Penn State’s Efforts at Diversifying Philosophy


Five black women earned Ph.D.s in philosophy from Penn State this year, according to an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education (currently paywalled) that looks at the efforts the philosophy department there has been making to diversify philosophy.

The Chronicle reports that:

According to the latest federal data, of the 370 American citizens and permanent residents who earned Ph.D.s in philosophy and ethics in 2014, just 15, or 4 percent, were African-American. Of philosophy doctoral recipients overall, less than one-third were women. Only one other humanities field, music theory and composition, had a lower proportion of women…

Only about 40 black women have ever earned philosophy doctorates in the United States, according to an estimate by Kathryn T. Gines, a Penn State faculty member. 

The article recounts the changes the department made, including:

  • Making several hires in philosophy of race. “Not all graduate students of color want to study critical philosophy of race, and not all who study critical philosophy of race are students of color. But there’s overlap between those two groups,” says department chair Amy R. Allen
  • Improving recruitment. Hosting the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) and following up with its students.
  • Increasing the fellowship amounts for PhD students and provided summer grants for students.
  • Altering thinking about admissions: Mr. Bernasconi says philosophy doctoral programs, and doctoral programs in general, pay too much attention to a student’s résumé and academic pedigree, an attitude that perpetuates privilege. The question he asks himself while reviewing applications is: With five years of intensive preparation, will the student be as good as any other new Ph.D.? “I read the writing samples very carefully,” he says. “I’m looking for a spark, something that suggests insight.”
  • Paying attention to, rather than glossing over, the racism and sexism of canonical philosophical figures.

According to the article, in 2014, the last year for which data are available, 79% of all Ph.D.s in the humanities were earned by whites, 3.8% by blacks. In philosophy, those figures are 84% and 4%, respectively.

race stats philosophy copy

(chart from The Chronicle of Higher Education)

guest
60 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Carlos
Carlos
5 years ago

Not to be the contrarian here, but I don’t see the problem (if there is one to be seen) in the fact that not many blacks or Hispanics or Asians are getting PhDs in philosophy. It’s a free country. If one wants to study philosophy, one can do so even if that person is green, black, blue, or orange.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Carlos
5 years ago

It’s like, if women want to run for political office, they can: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jun/14/top-10-sexist-moments-politics

Or, like, if men don’t want to be nurses, that’s on them: http://www.professionalnursing.org/article/S8755-7223(10)00146-8/pdf

Or, if women of color are interested in working in STEM fields, they can just do it because it’s a free country: http://www.toolsforchangeinstem.org/double-jeopardy-report-viewer/Report

Elizabeth
Reply to  Carlos
5 years ago

I don’t think any comment that has gone in the “even if that person is green, black, blue, or orange” direction has ever been good.Report

Robin
Robin
5 years ago

And Carlos here^ shows why we have so, so much work to do, both in fixing the system and in educating the privileged masses on why and how this happens and matters.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I think there are several reasons why it is a good idea to have some sort of diversity in philosophy. One reason why diversity is good is that there could be points that members of different groups are more likely to notice. Philosophy and its sub-fields are always in danger of becoming echo-chambers and I think it is good to get ideas from lots of sources. Another reason to value diversity is that is serves as an advertisement that all are welcome.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I’m not sure what you mean by “ideas from lots of sources”. Are there ideas in, for example, the philosophy of mind that are much more likely to come from non-white or non-male sources? I also wonder about the selection effect: deciding to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy takes a peculiar kind of person. Would those people tend to be more like each other cognitively than they are like the rest of their race/gender? If so, does that diminish the cognitive/creative benefit of diversity?

I’m taking as a give your second point about not scaring away non-white/non-males that might be very good philosophers but are uncomfortable with the demographic makeup of academic philosophy.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Urstoff
5 years ago

Urstoff, for the purposes of argument, let’s assume that there are areas of philosophy, like mind, where an entirely white and male group might serve as well as any other. Wouldn’t diversity still be valuable when considering politics and ethics, including philosophy of race and gender? In fact, might it not be valuable wherever philosophy flirts with the “social sciences”?

Regarding the selection effect, I agree. It does reduce the benefit of diversity very much. I still think there is value in diversity though.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I think it depends on how much personal experience (unique to a race or gender) matters to the generation of new (good?) philosophical arguments. It seems intuitively reasonable (although that’s not the same thing as evidentially supported; I imagine there are historical arguments that can be made for some areas) that this would be the case in the philosophy of race/gender, and perhaps other areas of social philosophy. But how far does intuitive reasonableness get you? Maybe for the justification of further investigation, but probably not for hiring practices.

