Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A search committee chair speaks out

Lou Marinoff, chair of last year's search committee at blah City College of the City University of New York has written an article for Inside Higher Ed about his experiences. You should totally read it.

I'm sure I'm not revealing too much about myself when I say I applied for that job. I thought Marinoff ran one of the best search committees to have ever ignored me (and they have almost all ignored me). He sent out several email status updates--I always knew where I stood (on the outside looking in), and I was grateful.

One thing that stood out was Marinoff's attitude about the whole thing. He clearly saw chairing the committee as an opportunity to give back to help his department. I like this attitude. I think it's worth having.

A couple of issues came up in the comments at IHE: Marinoff used "pedigree" as a weed-out criterion, which some people took issue with. I take issue with it. But I'm inclined to be forgiving when I read that they had over 600 applications. At a certain point, you just don't have time to find that lovable mutt. Beware of hip dysplasia, though.

Several people complain that Marinoff doesn't seem to have employed diversity as a criterion--it is suggested but not entailed by Marinoff's account that no attempt was been made to diversify the faculty. This strikes me as a legitimate concern, though It's hard to know how diverse the pool was at each stage of the process. Maybe their attempt to diversify just didn't work out. Maybe they really didn't try. Seems like these possibilities warrant different attitudes.

H/T anon 1:48.

--Mr. Zero

102 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased that Marinoff admitted to using pedigree as a criterion. Admitting the problem is the first step toward solving it.

Anonymous said...

The pedigree issue does not seem interesting to me, not least because it was discussed to death here (on this site) and here.

I chaired a much smaller search last year (we had between 150-200 applications; nothing like 600+). Pedigree was not an issue.

What was interesting to me about the Marinoff article: First, in the comments that follow the article at the IHE site, there are a couple suggestions that Search Committees not ask for letters of recommendation until they've been promoted to some sort of short list (or in Marinoff's terms, a "long" list). This is absurd. Letters were probably the central device for creating a short list.

Second, according to Marinoff, the members of the SC at CCNY each compiled a list and the committee created a "long list" of candidates to interview at the APA just by looking for the overlap. This is precisely what we did at my institution. I was ambivalent about the procedure. On the one hand, there were absolutely fantastic candidates high on my personal list that did not end up on the department's long list. I worried, of course, that worthy candidates were being passed over. On the other hand, it is a lovely method for saving time and more importantly, avoiding conflict within the SC. (This is more important than you think. Unhappy departments are horrific.) In short, it was another example to me of the sorts of considerations for selection that would have never occurred to me on the other side of the process.

Anonymous said...

Mr Zero -- you are a fantastic writer. Love your posts.

Anonymous said...

The Marinoff article was an advertisement for his department. The "Harvard for the Proletariat," give me a fucking break. What a jackass. And that's why he had to use pedigree. WTF! Because you can't be Harvard unless you pick by pedigree, first and foremost? At least it's not as bad as Columbia or Barnard, where they won't look at you unless you come from an Ivy. At least they understand that Rutgers is a good department. I'll give him that. Or, rather, I'll give Leiter credit for that. . . . I'm fairy certain that Marinoff didn't disclose have of the criteria they used. Why would you take this self-puffery on face value? Are you that naive? This is such a bullshit article it makes me fucking sick. Sure he was communicative during the process, but so what. That's not superogatory. It's simply polite. They chose good people, sure, but to pretend that the process wasn't 50% chance and 49% ungrounded bias is evil. Yes, evil. As de Bottom might say, "I'll hate Marinoff until the day I die."

Anonymous said...

I'm always pissed when pedigree is used as a way of screening candidates. I have bad pedigree but a good publication record and I've been passed over for interviews hundreds of times now by candidates with good pedigree that can't publish. I don't really see the rationale for giving pedigree weight.

There's the fairness issue. I sort of think that the job should to the most talented candidate (capable of being a good colleague) and don't think that pedigree is a great sign of talent. I know, fuck fairness. Setting that aside, I've seen candidates with good pedigree get tenure track jobs who can't publish and so get denied tenure or get fired before that at third year review. Rather than let these candidates mature a bit as VAPs or (gasp) something worse, they are thrown into a TT position with no demonstrated ability to land papers in journals. Then, they are fucked. The process is then repeated. If the department had just hired on the basis of pubs, they would probably have had to settle for candidates with less fancy degrees but they wouldn't have to run new searches and my pedigreed chums wouldn't be out of work or dealing with the enormous amount of stress that comes with trying to get tenure with no publication record to build on.

Anonymous said...

That Rutgers guy didn't get hired off the bat. He had to chill with a VAP first. He had no other offers in his three years out, btw. Did his pedigree help him? Obviously. But this was an eccentric search. It was his _attitude_ that got him the job, after the first cut.

You can say the search was unfair, but this was hardly the case of a bunch of good departments jumping on the unproven guy from the top dept with no pubs.

It should be obvious that the dpt simply wasn't seeking someone who had the most promising publishing future. If they were, you'd think they'd be concerned rather than elated when their top picks (out of 600!) didn't get any competing offers.

Anonymous said...

Reading this article was like a cruel reality check for me. I have no pedigree and I dread going on the job market this fall.

I once thought that I might have a reasonable chance of landing a job at a SLAC like CCNY. [CCNY is a small department (4-5 full-time) in a college that is part of CUNY.]

Now, I get the impression that even these positions may be beyond my reach.

Anonymous said...

At least it's not as bad as Columbia or Barnard, where they won't look at you unless you come from an Ivy.

Huh?
I took a look at the Columbia faculty and my quick count (not very careful) shows 18 members without an Ivy League PhD.
Now, several do have degrees from Oxford. But Columbia seems to have a particularly eclectic mix (Chicago, North Carolina, Carnegie Mellon, Paris, Munich, Queens-Belfast, Toronto...).

I know, venting is important. But it would be nice to keep some grip on the facts.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:28 AM,

Remember that any job in NYC is going to be much, much more competitive than any otherwise similar job almost anywhere else. CCNY isn't a typical SLAC, to say the least.

Filosofer said...

