Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm not talking 'bout jet ski accidents

I just finished the final round up of meetings with my advisors for the year. I like my advisors. Putting aside important things like suggestions on further readings or feedback on particular chapters, my advisors have been pretty good at something at least as important. They usually make me feel like I'm not wasting my time. Half the time what I really need is this little pat on the back.

Writing a dissertation is such a solitary process that sometimes it gets hard to tell if what you're talking about is interesting to anyone else. A little praise on an argument/chapter/the whole thing makes it easier to keep going with the whole enterprise. Heck, even a, "This is a really interesting chapter even though you need to make substantial changes to this and that," gets the job done. I have time to fix it, I just want to know that it's worth fixing. I keep waiting to get the dreaded, "This project/chapter/argument is fundamentally misguided," but until that happens I'm just going to keep pressing forward.

Oh, and I realize I tend to start my comments on the papers I'm grading with, "This is a pretty good paper."

-- Second Suitor

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think it's very important to start off paper comments with a list of strengths, particularly since most papers tend to be at least "pretty good" (i.e., a B or so), and even C papers can have some well-done parts. it seems to make students more receptive to criticism, and it often shifts my focus away from weaknesses and allows me to be more even-handed in tone when discussing a paper's flaws.

Sisyphus said...

You get regular meetings with your advisors????

Siiiiigh.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 10:40

your comment was pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Pretty crappy JFP today. I wonder why they bother with a late spring edition, instead of just continuing to publish web-only ads as they come in? I mean, what's the point of a whole new issue for 26 measly ads?

new topic? said...

Has anyone seen this petition on Leiter's blog? It's to save the PhD program at Univ. of Florida: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/05/a-second-call-t.html

As a working, tenure-track philosopher, I know all too well how difficult it is to get a job in our field. We all do. So why are we trying to save a PhD program that would only increase to the well-documented (and increasing?) glut of candidates?

Sure, it would be great if more universities valued philosophy, had PhD programs, AND have jobs to employ most of the PhD graduates. And, sure, it sucks to lay workers off. But that doesn't reflect the real world.

It seems that one of the best ways to address the horrible job market for philosophers is to PRODUCE LESS PHILOSOPHERS. Casting off weaker programs (as determined not just by ranking but also university funding/commitment) is simply natural selection at work. In theory, the "better" philosophers will survive and continue on.

Those who wanted to go to UF's PhD program will simply have to apply elsewhere; and if they can't get into other schools, then perhaps they should reconsider their abilities as philosophers.

Consider the effect of creating MORE PhD programs: that would only flood the job market with more applicants. So logic dictates that fewer PhD programs will help balance supply and demand.

Am I right, or am I missing something here?? Mr. Zero? ;)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:40,

Publishing a print ad is sometime necessary for affirmative action purposes--the online ad does not suffice for this. (At least, this is how it works on my department when we hire). So the May issue allows the last trickle of ads to make their way into print.

In the past, there have been a few decent jobs in the May issue...

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:12,

That may force departments to post late season ads. It doesn't obligate the APA to publish an official late season issue of JFP. I agree, they should dispense with it and just post to the web as they come in to the office. Not that it matters this year. Most of these are old news and I suspect that at least with one of them, they've already hired someone.

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to see a post on the 'new topic'. My initial reaction was the same as that commenter's - we've all talked about how there are *way* too many PhD programs, so shutting one down makes sense. On the other hand, this obviously sends a signal that philosophy (and presumably, the other liberal arts) is an expendable discipline.

Anonymous said...

University of Florida is (barely) a top-50 Leiter program, if that means much. So it's surprising that they'd sacrifice the philosophy program...unless they were higher ranked in other departments?

Anyway, I suppose we can call this "thinning out the herd" which, in nature, is supposed to reduce suffering of the animals who might otherwise starve during winter. How apropos.

Anonymous said...

I'm a working philosopher, and I STILL think philosophy is an expendable field, a luxury item. (Recall that it was royalty trading letters to philosophers.)

If you didn't know much about philosophy (i.e., you are one of most people), and you look some some folks' CVs, you won't understand many works('phenonemology'???!), which automatically gets put in the ignore/can-live-without gargage pile of inforation. The whole of philosophy is then questioned for coherence and relevance. Then it's a short hop to writing the entire discipline off.

Anonymous said...

What does it say of our profession when a prominent state university sees philosophy as one of the most expendable PhD programs?

Anonymous said...

As for UF possibly closing its PhD philosophy program, there is a very real human cost: the probable reduction in workforce at the department (either layoff or non-retention or non-replacements of retiring/departing faculty), and the unclear future of current PhD students.

Of course, that's only a prima facie reason to keep the program going. That needs to be reconciled with other benefits or costs to see which tradeoff (to keep or to close the program) makes the most sense.