I will note, though, that I’m generally broad-minded when it comes to department/journal practices. It’s probably a good thing to have departments that focus solely on academic resumes as well, those that try to be consciously diverse, and all those that fall somewhere in the middle.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

One thing I’m curious about: Do people view this lack of diversity as (i) something bad in itself, (ii) as something instrumentally bad, or (iii) as evidence of some other problem?Regarding (ii), and as one commentator suggests, perhaps greater diversity could lead to better philosophy. Regarding (iii), perhaps the lack of diversity is evidence of some sort of discrimination. The latter, at least, strikes me as pretty obviously correct. But I suppose I’m most interested in whether people take option (i).Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Eric
5 years ago

Eric, I thank you for asking this question. It helped me to realize that I believe (iii), and tend to view the lack of diversity in philosophy as evidence of problems in/with the profession over the course of the past century’s unfolding, especially as compared to the changes in comparable fields in Anglophone higher education. I didn’t realize that I thought this, so you helped me to think today. (Collaborative questioning, it’s one of the very best things about philosophy.)Report

Thomas Mulligan
5 years ago

Carlos is mocked for asking “what’s wrong with a lack of diversity?”, but I must say, I regard this as a perfectly reasonable question to ask, the answer to which is not obvious to me.

Kathryn Pogin cites research on various forms of bias against women and minorities, but that doesn’t address the question of diversity, since it is possible—indeed common—for a profession, social group, etc. to be devoid of bias yet still lack gender or racial diversity. Do we think it is bad that nearly all beekeepers are white? Not typically. But if we discover that blacks are barred, de jure or de facto, from becoming beekeepers, well, that prickles our moral antennae. Is homogeneity morally objectionable or does the problem lie in one of its causes?

This distinction is often overlooked. Yet it is practically important: Spending our scarce political and economic resources to produce gender or racial diversity in a profession might do nothing to solve the underlying wrongful bias. It could even make things worse. If the profession is ill, we should take care to treat the cause and not the symptom.

Finally, we should not conflate problems related to gender diversity with those related to racial diversity. The disproportionately low number of women in the profession may simply be a result of the implicit biases, outright sexism, and many other forms of anti-meritocratic behavior which feminist philosophers have pointed out to us. These we can fix. On the other hand, problems related to racial diversity are in large part exogenous to the profession. The massive inequalities of opportunity between black and white Americans probably preclude the achievement of proportional representation under meritocratic standards. But combatting this inequality of opportunity–which I consider the most important moral mission of our day–is a task for our politics, not our profession.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
5 years ago

Thomas, I am not ignoring that distinction — it just so happens that I am also not ignoring the testimony of my fellow philosophers who say that there are systematic challenges particular to them on account of their racial identities. For instance, the opening of the very Chronicle piece linked above which this post is reporting on, reads as follows;

“Seven years ago, Ronke A. Oke felt as if she no longer belonged in philosophy. For Ms. Oke, earning a master’s degree at the University of Memphis had been difficult, and she considered quitting the discipline and not going for her Ph.D. Her experience at Memphis stood in stark contrast to her undergraduate years at Spelman College, a historically black institution.

At Spelman, Ms. Oke, who is black, could imagine herself as a philosopher. Most of her professors were black women. She was not yet aware of philosophy’s reputation as an old boys’ club. And she felt free to pursue the types of questions about race and identity she was passionate about without constantly feeling that she had to justify her work.

In graduate school, that changed. She learned “what philosophy is and who it’s for,” she says. Most damaging, a professor told her she didn’t have the writing ability to make it in philosophy. “My morale was completely defeated,” Ms. Oke says.”

Some googling will reveal the philosophers interviewed for this particular Chronicle piece are not alone in their assessment.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Kathryn, Thomas is right that still doesn’t deal with the question of what is wrong with lack of diversity itself, as opposed to it being a symptom of discrimination. I do think there is something wrong with lack of diversity per se, as I’ve argued above, but it isn’t a question that seems to be getting addressed.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Just to clarify, I do agree that pointing out discrimination in philosophy answers the OPs statement that they don’t see any problem. It just doesn’t yet address why we should care about diversity per se.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Thanks Hey Nonny Mouse; my point was not that I was answering the question about the value of diversity but rather that I was not ignoring the distinction between the two issues (Thomas if you didn’t read the article, maybe that’s why you thought I was?). I agree with you that diversity has a number of benefits, and that this isn’t merely a matter of addressing discrimination (though that is important) but also it’s a matter of enabling the philosophical community as a whole to produce the best work we can — it’s just that I take it the benefits of diversity to us as a community, while important, are of secondary concern to mitigating the challenges the way the community is structured and operates poses to individuals within it.