It's not that crazy to take pedigree into account. (I say this as someone who didn't even bother to apply to Harvard or Michigan because I knew I wouldn't get in; I'm now a PhD from a Leiter-adequate program.) I think some of us tend to have a myopic view of what really matters in a philosophy prof. Frankly, we may be right in our beliefs. Nevertheless, the cruel reality is that folks on the administrative side of the university have an important say in the process too, and their interests may be quite different from ours. Consider: if you need to impress prospective students, donors, university presidents, and the like, would you rather have a professor whose website blurb includes "Dr. So-and-so earned her PhD at Harvard" or "Dr. So-and-so went to the University of Illinois at Chicago and has published articles in such journals as Nous and Mind"? (I don't mean to disparage UIC; I picked it because it's a school where I was accepted and almost went.) Outside of professional philosophers, who's ever even heard of these journals? What do these names even mean? Conversely, I suspect that most folks have some sense--fair or otherwise--that there really is some substantial difference between Harvard and Illinois-Chicago.

Let me be clear: I am not defending the "pedigree practice." But that's how things are. Didn't you already know that when you enrolled at UIC?

But a silver lining for Anon 5:28 and all the rest of us: the Ivy League only has so many graduates. There's still plenty of schools out there who will get stuck with schlubs like us.

Anonymous said...

The question is largely about the first cut. How could that have been done? Even if there were 200 crack pots. That still leaves over 400 to cut. Doing that by pedigree is bullshit. Acting like it's justified--gotta keep the "Harvard of the Proletariat" standards high--is just awful.

Anonymous said...

This kind of shit is insulting to the students: "On top of this, American education is affected by two significant trends: First, as of this year, and unprecedented in human history, more than half the world's people live in cities; second, America’s indigenous youth are increasingly post-literate, having been acculturated predominantly via visual and digital traditions that have supplanted the written one."

Come on. I thought this was the Harvard of the Proletariat. But now the student body is "post-literate."

Anonymous said...

"Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy."

What? Are the faculty or the alumni the Nobel Laureates? What legacy are the faculty supposed to live up to? I guess you can't create a Nobel Laureate without the proper pedigree. What is the reasoning here.

The closer you look at this article, the worse it starts to smell.

Anonymous said...

"Third, we needed evidence of undergraduate teaching ability as well as versatility. We offer a broad range of electives to a diverse student body; a narrow focus does not serve our pedagogic needs well. Most applicants submitted extensive teaching portfolios including syllabuses, reading lists, student evaluations, and observations by senior professors. We looked for evidence of outstanding teaching ability, variety, and potential for curriculum development."

Bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Look at this pathetic ass kissing:

"Third, we were beneficiaries of an enlightened administration that is committed to the humanities, which approved and funded the search and did not blink in the face of the economic crunch. Rather, it seized an opportunity to hire two outstanding prospects instead of only one."

Can you imagine writing that?

Mr. Zero said...

Couple of points:

1. The "Harvard of the Proletariat" thing rubbed me the wrong way, too.

2. While he does kiss his Dean's ass a little too much, the Dean did let him hire an unplanned extra person at a time when a lot of other places were canceling their searches altogether because of the worst economic disaster in a generation. That's, like, pretty fucking awesome.

Anonymous said...

Here's some info about the "Harvard of the Proletariat" bullshit (http://www.benho.org/2006/11/harvard-of-proletariat.html), which was left out of the article (see also http://www.publicpolicy.umd.edu/IPPP/winter99/open_admissions_and_remedial_edu.htm).

Apparently, it was a former VP of CCNY who said that. What a surprise! And that may even no longer be true (due to open admissions policy).

Anonymous said...

The thing that sucks about this search, to me, is the guest teaching instead of a job talk. The only thing you learn from guest teaching, IMO, is whether the candidate has the brass balls to look like an idiot in front of unfamiliar students without breaking down. I just don't see it correlating with actual regular teaching ability.

Popkin said...

Putting pedigree ahead of publications is awful, but the people they ended up hiring have multiple publications in good journals.

I find the focus on pedigree insane and offensive, but I only get really worked up about it when schools hire candidates straight out of grad school without any publications to speak of. That clearly didn't happen here.

Anonymous said...

I'm the original commenter (3:49). I didn't mean to bust Marinoff's balls about the pedigree issue. I'm just appreciative of the fact that he explicitly recognized it. Once we know what we're doing, we're in a better position to come to see why what we're doing is wrong.

Otherwise, I'm glad Marinoff posted the article. It was nice to hear such a thorough and well-written description of the process. His attention to detail (the hundreds of applications and obnoxious boxes of them) is also very helpful.

I think Marinoff really speaks to the need to have an easily digestible 'theme' or 'hook' to one's dissertation or primary area of interest. It is important that a wide variety of faculty be able to easily understand and appreciate your project. This ended up being quite critical, I think, to Marinoff's 'narrowing down' process.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it is a sordid little article.

Anonymous said...

I would like to propose a slightly different indictment of the "pedigree heuristic" than merely that it excludes qualified applicants. [It's just an idea, so please do not crucify me if you disagree.]

Search committees, we all admit, have a difficult task. A big part of the difficulty comes from the lack of a comprehensive, evaluative decision procedure that can be executed by a few people in a reasonable amount of time (even if such a procedure could be agreed upon).

Search committees, therefore, must use heuristic methods that (they believe) have a high likelihood of turning up "good" applicants.

First, what makes a "good applicant"? It seems the general attitude on this site might be that search committees are somehow looking for the BEST out of the 600 applicants. I doubt this is the case. I could be wrong, but I'd guess that most departments would settle for somebody who is really excellent at the job rather than spend the time and money to find the very best (if that could even be done).

Out of six hundred applicants, some number of them (let's guess 100) may be "good" applicants.

Search committees need heuristics for generating a list of, say, 30 applicants, most or all of which they hope are from this pool of "good" applicants.

Then they set about evaluating these 30 more closely, and they may even identify the very best among those 30.

Search committees may employ a number of heuristics and methods of evaluation, and of course they *believe* them all to be effective. But which ones really are?

Generally speaking, a heuristic is "good" if it has a strong statistical relationship to the quality being sought. The stronger the statistical relationship, the better the heuristic (generally speaking).

Especially at the early stages of a search, a good heuristic is one which excludes applications in such a way that there is a very high "undesirable/desirable" ratio. That is, although the method does exclude some very nice applications, the number of undesirables excluded (and the ease of use) make the heuristic "worthwhile."

Contra all of the "Harvard of the Proletariat" bullshit, I wager that the real reason pedigree is used is that search committees believe it is a good heuristic.

This belief could be based on one of three things:

1.) Actual, statistical data indicating that the undesirable/desirable ratio of non-pedigreed applicants is high and that the same ratio among pedigreed applicants is low.

2.) Knowledge of some kind of (mysterious) causal relationship between pedigree and quality (which probably amounts to little more than (1)).