I saw a comment on Leiter's post that UF would lose some respect by casting off this PhD program. That may be true, but if they invest that money in another program to gains the amount of respect it lost in philosophy, then that might be ok.

But considering the impetus is a general lack of funding, they probably don't have money to invest in other areas: the tradeoff here is to spread the pot around much too thin, or save the departments UF values the most. We can't be all things to all people...

And apparently, UF's philosophy department (and maybe all such PhD programs) haven't done a good job to argue the case for its continued existence, given competing priorities. So this should be a wake-up call that, as philosophers, we need to be more aware how we're perceived by administrators and the public at large. Our jobs and programs may soon be at stake. In California, I hear they've just gone from best in funding education to worst with one massive budget cut this year. So there's much fallout expected from that cut. Is this short-sighted for the state's future (and hypocritical given his rhetoric on education) for the Governator? Maybe. Likely. But it will probably be effective in making schools more efficient, working with what they have.

This is a tough dilemma, folks. Is there a clear, compelling argument to defend keeping UF's PhD program? Or is Leiter's just a knee-jerk reaction to philosophers potentially losing their jobs and a general decline of respect for philosophy by losing a PhD program (which are valid concerns, but very one-sided)?

Mr. zero said...

New Topic,

I'm with you up to a point. I thought it was really, really weird how steamed up Leiter got over that news, given how often he complains about the glut of Ph.D. programs in philosophy. (Right in that very post, in fact, right before his plea not to close this one.)

I was also put off by his remark about how many programs across the nation were better suited to be axed than Florida's. Sort of like saying, some of them need to be axed, but not the ones I like--they're good philosophers! But screw the ones I don't think are any good. They're on their own.

But I am also sensitive to some of the remarks I read in the petition, which say basically that any university of a certain stature ought to have a Ph.D. program in philosophy, since it is such an important, core discipline. This suggests that any university that aspires to this stature should start one up, since it's a necessary condition for having that stature.

I don't know if I buy this, nor do I know if I buy the (parallel) argument, also made in the petition, that closing this Ph.D. program sends a message that philosophy is academically unimportant. There's tension here: there are too many philosophy Ph.D. programs, so some of them ought to be closed; but when you do close them, we get hurt feelings because it makes us feel unappreciated. We can't have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

if our goal is to maximize the ratio of jobs to candidates, then we ought to reduce the number of phd-granting progams in philosophy, not the number of philosophy departments. we also ought to defend the view that philosophy is an essential part of the university curriculum. standing by passively while a major university sacrifices its philosophy department at the altar of myopic budget cuts can't possibly be good for the field, whether or not it removes five phds a year from the job market.

Anonymous said...

Watch the ratings, it is much better to look at TT placement for Ph.D. programs. If they report it accurately (keep up with grads and don't count VAPs, etc) that is the statistic to pay attention to for this question. I know of a program that is not in the top 50 and has excellent placement (TT) rates for their graduates.

Anonymous said...

if our goal is to maximize the ratio of jobs to candidates, then we ought to reduce the number of phd-granting progams in philosophy, not the number of philosophy departments.

Yeah. Only, Florida is just eliminating the Ph.D.-granting program in philosophy, not the philosophy department altogether.

Also, what is the probability that this petition will have any effect? Will the University of Florida suddenly find the money necessary to sustain its philosophy Ph.D. program in the couch cushions just because a bunch of philosophers say they think closing it is a bad idea? The cuts are widespread, throughout the university; it's not a small, isolated trim. Maybe UF doesn't want to be a good school anymore.

Anonymous said...

If there is a surplus of employble philosophers, our impulse as members of the profession should be to create more demand, not reduce the suply. Encouraging UF to keep their PhD program is one way of trying to create that demand. It sends the message (which I think is true) that all good universities need robust philosophy departments (and robust implies that they have a PhD program).

Anonymous said...

Some of the commenters here and on the petition Leiter refers to seem to have the impression, or to say things that are more consistent with, that notion that UF is axing the department. They're not, as far as I can tell. They're axing the PHD program. Many of the complaints on the petition wax eloquent about the importance of having a philosophy department--or at least they don't say anything that wouldn't just as easily be accomodated by having a department sans PhD program--without saying much to convince me that UF ought to have a PHD program for those reasons. Many excellent research universities lack PhD programs in philosophy. But they have departments of philosophy, large ones in fact, with professors doing excellent research in philosophy. Why must they also have a PhD program in philosophy? Imagine telling them what some people on the petition have said: x is a good research university only if x has a PhD program in philosophy. Hogwash.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it is quite reasonable to support the elimination of philosophy Ph.D programs at universities other than our own.