In any case, I didn’t really want to try to convince Thomas of my view on the value of diversity because I think we disagree about some more basic issues. For instance, Thomas wrote, “Spending our scarce political and economic resources to produce gender or racial diversity in a profession might do nothing to solve the underlying wrongful bias. It could even make things worse. If the profession is ill, we should take care to treat the cause and not the symptom. . . [P]roblems related to racial diversity are in large part exogenous to the profession. The massive inequalities of opportunity between black and white Americans probably preclude the achievement of proportional representation under meritocratic standards. But combatting this inequality of opportunity–which I consider the most important moral mission of our day–is a task for our politics, not our profession.”

But the article linked in the post points out specifically that in fact we do have reasons to believe the problem is not merely exogenous to the profession, and that spending what looks to me like laudable, but not costly, effort actually has gone a remarkable way towards improving things at Penn State. (Again, maybe he didn’t get a chance to read the article, and maybe that’s why it looks like we disagree about this, but the post here notes at the top “Five black women earned Ph.D.s in philosophy from Penn State this year, according to an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education (currently paywalled) that looks at the efforts the philosophy department there has been making to diversify philosophy.”)Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Kathryn, thanks very much for clarifying. I take your point that you weren’t ignoring any distinctions. I disagree very strongly with you though when you say that “benefits of diversity to us as a community, while important, are of secondary concern to mitigating the challenges the way the community is structured and operates poses to individuals within it.” This seems to leave the fundamental corruptions in philosophy intact, diversifying the elite who benefit, but leaving the system in place. It is not helping minorities to spend their tax dollars without first asking whether they are getting something in return. That seems to be a problem of far greater scale. I’m not suggesting for a second that we should not combat discrimination in philosophy. However, I think we have to keep our eyes on the final goal of what the profession gives to the community and to try to ensure that what we are doing supports that.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I am pretty sure you misunderstood me. By “community” I meant the philosophical community.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

If the benefit to the philosophical community is something that improves the good we do with our work beyond the community, then that’s the key concern. If the benefit to the philosophical community provides no extra benefit beyond the philosophical community, then yes, it isn’t very important. But then, neither is diversity that provides no extra benefit beyond the philosophical community.Report

Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
5 years ago

Hi Thomas,
I’m a non-white, male (potentially) philosopher who’s somewhat certain about attending graduate school this fall. Charitable comments like yours, where you evaluate the merits of both sides of this issue without taking a seriously politically charged stance on those issues, makes me feel comfortable in philosophy. Kathryn Pogin’s comments, however, frighten me, because instead of being charitable and make explicit what is implicit in Carlos’ post, she just replies with what most grounded people already recognize: namely, the existence of racist and sexist barriers to entry in many professions that ground the lack of racial or gender diversity in that profession. It’s obvious deontic scorekeeping: Pogin scores another point as a diversity-minded philosopher, stuck in the language game of identity politics, without weighing the merits or demerits of one explanation of the lack of diversity over another explanation.

Carlos was not doubting that there are barriers to entry in the profession; he’s doubting that we should take the existence of those barriers in philosophy as the received explanation for why minorities aren’t interested in joining the profession. There are many other explanations, and I think the strongest explanations are that ones that take socioeconomic factors into greater consideration, but these explanations are often not politically charged enough to satisfy those who are interested in hunting perpetrators.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

I’m going to shut up for a while after this post since I’ve posted so much lately, but I did want to touch on this. I don’t see Katheryn as point-scoring because I can’t see inside her head. My impression is that she cares about the good, like the rest of us, and is concerned about discrimination in philosophy, as we all should be. I agree with you that it is important to discuss factors other than discriminatory practices within the discipline.Report

Jane Lane
Jane Lane
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I would think that Kathryn, too, thinks it’s important to consider antecedent structural barriers to entry in the discipline. It would be a weird view about the badness of structural barriers to underrepresented or disenfranchised groups if one’s concerns therewith only kicked in at the doors to professional philosophy. But I can see how one might think that Kathryn is only interested in “hunting perpetrators”; I heard she was recently spotted at the Central toting a crossbow around the Palmer House.Report

Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  Jane Lane
5 years ago

I’m sure Kathryn has good intentions; I just fail to see her rational sainthood represented in her reply to Carlos. Moreover, with respect to the last sentence of your paragraph, I fail to see how “those who are interested in hunting perpetrators” includes Kathryn, which I didn’t suggest at all. To have extrapolated that from my comment so as to defend Kathryn merely betrays an imaginary threat.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

Afraidofdiversity politics, Carlos writes: “Not to be the contrarian here, but I don’t see the problem (if there is one to be seen) in the fact that not many blacks or Hispanics or Asians are getting PhDs in philosophy. It’s a free country. If one wants to study philosophy, one can do so even if that person is green, black, blue, or orange.”

