Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I Have a Dream of a New Pop Music, That Tells the Truth, With a Good Beat and Some Nice Harmonies

So what to make of the reaction to Inside Man's look into the inner workings of his search committee?

First, there seems to be some confusion about Inside Man's pseudonymity, and me and PGOAT have to take the blame for that. To be clear, me and PGOAT know him personally from philosophy circles we all run in. So we both know the rank of his program. More to the point, we both know he's heartbreakingly honest when it comes to telling grad students about how the market works, and his honesty has everything to do with him looking out for our best interests. But now that I think of it, there's a reason reporters tell you a little information about their anonymous sources, and if we'd done the same here, that probably could have headed off a lot of confusion. So mea culpa.

Of course, PGOAT and me are pseudonymous, so maybe us giving Inside Man our cred doesn't mean much to you. Fair enough. I can't say much to that. Lucky for me though, Leiter's been good enough to confirm pretty much everything Inside Man's said about how search committees use writing samples early on in the search process. I.e., if they get looked at all, they don't get looked at much. (Leiter also wants to deny some things Inside Man didn't say, but whatever. Didn't Bertrand Russell say no great philosopher has ever really understood anything written by another great philosopher? Maybe. Who's Bertrand Russell again?)

As for our pseudonymity, and the anonymity in comments, we're going to keep that. There are some things the profession won't let us say out loud. But just because we can't say them, that doesn't mean they're not true. Yes, there's a place for moderated discussion in moderate tones. It can be useful. But moderated discussion in moderate tones isn't so good at capturing the irrationality--both comic and emotionally brutal--of the job market. This shit isn't all like a day at the Lyceum. Good days are like an Ionesco play, and bad ones are like Kafka. So if people want to talk about the absurdity, the bad faith and the bullshit, this is the place for that.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting us all anonymize here. It lets me let off steam that wouldn't otherwise have an outlet.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:02 - you're obviously not as well acquainted with your dominant hand as you should be. :-)

fellow grad student said...

Perhaps we can best summarize this post.. in song....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81yh6fzil0I

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention Kafka. After my experience on the job market, my first piece of advice to job seekers is always to read The Trial, to get a sense of how things work. (The secret is that no one knows how things work because there is no way that things work; there are just a bunch of people each with their own idea of how things work.)

bjk said...

Are people so lazy they can't come up with a psuedonym? 26 letters, infinite possibilities.

Phil Fodder said...

What do you make of Leiter's comment?

"I just want to note that I concur with Professor Turri. There's a lot of nonsense being posted at PJMB.

another insider said...

"What do you make of Leiter's comment?"

Leiter is extremely defense about the idea that his rankings are used as anything other than a way for graduate students to choose the best program. So the suggestion that departments use the ranking to evaluate the credentials of job applicants (which they obviously, to some debatable degree, do) gives him conniptions.

If someone were to make the suggestion that most lower ranked PhD programs make their hiring decisions (everything from initial ad wording to choosing the finalist) based, to some degree, on how it will impact their Leiter ranking (which they all do), it would probably raise the stakes from conniptions to fits.

undetached rabbit part said...

But does anyone seriously believe that the PGR rankings are not the single biggest factor in determining who gets hired at a lot of places? At the very least they play a huge role in deteriming who makes the first cut etc. Look at who Leiter ranked schools hire. They hire people from schools that are ranked higher than they are. PGR rankings aren't the biggest factor, but it just so happens that it always seems that the candidate from the higher ranked school is the better one. What an incredible coincidence! Come on.

Brian Leiter said...

In reply to "another insider": why would I be defensive about the PGR being used in hiring decisions? I just don't think it is true. And there is a lot of misinformation being posted in the comment sections on this site, as numerous others have noted on the thread on my site. This does a disservice to job seekers, who have enough stress as it is.

Anonymous said...

**If someone were to make the suggestion that most lower ranked PhD programs make their hiring decisions (everything from initial ad wording to choosing the finalist) based, to some degree, on how it will impact their Leiter ranking (which they all do), it would probably raise the stakes from conniptions to fits.**

I am not an insider. But I have sat in on hiring committee conversations. Especially when making a tenured hire. The PGR became important. I've heard comments that go like this, "Candidate X would definitely raise our PGR ranking, which is very important since this will attract better Grad Students and it will help our current students when they go on the market".

However, it is important to think about how to interpret this. A charitable interpretation might surmise that the bump in the PGR ranking would be the result of the fact that this really is an excellent philosopher who is widely respected in her field.

On a similar note, I have my suspicions that at lowered ranked schools there is a motivation to hire from higher ranked schools at the assistant level because you immediately gain some cred. with the higher ranked institutions. This might eventually give you a bump in your PGR ranking. This is speculation, of course.

Brian Leiter said...

A clarification: when I said I don't think it is true that the PGR is used "in hiring decisions," I meant junior hiring decisions, the topic of discussion here. I do have evidence that the PGR sometimes plays a role in senior hiring decisions.

M.A. program faculty member said...

A few random comments.

First off, most departments don't worry about how hires will effect their PGR ranking, since the vast majority of departments *don't have graduate programs*. Let's not forget those places when talking about the job market, especially as many of those positions are good ones.