But let's be honest: competition for scarce jobs does not only come from other departments. That's why we should also refrain from friendliness or encouragement towards our own colleagues. Besides, if they can't hack it alone, they probably don't really have what it takes.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was really, really weird how steamed up Leiter got over that news, given how often he complains about the glut of Ph.D. programs in philosophy.

Exactly!! It's an obvious dilemma that Leiter apparently doesn't recognize or, if he does, doesn't address (but should). Which causes one to question his judgment...

Anonymous said...

Re: Leiter and UF's PhD program, it's also weird that he didn't enable readers to post comments. Maybe he anticipated that there can be some compelling criticism of his support. Way to stack the deck, Leiter...that's how you work a bully-pulpit!

econ 101 said...

Yes, one can manipulate either supply or demand, or both.

But how are philosophers supposed to increase demand for philosophy? Isn't that what we (attempt to) do whenever we teach a course? If so, then we're not doing a good job...and haven't been for decades, if not centuries. So that clearly doesn't work.

And absent a multi-million dollar advertising campaign or some TV show that glorifies philosophy professors (cf. "L.A. Law" or "E.R." or "C.S.I." or "Boston Public", etc.), that's not likely to change. Making matters worse, there are a ton of faux philosophers (hippies who have some metaphysical-spiritual theory about the world, etc.) who are giving academic philosophers a bad name.

So if manipulating demand is off the table or too difficult to accomplish, then it makes sense to hit the brakes on the supply. There are worse options here than shuttering PhD programs; we could control supply by dissuading students from studying philosophy in the first place or going to phil grad school; but I take it that's a counterproductive path, given that we want there to be more phil jobs.

Asstro said...

Philosophers play a very important role in creating and sustaining demand. We've been dropping the ball for years by allowing what are, effectively, _our_ courses to be taught by unqualified specialists who are not at all eager to teach our courses. I'm thinking here of the heaps of courses in critical thinking (on one side) and ethics (on the other side) that are acknowledged by almost all academics to be important core courses in most majors.

Look at the course listings for some of the other departments. You'll find that scientists are all required to take critical thinking courses; and often those courses are listed internal to the respective department and taught by non-philosophers. That's ridiculous, but true.

On the other end, almost every major has an ethics requirement. Business students, for instance, are required to take business ethics. Again, these courses are often not offered by philosophers. Worse, the business professors who teach business ethics courses often think ethics is a load of crap, so they completely fuck their own class up, thereby disposing their students to hate ethics too. Same with other professional majors in policy, education, engineering, pre-med, and on down the line. Even the hard scientists are required to take research ethics courses: a topic about which very few philosophers know a damned thing. End result? The profs who teach the courses hate the courses, the students hate the couses, and perfectly brilliant philosophy PhDs run off to join the circus.

Take almost any discipline and you'll find that there are a variety of philosophy-type courses that are begrudgingly taught by faculty internal to those departments. Meanwhile, philosophers completely cut themselves out of the configuration. This not only reinforces the scarcity issue, as I suggest above, but also creates headaches for the general management of philosophy at the administrative level. Small philosophy departments are forced to run on shoe-string budgets with heavy courseloads because they rely on antiquated models of the "core liberal arts curriculum" instead of devising creative ways to capture the real demand for specialized philosophy that is spread throughout the university.

This is a demand issue; and IMHO, the philosophical establishiment of the past thirty or so years has completely left the younger generation holding a bag of bullshit. And the younger generation of philosophers, among whom I include myself, as well as the rest of you motherfuckers, is doing very damned little to change this demand issue.

Sure, only a small number of us _really_ want to teach courses like business ethics; just as a small number of German literature professors really want to teach introductory German, or a small number of mathematicians really want to teach Calc I. But these are service courses; and philosophy is a fucking _job_, like it or not. Service courses are bread and butter courses for any department, and maybe even critical for a discipline like philosophy. Since philosophers have been so splendid about making it perfectly clear that they don't think these other courses _count_ as philosophy, there's no fucking demand. That's our fault.

So buck the fuck up, ya'll. Start fighting to get these courses back and you will start to see demand rise for philosophy. Will it look the same as the philosophy of today? Probably not. But the philosophy of today, remember, has a nasty scarcity problem that has given rise to blogs such as this. These courses, if taught well, can actually lead to more philosophy majors, to interest in the more conceptual courses, and they can keep teaching assistants employed while they're in grad school.

End rant.

Anonymous said...

Where is the APA in all this? You'd think they'd be the ones to increase demand for philosophy/philosophers. Despite all its committees for this or that, I don't see it accomplishing, or even trying, anything on this front. What good is it? And WTF do they do with all those "dues"?

Anonymous said...

