A Modest Proposal: Slow Philosophy (guest post by Jennifer Whiting)


The following is a guest post* by Jennifer Whiting (Pittsburgh).


A Modest Proposal: Slow Philosophy 

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.


 

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Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
5 years ago

Wow. Colin McGinn wrote a review of Annette Baier’s amazing collection, Moral Prejudices? I guess he didn’t learn much from reading it.

As a further aside, I heartily recommend Baier’s book to everyone reading this blog. It is a philosophical treasure – in my estimation a model of excellent philosophy of a certain kind. The essays in the book inspire.

Professor Whiting’s proposal also sounds pretty reasonable.Report

Assistant Professor at State U
Assistant Professor at State U
5 years ago

This proposal sounds sensible. At my research-focussed state university, I was asked to submit my best five papers (about 130 pages) for external reviewers to read, together with a CV that listed all of my publications (10) and drafts-in-progress (2). The expectation is that the external letter writers focus their evaluations on those best five papers.

One question is how to regard the rest of the papers. Some committees and administrators here are pretty keen on adding up CV items to gauge “productivity”, so getting the total to 10 seemed urgent to me. This was very stressful given low acceptance rates and long turn-around times at journals. Also, it may not have been the best use of time. In retrospect, I wish I could have devoted resources to writing a single piece that goes out on a limb and aims at insight than five papers that meet professionalized publishing standards but are forgettable. But taking the former route would be risky and could have sunk my case with the higher-ups.Report

Unimaginative Pseudonym
Unimaginative Pseudonym
5 years ago

Two thoughts:

1. The proposal discriminates against those who publish a lot of merely good (but not great) work.

Compare three scholars:

Scholar A has only published 100/175 pages of work since their tenure clock started, and all of it is A+/top-notch work.

Scholar B has only published 100/175 pages of work since their tenure clock started, and the average quality is good but not great.

Scholar C has published 600 pages of work since their tenure-clock started (say, 15+ articles and a book), and the average quality is good but not great.

Scholar A clearly deserves tenure, and so too, I would say, does Scholar C — for although Scholar C is merely good, they are insanely productive, contributing far more good work than Scholar B (whose merely good output isn’t nearly as impressive, given their relative *unproductivity* in merely producing good work). Indeed, if I were on a tenure and promotions committee–especially at a research university–I might seriously consider denying B tenure. But I don’t think I would seriously consider denying it to C, given, again, the fact that they have been insanely productive relative to A and C. The proposal in the original post would obliterate these kinds of relevant distinctions, not allowing T&P committees to take into account a relevant indicator of a scholar’s contributions to the field: actual productivity.

2. Even if the proposal were unproblematic, I don’t see any feasible ways to get colleges to go along with it. While at research universities (or so I hear) administrations tend to defer to departmental recommendations for tenure, at other universities tenure and promotion standards are more set at the college level–and colleges have financial and prestige interests in having more productive faculty.Report

William C Roberts
William C Roberts
Reply to  Unimaginative Pseudonym
5 years ago

Of course the proposal is “prejudiced” against “insanely productive” but “merely good” scholars. That is a feature, not a bug! The current system is equally prejudiced against your candidate A. The whole point of the proposal, as I understand it, is to change the incentives — away from quantity, towards quality. You can insist that quantity is also relevant, but that is not yet an argument for its relevance.Report

Dialethia
Dialethia
Reply to  William C Roberts
5 years ago

It is false that the current system is prejudiced towards A. Currently, at any sensible university, quality and quantity are taken into account.Report

The Old Harry Nonners
The Old Harry Nonners
Reply to  Unimaginative Pseudonym
5 years ago

I agree with William Roberts. The “merely good” actually diminish their virtue by being “insanely productive.” Scholar B is *more* tenure-worthy than Scholar C!Report

