Joshua Cohen to Join Berkeley Faculty


Joshua Cohen, who had held appointments at MIT and Stanford before recently moving to Apple University, will be joining the University of California, Berkeley as a Distinguished Senior Fellow in its School of Law, Department of Philosophy, and Department of Political Science, starting July 1, 2015. According to a notice on the UC Berkeley Philosophy Department web page:

Cohen will spend one day a week at Berkeley, running a workshop that will bring in outside speakers to present works-in-progress in legal, moral and political philosophy. The workshop will alternate between the School of Law’s Kadish Center and the Social Sciences Matrix in the College of Letters and Science. In addition, Cohen will be able to serve as a member of dissertation committees in all three units with which he is associated.

Cohen works in political philosophy and theory. He is also co-editor-in-chief of Boston Review.

(via John MacFarlane)

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Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I wonder if he will get paid more for that one day/week than most full time adjuncts at Berkeley get paid.Report

JT
JT
6 years ago

@ Anonymous

And so what if he does? It’s not like they’d pay the adjuncts more if he took less money. Nor were they likely to have given the job to an adjunct at Berkeley if he’d turned it down. Sure, adjunctification is a serious systemic problem in the profession and the academy, but that’s no reason to begrudge the success of an individual philosopher.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

JT: So do individual philosophers have no obligations to address – or even acknowledge – the systematic injustices their academic success makes them complicit in? Or do you think the practice of paying premium salaries for associations with big names is unrelated to failure to adequately fund the everyday instruction of students the university runs on?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

JT –

Would it be better if I tell you that I think that Cal’s hiring of Cohen is an indication of Cal’s priorities and has little to do with Cohen’s character? Does that calm your anger?

I assume that you do not think that it’s ridiculous to talk about overinflated CEO salaries being so huge even if cutting the size of CEO salaries would have little effect on hourly employees’ wages.Report

JT
JT
6 years ago

@ Derek Bowman and Anonymous

I think that your ways of putting the problem are absurdly simplistic. Universities don’t just serve to instruct undergraduates, but also to expand the horizons of human understanding. These ends are mutually reinforcing. That universities are places where smart people pursue the latter is why university degrees are valued, and thus why there are students who need instructing, in the first place. And obviously, the instruction of students provides some of the means for the pursuit of knowledge. Cohen is a smart and productive philosopher who has contributed to the latter goal and will, in all likelihood, continue to do so. This is why he was hired. I don’t see why it’s problematic that Berkeley makes both teaching (presumably) and research priorities. And framing his hiring as an instance of “the practice of paying premium salaries for associations with big names” and in opposition to “the everyday instruction of students the university runs on” ignores the latter function of the academy and reflects the kind of myopic mindset that has lead to the funding misuses and problems in higher education (administrative bloat, cuts to public funding, overspending on athletics and recreational facilities) that kicked off adjunctification in the first place.

Maybe you think that Cohen should not be paid as much as he will be by Berkeley, or that he should’ve asked for less money. But none of us are privy to the financial details of his contract. Nor are we privy to his plans for that money. He might, like Singer, choose to give much of it away to the worst off. And, in any case, problems abound for that kind of simple minded egalitarianism, no? Alternatively, you might be thinking that senior tenured professors generally get paid too much relative to adjuncts. But why think that addressing that inequality requires a reduction of the salaries of senior philosophers? Why not think that the problem is instead that adjuncts are underpaid rather than that tenured folks are overpaid? If so, isn’t the answer be that more of the pie should be allocated to faculty salaries so that we can raise adjunct salaries to a commensurate level? Matters here are complicated all the more in all the usual ways; you’re smart people, I’m sure you can work it out for yourselves.

