Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Define the Relationship, Smoker Edition

A reader on Mr. Zero's post below on Boxill writes in:
We haven't had a DTR in a while. What is the aim of this blog? I feel like it no longer fills a need and is just a less-trafficked version of other blogs, e.g. DN, PMB, NA. It needs a niche again, in my opinion.
Google tells me that 'a DTR' is short-hand for 'Define the Relationship.' Urban Dictionary tells me, that's: "When two people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic relationship."

But, I guess I could've gotten to the heart of the reader's question by reading the next sentence: "What is the aim of this blog?" And the last sentence: "It needs a niche again."

I know that I sometimes use it when things get my perpetual rage machine ramped up and when I feel like drawing silly comics. But certainly I can start utilizing it better when I have the time. (Mr. Zero and Zombie, IMHO, do a damn fine job weighing in on current controversies and starting threads and weighing in on comments, respectively.)

What's the consensus? Have at it, y'all!

--Jaded, Ph.D. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On The UNC Academic Fraud Thingy

Via this post at Daily Nous, we learn that
Philosophy professor Jan Boxill was named as an active participant in an academic fraud scheme in a 136-page report issued earlier today [that is, yesterday or the day before] by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled “Investigation of Irregular Classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.” The report details the existence of a number of phony “paper classes.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these “masqueraded as lecture courses but never met, and required only that one paper be submitted.” The paper was assigned not by a professor, but by the department manager, who then “graded the papers, generally giving students A’s or B’s as long as the papers met the assigned length. Many of the papers were plagiarized but still received high grades.” The system was in place for over 15 years.
DN has some juicy excerpts from the report:
In addition to Reynolds’ grade guidance, our email review disclosed several instances where Boxill made specific grade suggestions for her women’s basketball players. ... As to that particular student’s paper, Crowder then said “Did you say a D will do for [the basketball player]? I’m only asking because 1. no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to me to be a recycled paper. She took [another class] in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class.” Boxill replied “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.” (p.40)
The third tutor who admitted stepping across that line to some extent was women’s basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill. In our review of Boxill’s emails, we discovered a number of instances where Boxill helped her players by drafting small amounts of original text for their papers. On one occasion, for example, she reviewed a player’s draft paper and emailed it back to the player saying that she had “made a few changes” to the paper. On another occasion, Boxill emailed a player a revised paper and explained that she had “add[ed] some stuff for the intro and conclusion.” She later sent that same player a revised paper for a different class, noting that she “added a brief conclusion which follows nicely from what you have.” (pp.56-7)
The DN comment thread is pretty interesting, too. Some comments were pretty critical of Boxill, but there was also some dissent:
This is way more complicated than you are making it out to be. Many of these athletes were recruited, in effect, to work for the university (play sports publicly so that the university could make money) and with the promise that this path – the path of the athlete – was the key to their future. Their lives are parallel to the normal students’ lives and their responsibilities as students should not be uncritically understood along the same lines as the responsibilities of the more typical student. It is not surprising that these athletes do not take their education seriously. And, there are some grounds for viewing these athletes’ “compensation” of a credential from the university as something they had earned *simply by playing sports for the university* [emphasis added]. So, it is not surprising that some academics viewed the athletes’ educational requirements as somewhat less demanding than the normal requirements borne by the typical student.
Now, I don't want to overplay my disagreement with this, because there's a lot in this comment that I agree with. I think it's abundantly clear that the NCAA is a corrupting influence. There's a lot of money there, and the incentives it provides are all wrong. And I think it's also abundantly clear that the student-athletes are often exploited. They are set up to fail--their responsibilities to the athletic department often don't leave them with the time they'd need to to be academically successful, and so they aren't able to take advantage of the educational opportunities that are allegedly their main/only form of compensation. But then the school has an incentive to maintain the athletes's eligibility anyway, and we're off to the races. It's a serious problem, and in all seriousness it's likely that it's at least somewhat of a problem at your school. If your school takes any form of athletic competition seriously in any way, there is very likely to be some kind of shenanigans relating to recruiting the athletes and preserving their eligibility.

