administration caring about rankings isn’t the issue. Instead, potential PhD students and potential faculty members care. People who might hire our graduates care. Furthermore, people who review papers and grant applications look more favorably on applications from famous places (and famous people). Of all of these, I think graduate admissions and graduate placement are the ones that are most important.Report

enahmias
6 years ago

I hope that something like PGR continues to exist, and I also hope that it continues under new leadership, as David Chalmers’ update above suggests may occur. I hope for the change of leadership because PGR would not serve its purpose under it’s current editor, since people are boycotting it based on Leiter’s shoddy behavior, and also because such a change would more readily allow some useful improvements.

But it’s implausible to think that, without any systematic rankings, students will do just fine figuring out where to apply and attend and administrators will not use worse ways of assessing their philosophy departments. Perhaps a new PGR (maybe with a new name) can develop some better methods, and it should emphasize the area rankings (which are most useful) over the overall rankings. But nothing is not a better option. And in my view Leiter’s efforts were more helpful to students than whatever real and perceived harm they did to the profession or some departments (as others have emphasized, this claim can and should be clearly distinguished from claims about Leiter’s inappropriate non-PGR behavior).Report

enahmias
6 years ago

I had not yet read Brian Weatherson’s post, but I agree with most of it, which is just to say that my previous comment is consistent with there being several different sorts of rankings (all of which together would certainly be better than nothing). I’d like to see rankings based on publication output (perhaps with citations in the mix)–I did something like this for MA programs a few years ago–on student surveys about all kinds of things (including mentorship), and/or on placement success (relative to incoming class info to capture people who leave or are forced out of programs). Who will do all this work? (Not it!)Report

Noelle McAfee
6 years ago

The APA has been collecting data from philosophy PhD programs for a few years now for its Guide to Programs on placement rates, etc. What if more information were collected, including faculty citation analytics, faculty areas of specialization, etc? And then what if that information were turned into a search engine such that a prospective graduate student (or anyone) could go there and search by key words for programs that offered what she or he was wanting to study? Programs that were more research productive (with faculty being cited more) would show up higher on the list than those that weren’t. (Citations, publications, etc. are a better measure than perceived reputation.) So the student could create a **customized ranking** of programs that would meet his or her interests. Anyone could use that data to generate rankings of any particular specialty.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
Reply to  Noelle McAfee
6 years ago

I would have *loved* something like that when I was applying to grad schools just a few years ago. Is that really a possibility? If it was done well, I think a *lot* of prospective grad students would find it extremely useful.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
Reply to  Noelle McAfee
6 years ago

The APA might also produce a survey of current graduate students asking about their satisfaction with different aspects of their program, and make the results of that available.Report

Noelle McAfee
6 years ago

Yes, anon grad student, this is very possible. Here’s a link to the current guide. You’ll see that much more data will be needed but at least there is a starting point:
http://www.apaonline.org/?page=gradguideReport

Avi
Avi
6 years ago

I applied to PhD programs pre-PGR and pre-internet. I relied upon word of mouth and often out of date university catalogs. I could have been better informed. Sure, something like the PGR would have helped at the time. Nowadays, however, it is fairly easy for students to browse around online to find out who teaches where, what courses are actually offered by faculty, what and where those faculty have published, where faculty in various departments got THEIR degrees, etc. Prospective grad students can also find the names, AOSs and email addresses of current grad students in a program and contact them directly to ask specific questions. Arguably, anyone not willing to do this kind of in-depth research on departments, and lazily relying on a simple (even field-specified) ranking list instead, really shouldn’t be considering a career in philosophy. There is simply no need for PGR anymore.Report

anon22
anon22
Reply to  Avi
6 years ago

Amen.Report

Anon grad student trying to be constructive
Anon grad student trying to be constructive
6 years ago

This is addressed to the general question about whether or not to have rankings, NOT about Leiter. I have a point in favor of specialty rankings. And I have one suggestion.

Simple point in favor: undergrads do not know enough, and to collect the relevant data themselves piecemeal is extremely difficult and time consuming. If a potential applicant wants to know where to study, say, Early Modern, she would have to find out who works in that field, where they work, what their work has been, whether or not it has been considered of high quality (something an undergrad probably cannot evaluate), etc, etc. If there exist specialty rankings, one look at them will tell the grad student which departments and scholars to investigate. This seems to be a very significant benefit for grad school applicants.

Suggestion: Have the evaluators ONLY evaluate their specialty field. Then one could create an overall ranking (if desired) derived from the specialty results (e.g. in how many fields is a department in the first tier/second tier/etc…).
Note that this would allow for the inclusion of fields that are now (by some) perceived to be excluded from the PGR.

To re-iterate: these points are made absolutely independently from questions about who should run such rankings.Report

p
p
6 years ago

I find all this unfortunate. For one thing, I think that without PGR things will get worse. In my view, the best scenario – less clear and helpful information for prospective students and far more space for top departments to ignore other departments (I think places outside of the current top 20 could soon discover how less attractive they will become – on both sides – for incoming grad students and for departments searching for new people). It will become much harder for philosophy departments to argue their case with administrators for new hires. And, finally, we will have a much less dynamic environment on philosophy in general.

