Broader Effects of the PGR


The following is an excerpt from an email a well-known senior philosopher sent to his/her colleagues regarding visiting speakers:

“The events are being organized so as to maximally benefit the department. This includes promoting the reputation of the department, providing intellectual stimulation, and just having plain fun. Normally, conferences and workshops should include some… evaluators for the Leiter Report (for the purposes of promoting departmental reputation).”

The specific identity of the philosopher who sent this email is unimportant, as there will be many who have seen such messages before from their own colleagues, or perhaps sent such messages themselves. I bring it to your attention not because it is an unusual message, but precisely because it is not.

The email from which the above was excerpted was sent to me by a philosophy professor who adds the following comments:

One of the broader effects of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) is to create incentives for a department to take a variety of measures aimed directly at improving its place in the rankings. So there is an incentive to favor inviting PGR evaluators over non-PGR evaluators for invited talks, not because of any of their qualities as philosophers, but because of their position as PGR-evaluators. Any incentive to invite people on the basis of their membership in the PGR evaluators club means that we have (yet another) distortion and corruption of the proper meritocratic basis of such invitations, that is, the expected quality of one’s contribution at the event. A philosopher’s status as a PGR evaluator should only reflect and not in turn contribute to one’s standing in the field; otherwise we aggravate in-group/out-group dynamics and calcify existing status hierarchies. This is not to deny that PGR evaluators are good philosophers. But clearly there is something wrong with the profession when it makes so much obvious sense to include these kinds of strategic considerations in our decisions about whom to honor with invitations that we do not even bat an eye at them anymore.

This seems like something to keep in mind as discussions of the PGR and its alternatives continue.

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hyppo
7 years ago

A smoking gun if I ever saw one. Hilarious how someone on Philanon was making fun of a poster for reporting precisely this sort of thing.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
7 years ago

“I bring it to your attention not because it is an unusual message, but precisely because it is not.”

I don’t know if this is an unusual message or not. I’ve never seen a message like this at any of the several departments I’ve worked in over the years.Report

p
p
7 years ago

This is actually pretty pathetic. But I am not sure that the deeds/emails of this “corruption” sort should be used to argue for or against PGR. It’s like saying – look, some soccer clubs try to influence the referees – isn’t that a reason to cancel the league? My guess is that even her/his own colleagues find this both sad, futile, and just not right.Report

hyppo
Reply to  p
7 years ago

If the practice is prevalent then it becomes a pretty good reason for abolishing the league. This sort of thing happened when UK football hooliganism became too much, for instance.Report

Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
Reply to  p
7 years ago

I’m in a department in which Leiter rankings significantly figure into many considerations: speakers and hiring, most especially. I once went to a meeting in which my colleagues decided to extend an offer (as a spousal accommodation) simply on the basis that that spouse was enrolled in a Leiter top 2 department. At the time of the meeting and initial decision, we did not have so much as have her/his CV in front of us.Report

anon faculty member
anon faculty member
7 years ago

I can certify from my own experience that this does happen, at least at departments in the latter half of PGR rankings or unranked departments desiring to enter the rankings. Another thing that does happen: when search or hiring decisions are made, PGR impact is definitely a consideration that comes up. I have witnessed twice that a person working in history of philosophy was passed over for a ‘lemming’ candidate for that reason.Report

hyppo
Reply to  anon faculty member
7 years ago

Yup. It’s pretty dismal how the initial findings about the pro-LEMM bias in the PGR (was it Healy?) were used not to reform the process, but try and game it.Report

Anon prof at MA
Anon prof at MA
7 years ago

There is another issue I haven’t seen raised in all the PGR/BL discussions: While the rankings of PhD programs at least aggregate reputational ratings from numerous people, the “ranking” of MA programs is just a list of programs Leiter picks out and discusses. It leads to a sort of ranking, with Tufts first, six programs in the next tier (including mine, so we are benefited by this), and three more to round out the top ten. People pay a lot of attention to this list and departments advertise it. As someone who thinks students do need the sort of info provided by PGR, though ideally supplemented by lots of other info (including other rankings if done well), I worry that this info about MA programs will lose credibility. It’d be nice to have something the help fill the hole, and not just an individual offering his/her informed perspective. Perhaps some of the new ranking processes being discussed could be extended to terminal MA programs.Report

Zachary Ernst
Zachary Ernst
7 years ago

There are at least two issues here. The first is that people are definitely trying to game the rankings, despite many loud claims to the contrary. The second is that the rankings are seen as the sort of thing that obviously *could* be gamed in the first place, thanks to its really, shall we say, “odd” structure.Report

curious
curious
7 years ago

It would be nice to see the filled in portion of the email without the ellipsis.Report