But you cannot solve this problem by doing the student-athletes' homework for them. You cannot solve this problem by helping the student-athletes to cheat on their tests. And you cannot solve the problem by creating fake, no-show classes with no material, no instruction, no requirements, and no faculty involvement. If you're doing that, you're part of the problem. When you give the student-athletes fake classes they didn't take and then fake grades they didn't earn and then fake degrees they don't deserve, that is the corruption. That's what it is.

Now look. I work at a school like that. Athletics are extremely, remarkably, incredibly important here, and I see the corruption, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't know what the right thing to do is. And it's not at all clear that washing your hands of it, and thereby turning your back on students who are being exploited and need help, is the right answer. But a school that makes a policy of awarding academic degrees to student-athletes based on work performed on the basketball field rather than in the classroom has sold its academic integrity, and its plain-old integrity, for sports and money.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, October 17, 2014

Leiter to Step Down as Editor of PGR

I started writing this last week shortly after the news broke, but then some stuff came up and I couldn't finish it for a few days. By that time it was old news, and I decided not to post it at all. But then I reconsidered, because I thought about how much it annoys me that Leiter and his supporters consistently whitewash what he was accused of, with their talk of "politeness police" and the like, as if the problem is that Leiter is too rude for the profession's delicate sensibilities. So then I figured, "What the hell." I wrote it, might as well publish it. So I'm publishing it, and the hell with timeliness. 

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has reached an agreement with the PGR Advisory Board to step down as editor and join the Advisory Board at the conclusion of the 2014/15 edition of the PGR, at which point Berit Brogaard will assume the role of editor until a co-editor can be found. The fifty members of the Board voted 45 to 0 to approve the following statement:
The 2014-15 PGR will proceed as planned, with Berit Brogaard joining Brian Leiter as co-editor and taking over responsibility for the surveys and the compilation of results, with assistance as needed from Brian and the Advisory Board.  At the conclusion of the 2014-15 PGR, Brian will step down as an editor of the PGR and join the Advisory Board.  Berit will take over as editor until such time as a co-editor can be appointed to assist with future iterations of the report.  After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.  Upon completion of the 2014-15 PGR, Berit will appoint a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward.
I was hoping to see a less centralized editorial structure, but I guess I see this as progress. However, if the editors and board don't make some long-overdue changes to the PGR's survey methodology, statistical procedures, and leadership structure, it will be a really unfortunate waste of an opportunity and a majorly huge bummer.

I also had some quibbles with a passage near the end, which Leiter says is an excerpt from an email from someone on the Advisory Board (other than Alex Rosenberg), who writes:
I really do not understand what is going on.  You used some strong, and arguably inappropriate, language in mostly private communications with people who had criticized or threatened you. 
For starters, that's not what happened. I wonder why Leiter's supporters have such a hard time acknowledging what the objection to his behavior is. The problem with the emails disclosed in the Statement of Concern is not the strength of the language; it is the threatening and abusive content. That is, the problem is what he is doing in those emails, not the language he uses to express himself.

Anyways, back to the excerpt:
The response has been a well-organized attempt to force you to give up the editorship of the PGR.  
Yeah, that's basically right. But it's not so crazy. The argument, as I understand it, is this: Leiter's tendency toward hostility and abusiveness makes him undesirable as someone who possesses a great deal of influence over the profession--that is, in light of his penchant for hostility and abusiveness, he ought to be less influential than he is. It therefore makes sense to attempt to deprive him of some of his influence, and the primary source of his influence is his editorship of the PGR. The only way for this attempt to be successful is for it to be well-organized, so it makes sense to organize it well.
But, as has been repeatedly noted, the intemperate language that has provoked the politeness police had exactly nothing to do with your behavior as editor of the PGR.
a) "Politeness police"? come on. No one is complaining about his being impolite. This is just a bit of misdirection and/or horseshit.