Now, for places that do have graduate programs, do they want to raise their PGR ranking? Of course! It helps you attract better graduate students, and it gives you something to brag to the Dean about.

But hires at the assistant prof level almost never have any immediate impact on one's PGR ranking (overall or area), except in freakish cases where junior people already have a prominent national reputation shortly before or after coming out of grad school (e.g., Joshua Knobe).

After all, the PGR is a reputational survey, and the scholarly reputation of one's department is going to be based on your people who have been publishing things that get noticed. No sane PGR ranker is going to say, "Wow, department with Leiter ranking #48 has just hired a spiffy ABD from Rutgers--time to give them a big bump up!"

So, insofar as PGR considerations play a role at the junior level hires, you're hoping to hire people who will end up becoming prominent and respected scholars in their area, thereby improving your reputation down the road. Nothing sinister about that.

I think where the PGR has had a big impact is hiring at the senior level. My sense is that there is more "poaching" of prominent senior people than there used to be, and this is fueled by departments hoping to have an immediate effect on their Leiter Ranking.

That Guy said...

I have heard (from people at the departments in question) that some departments decided to hire senior, rather than junior, on the grounds that doing so would be more likely to increase their Leiter ranking.

And let's not forget that, even if the prospect of increasing one's Leiter ranking isn't a factor in a department's decision, it's the sort of thing that the department chair can mention to the dean to get the dean on board. My sense is that deans like this sort of external confirmation of what departments tell them.

That Guy said...

Oops. I hadn't read the previous two comments. My bad.

VAP said...

Someone mentioned this on the Lieter thread and I just want to back it up. Sometimes writing samples are not even read before an APA interview. I have been told by a number of interviewers(may be 4, I am not sure)that 'sorry, I did not get a chance to read any of your writing'. I suspect that some others did not read it, but would not admit it.

One interviewer told me that my CV (which has a good publication) made it clear that I was smart enough to hire and get tenure. They were more concerned about teaching and fit. Obviously, this was at a teaching institution.

But I also had an interview at an MA program where I had the distinct sense that no one read my sample. At least there were no questions that showed they had. The research questions were something like "tell us about the dissertation" or "what will you work on in the future"? No follow-ups, objections, or clarifications were raised at all. Maybe they just knew I was not going to be the hire, so why bother. Or maybe they were lazy.

At other interviews I was grilled on multiple pieces of writing. Not only the dissertation abstract and the writing sample, but also works in progress available on my web page.

My conclusion is that there is no useful general information to be gained by asking how depts decide to interview. There are just so many different approaches. So by reading the Lieter comments you will only learn something worthy if somebody from a place you applied to actually responds.

hot damn said...

I have heard the chair of a department ranked between 10 and 20 on Leiter tell undergraduates that if they wanted any chance of getting a job at a department of similar rank, they simply had to get into a top 10 PhD program. This is false, of course, since several faculty members at that very school came from schools outside the top 10. And there are people (albeit not many) at top 10 schools with recent PhDs from outside the top 10.

Anonymous said...

re that guy's comment about departmental hires at the senior level

There is no chance in hell that a Dean will approve a hire at the senior level on the sole grounds that it will improve a department's PGR ranking. Senior searches are very hard to get approved, in a large part for budgetary reasons. Departments who are granted approval to search at the senior level typically will try to hire at that level, provided they can hire well. That is, departments want to hire at the senior level someone who has some stature (ie publication record, excellent letters from important people in the field, etc) in a particular sub-field, and so help raise departmental profile. But there is also the expectation that a senior hire will be able to assume administrative duties and grad supervision duties, as well as teaching duties, effortlessly. It might be an added bonus that a departments PGR ranking will go up, but that is important because insofar as that will attract more attention, and more and better grad students, the department will be able to argue to the Dean for a bigger share of what (at public institutions) are increasingly scarce resources. Departments want to be able to maintain or increase faculty complement numbers (so that we are not all overworked) and that involves getting the Dean to give us lines while other departments are being cut.

Unless you have the good fortune to be employed at a university with a HUGE endowment, education these days operates more and more on a business model.

That Guy said...

There's pressure at my institution from on high to have excellent grad departments. This means redirecting resources from some departments towards others. Departments that can say "Look, we're on the cusp of being excellent; give us the these resources and we can do it" are in a good position to get the dean to redirect resources their way. My sense of extra-departmental politics here is that pointing to Leiter rankings can help our department make that sort of case.

Anonymous said...

It's worth keeping in mind that not everyone present at an interview is on the hiring committee. Other faculty might show up because they're already at the conference. I've attended one as a graduate student myself, and I certainly hadn't read the candidate's work. Why should we expect every faculty member present to have done so? That simply doesn't mean that the hiring committee hasn't read it, and it certainly doesn't mean that no one in the room has read it. I suspect at least some members of the hiring committee would have read the writing sample of a candidate by an APA interview, at least if it was a job that had requested a writing sample. I'd be less surprised if a department hiring someone without requesting a writing sample decided to give an interview without reading the writing sample of someone who happened to send one and without even reading it before the interview.