3.) Prejudice. (Or, more charitably, "false beliefs.")

Now, (1) and (2) are false. If that data existed, we would probably know about it (and complain about it).

This means that search committees ground their use of the pedigree heuristic on (3). I contend that the heinousness of the pedigree heuristic rests not in the exclusion of some good applications in itself, but rather that these applications are excluded solely because of prejudice.

Alternatively, of course, you might think that heuristics have no place in decisions with such tremendous effects on people's lives.

Anonymous said...

Politics is the art of the possible. Maybe (but only maybe) it is terrible that pedigree is taken as the first measure by which to cut people. Marinoff comes off as a bit pleased with himself and ingratiating, but the way he read his college and dean mean that two people got hired, not only one. Likely, because of how he ran the process - asskissing and all - he got a job for an extra philosopher - which opens up a different job (VAP, post-doc, tt-hire, what-have-you) that the second choice would have taken up. It might suck that pedigree matters, but he recognized the institutional structure and did his best with it.

I'm still not entirely sure why pedigree doesn't matter (and I'm not from a Leiterterrific school, my uni doesn't even appear on the radar), because it seems that one's training does have something to do with how good a philosopher one is. Letters of rec are always going to be put into a context, and it seems plausible that letters of rec from really well respected philosophers will carry more weight. Seems obvious, as well, that there's going to be a correlation of well respected philosophers and well respected departments, which in turn will continue to give pedigree a place. At least its department reputation specific and not university specific. Also, not all search processes favor the Ivy's. There are those that don't favor them or even disfavor them...

Anonymous said...

Good post 1:42.

Assume that there is a "causal relationship between pedigree and quality." Clearly it wouldn't guarantee quality. . . . All that would give you is something weak: If you pick from the top, you are likely to find someone very good. This doesn't tell you that someone at a middle or lower ranked program will be bad. In fact, there may be lots of even better people at such programs. (I suspect that this is true.) But the selection is a bit riskier from such places. Perhaps there are more dubs on average than at the top.

If so, pedigree is used like GRE scores. You aren't going to get many false positives. If you score perfect 800s, you are smart, at least in this way. If you do poorly, then who knows. Perhaps you are a bad test taker. Perhaps you aren't so smart. You'll get lots more false negatives than false positives. (I don't think that GREs tell you very much, but that's a different story.)

So, if you are lazy, you can simply pick from the pool that you assume gives you a better hit rate. It's laziness (or just being really rushed and overwhelmed by 637 applications), not some bullshit about keeping up the Nobel or prol-Harvard standards. You shouldn't pretend otherwise. That's why Marinoff is a dick. That and he's an ass kiss.

Anonymous said...

I get the impression that nobody who has weighed in here on the "Harvard of the Proletariat" has been anyone who graduated with a B.A. from any of the philosophy departments of the CUNY system. I didn't graduate from CCNY, but another philosophy dept. at a higher ranked CUNY college--the one that publishes the annual graduate program placements and other achievements of their students on their website. Anon 7:36 AM tracked down the administrative source of this rhetorical flourish, and I have to add that if CCNY is the "Harvard of the Proletariat" that would entail that other CUNY colleges are The Princeton and Yale.

To my mind, a CUNY philosophy department that uses pedigree as a first-cut on a search engages in a interesting sort of hypocrisy. You see, when you actually attend a CUNY college and get totally serious about trying for a philosophy graduate program, the professors who advise you and throw their weight behind you give you "the speech." The speech is unforgettable, because the professors explain that the elite programs are going to be biased against you for having come from a CUNY college. If you want to go for it, they say, you are going to have to be better than perfect, and that's still no guarantee that your CUNY background won't hold you back at a lot of places. I have nothing but good stuff to say about my CUNY education in philosophy and what I was able to achieve with it. Yet, this happened with full disclosure about the fact that, as CUNY students, we would be delusional to expect to be treated as the equals of students with pedigree.

Anonymous said...

"To my mind, a CUNY philosophy department that uses pedigree as a first-cut on a search engages in a interesting sort of hypocrisy."

Word.

C

Anonymous said...

The search may have been unfair, but where's the hypocrisy?

CCNY is an undergraduate institution. They did not sort by undergraduate pedigree. Their Rutgers hire, for instance, went to Texas Christian for his BA.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:42: You've misinterpreted the "interesting sort" of hypocrisy I was attempting to point out. Clearly, the undergraduate pedigrees of candidates wasn't used to make the first cut--the doctoral institution pedigree was used.

My point was that the undergraduates that get their degrees from CUNY, like myself, are told point blank about the injustices they will face because, despite *everything they do to prove their excellence in every way imaginable*, admissions committees will still not believe they are "good enough" because they have no pedigree. All I'm saying is that, to me, personally, it is sadly, sadly amusing, or whatever you want to call it, that departments that rail against this injustice, and go out their their way on their students' behalf to make sure that their graduate school applications go above and beyond in every way imaginable so that maybe, just maybe, they have a shot competing against "pedigree," use pedigree as a first criterion on a search. I don't know, maybe you'd have to have been on the receiving end of this and lived to tell the tale in order to feel the irony or hypocrisy or whatever.

What I was trying to express wasn't aimed at the candidates hired. I'm sure they are great. I am also very sure that there are at least some, probably many, Ph.D.'s without pedigree that go above and beyond to prove they are "good enough" and that it is disheartening to know that sometimes, to some people, it is so very hard to prove this. Coming out of CUNY, I know what this is like and I will never forget it.

Popkin said...

Anon 2:21 says: "I'm still not entirely sure why pedigree doesn't matter . . . because it seems that one's training does have something to do with how good a philosopher one is."

The problem isn't that the department where you received your training is no indication of "how good a philosopher one is"; the problem is that one's publication record is a much, much better indication of this.

Putting pedigree ahead of publications is insane snobbery.

Anonymous said...

Evidently cheating on your wife with a high price prostitute while governor doesn't disqualify you from teaching at the Harvard for the Proletariate:

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/09/02/former-new-york-governor-spitzer-teaching-at-city-college/

Anonymous said...

No, only a low price prostitute.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:28 here,

I do feel less suicidal after reading all the comments (Thanks!).

I'm still worried about going on the job market, though. Some have suggested to me that it might be a good idea not to defend this semester and wait it out.

I hope it's not inappropriate to raise a question in the comments, but I was wondering what others think about this (i.e., waiting it out in the hopes that next year's job market will be better while sitting on a finished dissertation).

Anonymous said...