b)  As I just got through saying, it has to do with his capacity as editor of the PGR, if hot his behavior in that capacity. For that is the ultimate source of his influence.
You have consistently let important matters be decided by a vote of the board.  You have scrupulously maintained the confidentiality of people’s rankings.  You have worked hard over many years to improve the methodology and usefulness of the PGR.  
As far as I know, all that stuff is true. I wouldn't say I think he's done everything he could to improve the PGR's methodology--I have some suggestions he hasn't acted on--but he's done a lot over the years to make it much better than it was.
So why is your use of intemperate language any more relevant to your editorship of the PGR than it is to, say, your law school professorship?
For a variety of reasons that I think are easy to understand, as long as you have a moderately subtle grasp of the issues involved. For one thing, Leiter doesn't derive any of his influence over the profession from his status as Law Prof. For another, Leiter enjoys a significant range of freedoms and privileges in his capacity as law prof--academic freedom, tenure, what have you. Now, Leiter owns the PGR, and it would seem that my earlier contention that he is not its king was incorrect. So there's a very real sense in which his freedoms and privileges as PGR honcho are unlimited. But in order to produce the PGR in a responsible manner, he requires the cooperation of (certain prominent members of) the profession, and each member of the profession is free to decline to cooperate. Which is exactly what happened.
Would the politeness police urge that you be fired from your teaching position because you called someone a "sanctimonious ass"? 
I think the answer to this last question is, "no, the so-called "politeness police" would not urge that." For the so-called "politeness police" have not urged that. No one has so much as suggested that. As far as I can tell, the few times this subject has come up, it's been in the context of, "of course no one is suggesting..." So this concern strikes me as falling somewhere in the range between unfounded and nonsensical. No one is threatening his job; they are threatening his status as influential member of the profession, in that influence is derived from his status as editor of the PGR.

So let's just cut this shit out from now on, ok?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A discouraging word...

As of right this minute, there are 199 job ads listed over at PhilJobs, of which only 132 are tenure-track. (What's with all the department head vacancies?) Given that we are now at the halfway-through-October mark, or the traditional start of the job market season (for you youngsters out there, the APA used to publish an actual newspaper, made of ground up trees, and mailed it via the US Postal Service. Those were crazy times.), that strikes me as not very good.

So, maybe there are stragglers. Maybe search committees are no longer feeling the pressure of that old school October deadline, and they're taking their time. Or maybe this is going to be a bad year for the philosophy job market.

It's pretty lousy in my AOS/AOC too. But maybe better for others.

Commence to analyze minutiae/whine/whinge/grouse/exclaim/cuss/speculate/do a happy dance/whatever.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On The Advisory Board Letters and Leiter's Response

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has responded to two letters, drafted by Jason Stanley, David Chalmers, Susanna Siegel, and Jonathan Schaffer and signed by a majority of the members of the PGR Advisory Board, requesting that he step down as editor of the PGR. He has also made the text of the letters public. They are as follows:

Letter #1, sent on 9-25-14:
Dear Brian, 
We are writing in our role as PGR advisory board members.  Many of us have been urged in recent days to resign from the PGR board because of concerns about your conflicts with other philosophers.  So far we have resisted those calls, because we think the PGR plays a valuable role in the profession, but we take the issue seriously. 
We all value the extraordinary service you have provided with the PGR.  At the same time, we are worried that the enterprise is about to be damaged irreversibly.  We see that you have floated the idea that you might not run the next PGR, and that this idea appears to have widespread support.  We think that there is a way to proceed without the PGR ceasing entirely. 
Our suggestion is that you turn over the PGR over to new management. Specifically, you could turn over the report to a committee (e.g. of board members), perhaps rotating, who would administer the report henceforth.  You have said that running the PGR is a headache, and the PGR has become a central enough institution in the profession that it does not really make sense for it to be identified wholly with one person.  We think that for a majority of the profession, continuing the PGR under new management would be an option preferable both to the PGR continuing as is and to its ceasing entirely. 
This is our advice, respectfully submitted as members of the PGR advisory board. 
[Names of 30 PGR board members.  Names are omitted as not all board members have agreed to their names being made public.]
Letter #2, sent on 10-1-14
Dear Brian, 
You had said that on Oct 1st you might want to have a more extended discussion. So we want to update you on where things stand. 
Our original letter, which you have seen, was signed by 30 out of 54 members of the advisory board. 
In the interim we have had some discussion among board members of the various options.  The consensus of the board members we have talked to is that we should request that you either step down from the leadership now and relinquish control of the PGR, or at least that you make a commitment to doing so by a specific date in the near future (with the consensus being that something like January 2015 would be the latest appropriate date, though the details could be discussed). 
At this point, 30 board members have endorsed this request.  [N.B. The specific request above is what they endorsed; what follows is our own informal discussion.] 
It is clear that the majority of the board thinks that the only solution is for you to step down.  Of course we recognize that the PGR as it stands is under your control and the decision is yours.  But we do urge that you follow the request of the board.  
The central point is that this controversy, whatever its merits, will seriously undermine our ability as a group to produce a legitmate ranking.  Over 500 people have already signed a statement committing them to boycotting the PGR if you are in control.  Many others who have not signed the statement are waiting to see what happens.  We think that any ranking produced in this circumstance will be seriously compromised, and that the authority of the PGR will be undermined. 
The board's request specifies that you step down from the leadership and relinquish control of the PGR, meaning there should be a leader or group of leaders without your playing a direct or an indirect controlling role (an advisory role would be fine).  Ideally this leader or group of leaders should be appointed by the board, and the board rather than any individual should retain ultimate control of the PGR. 
There are various ways in which this might occur.  In a previous email we suggested the following options: 
(a) You step down from the leadership now. 
(b) We postpone the survey until 2015 while you (publicly or privately) commit to stepping down before the survey. 
(c) You remain on as co-editor for a 2014 survey and publicly commit to stepping down as soon as the survey is completed. 
Our view is that (a) would be best, (b) second best, and (c) third best.  Some board members have said to us that they would find (c) unacceptable.  It is clear that many philosophers (including some board members) would still boycott the PGR under this circumstance, and that serious damage would be done, though less damage than would occur without the public commitment.  Still, many board members say that (c) would be acceptable. 
We are not conveying any of this publicly at this point.  We want to leave room for you to frame your decision in the way that you prefer. It may well be that you were planning to take one of these options in any case.  We think that on all of these options you would secure your legacy to the profession as the creator of a thriving PGR, and as someone who has continually acted in the best interest of students of philosophy around the world. 
Yours in friendship and respect, 
David Chalmers
Jonathan Schaffer
Susanna Siegel
Jason Stanley
Leiter's response, as reported earlier in the same post, is as follows:
I indicated that two of the options mentioned in the letter, both involving my immediate departure from the PGR, were unacceptable:  I have already invested hundreds of hours in correcting and updating the spread sheet with more than 550 evaluators, as well as the spread sheet containing more than one hundred faculty listings.  Any report based on that work is a report I have at least co-edited. 
I have also informed the Board that I am still considering the third proposal, namely, proceeding with the 2014 PGR (with Brit Brogaard as co-editor) while simultaenously [sic] committing to turn over any future PGR to others.  I am also considering two other possibilities:  (4) proceeding with the 2014 PGR (again, obviously, with Brit as co-editor) and postponing any decisions about the future of the PGR until after the 2014 PGR and after the current controversy; or (5) simply discontinuing the PGR altogether.
A number of things about this exchange stand out.