You claim however, following a claim that Pogin was not being charitable in pulling out what was implicit in Carlos, that “Carlos was not doubting that there are barriers to entry in the profession.”

Your claim that this lack of doubt is implicit in Carlos’s statement seems to me to need further development. “It’s a free country,” and “one can do so” seem to me to be denials of barriers to entry: all one needs is the simple desire to do so.Report

Chopper
Chopper
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

I agree with John’s sentiments and would argue that all of this hesitation and grunts of constipation seem to be veiled forms of irritation and evasion to me….just saying….no, this isn’t a “politically charged” position. It is the recognition of the fear-factor at play by many who are too comfortable and out of the public eye, able to be able to operate in the backwoods of academia with impunity.Report

Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

John Protevi, you’re missing the issue. The issue is the classifier ‘many’ that Carlos uses. It’s the 25th word in the sentence you quoted. Carlos is saying that the fact that few people of color are earning PhDs in philosophy does not warrant the claim that philosophy faces a serious climate problem.

But you know what does warrant the claim that philosophy faces a serious climate problem? Some warranting-claims include the fact that several senior professors have harassed female graduate students (this is a generalization that can be confirmed through several recent incidents in the profession). Another warranting claim is that many male graduate students in philosophy do not treat their underrepresented peers as intellectual or social equals.

The point is that Carlos makes a tiny but correct point, and people are missing it because this is a politically charged topic that does not lend to slow, careful interpretation of language.Report

Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

* quantifier, not classifier
woops.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

Afraid, I think you are projecting what is an interesting point about warrants onto Carlos.

If what you say at 8:59am were really what Carlos had said, then he would have said something interesting, i.e., “not doubting that there are barriers to entry in the profession; he’s doubting that we should take the existence of those barriers in philosophy as the received explanation for why minorities aren’t interested in joining the profession.”

But he is denying the existence of those barriers. His statement claims lack of antecedent desire is the only thing we can conclude from low percentages of POC in philosophy, as there are no barriers to entry (“it’s a free country” and “one can do so”).Report

afraidofdiversitypolitics
afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

You’re probably right about the projection. It’s coming from my psychological propensity not to assume first that people would make such silly comments as denying the existence of barriers to entry.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

First, I don’t believe there is one explanation above all others so I’m not sure why you think I do, and second, I’m actually pretty confident I’m not scoring points: https://hbr.org/2016/03/women-and-minorities-are-penalized-for-promoting-diversity?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=harvardbiz

If you want to criticize me, that’s fine — that’s what happens when you say things on the internet. But I’d like to be clear that right now, you are not being charitable to those philosophers who have testified to the role that racial disadvantage within the profession has played in their own relationship to the academy, and I’m not sure why Carlos deserves more charity than them.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I know I said I’d made my last post for a while. I’ll try to actually take a rest with this one, at least for today. Kathryn, I don’t think you want to try to argue that the evidence shows you are not point-scoring. The charge is almost impossible to show oneself innocent of precisely because any evidence you can point to can be seen as point scoring with some faction or other. Your actions can easily be interpreted as point scoring. The important thing is that the fact that we could interpret them that way doesn’t imply that this is the correct interpretation, and secondly, that we should beware of ad hominem against your positions and arguments.Report

Jane Lane
Jane Lane
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Quick recap: HNM says that they don’t see KP as point-scoring because they can’t see inside her head. KP testifies that she’s not trying to score points with anyone — she’s merely making arguments. HNM responds by telling KP that she ought not testify (or, rather, “try to argue”) about her own point-scoring behavior (which HNM admittedly has no insight into one way or another since they can’t see inside her head) because, no matter what she says (about her own behavior) everyone else will make up their minds (about her behavior) for themselves.