The one time to date I served on a TT search committee, I formed my initial evaluations by reading parts of the CV (mainly looking at AOS and AOC, dissertation topic, publications, and talks), the research statement/dissertation abstract, the first few pages of the writing sample (and if there were readily-accessible publications, the first few pages of one of those), and the letters. This was my own procedure; I was basically given folders and told to rate the candidates, but I was not told how to rate them.

One thing that really struck me was the strong covariance between the strength of the letters and the strength of the Ph.D.-granting department. Why? Maybe faculty in those departments are tracking real differences in the quality of their students, or maybe they've internalized broader disciplinary judgments about their programs and students (I'm thinking here of Kieran Healy's work with the Philosophical Gourmet data). I'm guessing that it's some of both.

(My own view of whether students at Gourmandier programs are better is that on average, they are, but that there is a large amount of overlap between the bell curves of programs ranked fairly far apart, so that many people at less-well-ranked programs are better than many people at better-ranked programs. Of course that assumes, counterfactually in my view, that there could be a single linear scale of philosophical talent and accomplishment, rather than several mutually irreducable sorts of philosophical goodness.)

I now think that if I were put in charge of how to run a search committee, I would make a first cut based on whether the person is basically qualified for the job advertised (in the right discipline, has the right AOS), make the second cut based on blind evaluation of the writing samples, and only then look at other parts of the dossier. (I disagree with some here who think that publications are the most important measure, even for a research job. Surely we all think that even top-flight journals publish some good articles, some mediocre articles, and some bad articles. The thing to do is to actually look at the candidate's writing and do one's best to evaluate it based on the merits. If I'm on a search committee and you have what I deem to be an uninteresting article published in Phil. Studies, that's not going to do much for you; if you have what I deem to be a fascinating unpublished writing sample, that's going to do a lot for you.)

Disclosure: I earned my Ph.D. from a program ranked in the 30s in the Philosophical Gourmet.

Crito said...

Anon. 3:23, what you say seems quite sensible. I have one clarifcatory question for you, and two points of disagreement.
The question: What do you mean by a strong covariance between strength of letter and strength of PHD-granting department? I thought you meant that very strong departments write very strong letters, but then the explanations you suggest for the phenomenon don't seem to me to be candidates to explain what I thought you meant. So can you shed further light?

The first point of disagreement: When I have been on search committees, after the first cut as you describe it I've had at least 80 files left. I cannot read 80 writing samples unless I read them in a very superficial way. (If I got 100% teaching relief I could do it...) So I would not be able to follow your procedure.
If I could cut down the pile to about 25, I would then give every writing sample a read (and sometimes I've done this -- other times we used a different procedure with less careful whittling and more thorough review of fewer files). To do this I read recommendation letters. This inevitably means I am keenly aware of the PhD-granting institution, of course, so whatever prejudices I have are in through the cracks even though I don't actually think to myself, "Wow, Harvard awesome, must have this one!"

The second disagreement: unless I sincerely believe a writing sample is on a topic that I am truly expert in (meaning it's a paper I would be asked to referee by a good journal), I am more inclined to follow the judgment of the selective journal that published it than my own impression. A paper on (reasonable and not obscure topic not in my narrow area here) that's published in Nous and that strikes me as not very good, well, I ought to treat that paper is a very good paper, despite my more direct judgment. (There are exceptional cases where it's just obvious that Nous made a huge mistake, I suppose.)

Good comment. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Rene Crevel said...

Re: "The thing to do is to actually look at the candidate's writing and do one's best to evaluate it based on the merits. If I'm on a search committee and you have what I deem to be an uninteresting article published in Phil. Studies, that's not going to do much for you; if you have what I deem to be a fascinating unpublished writing sample, that's going to do a lot for you."

I appreciate the attempt to go beyond classifying a writer's work as valuable simply because it appears in such-and-such journal, and I definitely agree with the move to 'get over' being seduced by titles (of both journals and universities). However, I must admit that deeming a candidate worthy, even in part, based upon a search committee member's opinion that the candidate's work is 'fascinating' is one of the practices of this profession that contributes to its silliness. Why would whether or not you find a candidate's work fascinating bear any weight upon hiring them? Are you hiring them so that they can write solely for you? Do you somehow think that you have an expert opinion concerning work in that particular AOS (which, most likely, your department lacks with regard to an expert opinion; thus, you are hiring someone with that AOS)?

The more information members of search committees share regarding how they determine who to interview, reject, and hire, the more convinced I am that most philosophers lack the qualifications that should be necessary for making hiring decisions. Philosophers hiring their peers for the department is similar to allowing the athletes on a professional football team to draft the players for their team. Being a pro at your position (an expert in your AOS) gives you absolutely no expertise on hiring a player that plays another position (an expert in another AOS). Hiring is a practice that one must learn how to do successfully. Just because you know Gettier problems (random example) does not mean you know anything about hiring... or teaching, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Another reaction:

http://philosophyteachers.org/aapt-members/node/3231

Anonymous said...

The "pedigree" school also tracks well-known letter-writers, whose gushing is in turn more trusted. I'd like to be reincarnated as a Rutgers clone, in my next life.

Anonymous said...

Like Crito, I'm a bit confusing by Anon 3:23's claim about the covariance between strength of letters and strength of institution. (I really enjoyed 3:23's post however.)

Serving on an SC, I found that letters from philosophers at "highly ranked" programs tended to be more artfully drafted. I attributed this, at least in part, to the fact that these people had more experience marketing and placing graduate students. Writing an excellent letter is hard to do.

Regarding Popkin's remarks, while publication record may well be a better indicator of the quality of a philosopher than pedigree, most institutions aren't actually trying to hire the best philosopher (even if they think this is their aim). Most institutions are trying to find the best fit for the job. The job of course includes publishing and getting tenure, but it also includes teaching, working with administrators, pleasing people, and in general, not being a gaping asshole colleague. I understand Popkin's point is that if you're going to weigh pedigree against publications, you ought to prefer the latter. I just think it's easy in this discussion to lose sight of the fact that one's strength as a philosopher is a deciding factor at only a handful of institutions.

chrono said...

"The search may have been unfair, but where's the hypocrisy?"

Here's where I thought the hypocrisy was. When you go to CCNY, they tell you that graduate programs will not like you because you're from CCNY. So you end up at a less-than-stellar graduate program. And CCNY discriminates against people from less-than-stellar graduate programs! So they're basically telling their own undergrads (who chose at 18 where to go to college) that they aren't worthy of teaching at CCNY.