Ekpyrosis
Ekpyrosis
Reply to  Unimaginative Pseudonym
5 years ago

I think perhaps that whether C ought to be seen as a significantly stronger tenure candidate than B (or even perhaps than A) will depend in part on what her goals are and what expectations her department has. Here’s one example of what I mean: if all three scholars work on well established and well respected areas of philosophy, then A is probably the stronger candidate, and C’s main advantage over B is name recognition and one kind of impact, and it is a type of impact that (as William C Roberts above points out) this proposal is pushing against. However, if all three scholars work on a new, or under-represented, or under-respected area of philosophy, I think the situation changes. C’s strategy of publishing a lot of good (if not great) work may be useful for promoting this area of philosophy in multiple venues. A’s work also has the effect of raising the profile and respectability of the area in a different way, but it is not clear to my mind which strategy would be more effective in changing the wider discourse to get this field included. It is at least possible that C is doing a better job in that regard than A. Presumably both are doing a markedly better job at that than is B. If the scholars’ institution hired them with the aim of promoting that area of philosophy, then it might well be important to take these considerations on board when considering tenure. I think there are other possible scenarios where these kinds of considerations would again affect the usefulness of the proposal, so perhaps (since we’re dreaming here anyway) tenure requirements should be more tailored than any one across-the-board policy, assuming the tailored tenure path is agreeable to all parties.Report

Mohan Matthen
Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Unimaginative Pseudonym
5 years ago

Unimaginative has a point. Assuming that “good” means “contains something new but not very significant”, C has contributed more than B. It’s pushing a point to say that B might be better. And in the long run, C might actually contribute more than A. A lot depends on whether C is a slow but steady kind of scholar, or is the kind of plodder who merely strategizes for maximum publication. I don’t think one can fix things with a single change of the rules.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

I just wanted to chime in that the title of this post further cheapens the meaning of a “modest proposal”. The phrase should be reserved for intentionally shocking proposals, and not used for proposals that are simply “thinking out of the box”. A truly Swiftian modest proposal would be that we solve this problem by forcing men up for tenure to nurse their female colleagues’ children. (Rumor has it such a thing can be done.)Report

helendecruz
5 years ago

As I understand it, the UK REF is a bit like this – every faculty member selects their 4 best outputs over a period of 6 years for submission to the REF, where assessors will then evaluate the output as in terms of a star system, going from internationally recognized, nationally recognized etc. The 4 best outputs can be journal articles, book contributions, monographs etc. The idea is to shift incentive structure to produce high-quality work. Although one does not get a personal score (I had my work submitted for Oxford University’s REF and never received a score), people do keep track about how REF-able you are, and it matters in terms of being promoted, or receiving outside offers.Report

Baldwin Jones
Baldwin Jones
Reply to  helendecruz
5 years ago

Not to get (too far) off the main topic of Whiting’s excellent post, but: of course, I hope readers here recognize that “internationally recognized” does not always map well with “very high quality” and that the same goes for “nationally recognized” and “high quality”, and so on. A system that scores based on recognition is very different from a system that scores based on quality (because of various kinds of biases, and so on.)Report

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
5 years ago

At the University of Toronto, when it comes to promotion to Full Professor, the Provost’s office advises, “It is not necessary to send a complete portfolio to external reviewers. The Chair and the candidate should choose a few (perhaps 5) best works to send to external reviewers.” I guess that, by this point in someone’s career, the reviewers will have ready access to most of the candidate’s work, and can consult the entire body of published work if they want to.

A more modest version of Jennifer Whiting’s proposal would be to send the whole dossier to reviewers, but also to draw special attention to four or five papers (or journal article length pieces) of the candidate’s choosing, giving the reviewers the option of concentrating their thoughts and remarks on these selected papers. The tenure committee itself can draw relevant distinctions between Scholars B and C when making its recommendation to the dean/provost/president.Report

FullPhilProf
FullPhilProf
5 years ago

I think some people commenting above aren’t fully understanding the proposal. Many schools now select several (4-5) publications for reviewers to focus on for tenure decisions, so that is not a new proposal. To make it a new proposal — and to have the desired effects of improving scholarship and improving our stress-filled lives — decisions would have to be based ONLY on the 4-5 publications.

Personally, I think this is a great idea.Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
Reply to  FullPhilProf
5 years ago

FullPhilProf is right that people aren’t fully understanding the proposal, and even FPP (who is as close to getting it as anyone I’ve seen commenting here) fails to mention the thing that no one has yet mentioned: what originally motivated Baier’s proposal. The extent to which what originally motivated the proposal has remained invisible in all of this discussion suggests that the Swiftian title is not as inapt as so many seem to think it is — though it might have seemed more apt had I not been persuaded to cut part of my original text on the ground that the part in question would invite irrelevant comments about the Leiter report.