Whoookay. But, for the record, the only place that KP is scoring points is at the archery range. With her crossbow. (Which she definitely has.)Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Jane Lane
5 years ago

Because I’m the topic, I’ll respond after all. Jane, there is no contradiction in what I’m saying. We can’t tell if KP is point-scoring or not. We can’t conclude that she’s point-scoring because we can’t see inside her head. We also can’t determine that she’s not point-scoring because we can’t see inside her head. It is not very useful for her to try to produce some kind of external evidence to demonstrate that she’s not point scoring, because any evidence you could produce can easily be interpreted as point-scoring with some faction or other. As with just about any philosophy, the best we can do is assume that her concerns are what she says they are and move on to discussing the issues.Report

Jane Lane
Jane Lane
Reply to  Jane Lane
5 years ago

“We can’t conclude that she’s point-scoring because we can’t see inside her head. We also can’t determine that she’s not point-scoring because we can’t see inside her head.”

Because her own testimony about her comments is woefully inadequate for the task of figuring out what precisely she’s up to!Report

JayArr
JayArr
Reply to  Jane Lane
5 years ago

This all seems a bit silly. Of course the response will be that her own testimony is after all an act of self-presentation, and Kathryn has an interest in keeping that presentation positive. In any case, it certainly is true that Kathryn’s comments are “scoring points” with a number of readers of this post, in the sense that they are being approved by like-minded others. I would doubt that Kathryn is unhappy about this, and hope she doesn’t have some quasi-Kantian need for this approval to be absent so that she can be absolutely SURE that what she’s doing is motivated SOLELY by the desire to right a social wrong. I know Kathryn a bit, at least enough to know that she really does care deeply about righting the social wrong. But good grief, why think that’s incompatible with enjoying the fact that others respond positively to the project? We all need to “score points” in the sense that we all need positive reinforcement.Report

Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Hi Kathryn,

You shouldn’t worry so much about the point-scoring. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it because I’m positive you’re sincere about your care for climate issues. My real criticism was that your comment against Carlos was uncharitable and mocking, and I stand by my claim that your response to his comment worries me about my own opinions about the notion of diversity itself, climate issues within the profession and how to respond to them, as well as the problems posed by the identity and diversity political movements in academia.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

I stand by my original comment. Carlos said that folks can do what they want because it’s a free country. I simply repeated Carlos’ language back with additional context in order to demonstrate problems with the reasoning. I don’t think I am being uncharitable in doing so.Report

Amber Carlson
Amber Carlson
Reply to  Afraidofdiversitypolitics
5 years ago

I know Kathryn Pogin very well. Given that the negative characterizations of her here are themselves quite uncharitable, I don’t hold much hope for changing the minds of those who are inclined to believe such depictions.

Even so, I think it is worth putting out into the blogosphere that Kathryn is, in fact, one of the most careful, intelligent, thoughtful, and genuine philosophers I know. She is not interested in score-keeping whether it be for deontic reasons nor–as others do–to cultivate a mere facade of diversity-mindedness. I am, as ever, disappointed to see more disparaging remarks on popular philosophy blogs made against the character of those who are genuinely working to improve the profession.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Amber Carlson
5 years ago

Jane, you are misrepresenting what I said. I never criticized her for denying that she was point-scoring. What I said is that her attempt to marshal evidence that she isn’t point scoring isn’t going to work. As you may recall, when I originally objected to the charge that she was point-scoring, I did so on exactly the grounds that there is no way for her to produce evidence that she’s innocent. Of course she can say “I’m not point-scoring”, and I would if someone made additional accusations against me, but that’s not fresh information. There’s nothing new to consider. Nobody who is point-scoring would say anything else.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Actually, let me draw and analogy here that’s pertinent to the OP. If a philosopher is accused of being racist, we can consider it evidence of their innocence, of a sort, that they deny being racist. But as far as deciding on their innocence and guilt, this evidence gets us pretty much nowhere.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Damnit! I mean “if” they deny being racist. If they are accused of being racist, we can regard their denial of guilt as some sort of evidence of innocence. But that doesn’t get us very far in deciding guilt or innocence.Report

Chopper
Chopper
5 years ago

It seems that only those who are incredibly aloof and insensitive to the dire needs of the profession, not to mention philosophy in general as culturally relevant, believe there is a distinction between “our politics and our profession.” How are these two mutually exclusive and how is this not semantics? The defeatism and cynicism in the tone about the obstacles in the way of fighting for and staying committed to diversity sounds like the same tired contentment, which has exiled philosophy to the ghettos of culture. Philosophy should speak to young people and the ethos our our times and in order to do that you have to be socially relevant and actively engaged. It is largely through philosophy’s isolation it has been able to discriminate and stunt the growth of scholarship unimpeded, but it has come at the cost of being overly-marginalized and with only bankrupt social capital. Penn State is showing the way of the future and the necessary turns that philosophy must and will continue to take in a wider world. We do not have the luxury, Thomas–I believe, of insulating ourselves as the philosophers of the countryside.Report