Chairephon (formerly anon 3:23) said...

Sorry for the confusion! I'll try to explain more clearly (in two posts, because I'm over the character limit).

I did mean that stronger departments (in this context, understand: Gourmandier departments) write stronger letters for their candidates. By this I mean that the letters contain higher praise of their candidates, but I also agree with 12:45 that letters from very strong departments are frequently more skillfully written.

First proposed explanation: the students at stronger departments just are stronger than the students from weaker departments, and the letter-writers are simply tracking that reality. In my view, this is true to a point, but not enough to explain the degree and extent of the phenomenon. That is, [1] the difference in strength of praise seemed to me sometimes greater than the facts warrant; and [2] the difference in strength of praise seemed to me more regular across candidates than the facts warrant. (As I said above, I think there is a substantial amount of overlap in philosophical ability and accomplishment to be found among students at departments that are relatively far apart in the Philosophical Gourmet Report).

So I suppose that the first proposed account explains some but not all of the variance, and so I seek a further explanation. The one I suggest is that many letter-writers (at relatively stronger and relatively weaker departments) have internalized disciplinary judgements of their departments as a whole (as expressed in the PGR), and that they have done so to such an extent that they see many aspects of their departments through that lens, including the philosophical strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues and grad students. In weaker departments, I think this sometimes gets expressed in twin anxieties: person X is so good that she'll surely leave and go someplace Gourmandier; since person X didn't leave and go someplace Gourmandier, I guess she isn't so great after all. I have actually heard people express such views (not at the same time).

Just to forestall any misunderstanding, I'm not saying that this is the secret mission of the PGR, or that for this reason we'd be better off if there were no PGR. I'm simply saying that it seems to me something that actually happens—indeed, I think it happens to me. It's just difficult to evaluate someone's work for what it is instead of for what one expects it to be. Hence the idea of reading writing samples blindly.

[to be continued!]

Chairephon said...

In reply to Crito's first disagreement: I agree that it is impossible to read 80 writing samples carefully while doing the rest of one's job. Two ways to make the process practicable: first, if you put four people on the committee, everyone can be responsible for looking at 40 writing samples, so that each one gets two looks in the cut from 80 to, say, 25 (at which point I'm envisioning bringing in more of the department to decide who to interview at the APA, if that's what your department does). Second, this is part of why at the first cut, I looked only at several pages of the writing sample. That might seem unfair—what if it gets a lot better towards the end? But I think candidates need to heed the real situation of those reading files and do everything they can to motivate their thesis and get quickly to an interesting argument. (By the way, I didn't just mechanically read the first seven pages; sometimes I would skip over a first section that seemed to be providing context with which I was already familiar in order to get to the argumentative core of the paper.)

I have no idea what I would do with 647 applications. Obviously my proposal won't work for an open search, especially one for an institution in a location desirable to many people.

The second disagreement is, I think, more difficult. In the particular area of our search, I actually did feel comfortable rendering independent judgments on most (but not all) of the writing samples I read. It was an area in which I almost wrote a dissertation, and in which I am fairly widely read. But I think I want to say something more than just this ad hoc justification.

First, the author of a writing sample needs to present some aspect of his or her research in such a way that it is accessible to someone with a broad education in philosophy, but who is not working in the same sub-discipline. That's your audience, and it's a basic skill of an academic philosopher to be able to present one's research to such an audience. You have to do it again in the job talk. Obviously, this point does not apply to published articles, though I think that many of the best published articles do frame their thesis and argument in such a way that it is mostly intelligible to a fellow philosopher in another area.

Second, even in areas with which I'm less familiar than my AOS or the area of our actual search, I think that if I have [1] taken a couple of classes in area A, [2] done some independent reading in A, [3] gone to talks in A, [4] listened to experts in A discuss those talks, [5] talked to local experts in A about those talks afterward to see if my impressions and objections were good ones, and [6] talked to friends who work in area A about their research, then I have some basis for judgment as to the philosophical interest and promise of a given piece of work or research program in A. It is not the judgment of an expert, but it also isn't shooting in the dark. Obviously nobody has this kind of experience in every area of philosophy. So, where possible, having this kind of experience should be an important consideration in determining who gets put on the search committee.

Chairephon said...

In response to RC's slightly snarky question ("Are you hiring them so that they can write solely for you?"), no. But I am hiring someone to be a colleague, someone who I may be talking philosophy with for the next 35 years. I think that gives me a pretty strong interest in finding a qualified candidate with whom I feel I will be able to have mutually productive conversations, in their area and mine. To some extent, that involves some common interests and ways of thinking about philosophy. (I also kept an eye out for candidates whom I thought had such compatibility with my colleagues.)

Let me use a notional example here: suppose that I, a non-epistemologist, think really well of Kvanvig's work on the value of knowledge. In fact, I think that work in epistemology that ignores his insights is liable to miss the boat. I won't tend to want to hire someone who toils away on Gettier problems without showing any cognizance of the question of whether the thing they're talking about is all that epistemically valuable. Obviously, there are some papers and projects where those concerns are mostly irrelevant, so I wouldn't just look mechanically for a reference to that issue. However, there are others where the issue is relevant but the author shows no sensitivity to it. I want someone who will be sensitive to that issue, so that's a mark against the candidate in my book (NB not a decisive consideration against him or her).

I also wonder whether RC could say more about how he or she thinks the hiring process would be better done. Should it be a matter of not rendering any judgments of philosophical acumen and interest oneself, but just deferring to the experts?


I'll stop there, and probably won't reply again at length. I'm sure others can take the issue from there if they're so inclined.

Anonymous said...

Hats off to Marinoff for telling it like the philosophy job market undeniably is. It took courage. It has always been more about who you know than what or how well you know. Students entering the market from a top-10 department in, say, epistemology can expect, generally, to do better than students with the same AOS from a top-20 department, and so on. Institutional pedigree helps, but AOS pedigree, and connections to the profession, i.e. those on hiring committees, from the department members pushing your apps, matter a lot more.

Rene Crevel said...