I now see, from the discussion so far, that there was wisdom in agreeing to that cut, since what motivated Baier’s proposal has still (in spite of that cut) gone missing. I am hard pressed not to conclude that members of the profession tend to be shocked (as I intended them to be) by the idea of encouraging a system in which C was not rewarded. And I am even harder pressed not to conclude (a) that the idea of failing to reward Cs in the interest of making the profession more hospitable to the realities of women’s reproductive lives is a real shocker, and (b) that its shock value lies precisely in its not being so obviously a non-starter as the superficially more Swiftian idea of forcing men up for tenure to nurse their female colleagues’ children. It will be a sad comment on our profession if this pedantic reply gets more thumbs up than any other, including Robert C. Roberts’ astute point about what worries unimaginative types being a “feature not a bug”.Report

FullPhilProf
FullPhilProf
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

Sorry, I did mean for “improving our stress-filled lives” in a broad, inclusive way, to include permitting women and men to raise families (and do other things, like care for aging parents, which often falls to women). But I should have said so explicitly.

I am a bit shocked (though perhaps I shouldn’t be) that people think we should reward Cs. Really, we’d rather see a lot of mediocre work than fewer, but better pieces? Pieces that we actually had time to read and consider?Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

I did not mean my comment about Swift to be a criticism of your argument itself, and I imagine people may have “thumbs” it up without disagreeing with your point. Personally, I share a number of Clifford Sosis’s concerns below. Still, I have no doubt that many massively prolific philosophers do not have very much to contribute to a department, and many rather sparsely prolific philosophers have a heck of a lot to contribute — and for my part, I tend to see departments improve in every area, when they have more female full professors.Report

Dialethia
Dialethia
5 years ago

Pittsburgh must offer their departments far more autonomy over how their departments decide tenure cases than any department I’ve ever been at if Jennifer Whiting thinks the APA saying ‘Here’s how to do tenure cases’ is going to have any effect on anything. At my university, we are *told* the rules governing how our tenure cases will proceed, and pleading ‘But the APA says we shouldn’t do that’ would be met with a blank stare.Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
Reply to  Dialethia
5 years ago

I am not so simple as to suggest that the APA’s simply saying that this is the way to do things would make it so in the sense that individual departments could simply expect their administrations to accept this idea independently of what other departments and administrations are doing. But, as many people I have discussed this point out, what I am suggesting is the sort of thing that highly competitive departments already manage to do for what I suppose are two (not entirely unrelated) reasons: namely, because they think it conducive to their candidates actually doing their best work and because the better the work their faculty does the more a sensible administration will respect them. This is how highly competitive departments manage to persuade their administrations that philosophy is more more article driven than other humanities and that it is unreasonable to expect a book or even two, as often expected in other humanities (as well as social science) departments. The problem is that MOST departments are not, as things currently stand, in a position to make this case effectively. My thought was that insofar as many administrations do care about gender equity, they might actually be moved by the idea (especially if it had APA endorsement and increasingly many other institutions accepting it) that this way of making tenure decisions would not only help with the problem of gender equity but also improve the quality of their faculty members’ work (and perhaps also their teaching if they weren’t so concerned to get publications on their CVs). Many people have said, “this already happens at” or “this could only work at” the top places; but my idea was to improve life in other places. Moreover, I think that it is compatible with (perhaps intended in) Baier’s original proposal that things like the trajectory could be considered on the basis of the specified number of works.Report

William Lewis
William Lewis
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

Maybe the college where I teach is unique but, here, the Chair of the Department Tenure Review Committee is instructed by the faculty handbook to state what the disciplinary standards are for tenure in the discipline. Some sciences give a lot of credit for poster sessions, some studio artists don’t even write papers. It would seem that an APA statement would be quite effective in order to suggest philosophy’s standards to a university or college-wide tenure committee.Report