Chopper
Chopper
5 years ago

From this follows the claim that philosophy must pursue and cultivate transfiguration! Like anything, without the impetus from resistance or its accepting of challenges in malleable ways, philosophy will grow stagnate. No true enlivening will occur to sustain itself without a true diversity and engagement with the other. Philosophy is more of a dance and drama, than a self-contained system or school. The fact that we have opened ourselves up to a platform like Daily Nous and have no control over the boundaries of engagement speaks for itself–it is very risky and unsettling, but much more elevating of the human conversation in many different ways, that would not occur otherwise without efforts to open the floodgates. The benefits of social networks and integration outweigh those of segregation.Report

Samuel
Samuel
5 years ago

Great work, Penn State! Keep it up. Let’s hope other graduate programs take similar steps.Report

Apathetic Reject
Apathetic Reject
5 years ago

Some thoughts on the conversation in the comment section: As a lower-class white male who has had all of his grad school applications rejected, it’s really hard for me to feel sympathy for any philosopher who has suffered discrimination. I understand that many female and black (and white, and trans, and etc.) philosophers say that they have experienced discrimination (and most of them are probably right!), but I would give anything to be able to be in their situation: I would do anything in order to suffer discrimination as a philosopher. I wonder if other rejects like myself feel the same envy/apathy about such philosophers? (I’m not condoning the apathetic/envious attitude that I have, it’s just a description of my current psychological state.)Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Apathetic Reject
5 years ago

“I would do anything in order to suffer discrimination as a philosopher. ”

As Much as I can empathize with this…you don’t really want this AR. It’s understandable to look for a cause to why you weren’t accepted into grad school but there likely isn’t a single explanation. The implication that your whiteness kept you out of grad school is not only likely false but not cool (even if an understandable expression of your own frustration).Report

Apathetic Reject
Apathetic Reject
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

I never suggested (or implied) that my “whiteness” (what an odd term!) kept me out of grad school. I gave no explanation as to why I was rejected…(I know some people are more confident in their opinions as to why something happened to them, but I think a modest approach in cases like this (regardless of my skin color) is the right one to take).Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Apathetic Reject
5 years ago

AR, here’s how I interpreted your argument: you opened by stating your own race and class and connecting that with your recent across-the-board rejection (hence my inference) and then you go on to state that you have trouble feeling sympathy for minority philosophers. I don’t think I was out of bounds to connect the dots you laid out.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

I should add, however, that I apologize for responding in the way that I did. My intention was not to shame you and I feel bad that that’s how my post reads.Report

Apathetic Reject
Apathetic Reject
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

The thing is that I didn’t give an argument. I just described my current psychological state which includes the fact that I would give anything to be in the shoes of a philosopher who suffers from discrimination (and I still feel that way). No worries about your reply, I did not feel” shamed” (another odd word!).Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Apathetic Reject
5 years ago

If you’re “just” describing your “current psychological state,” why is anyone party to this discussion supposed to care or, at least, why would you imagine that anyone might care? What relevance could your personal psychology have to “Penn State’s Efforts at Diversifying Philosophy”? How is your self-report any more interesting than the observation, say, that one “would give anything to be able to be in their situation” of experiencing Jim Crow on a train as compared to being “a lower-class white male” unable to buy a train ticket? These are not rhetorical questions.

Maybe you “would do anything in order to suffer discrimination as a philosopher,” but your psychology would be very atypical for a white person. See, e.g., “The Cost of Being Black.”
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~mrbworks/articles/2006_Mazzacco_DR.pdfReport

composite
composite
Reply to  prime
5 years ago

I don’t know, I care a lot about descriptions of the ‘current psychological state’ of people suffering as a result of unjust discrimination in philosophy. Why shouldn’t I care about this guy’s suffering, too? Why shouldn’t I respond in an inclusive, understanding way, with compassion, rather than censure and offense?

Put another way, why shouldn’t I care, both, that some people can’t afford trains, and that some people who can can’t sit in the good seats? Why shouldn’t I at least try to see this as parts of one problem, something that both can approach together in solidarity?Report

prime
prime
Reply to  composite
5 years ago

Since the topic of the post is “Penn State’s Efforts at [Racially] Diversifying Philosophy,” personal testimonials about seemingly irrelevant “suffering” (your word) would be random or diversionary. As Apathetic Reject wrote, “I never suggested (or implied) that my ‘whiteness’ (what an odd term!) kept me out of grad school. I gave no explanation as to why I was rejected.”