  • It is truly remarkable that a majority of the PGR Advisory Board think that the PGR is weaker with Leiter's continued involvement than it is without. 
  • If the first letter was sent on September 25th, then Stanley et al. must have begun work on it as soon as the September Statement went live on the 24th, if not before. 
    • Which, just to be explicit, means that they also sent that first letter before most of the over 600 additional people signed the Statement.
  • Leiter's response is not responsive. The reasoning is a total non sequitur. The letters are about his future involvement in the PGR, not whether he is to receive credit for work he has already performed. His receiving a co-editor credit is obviously compatible with his turning over the report to new management effective immediately. 
  • Leiter seems to think this is going to blow over--at least, that's what his idea to make a decision "after the current controversy" would seem to indicate. So that means that if this is important to you, it is important to make sure that this doesn't blow over. 
    • I'm not so sure it's going to blow over, anyway. As it stands, well over 600 people have signed the September Statement, and that number continues to grow. That's not a "tempest in a teapot." That's an extraordinary number of people taking a public stand. I think it's unprecedented--I can't think of a time when anything like this happened. Add to that a majority of the advisory board signing a letter urging him to step down. The profession is taking a stand against him, and his own advisory board has joined it. I'm not sure I see how you come back from that. 
  • A number of comments have been left on various blogs expressing skepticism about the purity of the motive behind, or maybe the good faith of, this campaign. After all, Leiter has been like this for years, and nobody said a word until he attacked someone who was popular and well-connected. 
    • I don't think that's really true, though. It seems to me that people have been critical of Leiter's pugilistic and pugnacious persona for years. And this is the third time this year in which there's been a public outcry against some unnecessarily abusive thing he's done:
    • First, there was the thing in comments in Feminist Philosophers where he got into arguments with Matt Drabek, Rachel McKinnon, and the anonymous graduate student whom he advised to leave academia. This caused people to wish aloud for a philosophy news blog other than his, which led pretty much directly to the establishment of Daily Nous. (If I recall correctly--didn't look it up. Do I recall correctly?)
    • Second, there was the thing where Leiter strongly objected, in unnecessarily personal terms, to an attempt by Carolyn Dicey Jennings to study the correlation between PGR rank and tenure-track placement rate; again, there was a fairly significant public outcry, of which Jenkins's blog post was part. 
    • Third, there's this. While the reaction this time is stronger than it has been in the past, it does not seem to me to come out of left field. It seems to me to be a clear pattern of increasingly vociferous responses to his unnecessarily abusive behavior. 
    • And the note he sent to Jenkins, in particular, is over-the-top nasty and completely unprovoked in a way that much of his earlier, more public material, was not. 
  • It seems to me that Leiter has yet to make a sincere apology or acknowledge that these behaviors crossed a line. 
  • I see why he'd want to finish the current/upcoming edition of the PGR before handing the reins to new management. A transition like that is probably a lot of work, and it'll take time to get the new editor/editors up to speed. Making a transition in leadership like that while simultaneously producing an edition of the Report would be hard, especially if it wasn't planned in advance. So I think it makes sense for him to want to finish the 2014 edition before making any big changes. 
  • If he were to discontinue the PGR altogether, there would be no reason why the Advisory Board couldn't immediately undiscontinue it, and reconstitute it with the kind of editorial/organizational structure mentioned in letter #2.
  • It'll be interesting to see how the Advisory Board will reply to Leiter's response. 
--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Does Leiter Use the PGR to Punish his Enemies? [Updated on 10-2-14]

I was reading the comments on this post at Daily Nous (whose coverage of this episode has been excellent, in my opinion), when I was, I don't know, let's say 'bemused,' yes, I was bemused to see this comment, which reads in part:
I don’t see how he has used his authority as editor of the PGR to threaten, etc. His name calling is childish and the legal threats are probably without merit, but he’s not doing anything that you or I couldn’t do. To make your case you’d need examples of him skewing the PGR to punish his enemies. And I haven’t seen evidence of that.
The reason for all this bemusement is that I thought it was abundantly obvious that Brian Leiter absolutely skews the PGR to punish his enemies, at least in one key area. He doesn't hide it. This behavior isn't the basis for the current controversy, of course, but the fact is that he totally does that, openly and in full view of everyone who pays attention.

I guess I'd like to preface this by saying that I have no interest or training in continental philosophy. I was educated in thoroughly analytic departments; my teachers mentioned continental philosophy with derision when they mentioned it at all. Once, when I was an undergraduate, my roommate's friend left a copy of Being and Nothingness on my pillow, but I can't say I gave it the old college try--I gave up when I couldn't figure out what he was talking about after not more than a few of pages. I'm not the least bit informed about continental philosophy in any of its incarnations, and I have no interest in defending it as a serious intellectual enterprise. I'm not informed enough to know whether it is or not.

My own lack of interest in and engagement with SPEP-style, "party line" continental philosophy notwithstanding, that type of philosophy clearly exists, and is clearly philosophy. Its practitioners are typically trained in philosophy, have Ph.D. degrees in it, work in philosophy departments, and publish in philosophy journals. The historical figures they study and/or regard as their intellectual forebears were philosophers. If it's anything at all, it's philosophy.