Clifford Sosis
5 years ago

I love spare time as much as if not more than the next guy and I like the ring of this proposal, but it doesn’t strike me as a modest one. It might be unfair. It might have bad consequences. If I understand your proposal, philosophers who publish a lot more than ‘enough’ high quality stuff would be officially considered just as good as those who have published ‘enough’ stuff of high quality. Question: are they actually as good? I can imagine a member of a tenure committee persuasively arguing that we should give tenure to the former rather than the latter, *ceteris peribus*. Is it unreasonable to assume that the person who has published a lot more than ‘enough’ stuff of high quality works harder and/or is more talented than the person who has published ‘enough’ stuff of high quality *all other things being equal*? Doesn’t the former deserve tenure more than the latter? I suspect placing official caps on your admissible corpus would seem extremely unfair to a lot of hard working and/or talented philosophers out there, unless this policy has overall good consequences (that outweigh the badness of the unfairness). If a caps policy decreases the quality of tenured professors–and it seems like it could–I can’t think of a good reason to believe it would increase the quality of the philosophy they produce/evaluate. So I guess my last question would be this: why assume we will use our spare time in ways that increase the quality of our philosophical output?Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
Reply to  Clifford Sosis
5 years ago

I assume you meant “if a caps policy decreases the QUANTITY of tenured professors “. But there is in any case a simple answer to your final question: there will always be some people who will care enough about the quality of what they produce to devote spare time to it. They may simply competitive want their little corpus to be better than anyone else’s little corpus, or they may simply take such pleasure in philosophy that there is nothing they would rather do with their “spare” time.

And (as I pointed out in the original post) I did not mean to suggest anything that would prevent someone from writing — nor even from publishing — thousands and thousands of pages (perhaps with posterity in mind). The proposal is motivated largely by concerns about how a discipline concerned with gender equity might better accommodate the realities of women’s reproductive clocks.Report

Clifford Sosis
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

No, I meant quality. I don’t think you are trying to discourage fast philosophers. It seems like you want to treat them the same as philosophers who work slowly when making tenure decisions. That seems to be unintentionally discouraging. If the profession adopts a policy that doesn’t discriminate between those who produce more than enough good work and those who produce enough good work, that is, if we adopt a policy that treats them the same when making tenure decisions, this might decrease the quality of the tenured professors. Is it unreasonable to believe the former works harder/is more talented than the latter all other things being equal? Is it unreasonable to assume giving tenure to the former rather than the later as a general rule would increase the quality of philosophical work floating around out there (since there are more talented/hard working people with tenure)? Again, as a person who works at a modest pace who does not have tenure, I really love the idea, but I worry it is unfair to a lot of hard working and talented philosophers out there. I worry it will have bad consequences. It seems to me that the problem with your proposal can be boiled down to this: you are assuming that those who work slow are somehow better philosophers, and will ultimately, as a community, produce better philosophy, than faster philosophers, ceteris paribus. I really don’t see any reason to believe that is true. You have identified a real problem, but your proposal, your solution, seems problematic. Perhaps there is a better way to accommodate reproductive considerations (it should probably be noted that this is not a consideration for all women, and it is a worry for many men).Report

S
S
5 years ago

The modest proposal is on the right track, but I want to suggest an improvement. Baier proposes that tenure decisions should be based only on what the candidate judges to be his or her best philosophical works. I think the proposal is insufficient. I base my reasoning on the fact that departments should have an interest in awarding tenure not only because a professor has earned it, but also because a professor will continue to merit the title. The distinction is significant: some professors produce good work early in their career, but the productivity may not continue (contrary to common expectation); some professors, on the other hand, produce decent work early in their career and there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of their work over the years, which the professors in question should point out. What I am suggesting is that tenure decisions should also be based upon whether or not a professor gives clear signs of improvement in their philosophical, academic, or pedagogical potential.Report

RP Forsberg
RP Forsberg
5 years ago

I would agree that anything that gets us philosophers to be more concise, shorten our writings, and tighten up all our thinking in papers is a good thing. It is certainly not a gender issue. I support such changes entirely. I had a prof in grad school, oh so many years ago, who limited any paper to 10 pages – after that he stopped reading and graded us as if the 10 pages (out of, say 15) were the whole paper. His idea was that being concise, editing out unnecessary verbiage, etc… was a good thing. While I wouldn’t put a 10 page limit on journal papers, pruning them down to essentials of the argument would be a step in the direction Professor Whiting suggests.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I support what I see as the spirit behind the proposal (minus the pious wringing of the hands about the Children); far too much philosophy published today reads like desperate attempts to win tenure by making the smallest possible moves in the established debate. But sadly I don’t think this is a cure (plenty of tenured people are guilty of this publishing strategy), and it comes with its own significant costs.

