A Modest Proposal: Slow Philosophy
by Jennifer Whiting
In his review of Moral Prejudices by Annette Baier, Colin McGinn claimed that Baier had proposed that universities accommodate the demands of women’s reproductive clocks by allowing women to postpone tenure decisions until the age of 50 (New Republic, Oct. 22, 1994). McGinn was perhaps too busy being prolific to double-check the text, where Baier’s alleged proposal is in parentheses, punctuated with a question mark, and followed by a serious proposal:
Other ways [to address the problem], involving not just pregnancy and parental leave but different expectations as to when women will get into full professional stride (tenure decisions delayed at the candidates’ request until age 50?), would be bound to raise reasonable complaints of exploitation of the untenured and of unfairness to men. Still, we need to come up with new measures. One possibility, perhaps the best solution, would be to make all tenure decisions rest on evaluation only of what the candidate selects as say, her or his four best articles.
So I’d like to suggest that we all take a deep breath, slow down, and give Baier’s actual proposal serious consideration.
What would happen if the APA were to set guidelines for the maximum number of pages on which a tenure decision should be based? Suppose, for example, it were 100 pages – or even 175 – of what the candidate takes to be his or her best work. Of course no one would be prevented from writing – nor even from publishing – thousands of pages. But the letters of referees and departmental recommendations to deans, as well as the deliberations of departments, ad hoc committees and administrators, would all be restricted (officially at least) to the merits and demerits of the designated corpus.
Just think. Candidates would be encouraged to focus more on the quality (and less on the quantity) of their work. They might also have an easier time balancing work with other responsibilities (including civic and family ones). Referees, as well as colleagues expected to vote on the candidates’ cases, might have more time to read their work carefully and arrive at well-informed judgments – especially if as a result of the proposed limits these colleagues and referees had fewer book manuscripts and journal submissions on their hands. Time spared could be used – by referees and candidates alike – reading work that had actually been selected for publication by discerning referees and perhaps even improved before publication in response to the sort of insightful comments that less harried referees would have time to provide. Reviewing itself might even prove more rewarding if authors spent more time on their manuscripts before sending them out, with the result that reviewers might provide more thoughtful comments, which might lead in turn to higher quality publications.
I could go on. But the point should be clear. By publicly supporting such guidelines and communicating them to university administrators in a way that encourages respect, the APA might go some way towards addressing the problem raised by Baier while also helping both to raise philosophical standards and to make our lives just a wee bit saner.