I have no idea what in this type of case might count as “parts of one problem” nor how your “inclusive” call for “solidarity” bears on the topic of the post. It’s all so vague but not, I hope, merely half clever.

I also don’t know where you’re getting the “censure and offense” bit from. I, at least, wasn’t offended, and (even if I had the means) I wouldn’t bother trying to censure this familiar type of thing.Report

Apathetic Reject
Apathetic Reject
Reply to  prime
5 years ago

Woeeee, I did not mean to touch a nerve Prime! Apologies if I did! – I did not think that describing my psychological state would have such a negative effect. Anyway, I made it explicit that I was responding to the comments in this section, not the article. I’m not sure why you think that my position is atypical for a white person (whatever that means) would be relevant to what I said…Anyway, it also is not clear to me why you would think that this situation is (significantly) analogous to the Jim Crow one you suggest.

@Chopper: I do mean that I would suffer real discrimination to be a philosopher – if that’s what it took to be a philosopher (i.e. be employed by a university to teach and write philosophy), then I would not hesitate in accepting it. (Perhaps I would regret this decision but, conversely, perhaps I wouldn’t.) However, you may also be right in thinking that my current state of mind will pass and I will look back on it in embarrassment. Time will tell, I guess.Report

Chopper
Chopper
Reply to  Apathetic Reject
5 years ago

This sounds like hyperbole, AR! First, I don’t actually think you would like to suffer REAL discrimination because who would? I see you clearly speak from an outside or abstract perspective when it comes to this, which can lead to saying such silly, insensitive things. The other reason why I think this is much ado about nothing is because you sound like you have the Romeo and Juliet bug. I can appreciate that you love and want to do philosophy, but if the boy or girl don’t want you or only wants you through a suicide pact then this only remains desirable for the immature and infatuated. It is a phase one will pass through and you will look back on it and laugh about how you were so head over heels, you were willing to allow yourself to be discriminated against. That’s an unhealthy standard by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, don’t you think? And, of course, there is always the pertinent issue of are you really sure you want it–you may be convinced now that you think you do.Report

vivek
vivek
5 years ago

Thomas Sowell has pointed out the paradox that worsening discrimination in Federal Employment faced by African-Americans led to very highly educated Black women being employed as School Teachers with the result that Du Bois’s ‘talented tenth’ got a head-start.
As an economist, Sowell knows that information asymmetry can lead to signalling failure- as happened when busing meant that ordinary African Americans thought their children would be better off being taught by under-educated Whites rather than highly educated people of their own background.

Few American philosophers were adept in Continental philosophy, back in the Sixties, and fewer still had the impact or visibility of Angela Davies whose Doctorate was from East Berlin. Yet, her example encouraged women not to lose themselves in the couvade maiuetics of the Socratic tradition but, rather, to acquire the practical skills of an Agnodice who helped actual women give birth to real babies, not Platonic Ideas. Agnodice was acquitted of corrupting the women of Athens because she could lift her skirt and thus disprove the allegations against her.

If it is really the case that only 40 Afro-American women have been given PhDs since 1965 then the question arises whether there was something wrong with the subject ab ovo. Either it seeks to use arcane arguments to support popular prejudices- e.g. that Relativity or Quantum Mechanics don’t really mean what they say they mean- or else it cashes out as paranoid ranting directed at some long dead pedant who, supposedly, poisoned the wells of thought for all eternity- or till the Revolution ad kalendas Graecas
It is noticeable that a J.D who adds a Philosophy PhD to her skill-set can have an impact on Public Policy and, to my knowledge, there are black female Economists and Area Studies Specialists whose Doctorate could easily have come under the purview of the Philosophy Dept. but for the fact that this might lower the value of the Credential.

Kathryn Gines, at Penn State, has taken a different tack- one reminiscent of Agnodice who went to Egypt to acquire medical knowledge- by linking Philosophy once again to Healing, Self-Actualization, and restoring Sanity to Society. However, incentives have to be created and maintained, perhaps by fostering links to Enterprises outside the Academy (which has proved such a benefit for STEM subjects) so that the Social Value of what is being created is properly recognized and rewarded.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
5 years ago

This thread may have run out of steam, but in case anyone is still reading it, here are some reflections:

1) One of the points of conflict is the reluctance on the part of some folks to examine the genesis of desire, thus reproducing the notorious “pipeline problem.” When someone says “you can’t make folks want to study philosophy if they don’t want to, and POC don’t want to” they are bracketing the question of *why* don’t they want to. And that has to prompt questions as to

a) climate issues in UG and grad school

AND b) socio-economic explanations (and here I agree with what “Afraidofdiversitypolitics” has to say in his own name; our conflict was over what I claim is his projection of his own good points onto Carlos).