It is curious to me how many philosophers seek to have the APA serve as Head Decider instead of expecting faculty to be captains of their own ships. This had come up several times lately; in just the past couple months one commentator insisted that the APA dictate a set curriculum for grad students and undergrads while another argued that the APA ought to certify univerity programs in philosophy. Now we have a proposal for the APA to regulate tenure standards by imposing constraints on what can go into dossiers.

Why do philosophers want to wrest decisions from their fellow colleagues and put them in the hands of an institution that many regard as incompetent? Where does this faith in the APA come from? Why are philosophers so uncomfortable with their fellow philosophers using their judgment to run their affairs as they see fit, given their institutional constraints? I find this hankering for APA as Just Dictator rather perplexing.Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

I spent some time deliberating about whether to use ‘demands’ or ‘encourages’ in the final sentence of my original post, and went (very deliberately) for ‘encourages’. And the motivation for having the APA set out what I there call “guidelines” is explained in my response to Dialetheia’s concerns about how administrations (which are accustomed to setting the rules) would react to being told about any “guidelines” the APA might choose to “support”. I have heard too many members of the profession, often in their capacities as department chairs, complain about rules, typically quantitative, imposed by university administrators with little sensitivity to the nature of philosophical accomplishment. My thought was that having the APA “publicly support such guidelines and communicate them to university administrators in a way that encourages respect” might make it easier for SUCH members of the profession to run their affairs in ways it has sounded to me that THEY would LIKE to run them. I think this falls well short of dictatorship.

But perhaps bias in favor of the status quo dictates that we let each individual department run its affairs as it sees fit and let the chips fall where they may. Wherever the captains of our current ships want to take us — or wherever they want to keep us docked — there (modulo institutional constraints) we shall be. But let’s keep in mind that for which Baier was seeking a cure: it was not the regrettably common publishing strategy of “making the smallest possible moves in the established debate”.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

Well, if you want to move away from the more general problem of lots of mediocre philosophy being published and toward the specific problem Baier was seeking to address, then I think we ought to talk about what, precisely, the problem is supposed to be.

You don’t provide a link to Baier’s piece, but you gloss *the problem* in a few different ways: you mention the “demands of women’s reproductive clocks”, respecting “women’s reproductive lives”, and “gender equality” as though these are synonymous, but of course not all women choose to have children and many women baulk at the suggestion that respecting women as people or as philosophers is equivalent to respecting women as breeders.

I agree with you that phosophy has a problem with gender equality. But do we have any reason to think that philosophy’s gender problems are largely caused by philosophy’s failure to respect parenthood in general or motherhood in particular? I have not seen evidence for this. I haven’t heard about large numbers of women drummed out of philosophy because they decided to reproduce. Most programs are, in my view, quite “family friendly” with leaves and additional time on the tenure clock routinely granted. In my experience, the people who are most often negatively affected by faculty members’ decision to reproduce are the child free people (usually women, in fact) who are asked to take on greater administrative responsibilities.

In short, without a more robust discussion of what you see as “the problem”, the modest proposal strikes me as, well, a draconian solution in search of a problem.Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

Who would not want their tenure/ promotion decision to be based on what they take to be their best 175 pages (provided others were for the most part also so restricted)? I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide for whom such “guidelines” might count as “draconian”.

Moreiver, mothers known by x
(for some x) being “drummed out” of the profession the only sign of a problem? What about women (whether or not known by x) who decide not to go into the profession (or to leave it) because they think it too hard to meet tenure expectations while giving birth/nursing etc.? Or those who go into it but decide they cannot afford (during their best childbearing years) to give birth/nurse etc? And should we take the fact that some make the latter choice to show that there is no problem for women who would like to find it no less of a problem than their male peers do to combine a philosophical career with “parenting”?