Chairephon:

In response to your question (and yes, I agree that my question was snarky), I think that the first thing that needs to be made clear concerning the hiring process is what the goal of the university, college (of liberal arts, for instance), and the department is when making the hire. In my experience, this is the first stage that is neglected by many search committees (not all, but many). This does not simply involve determining what AOS or what AOC someone must have, but it also involves general protocol for selecting a candidate that all those involved in making hiring selections and decisions must follow. What follows from this is accountability on the part of those involved in the selection and hiring process, i.e. each member involved in the process must abide by the rules established for selection and hiring. These rules will directly dictate what criteria are appropriate (e.g. # of publications; time to completion) and inappropriate (e.g. how much you like the letter writer).
Chairephon provides a nice example of how the selection process usually (not always, but usually) occurs: come up with your own criteria along the way regardless of whatever other systems members of the committee are using. [I am not picking on you, Chairephon. Every member of every search committee I have ever known does some variation of what you do, which is come up with his or her own alterable rules of selection]. The lack of standard protocol in the selection process indicates a lack of professionalism on the part of search committees. There seems to be this mentality: "I did what it took to obtain tenure, therefore I am qualified to make up my own rules regarding the selection of other employees in my department." This mentality displays neither good management, nor good leadership, but only arrogance. Unfortunately, it seems as though this arrogance is precisely what is driving many of the hiring decisions made within our profession. Like it or not, this is a business, and having fair and transparent hiring practices (including the selection process) is an important part of any good business.

Anonymous said...

Rene Crevel, are you actually *attempting* to write vapid bullshit? Holy fuck. General protocol, everybody following the same rules, criteria and accountability? Stay away from my department, you sick corporate tool.

Administrators must love you.

Rene Crevel said...

Anon 3:16.

For someone who judges others vapid, you should sling something besides an ad hominem. You present neither argumentative criticism, nor an alternative to what I have suggested. So, if you've got something insightful and intelligent to say that tears my suggestion down, then say it rather than throwing your rather unphilosophical and uninteresting insults.

Crito said...

Chairephon,

Here’s out fundamental disagreement, I suspect. I just don’t believe that reading over a few pages quickly when the topic isn’t something you’re a genuine expert in is going to be more reliable at getting the best philosophers than trusting the judgment of genuine experts (journal referees and letter-writers) who have spent a lot of time on the paper(s) in question. You note that under reasonable, plausible conditions (you numbered them with square brackets), you have some basis for judgment of interest and promise (better than shooting in the dark!). I agree. But that’s not the relevant question, I think. The relevant question is whether it’s better to rely on that judgment, or on the judgment of some real experts who’ve put in a lot of time.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the Crevel/Crito argument here is that it is a mark of a well functioning philosophy department that colleagues like to talk philosophy with each other. The model on which one puts the judgment of journal referees ahead of one's own overlooks this need. If my department is hiring in epistemology, our aim is not (setting aside teaching issues) to hire the best epistemologist as judged by the profession but to hire the best epistemologist as judged by us. Insofar as we lack relevant expertise, we'd of course better be relying on others' judgment, but even there our aim needn't be to defer to a consensus view within the profession as a whole -- the sort of thing a journal editor is presumably trying to track.

People in my department often argue, in hiring discussions, that Candidate A's not yet published X ought to count for more than Candidate B's well published Y. The argument takes this form: X is a better paper than Y, and if X is better than Y, then A is to that extent a better philosopher than B. In reply to this argument, "But the referees really liked Y!" is simply a non-sequitur (unless of course we somehow know who those refs are and specifically why they liked Y).

Anonymous said...

I'm skeptical of AOS pedigree. My work is on reasons. My department was for the first three or four years I worked there noted on the Leiter report as being top ten in epistemology, action theory, and I think moral psychology and meta-ethics. 5 interviews in 5 years (including all my non-TT interviews) and a decent publication record.

Crito said...

Anon 2:21 AM,

I can't tell which of two (incompatible) things you're saying (you seem to be saying both of them). In the first paragraph you say that when your department hires, you aren't interested in getting the best epistemologist but rather the epistemologist your department finds most interesting to talk to. I get that. I just don't agree -- I would rather have the best epistemologist. (I'm somewhat worried that your method will suffer from the problems of the Old Boy Network too, but let's assume you can avoid that.)

But in the second paragraph you do seem to be interested in getting the best epistemologist. But then I don't understand why "The referees really liked Y" is a non sequitur. Referees at good journals are experts in the subject of the paper, and they spent much more time on the paper than your colleagues did. Why do you think your colleagues are better judges of the quality of the paper? That seems straightforwardly wrong-headed.

Oh, and finally, please don't lump me together with Crevel.

Glaucon said...

Rene Crevel:

The first stage you suggest is certainly helpful, and you're probably right that it's often overlooked. But otherwise yours is a rather puzzling post and response. I'm not sure why different search committee members' valuing different things is "arrogant." I have colleagues with whom I disagree about many things, including searches, but I wouldn't attribute to any of them the mentality you attribute to them. X thinks collegiality is more important than Y does; Y values good teaching as much as Z values good scholarship. W wants to pick someone whose likely to stick around, so we don't have to go through this again in a year or two. I don't see how any of that indicates arrogance. And the alternative you suggest -- strict protocols and rules (about much weight various factors are to be given?) -- sounds like a department that would be awful to work in.

Rene Crevel said...

Glaucon:

I don't think it is arrogant for members of a search committee to have those beliefs, but it does seem arrogant if those members refuse to have their criteria questioned.

Regarding a department having rules with regard to hiring practices, these are not COMPLETELY lacking as it stands now. A department is not allowed to hired based upon race. That's a rule. Does having such a rule make a department a horrible place to work? The core of my suggestion is that departments have well-defined criteria by which they select and hire candidates. The reaction? That this type of department would be a horrible place to work. Why? What is the sacred aspect of the current hiring process that is being threatened by implementing well-defined criteria by which to select and hire candidates?

I don't have any personal stake in my argument, by the way, but I do find the hiring practices of universities very fascinating. I'm not sure why my suggestion ruffles so many feathers.

Anonymous said...

Crito,

2:21 here; thanks for your reply, which is a fair request for clarification.

What I had primarily in mind in distinguishing 'best as judged by the profession' from 'best as judged by us' is simply that a hiring department might concede that their view of candidate A as the best epistemologist (say) would not be shared by the profession as a whole. The department aims to hire the best epistemologist, sans phrase. But they are self-consciously exercising their own judgment in assessing candidates for this status, rather than simply trying to gauge what the 'experts' (including journal referees) think about them.