RE: AVI – “anyone not willing to do this kind of in-depth research on departments, and lazily relying on a simple (even field-specified) ranking list instead, really shouldn’t be considering a career in philosophy.” Right, that is a completely realistic assessment of undergraduate students’ abilities. Anyone interested in grad studies in philosophy should know how to evaluate philosophical departments…

Lastly, there is actually a sense in which I am now far less inclined to blog under my name than in the past (not that I was ever much inclined to do so – blogs are certainly not the place one goes to have polite discussions). Not just because private emails are now not private anymore, but also because one is now risking quite a lot by expressing views that might not be entirely uncontroversial or using language that might be find by someone, somewhere offensive (which, I take it, almost any language might). And one can lose a lot – for example, BL might lose what he has been working on hard for a great many years (i.e., PGR). Actually, what prevents him from just shutting it down and letting the rest of us figure something new out?Report

Alice
Alice
Reply to  p
6 years ago

P, I agree that it would be a problem if you risk losing so much merely by expressing views that might not be entirely uncontroversial or using lanaguage that someone, somewhere might find offensive. But this seems an incredibly generous interpretation of what went on. Leiter repeatedly said things that I think the vast majority of us can agree were not just offensive, but nasty, and obviously so; it seems like he must have been aware of the fact that many people found his language nasty, offensive, and hurtful; furthermore, refraining from using such language would not have prevented him from expressing any of his views (for example, you can express disagreement with the methodology someone uses to put together a report without being as nasty as he was).

I think it is also worth noting that if we have a climate in which such behaviour is treated as acceptable, then we already have a climate in which people can ‘lose quite a lot’ by expressing controversial views. Repeated bullying can have really bad effects on people. It can make it very unpleasant, for example, to participate in online discussions (an increasingly important part of the discipline). It also can have a really negative affect in people’s self-confidence, for example.

I agree, however, that the PGR has been helpful to students. I think it is perfectly compatible to hold this view, and also think that what Leiter said was unacceptable.Report

p
p
Reply to  Alice
6 years ago

I understand the point. In fact, I would normally be inclined to agree. And perhaps I am misguided in some way. However, from the way I have been following this – it’s not clear to me how Leiter actually harmed anybody – sure he was rude as hell, just like the taxi cab driver who flipped me off last week – I so I did the same to him back. But did he take active steps to somehow make his targets lose positions or power or what have you? I do not recall any petitions about CDJ’s rankings he would run or anything of that sort. He said what he thought of them – rudely but at least honestly. Nobody was forced to listen to him and in fact most people did not and, as far as I can tell, CDJ’s ranking project did not thereby became diminished.

Now when it comes to those legal threats and the terrible emails and so on. Leiter reacts like that to particular things people say – such as when one tells publicly something that is in fact untrue (such as that he is not a philosopher in a context of advising others). But – as he points out – one is free to say that he is not a good or that he is pretty bad (or perhaps shitty) philosopher or that he is a mediocre lawyer. In fact, given his online personality, I would say that he probably enjoys a bit of back and forth in this way.

Now I do not want to sound like I condone his behavior – I do not. But I am also not much in favor of policing people’s online behavior in the way in which it is now becoming standard in the profession. Salaita was quite rude or insensitive or what have you online but we were all against him being fired/rejected on account of that. BL has been rude too, but we are all petitioning to get him off the job he himself created.Report

Avi
Avi
Reply to  p
6 years ago

Just saw this, hence the late reply. I think you underestimate the internet research skills of undergraduates (at least the ones who are intelligent and resourceful enough to succeed at graduate school in Philosophy). One advantage of self-directed evaluations of programs is that students can tailor results to their own needs more precisely than any ranking system could ever do.Report

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

As Laura Grams’ wonderful post above reminds us, what counts most for the graduate student is the quality of the teaching. That is what will make the graduate student into the best philosopher that she can be.

The PGR roughly tracks professional reputation which in turn largely depends upon publications and being ‘impressive’ in talks and conversation.

Going to a highly rated PGR department definitely helps with getting a job, because hirers assume that having a good reputation as a philosopher correlates with providing a good training for graduates. But this ain’t necessarily so. Successful philosophers are often those who develop their own line assiduously without being much interested in the views of their graduate students, unless they become acolytes. I went to highly ranked department but my supervision was ****.

I can see a case for the PGR to continue. But what we most need is some ranking of teaching quality. This is difficult to achieve. A new rankings utilising information secretly submitted by graduate students might be one route….Report

Door
Door
6 years ago

Is it really true that going to a highly-ranked department in itself has any effect on job prospects? How could we tell? High ranking correlates (clearly but of course not perfectly) both with excellent faculty and with excellent students (excellence “measured” before they arrive). To know whether ranking makes a difference in itself we’d have to hold fixed these other factors, and there is obviously no way to do that.