Exile
Exile
7 years ago

There seems to be implicit in this post and discussion the idea that the kind of consideration expressed in the email is not the standard currency of decision making for invitations and hiring. This supposes there might be some other standard to go by, e.g. a clear understanding of another writer’s work and a cool-headed, objective evaluation of its merit. The latter standard is mythical. Status and associations must stand in as what there is for decision makers to go by. The indignation one may feel, when the light is on, that this standard is generally used when the lights are down, must have its source in ones being appalled at the idea that notion of merit has nowhere to get a grip here.Report

Anonymous Grad Student
Anonymous Grad Student
7 years ago

I find it somewhat disturbing that the PGR factors in so heavily when it comes to hiring. Why don’t we ask questions like: what is it about PGR-approved programs that makes them so much better at producing professional philosophers, if anything? Why does it matter so much that a candidate was able to get into a top-10 (or whatever) PGR program fresh out of undergrad when they have had 4-7 years to really develop as a philosopher? Shouldn’t the candidate’s quality of work now trump whatever school they went to? Is a candidate who has published in some impressive journals but who comes from an unranked or poorly ranked program really worse than a candidate with no publications but who graduated from a prestigious school?Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Anonymous Grad Student
7 years ago

And let’s not forget that the biggest predictor of elite grad school admission is quality of undergrad institution. And the biggest predictor of quality of undergrad institution is social class. It all adds up, doesn’t it?Report

anon faculty member
anon faculty member
7 years ago

I should clarify that the issue I described (history of phil. candidates were passed over in favor of ‘lemming’ people because the PGR systematically favors lemming areas over history) arose at the senior level. I’m not sure how much impact the PGR has on hiring at the junior level (after all junior people typically make no impact at all on the rankings).Report

Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
Reply to  anon faculty member
7 years ago

Anon faculty member, as described above, we extended an offer to a junior (spousal) *because* she/he was enrolled in a Leiter top 2 program. In fact, the suggestion that the candidate actually provide a writing sample, CV, etc was (initially) dismissed because she/he was from such a prestigious program.Report

M
M
Reply to  Bottom 50 Leiter Prof
7 years ago

Is it a violation of the “be nice” rule to point out that this makes your department look idiotic?Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
7 years ago

Inviting PGR evaluators to be visiting speakers in order influence your PGR ranking is a kind of idiocy that cannot be blamed on Brian Leiter or the PGR. Any power Leiter has in the profession, outside his home department, is power members of the profession, both collectively and individually, give him by doing stupid stuff like this. If you want to diminish this power, don’t allow yourself to be influenced in your decision-making by Leiter’s views or by PGR rankings, and discourage others – including administrators – from the same. And if you want to improve the reputation of your department among certain members of the profession, spend your time doing better philosophy rather than schmoozing perceived power brokers. Sheesh.Report

hyppo
Reply to  Peter Alward
7 years ago

Nobody wants to *blame* Leiter or the PGR for the behaviour of others. But people want to point out some bad consequences of the PGR.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
Reply to  hyppo
7 years ago

with an eye to arguing the PGR ought to be discontinued/ radically changed?Report

someone else
Reply to  Peter Alward
7 years ago

Perhaps. I don’t see how that makes a difference to Hyppo’s point.Report

L
L
Reply to  Peter Alward
7 years ago

While I agree that the PGR is not to blame for the actions of others, it also seems to me that if the editor of the PGR becomes aware of how the PGR gets taken up, and the ways in which it does get taken up are not desirable for preserving the integrity of the PGR (as a reputational ranking system based on substantive philosophical merit), then it would seem to me that measures could be taken (rotating the raters and not publishing their names until after a report is completed, for instance) to block the bad ways it does get taken up. Small measures like this involve some work, but hardly radically change the PGR itself. Rather they improve it.Report

another anonymous senior faculty
another anonymous senior faculty
7 years ago

I have been faculty in three different departments–in every single one the PGR played a non-trivial role in the discussions over whom to hire and not only at the senior level.

I myself think this practice should be regarded as a source of shame, so I am posting anonymously to protect the identities of the departments in question.Report

harrumph
harrumph
Reply to  another anonymous senior faculty
7 years ago

Yes. Leiter tries to influence junior hiring as well. Do you remember the occasional blog in which he says “I don’t normally post about junior moves, but this one is significant…”? He wants to take on this role as the anointer of rising stars. The subtext is that PGR panelists and everyone in his in-crowd will now be aware of these junior prodigies.Report