But you wouldn't know this by looking at the PGR. If your department is strong in SPEP-style continental philosophy, you will not be rewarded for this strength with a position in the overall rankings. Nor will you see this strength reflected in specialty rankings. There are no SPEP-affiliated philosophers on the Advisory Board (which is hand-picked by Leiter), nor have any SPEP-affiliated philosophers serve as evaluators (who are nominated by the advisory board but subject to approval by Leiter). If you're a student who's interested in this kind of philosophy, the PGR will not help you in any way. (The PGR has specialty rankings for 19th- and 20th century continental philosophy, but Leiter doesn't seem to intend this to represent the SPEP style, and the SPEP people don't seem to think it represents them. This is one of Noelle McAfee's complaints, and is one of the reasons why the Pluralist's Guide was created.) Although this kind of philosophy exists and has a real presence in the discipline--lots of people specialize in it; lots of departments regard themselves as strong in it--it is systematically excluded from the PGR because Brian Leiter thinks it's shitty, and not because there is a consensus among people who work in the continental tradition that he is right. And I know that this is the case because he says so.

[Update (10-2-14): Discussion below has convinced me that some of the language in the above paragraph is too strong. Decisions about which departments to evaluate and which specialties to include in the "Breakdown by Specialty" section are made by the advisory board, and not Leiter alone. So it would not be accurate to say that SPEP-style philosophy is excluded from the report simply because Leiter thinks its shitty.

However, as I say in comments below, the composition of the advisory board is at Leiter's sole discretion, and its composition therefore reflects his opinions about what is important, rather than a discipline-wide consensus. Although it would be too strong to say that the judgments of the advisory board reflect Leiter's opinions full stop, it would not be accurate to say that its judgments reflect the kind of broad cross-section of the discipline that could reveal anything approaching a consensus.]

Now, again, just to be clear. The thing that bothers me about this is not that SPEP-style philosophy isn't represented in the PGR's overall rankings (although I think it should be represented in the Specialty Rankings--it is a specialty, after all). The thing that bothers me is that this is accomplished by editorial fiat. [Update (10-2-14): Again, this is too strong. I should have said, " vote of an unrepresentative body whose members are selected at the sole discretion of the editor."] I think it would be better, more democratic, more fair, and a better editorial practice if SPEP-style philosophers were proportionally represented in the pool of evaluators and then outvoted. (If they deserve to be outvoted, which, again, I don't regard myself as being well-enough informed to comfortably assert.) Then he could say it's marginal because it's marginal, not because he, the editor, [Update (10-2-14): and an unrepresentative advisory board] thinks it sucks.

So I think this much is clear: Brian Leiter uses his authority as editor of the PGR to punish his "enemies" (are they his enemies? They are not his friends) in the SPEP by writing the Report so as to create the illusion that SPEP-style continental philosophy does not exist. Since SPEP-style continental philosophy does exist, I don't think it would be unfair to call that "skewing". If that's what it takes to show that Leiter has abused his authority as editor of the PGR, I think we can consider it shown.

I'm willing to be proven wrong about this--as I say, I don't really know anything about continental philosophy, so I could be misreading something or something. But it seems to me that he skews the report, because that's what he says he does.

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the future of Leiter's Relationship with the PGR [Updated]

As you may have heard, there have recently been a growing number of suggestions that Brian Leiter relinquish his position as editor of the PGR. A bunch of philosophers have signed a pledge authored by Stanley, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and David Chalmers [numerous people]*, not to volunteer their services to the PGR while it is under his control. According to Jason Stanley, (at least) 24 members of the PGR's advisory board have signed a letter [authored by Stanley, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and David Chalmers]* urging him to turn the Report over to new management. (I seem to recall reading that that number is now bigger, but I can't remember where.) Leiter has invited Berit Brogaard to serve as co-editor, and an additional invitation is pending.

This is, obviously, an extraordinary development. However, and I realize I'm not the first to make this observation, this is not what people are asking for. Some further observations:

  • It would be nice if whoever edits PGR was in the habit of responding more graciously to criticism.
  • As Brian Weatherson points out, it would be nice if whoever edits the PGR weren't openly hostile to the existence of other ways of ranking philosophy departments.
  • As Jon Cogburn reminds us, Leiter himself is not above publicly posting private emails
  • I agree with the point, as far as it goes, that Leiter engages somewhat routinely in behavior that is abusive and nasty, and that the harmfulness of this behavior is enhanced by his position as editor of the PGR. 
    • However, I think it enhanced even more by his position as owner, moderator, and principal author of Leiter Reports, which, it is often noted, is by far the most widely read philosophy blog on the internet, and which I'm pretty sure makes it the most widely read philosophy publication of any kind. I don't think removing him as editor of the PGR would have much of an impact on that, or to mitigate the harmfulness of his abuse. 
  • I also agree that the issue is not so much "civility" as it is that his behavior is harmful to the people he targets. 
    • I also, also agree that he's basically been like this forever. However, it seems to me that a) it's been an especially bad year for him, invective-wise, and b) it's totally okay to reach a point where enough is enough even in the absence of any important qualitative changes.
  • I've read arguments to the effect that the fact that Leiter is the owner of the PGR might have some impact on the prospects for removing him as editor. I don't know if that's a good argument. I don't know who owns the Report. I know Blackwell publishes it, and that they pay him (not much, I understand) in exchange for his services as editor. But I don't think it matters that much in any case. He's the founding editor of the PGR, and he may be its owner, but he's not its king. There's an advisory board, and this board votes on matters of substance, and the results of these votes set policy. This really ought to include determining who will be responsible for carrying out the duties of editor. If the Report is to have any legitimacy whatsoever, its editor must be answerable to its advisory board. 
  • Similarly, it also seems to me that although the PGR is not an official ranking, if it is to have a modicum of legitimacy, the Report and its leadership must be answerable to the profession at large. 
  • And so, it seems to me that the most powerful argument against Leiter's continuing as editor (or co-editor) of the PGR is that he seems to have lost the confidence of the advisory board. I suppose I'd like to see the letter before I register agreement or whatever. But if a substantial portion of the profession finds Leiter's abusive behavior unacceptable to the point where they are unwilling to work with him on the PGR (and the September Statement seems to indicate that this is the case), then the advisory board would be duty-bound to replace him as editor--either for the good of the Report, or because they themselves aren't willing to work with him anymore, either. 
--Mr. Zero

*edited to correct false/mistaken attribution of the September Statement to Stanley, et al. My apologies.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Answering (?) 'The PGR Challenge'

Spiros has a post up issuing a challenge for certain kinds of objections to the PGR (this post from the editor of the PGR seems to be in the same spirit). I dug around and, below, I link to some objections that may or may not answer the challenge.

Spiros's challenge is to find objections that do not fall into four broad categories:
1. Objections based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (its methodology, how it is produced, what it aspires to track, etc.). (E.g., "The PGR is just a small group of Brian Leiter's friends desperately trying to uphold analytic orthodoxy in the profession" -- actual quotation, by the way.) 
2. Objections, also based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (and its objectives), that claim that the PGR fails to satisfy its own objectives. (e.g., "The PGR, being just a small group of Leiter's friends, can't possibly be an objective measure of actual faculty quality" -- actual quotation,) 
3. Objections to the effect that the PGR is harmful because it is too easily misunderstood/misused by faculty, students, and administrators.

4. Objections to the very idea of surveys / rankings / reports of the kind that the PGR is.*
After an hour or two of looking, I dug up the links below. Note that I intend these links to serve only as a response to Spiros's so-called "PGR Challenge."**

Richard Heck's original criticism, courtesy of the Wayback Machine (via Heck's current website).

Zachary Ernst's 2009 critique, "Our Naked Emperor."

The Smoker's own Mr. Zero's "PGR Minutiae" and "Bride of PGR Minutiae."

Some entries at Choice and Inference on the PGR's "sampling problem" and the "educational imbalance within the PGR evaluator pool." There are also many other posts linked within these on the Choice and Inference blog.

Jennifer Saul has a post at Feminist Philosophers to her paper “Ranking Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias," which appeared in Journal of Social Philosophy, 43:3, 2012.

Alan Richardson has a brief discussion of the PGR in his 2012, HOPOS, 2:1 (1 - 20), "Occasions for an Empirical History of Philosophy of Science: American Philosophers of Science at Work in the 1950s and 1960s." (I highlighted the discussion with screencaps on Twitter [the last three or four tweets]; the editor of the PGR calls this strain of criticism a serious objection in the second link at the top of the post.)

I welcome any further links or examinations of the objections in the comments below.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

*Spiros calls objections 1 and 2 obvious failures; 3 is not an indictment of the PGR, but of the reading comprehension skills of the various parties (and any such consequentialist arguments, he states in the comments, are failures because they don't consider that the positives, e.g., more information for grads, might outweigh the negatives, e.g., (my favorite) conservatism); and 4 fails since we all "walk around with some such reputational ranking of various programs."