By the way, there was a time early in my career when a study showed that no woman who had taken parental leave at MIT was awarded tenure, though men who had taken it were. Surely we are not respecting women (simply) as breeders if we claim that they ought to be able to “breed” on equal terms. career-impact-wise, with men.

Many (though not all nor even perhaps a majority of) men will of course take advantage of parental leaves to do their research while their partners care for their children (nevermind suffer whatever unpredictable physiological/hormonal disturbances their pregnancy wreaks). I’ve even heard married white fathers recently claiming to be, under the generic description “parents”, underrepresented minorities in our profession. Women my age are liklely to view this as par for the course. But who – as in what sort of philosopher – would seriously call “draconian”, guidelines (which individual departments were free to exploit or not) according to which candidates were to be judged by their 175 (or so) best (published) pages?

It would be nice to see TENURED people taking non-pseudonymous stands on this question.

Let me repeat once again that my proposal would bar no one from writing — nor even from publishing — thousands and thousands of pages.

But how many UNTENURED people, I wonder, would view the proposed “guidelines” — as compared with the present significantly quantity-driven system — as “draconian”? And what differences, if any, might there be in their responses gender-wise? That’s an interesting question on which it might be unreasonable to ask THEM to take non-pseudonymous stands. But not one on which I think it unreasonable to ask TENURED people to take such stands.

So, I wonder, which system (assuming it is mandatory and not simply a guideline) is more “draconian”? What I propose? Or something closer to the status quo?Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

Ok, I’ll bite. I am a tenured full professor. I am in complete support of Professor Whiting’s proposal, for all of the reasons she gives in her original post, both gender-related and not gender-related. I don’t really understand the objections. Why is it so laudatory to produce large quantities of work?Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
5 years ago

I’m on board too. Among the issues that Prof. Whiting has raised, I particularly agree that the pressure to publish in quantity is having a terrible effect on the journal ecosystem, which is struggling to cope with an overwhelming number of submissions. (And once the idea is established that the way to evaluate a tenure dossier is to carefully read the candidate’s best work rather than to count peer-reviewed publications, perhaps we can start rethinking what the ideal role of journals in a world where almost anyone can put a paper up on a webpage and make it more widely accessible than it is in most journals.) This isn’t at all to diminish the gender-related posts.

I suppose that it might be worth making an exception for book publications, though many of the monographs I’ve read could be fairly represented by their best fifty pages or so. (Someone who’s written the equivalent Intention or Naming and Necessity or The Conscious Mind or Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories by tenure time will probably be fine anyway.) As for philosophers who publish in more than one field, what’s to prevent taking the best work from each field?Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

I’m a full professor.
I don’t have any objections to the proposed scheme. And it doesn’t strike me as at all radical.
In fact, I think it would produce virtually no change at all at my university. Very few of the tenure cases since I’ve been here have had much more than 175 pages of published work in their dossiers — I believe two had books but no one had more than maybe 200 pages of articles.
Honestly, someone who had seven 25-page papers in very good journals, strikes me as an easy case, under current practices. Are my standards lower than others’?Report

Mohan Matthen
Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Jennifer Whiting
5 years ago

I am not against Jennifer’s proposal, but I am sceptical that it’s a cure-all. First of all, as far as tenure goes, 175 published pages strikes me as a lot. I had about 200 pages when I got tenure; I think that is in the standard range. I can easily think of 25 pages that could have been excluded from the record, but what would have been the point?
But putting this aside, my main objection is that the proposal has a whiff of the cult of genius. The idea seems to be that somebody might think hard for many years and at the end produce a work that changes everything. Well that might happen. And it would be great. But it might also happen that somebody produces a body of work which cumulatively contributes a great deal to philosophical knowledge, but each discrete piece of which is merely “good.” I am against judging people merely on quantity, but fail to see how judging them as “brilliant” as opposed to merely “good” helps the profession. Let people see what you have done and let them decide.Report

Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
5 years ago

I never really intended my proposal to be a cure-all to anything, but the problem at which the proposal was originally aimed (by me, following Baier) was not (as Mohan’s 5:05 post suggests) primarily an abstract problem of what, in general, the criteria for giving someone a lifetime appointment should be. Still, I fail to see how, if someone’s best 175 pages did not make the case for tenure, adding more pages, even lots of pages of the SAME quality, would help all that much. !75 is a lot and it was in fact the second number I suggested, suspecting — no doubt rightly I now see — that my initial 100 would seem way too “draconian” to some folk.