I have run many job searches, and it strikes me as bizarre to think that philosophers’ judgments about candidates are influenced by rankings. I even find it hard to accept (but not as hard) that these judgments are affected by who the candidates worked with. At a certain stage of the process, all that stuff fades away and it’s about the work and the teaching evidence. Maybe my experience is unusual, or I’m deluded. But I would recommend that prospective grad students consider rankings relevant only insofar as they might be evidence about how good a philosopher you are likely to be when you finish the program.Report

Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
6 years ago

I’m surprised that no one is pointing out that philosophy is in a unique situation compared to many other disciplines. It’s not that we are obsessed with rankings (well we are) but the real issue is that other disciplines are already ranked by US News and World Report. Do you guys really think that potential graduate students in other fields are just doing without rankings? No, if they are looking at US universities at least, they go to US News and World Report to decide where to apply. And other disciplines talk about top 10 departments, and top 5 departments, etc etc. We are only unique in that there is so little interest in our field, compared to Computer Science, or Sociology, or English, etc, that we aren’t even worth US News and World Reports’ time. And we are doubly unique because for some reason we don’t measure professional accomplishment by winning grants (since we rarely win them) or by number of publications, rather we measure each other by quality of publication (or in some cases quality of talks!)

This puts prospective philosophers in a really difficult position compared to any other prospective grad student in any other field. It was embarrassing that our rankings were so tightly controlled by one person, and it was especially embarrassing that this person had a special interest in putting down certain types of philosophy. This had the unfortunate effect of legitimating hostile attitudes that really stem from ignorance. (haha! don’t be like those charlatans in english departments! or even worse don’t be like the new school!) <— THAT was and is embarrassing. But it isn't embarrassing that someone (and then a group of people) tried to make the whole process of applying to graduate school in philosophy more transparent. We still need that. My students especially need that.

And just for the record, my students really don't need a ranking of teaching quality. They need some kid of a reputational ranking, similar to what they have when they consider what law school to go to, something that roughly correlates with how well they will be respected by others because they went to that particular school.Report

anon
6 years ago

having read many comments now on many blogs about whether we need the PGR, a theme emerges: lots of commenters relied on PGR in applying to grad school, and/or think their current students will benefit from PGR in going to grad school.

I am not doubting the usefulness of PGR for these people. And perhaps it benefited me in some way. But just another anecdote to add the the pile: I too relied on PGR for grad school, it informed which schools I applied to, and it (partly) informed my decision to go to the school i ended up getting my phd from. and guess what? This leiterrific program had unfathomably awful advising, teaching, mentoring and real problems in climate. I think I would’ve done much better — both philosophically and personally — at a place that was better at training grad students. it turns out that merely being in the physical proximity of very successful philosophers does not an education make.

to be fair, I did have some warning signs about the place i went to before I decided to go there. Although it’s hard to say how much this is hindsight talking. overall, the information about climate/grad satisfaction/pedagogy was pretty thin on the ground (and I did actively try to obtain this info). I don’t think i’m entirely to blame for a bad decision.

if I’d had better information about grad satisfaction, say by means of a general comparative survey administered by the APA, I’m pretty certain my department would have ended up doing very poorly compared to other departments. in that case, I’m *entirely* certain I would never have ended up in that department.publicly available grad survey would also incentivize departments in the direction of better pedagogic training. my department took grad recruitment *very* seriously. if they noticed their recruitment being affected by a shit pedagogic reputation, they would certainly take steps to try to rectify that.

in short: whether or not we keep the pgr, i personally strongly think we need to supplement it with comprehensive information about graduate satisfaction. that is what *really* matters for *graduate students.*Report

p
p
Reply to  anon
6 years ago

this is very true, but it is also something Leiter was trying to make students aware of and repeatedly. His ranking was not about how well students are advised in those programs but, let’s say, where they would be best advised IF all that would mattered would be reputed or more or less universally acknowledged expertise of the faculty.Report

anon
Reply to  p
6 years ago

p: that is entirely fair – I’m certainly not blaming leiter for my own choice of graduate school. and i understood when applying to schools that the PGR was merely a survey of faculty reputation, and not of anything else.

My point is merely to urge that, whether or not we keep PGR, we *also* should have publicly available surveys of climate and grad satisfaction. Surveys not administered by departments themselves but preferably by the APA or someone who can enforce a uniformity in the nature and collection of the surveys.

also, fwiw, I tried to talk to current grad students about these things when i was a prospective, but (as I later came to understand all too well), current grad students are under pressure to present the department in a good light to prospective students. They wouldn’t want it to get around that they were the one to badmouth the department and to cause such-and-such highly desired prospective to head towards a different department. So I think individual attempts to get this info are frequently bound to fail. in my own experience, visits didn’t help much either. most departments can manage to look non-dysfunctional for 1-2 days..Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

For what it is worth, I attended both an unranked department and a Leiter top 15 department.

The unranked department was superior, pedagogically. The Leiter top 15 department did have other benefits, of course–more frequent and more interesting speakers, for example. But I learned more in the average unranked course than I did in the average top 15 course.Report

Terence Blake
6 years ago