In response to the complicity claim, maybe Cohen owes some of his productivity to the privileges conferred by his Ivy League background and maybe it would be good for him to acknowledge this. He might even have an obligation to work from on high to change existing unjust practices. (I take an affirmative stance on all three.) But I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Berkeley offering him the job and him accepting the offer. He may well both take the job and use it as a platform for reform. I sincerely hope so. Unless you think that we are obliged to extricate ourselves from the unjust systems from which we benefit, in addition to acknowledging and addressing their unjustness. That’s kind of a ridiculous and impractical stance, given all of the ways in which our arrangements are unjust. If you think that the paltry wage that tipped servers make is exploitative, then you are obliged to cease dining and imbibing at establishments that employ tipped servers all together–since your patronage makes you complicit in their exploitation. But it doesn’t just stop there. You should boycott any corporation that behaves unjustly. You should only buy electronics that are produced using minerals that you know weren’t mined by child miners guarded by child soldiers in central Africa (good luck with that one). If your government is less than just, then you should emigrate. If there are no just nations to immigrate to, you should build your own little utopian island in international waters. Etc.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Geez JT. Did I touch a nerve?

Look, you are right that this is a complex situation. What is funny is that you too left out a lot of complexities. Are you aware of the many problems that the UC system has faced in the past decade? Are you aware of the massive drop in funding to the UC system, including to Cal? Are you familiar with the rising tuition and fees at Cal and the recent pay freezes at Cal? Are you aware of all the recent protests at Cal? (See, e.g., http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-protesting-tuition-hikes-cal-students-to-wear-green-ribbons-at-big-game-20141122-story.html)

If you were aware of these things, you would have read my comments within that context.

Viewed from within that context, one can still affirm the priorities you describe for a university while doubting whether realizing those goals requires hiring a fancy professor for a one day/week contribution to the life of the institution. Perhaps Yale and Harvard can afford such luxuries, but it is hard to see how, given the budget realities, Cal can.

If anyone is stuck in Cloudcookooland, it’s you, JT. You are the myopic one. Cal can, in one sense, afford a fancy new suit on campus. It won’t break the bank (since the bank is, for all intents and purposes, already broken). Burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire Cohen for one day/week (is he even supervising grad students?) and instituting a programme to fly famous people in for a few days seems pretty extravagant. Most other cash strapped universities probably could spend that money, too, but they wouldn’t for obvious reasons (obvious to me, but maybe not to you, since you seem to think that no matter the budget crisis at any university, there is always overriding reason to use whatever petty cash you can find in order to hire fancy people for 1 day/week high-falutin gigs).

So, while this one expenditure is not going to break the bank, it is a symbol of a broader problem at UC, namely a focus on some big ticket items while the people in the trenches – including the students – are asked to take it on the chin. It comes across as some serious Versailles-style behavior.

Regarding criticizing the high salaries of existing faculty, I demur. There is just not enough space to engage in that discussion. Nonetheless, one can intelligibly criticize UC’s priorities in hiring Cohen to “run” this programme without thereby committing to cutting the salaries of all full time faculty. If you think that one cannot do this, then I suspect that you are the one who belongs on a utopian island where all criticisms must be part of a broader theoretical reform project.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

JT: There’s a huge space between “Faculty shouldn’t accept posts like this” and “There is no connection worth noting between the priorities this kind of hire exhibits and the deeper problems of academic hiring.” If you’d care to explore those many possible positions in more detail, I’d be happy to correspond privately or in a more appropriate venue. My main point was that Anon’s comparison is well worth reflecting on.Report

JT
JT
6 years ago

@ Anonymous

No, but it seems that I’ve struck one of yours. I’m not going to bother responding to what amounts to be an ad hominem rant against me (meh) and Cohen, most of which is based on unwarranted speculation based off of the scant details offered in a brief clip from their department website.

@ Derek Bowman

I agree that these positions are far apart and a proper treatment of the topic requires more nuance than this venue will allow. You’re also right that there are important normative questions here about the structure of the profession that need to be navigated carefully. But I disagree that Anonymous has raised much worth reflecting on. His view seems to be little more than another expression of the childish malcontent at the ‘elites’ of the profession (whatever that means) that’s recently become popular among disillusioned individuals at the margins of the profession.

I appreciate your offer to continue the conversation elsewhere. Unfortunately, I have to decline, as I’m currently swamped. I wouldn’t be able to give your thoughts the attention needed for our conversation to be productive (or at least, it would not be a wise use of my time, given my obligations elsewhere).Report

Blergh!
Blergh!
6 years ago

Oh JT there’s like nothing ad hom. in Anon’s comments. You just got your feelz hurt. Admit it!Report