**I leave it up readers to determine if they fall into the above four categories, are successful objections, etc. (I should note that I'm partial to the conservatism worry, as I mention at Spiros's original post.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On This Leiter/Jenkins Stuff

There's another brouhaha involving Brian Leiter this week. I'm too lazy to rehash the details, but if you're reading this you probably have a pretty good idea of what happened. (However, I suppose I should probably tell you to look at this, and then go see the discussion here.) I've been somewhat reluctant to wade into this issue, for a variety of reasons. (Not the least of which is that I don't like hearing from Brian Leiter.) But this seems like it's actually a pretty big deal, and a couple of people have asked us to say something, and I have grading to do, so I thought I'd make a couple of points and open things up for discussion.

1. I would like to express broad agreement with the things Jon Cogburn says here.

2. I think it's quite clear that Jenkins did not threaten Leiter in her blog post. I think it's pretty clear that she is reacting to Leiter--in particular, to his shall we say high-handed criticisms of Carolyn Dicey Jennings--but she is not threatening him. Of course, it's possible that I'm wrong, and I don't understand the concept of a threat as well as I think I do, but it seems to me that in order to threaten someone, you have to indicate an intention (possibly conditional) to do something that you think the person will find genuinely harmful. And I don't see where Jenkins is doing that, especially since the first thing she says is that she will treat other philosophers with respect.

3. It therefore seems to me that Leiter's response, which is nasty ("Are you going to spit at me if I see you at the APA or chase me from the room with a bat?"), mocking ("Does this mean I can’t list you as a reference?"), and much more clearly threatening ("calling me “unprofessional” is probably defamatory per se in Canada... It may be in the US too, I haven’t asked my lawyer yet, but I will."), is completely uncalled-for and inappropriate.

3a. I'd like to suggest that it would have been more constructive if he had done what I did when I found myself in a similar situation. I was in touch with Leiter (or, rather, he was in touch with me) throughout this past July regarding my own contributions to the discussion of the Jennings placement data and the associated Smoker comment threads. Near the end of that exchange, Leiter said some stuff that I took to be vaguely threatening. So, what I did was, I wrote back and asked him if he had, in fact, threatened me. He replied that no, he had not threatened me, and we were able to arrive at what I believe was a more-or-less mutually satisfactory resolution of our disagreement. Not to toot my own horn, but I think my strategy worked well (I was happy with it, at least), and I recommend it to others.

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, September 11, 2014

[Untitled Post About Dealing with an Anxiety Disorder/Depression in Grad School]

An anonymous Smoker writes:
In the course of getting my M.A. in philosophy, I was diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and major depression. During treatment I learned that, while I may have always been prone to anxiety or have had one of the disorders in particular since a very young age, extremely stressful environments can trigger the onset of mood and anxiety disorders and also worsen their symptoms. I just recently graduated with my M.A., maintaining excellent academic standing while also pursuing treatment. I would say I was anxious and depressed for 3/4 of my M.A. experience. I did not tell any of my advisors about my struggles in any detail, as I felt it might negatively impact how I might be perceived by potential letter-writers. Now that I’ve graduated, and am focusing more on my health, I am starting to feel a bit better. But now I’m plagued by the question of whether or not I am well suited for academia. 
I wanted to get other people’s opinions on whether it would be extremely unwise for me to enter a PhD program. I have been told and have read that the stress only compounds as you begin to have to focus on publications, writing a dissertation, the job market, etc. Knowing that stress could possibly trigger a relapse, and feeling as though the initial stress of graduate school is what triggered the onset of these issues in the first place, am I setting myself up to have a miserable 5-7 years ahead of me if I pursue the PhD? What are other people’s experiences, if anyone will share, struggling with mental health issues during the course of PhD work or working as a professor?
I've thought about this question a lot, and I keep coming back to the same three things: 1. It seems to me that if you are under the care of a good doctor whom you trust, and your symptoms are well controlled, you'll probably be in a position to be successful in a Ph.D. program; 2. Nevertheless, there is always some probability that your symptoms will return in what you correctly see as a stressful environment; and 3. I have no idea what I'm talking about. So rather than offer any concrete advice, I'd like to open the floor to the Smokers. What say you?

--Mr. Zero