One of the ways to do a socio-economic analysis would track student debt. Taking on student loan debt is a gamble. As a population, college grads have traditionally gotten a life time earnings boost, but, i) is that still going to hold into the future? and ii) what’s true of a population is not necessarily true of each of its members, so that earnings dividend might not arrive for me. Hence, what is perceived as a high-risk / high-reward major like philosophy can be unattractive to risk-averse students, and since it’s completely rational for many POC to be risk-averse in choice of major (it’s rational for many folks of whatever social position to be risk-averse, but since POC is the topic of conversation, let’s stick to that), then you have to design programs that take climate *and* socio-economic issues into account.

Which is what the PSU program does!

2) So, that’s what makes it maddening / saddening that this comment thread leapt from the concrete details of the PSU program’s efforts up, up, and away into The Realm of Principles ™.

We might instead have taken a pragmatic turn and had a convo about how to take the PSU efforts down to the UG level: a) recruit on the basis of potential, not flashiness or smoothness in self-presentation, as smoothness is just cultural capital on display; b) teach the racism, don’t ignore it; c) hire CRT faculty.

So we could have been discussing how to try those out for some years, and then see what it does to the desire to study philosophy — and not just for POC, because it’s certainly not beyond the plausible that such a program would also attract more folks of different social positions — as well as see what it would do, eventually, to the production of professional philosophers. What would professional philosophy look like with greater representation of POC? At the very least, it’s opening the profession up to the talents of a greater part of a portion of the population than had previously participated.Report

afraidofdiversitypolitics
afraidofdiversitypolitics
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

“One of the ways to do a socio-economic analysis would track student debt.”

Hi John, I’d just like to confirm your intuitions about a socio-economic analysis. As a POC who attended school on a full ride, I felt like I ‘earned’ the chance to study philosophy without feeling like I’ve done my parents or me a major disservice.Report

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson
5 years ago

I am not a philosopher but a political theorist in a political science department. I wish my department would take diversity half as seriously as the philosophers at Penn State. Since some of this thread trades on the value of diversity per se – which is not a purely philosophical mater – I would recommend interested parties to read Scott Page’s book The DIfference. In it he (roughly) shows that in group decision making diverse groups outperform groups consisting of uniformly more competent individuals in a systematic way. So there are good consequentialist reasons for valuing diversity. And lest you think this is just oddball social science, being pushed by an outsider you might seek out Elizabeth Anderson’s discussion of the book too.

A link to Scott’s book: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8757.htmlReport

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
5 years ago

Professor Bernasconi’s quoted remarks are brief and I’m sure he could more fully explain his point. I find myself puzzled that he contrasts his approach to graduate admissions with the approach he says is more common elsewhere. We are told that he reads writings samples carefully, looking for “a spark” or a suggestion of “insight” while others problematically emphasize pedigree or resume rather than doing what he does. I have worked on PhD graduate admissions at three different institutions. The emphasis in every case was on the careful evaluation of writing samples. Does Bernasconi think others are not reading writing samples carefully? Does he additionally think that when looking for “a spark” or “insight” as part of reading writing samples one will find this disproportionately in the writing samples from members of underrepresented groups than others? I doubt that he means this. What then does he mean?Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Crimlaw
5 years ago

Thanks for this, Crimlaw. This is the kind of grappling with the concrete details of the PSU program that I complained was lacking in the rest of the thread.

Now I wouldn’t dare speak for Robert Bernasconi, but as I doubt he’s going to appear here, let me say how I read his comment. I don’t think he meant others don’t read carefully, but perhaps the implication is that they look for other things in addition to spark and insight (mastery of secondary literature, control of a philosophical tone and diction, and so on, which we can call “markers of previous philosophical training”). Whereas the care he takes is in looking for insight even when the markers aren’t present.

Now why would they not necessarily be present? That might be (and here I am extrapolating, perhaps unjustly, from the example cited of the person with a neuroscience UG major), because it’s possible a higher percentage than what is normal in other programs of the applicants did not have UG philosophy majors, and so would not have developed those markers of previous philosophical training. But, so would go the thinking, if I am correct, those things can be developed with training if the spark and insight is there. In other words, while spark and insight are necessary for applications to other programs, but only become sufficient when joined to markers of previous training, they are sufficient for Bernasconi.

Now that is a lot to drag out of those very short remarks, but that’s the best I can do with them.Report