But to return to “the problem”, it was (as Professor Plum points out) the ill-defined one, or perhaps a cluster of problems, having to do with gender equity and stemming from the ways in which child-bearing (which only women do) means that women (though not of course all women) tend to bear a disproportionate share of the disruptions involved in parenting and must (at least if they are going to bear their own genetic offspring*) do so (if they are not to suffer age discrimination which, though illegal, is all too common) at a time when it is likely to affect the quantity (and perhaps also the quality) of the work on the basis of which they are likely to need either to get hired in the first place or (if they have been hired) to earn tenure.

*Women well-enough paid could of course hire surrogates in places where that is allowed, so I add the previous qualification lest some clever philosopher point out that I failed to note that women can mother their own genetic offspring without bearing them. And I am of course aware that many man (some very close friends of mine) are loving and heavily invested fathers: it was indeed part of my original idea that de-emphasizing quantity would it easier for EVERYONE to fulfill what I there referred to as “civic and familial duties” (including care of elderly relatives). It may be that if the proposal were adopted some philosophers (including some women too) would just slack off and produce less, so the quality of the tenured professoriate would decline, but I tend to doubt that very many would do so, given various factors such as how competitive some philosophers are, how many tend to think of posterity — or even just the value to the profession of putting a few more good even if not great ideas out there!!! And many philosophers care a lot about teaching and might be happy to have more time to devote to that.

But I am not sure that adding all the relevant qualifications is of much use when the nay-sayers don’t pay all that much attention to what I said in the first place. I fail to see what the worry expressed in Mohan’s 5:05 post, about the “whiff of genius” and whether someone is a steady or a spoadic producer, has to do with what I’ve been trying to get people to talk about — unless the point is that the toll taken by bearing a child or two, nursing at all hours, etc. while being expected to produce work that is quality/quantity-wise on a par with that of non-child-bearing colleagues (female of course as well as male), often in an environment where some colleagues (not necessarily male) don’t see why that should be considered so difficult, demands a kind of genius. You just wait around for 9 months and then, suddenly, WOW.

BRAVO to the women who have done it. The more an individual woman has produced the more highly we should respect her. (Think Anscombe — a super-genius if ever there was one: if only more women had been as tough as she was.) To all the women who weren’t drummed out of the profession, hooray for them. The ill-defined problem has to do with the ones who, whether or not Professor Plum has heard of them, chose not to go into philosophy in the first place because they thought it too difficult to combine that with having children; or tried to combine the two but failed; or chose, thinking it necessary if they wanted to succeed in philosophy, not to have or not to keep a child.

Even if a problem is ill-defined — or if some people dismiss out of hand reasonable attempts at definition rather than join in seeking to refine these attempts — that does not mean the problem is not real.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

Who wouldn’t want their tenure case decided on the basis of 175 pages? Well, for starters, I imagine that some who choose to write books or who work in multiple areas might object to this constraint.

Whether this proposal is draconian depends on what sort of force the guidelines are supposed to have. Presumably for the proposal to work as intended it shouldn’t be easy or cost free for individuals or institutions to opt out. If this is the case, then the proposal will set back the interests of some members of the profession, such as some of those who choose to write books or work in multiple areas.

That might be unobjectionable if there was clear and compelling evidence of a problem that this proposal is well suited to address. But in the absence of this kind of evidence, the proposal strikes me as draconian.

So, to answer your question (assuming it is a question and not simply an insult), I’m the kind of philosopher who would describe the proposal as draconian.Report

Lisa Rivera
Lisa Rivera
5 years ago

I am tenured. And I’m all for it for the reasons you mention. I love these things about the proposal (1) It advantages (almost) everyone while also targeting a special disadvantage for women. (2) It could improve the quality of work in philosophy (3) It gives early scholars the chance to spend some important years doing the best work they are capable of rather than designing their scholarly trajectory for maximum output.