Backing up, one thing that's being mostly overlooked in this discussion is how departments mentor -- or ought to mentor -- their junior faculty. It isn't merely that one wants to hire somebody whom one can talk to. One wants to hire somebody whose work will thrive in that conversational setting. Of course there's a danger of ideological ingrownness; but a department can address that explicitly.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that those complaining about "pedigree" are the ones who don't have it; so those complaints need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Why shouldn't pedigree be used as a rule of thumb, when sifting through hundreds of applications AND when you know it'll impress deans and provosts who typically aren't familiar with your field? If pedigree doesn't matter, why didn't you (complaining individuals who lack pedigree) go to, say, Harvard for your grad studies? Oh, you couldn't get it. Why? Oh, because your undergrad grades, or quality of work, or endorsements from your letter-writers, didn't meet their high standards. So you have a proven record of not being an attractive candidate. Yes, you could improve vastly over the next several years in grad school, but are hiring depts obligated to take this risk, to give you the benefit of a doubt, when they still have hundreds of more applications to review? No. You just want your cake and eat it too.

Or, is the claim that institutions are undeserving of their pedigree, such that pedigree is a useless metric? That Rutgers, Pitt, and the Ivy Leaguers are just as good as the lower- and bottom-ranked schools on Leiter's list? Sure, there may be nice philosophers working at all these places, but it's silly to deny a difference in faculty, teaching, and publishing quality throughout the ranks. Further, if this is the argument, then why would it matter if you got hired at Harvard or No-Name State, if you're so unconcerned with pedigree?

What's worse are those students who already recognize pedigree matters in the job market AND decide to pursue grad studies in a lower-ranked school AND expect to get hired by a top department. That's just plain delusional.

Disclosure: I have no pedigree but have accepted my fate, since I was responsible for my situation. If you didn't go to Harvard for reasons not in your control, then perhaps you have some cause to complain.

Glaucon said...

Rene Crevel:

If you're honestly "not sure why [your] suggestion ruffles so many feathers," I suggest going back and reading it. E.g., "The lack of standard protocol in the selection process indicates a lack of professionalism on the part of search committees. There seems to be this mentality: 'I did what it took to obtain tenure, therefore I am qualified to make up my own rules regarding the selection of other employees in my department.' This mentality displays neither good management, nor good leadership, but only arrogance."

On your view, search committees that aren't modeled on "business" aren't just inefficient and unprofessional, they're full of arrogant jackasses. That ad hominem coupled with the strawman conception of the mentality of committee members might explain the feather-ruffling.

Anonymous said...

11:13:

There are many troubles with pedigree. One key problem is that the pedigree that impresses the dean ain't the same as the pedigree of high-ranking philosophy departments. No Dean is impressed by a Rutgers or Pittsburgh degree, but both have great philosophy departments.

Plenty of deans are impressed by Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt, but neither have top 30 philosophy departments.

That's not the most severe problem, of course (your post itself has plenty of instances of specious reasoning). But it addresses most of your "worries".

Anonymous said...

10:28 et al.,

So...what you're saying is that most deans, provosts, and hiring committees get it wrong by using pedigree as a factor? And the unpedigreed and jobless are correct in arguing for the elimination of the pedigree factor? Gee, that makes a lot of sense: we've all been unenlightened this whole time!

What might be more productive than complaining about the unfairness of pedigree is to get some of your own. The attractiveness of pedigree is never going to change.

Second Year TT guy said...

I'll offer one practical comment about pedigree (and try to avoid the question about its fairness):

The good news is that what counts as pedigree varies from SC to SC, from AOS to AOS, from region to region, and from SC member to SC member. Since pedigree counts (whether or not it should), you should try to study somewhere or with someone that will be seen by some SC committee as an impressive pedigree.

Certainly the PGR rankings will be very influential in determining pedigree for the foreseeable future... AND certainly schools with famous (or old) names will always be overvalued by some... but there is also pedigree available within specific specialties (which can be gained either by studying in a specific department or by studying with individual dissertation committee members).... and there is a different set of schools that are viewed as a great pedigree by those who focus upon non-analytic philosophy.... and another set of schools are valued as a source of strong pedigree by religious colleges.... Also, some schools have a 'regional reputation' that makes them count more with local SCs for the purpose of pedigree.

So, even if your Ph.D. isn't from Princeton... you can still try to make the 'pedigree factor' work for you by studying in your department's strongest AOS... working with your department's most influential professors... by getting good 'outside readers' on your dissertation committee, and by participating in summer seminars or courses at other programs, etc. But, like it or not, it is important to have a pedigree that someone, somewhere will respect.

(And if you still can't get any pedigree... publications are still golden and widely valued)

Popkin said...

Anon 11:13/10:24, you're attacking arguments that no one has made.

There are some people who think that pedigree should have no influence at all, but that isn't the issue here. The issue is whether pedigree should be used as the principal criterion for paring down the application pile (as it was in this case).

My view is that it's thanks only to the pathological snobbery that's rampant amongst philosophers that such a procedure would ever be considered, never mind described in self-satisfied terms in a national publication.

Any sane person would surely agree that a much better procedure would be to rely on publications (this point is made by Clayton Littlejohn in the comments to the original article).

CTS said...

why didn't you (complaining individuals who lack pedigree) go to, say, Harvard for your grad studies? Oh, you couldn't get it. Why? Oh, because your undergrad grades, or quality of work, or endorsements from your letter-writers, didn't meet their high standards.

Or, perhaps, they went to CCNY as undergrads and Harvard would not look at them?

CTS said...

I also must disagree with the poster who thinks that a class presentation is not as reliable as a 'job talk.' For those of us to whom teaching is important, how the candidate appears as a teacher and how our students respond is much more important than whether s/he can read a paper in an interesting way.

Anonymous said...

CTS, this is well off-topic, but since the thread has grown so long I thought I might ask a question about class presentations. I'm curious as to what you think they measure and what you're looking for during them.

Personally, I take at least 2 or 3 class sessions to warm up and get comfortable with my group of students. After that, I can lead a really good classroom, but I'm afraid that class presentations would do a better job measuring how well one does not as a teacher, but rather how well one does on the *first day* of class.

Anonymous said...

Or, perhaps, they went to CCNY as undergrads and Harvard would not look at them?

Not the entire story: Harvard grad school would consider a CCNY student if s/he has outstanding grades, letters, writing sample, etc. Granted, the bar is a bit higher for this person than, say, a student from another Ivy League. But this just emphasizes the point that you should consider pedigree as early as possible, whether or not using pedigree as a principal factor is fair.

That is, the student (if truly seriously about having an academic career) might have tried to get better grades, etc. in high school so that s/he could have attended a better undergrad college. Yeah, yeah, sometimes a student needs to stay local for reasons related to economics or family and had to turn down a Harvard admission, but I take this as an exception rather than rule.