As someone who teaches at a non-flagship state-supported university, I feel that the comments here may be missing at least part of the mark. UF is supposed to be the state's "flagship" university. This means it should be comparable in principle to other such universities elsewhere, e.g., U Wisc, U Mich, U Texas, etc. I believe some of the outrage stems from the possibility that an administrator at what should be the state's leading research university can make a decision that a doctoral program in philosophy is expendable. Part of the worry here is a slippery slope worry about which other programs will soon become expendable--Classics? Theatre? Another issue is that state legislators and university boards of regents tend to assign little or no value to pure research in the traditional humanities fields. "Research" in most state universities these days is defined as what brings in federal grant money. It is rare for any philosophy department to do this. Thus, many philosophers elsewhere are voicing their outrage and protesting the UF decision for fear the same will happen at their own institutions, I suspect. This is something many of you should be worried about because it has a variety of likely implications: (1) more Ph.D. programs in philosophy will be axed, (2) philosophers in general will be viewed as useless luxuries to schools intent on improving their research standing in terms of federal grant dollars, (3) philosophers will be assigned more drudgery kinds of positions teaching large sections of intro ethics, business ethics, critical thinking, etc.; (4) philosophers who have jobs won't get much by way of research money or travel support, let alone raise money; (5) fewer philosophers will be hired and the ones who do have jobs will be marginalized in university scales of importance; (6) more of you will be unemployed or will be looking for work at community colleges with ginormous teaching loads.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Asstro. And anon @ 9:48 makes some good point too.

It's funny (in a sad way) that when jobs are at stake, folks seem to be very one-sided, which is understandable given our strong inclination towards self-interest. So they talk about how the plight of laid-off workers (which is very real), but they ignore the larger picture in which the benefits might outweigh the harms.

It IS a slippery slope, once you start cutting PhD programs or even entire departments. But you can always make that argument for ANY kind of budget cut, e.g., if you cut support for dance theater, then no humanities dept is safe, and soon all other departments. Or if you cut federal spending in X, then it's a slippery slope towards cutting any federally-funded program.

I think we need to remember that NO ONE is safe at any time. We can all potentially be on the chopping block. So the slippery-slope argument assumes a existing sense of security that, in fact, does not exist. (But it's still an argument worth raising.)

Anonymous said...

Asstro is right about the need for departments to assert themselves into their college curriculum outside of philosophy narrowly defined.

I'm an associate professor who has taught a variety of "service courses" at my SLAC (including business ethics and philosophy of education). A few of my colleagues and I fought to keep business ethics as a philosophy course...over the objections of colleagues who view it as a stupid course which they can't imagine anyone debasing themselves to teach. As a result we were approved to expand to hire someone to satisfy the demand for the course for undergraduates and MBA students. As the business division prospers, so does the philosophy department. And the individual hired does a good job teaching business ethics... but also has a specialization and competencies in areas that are solidly analytical. So the school and the department benefited as she can teach a variety of courses.

Philosophers are much cheaper than business professors. So the administration sees it as a good thing when our department can provide courses to those students.

A similar case can be made for bio ethics. And likely for research ethics (especially if it is focused on psychological research... as psych is usually a very popular major at most schools).

I feel good that we were able to create a new position for a young philosopher... and wish other departments would do the same.

Anonymous said...

It's totally possible to have a kick-ass philosophy department, with lots of good research going on and a good professional reputation, even in the absence of a Ph.D. program. Dartmouth and Western Washington spring to mind. You can make a major contribution to the profession without contributing new professors. Grad students are nice to have around, I'm sure, but they're not the straw that stirs the drink.

Anonymous said...

PGS, PGOAT, et al. -- time to pass the mantle on this blog? If you're too busy with the dissertation, etc. (as you should be), perhaps someone else can keep the blog going so that folks don't stop checking in altogether?

Anonymous said...

"Western Washington"??! Never heard of them, so how good can their phil dept be??

Anonymous said...

Western Washington could be pretty good even though you haven't heard of them. They have a pretty well-regarded conference every summer, and, along with Brandeis, Davidson, Oberlin, etc., are mentioned in the PGR as an excellent undergrad-only philosophy department. But that's probably no good; a better barometer of quality is this: has anonymous guy heard of them?

Also, you can't use question marks like that.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Western Washington alum. Don't get yer panties in a bunch.

Anonymous said...

And I notice that Western Washington alum misplaced a comma in his post: you can't use commas like that. (I'll let you try to find the error.)

And you CAN use question marks like that. Anon @ 2:07 clearly used his a rhetorical device to express incredulity, which is difficult to convey in writing. Here's another example wherein the question marks are used as exasperated emphasis: "What the fuck is the matter with you, boy??!"

Anonymous said...

My panties are properly aligned. The point I was trying to make is that you can have a high-quality, professionally satisfying philosophy department with no grad program. I know because I am a product of one such department. Know what I mean??,?