How does valuing the quantity of publications benefit the practice of philosophy overall? You could say that it lets people throw more ideas for discussion into the mix. But we then spend time picking apart hastily written papers and chasing our tails. So why not reflect what’s most worthwhile for the profession–substantial, well-crafted philosophical work–within our tenure standard? And why not make it possible for early scholars to produce such work?

Another advantage of your proposal Jennifer is that it also resists the drumbeat of the business model we sometimes seem destined to march to as academics. We run the risk of losing sight of what matters when we try to prove our usefulness within such a model. Your proposal reflects the way philosophy traditionally keeps its eye on a much longer time frame.Report

Mark van Roojen
5 years ago

I’m well-past tenure and promotions and think something like this idea would be a good one. (I expect minor adjustments might need to be made for books or whatever, but the basic idea sounds like an improvement on what we have at many places, or at least what people think we have given how they respond to perceived pressures to publish.) From my perspective it seems like one now has to read a whole lot more than we used to to get somewhat less by way of interesting content because of the incentives that people have to publish a lot and early, rather than wait until a paper is really ready to go. (This is my way of saying I see the problem this is aimed at solving.) It is worth noting (what others have noted in other ways) that only people whose tenure case depends on quantity without sufficient quality would be disadvantaged by the proposal. Those with plenty of both can pick their best papers and would do fine under this system.

Presently some of the pressure to publish too much seems to come from university-wide tenure and promotion committees the members of which are not always sufficiently cognizant of the variety among the various disciplines and their publishing norms. So perhaps a discipline specific statement of the appropriateness of such reviews might be a useful lever in pushing back. For all I know a proposal of this sort is only appropriate for fields like ours, though we once had a provost who proposed something similar in greater generality.

I wish I could think of a realistic remedy for the pressures to publish too soon just to have a shot at a job. That would be harder to fix, I think.Report

Mohan Matthen
Mohan Matthen
5 years ago

Further to my response to Jennifer’s January 5th comment, I wonder if the problem isn’t just that people are given falsely independent parameters of evaluation: quality, quantity, citation rate, etc. Given that different people produce at different rates, and contribute to knowledge in different ways, why not just send their whole corpus out and ask the question: Does this person merit a lifetime position? If you like you can explicitly tell referees, committees, and deans to disregard questions of quantity. Tell them to assess whether the work as a whole makes significant contributions to the subject. Wouldn’t this do the job?Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

I don’t have a problem with the proposal and don’t find it altogether radical. My understanding of the norms of the profession — and this may well have changed since I received tenure and, then was further promoted to Professor — was that the expectations of most (ie ordinary) departments for tenure was an article a year of sufficient quality, with some variation for relative quality. For instance, an article in Phil Review could be assessed to be of a quality so far above sufficient that fewer than 5-7 articles (depending on the length of the tenure clock) would be expected. If you think that each article is 20-30 pages, that puts one quite in the ball park of 175 pages, and in some cases even less.
What is less clear to me is how it would directly promote more equity — gender or otherwise — in the profession. A better avenue for addressing concerns about the impact of balancing research and child bearing interests would be to work very hard to change institutional policies. Perhaps Canadian universities can provide an example here. SFU, a public institution, has a very progressive parental leave policies which allows for new mothers to take, with unemployment insurance, a 35 weeks of paid parental leave (at 95% pay), combined with additional unpaid leave to total 50 weeks. Fathers are allowed 18 weeks of parental leave. The policy holds for adoptive parents as well: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/academic/a31-05.html The tenure clock also stops during the leave period, if one wants it to. This policy came into effect the year I received tenure, so it did not affect me. If you look at people, in particular at women, of my generation in philosophy and older who were not beneficiaries of these policies, there are remarkably few with children (there were women faculty in my graduate program (3 of them), and none had children who they themselves raised). I look at the generation of women younger than I am, even by just 4-5 years, who have had the benefit of more generous attitudes towards parental leave, and the policies to back them up, and there are many with children. I might add that there are more men of a younger generation who also parent in public. It is a good thing to see.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

I should add that I don’t think anything Jennifer suggests would be opposed to working to change policy.

Also, since no one has provided the reference to the passage from Baier that is quoted. It is from “Ethics in Many Different Voice,” Moral Prejudices, Harvard UP, 1994, p. 298.Report