Anyway, your concern, CTS, also shows that pedigree matters along the entire academic foodchain, not just at the hiring level. Even high-school pedigree matters to some degree: You'll be more likely to get in to any given university if you attended Exeter than some underperforming public high school, given the same GPA, activities, etc.

To add to 10:24's comment, could all the decision-makers along this foodchain be incorrect in using pedigree as a factor? Or is it more likely that these complaints are ordinary sour grapes of the same varietal that any unsuccessful jobseeker expresses about the supposed unfairness of the industry in question?

Anonymous said...

Or, perhaps, they went to CCNY as undergrads and Harvard would not look at them?

Is that true, would Harvard's philosophy department really not accept a student with a BA from CCNY? I'm looking at the Harvard Philosophy grad students listing. Very few of the PhD students put their undergraduate degree on the site, of course, but I see some from University of Tennessee, Wake Forest, Carlton, and NYU (as well as some from overseas).

I'd be pretty surprised if the actual philosophers who admit actual grad students at Harvard are snobbier than you. (That's a generic 'you'; I don't mean to be singling out CTS.)

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:13/10:24, you're attacking arguments that no one has made.... The issue is whether pedigree should be used as the principal criterion for paring down the application pile (as it was in this case).


Technically correct, because the arguments I'm attacking are thoughtlessly *implied* by the position you seem to support. No one seems honest enough to simply own up to those arguments.

Why shouldn't pedigree be a principal criterion? Because it doesn't reliably track quality? Because "pedigree" is an illusion? Well, those are the arguments I'm attacking.

Your answer that the weight of pedigree arises from "snobbery" isn't really an answer. You need to explain further, which would lead you to something like one of the two answers above (or answers that are equally indefensible).

P.S. I have almost no pedigree, but even in high school, I could have told you how important pedigree is and always will be in academia as well as other professional fields. If you deny that pedigree is important, then you're denying such statements as "You can get just as good an education at Harvard as you can at Boise State" (not to pick on any particular school). And that's just silly.

Popkin said...

"Why shouldn't pedigree be a principal criterion? Because it doesn't reliably track quality? Because "pedigree" is an illusion?"

Well, Anon 5:24, as should have been clear from my previous posts, I don't think pedigree should be a principal criterion because it doesn't "track quality" nearly as well as publications do.

I fully understand why someone making hiring decisions would want to give some weight to the department where a candidate received his/her training. What I can't understand is why such a person would give pedigree more weight than publications.

Crito said...

Popkin, Marinoff doesn't say he gave more weight to pedigree than to publications. He lists pedigree and publications each as criteria, without any comment about which got more weight.

Clayton said...

There were a few things about Marinoff's article that I found troubling.

First, he wrote as if being from a fancy department is itself a criterion for a good candidate rather than just evidence that someone would be a good teacher or a good researcher. We can argue about whether the fact that a candidate came from a fancy program is a good indicator that they are a good candidate (depending upon whether we are interested in teaching, research, or some combination of both), but that doesn't seem to be Marinoff's perspective on things.

Second, if people are expected to live up to the tradition of coming from a fancy program, he could have put that in the ad and said so. It would have saved a lot of us some time and money.

Some will say that we should know that we will be at a disadvantage if we come from a less than Leiterriffic program, I'd say that there's a world of difference between disadvantage and disqualification. I'd also ad that while we might reasonably expect this sort of (unjustified?) treatment from an actual Harvard, it's not reasonable to expect this from the Harvard of the proletariat.

Third, this is sour grapes. I also think that the critical points are correct. Being from a fancy program might be evidence of something that matters, but it doesn't matter for its own sake. And, while it might be evidence of future success, there is better evidence of future success available in the form of publication record. To knowingly base a judgment on a less reliable indicator is just dumb. (Of course, I don't think Marinoff is as dumb as some want to make him out to be by suggesting that he's basing a judgment about research and teaching ability on the basis of pedigree rather than lines on vitas because if we take him at his word he's trying to make a trophy hire and then later trying to find the best researcher and teacher from among the potential trophy hires.)

Fourth, I think there's something seriously silly about automatically excluding, say, the best candidate from a non-Leiterriffic department who went to that department to work with highly regarded specialists in a particular area so that you can get the worst candidates from Leiterriffic departments. At some point, non-elite programs that use the Marinoff method will be making some seriously bad hiring decisions because it's quite likely that they'll only have a good shot at landing the worst from the best if they go that route. So, even if we knew that the best of the best were always better than the best of the worst, if you can't land and lock those candidates down, there's something deeply flawed with the Marinoff method.

Rene Crevel said...

Glaucon:

First, claiming that an attitude or disposition seems arrogant is not an ad hominem. You conveniently added the attack on the search committee members (your addition of "jackasses") to my generalization of attitudes. In addition, I'm merely making a suggestion. Interpreting a general attitude is not straw person. That interpretation is not being used as part of an argument. Perhaps it's unfair generalization of attitude. Fair enough.

Second, what is the goal of selecting a hire beyond 1) filling a vacancy, and 2) hiring a colleague that one gets along with? Given that goal, what criteria are the best predictors of fulfilling that goal?

Anonymous said...

The real controversy here is whether socially juiced memes trump individually exceptional genes. The pedigree question is memetic--does the impression that pedigree counts matter more than a candidate's actual ability to do research or teach? In a practical way, it does, and should, because the idea that going to Leiterific places is self-reinforcing: those with more inherent ability (the genes) are tracked toward those schools by social collusion. But it is far from clear that those same schools have a clear independent causal influence on the production of quality because of their pedagogical/collegial atmosphere--LA and NY get the best actors (gender neutral) because of what they culturally and historically are noted for and have prominent venues of employment--not because they are inherently centers of theatrical instructional genius. They no doubt attract the talent (and no doubt some talented instructors of theater--just not all and not measurably the best)--but they don't manufacture it. I certainly can attest to having had Leiterific professors in grad school who were absolutely brilliant in print but who were clueless in formulating effective grad seminars. But then again mine was not a Leiterific institution. But somehow I think that instructional skills are not so highly valued in the top 50 (oh hell, as anecdote, I just attended a talk from a top-thirty Leiter prominent full professor who was fine at drawing distinctions (though he didn't know about the Bennett view of counterfactuals), but not up to the classroom presence of any of my SLAC colleagues; in fact his class demeanor would not be tenurable in my SLAC)--and if that's so, then maybe Leiterific schools are just the traditional magnets for kinds of exceptional talent that might just do fine otherwise in a more egalitarian research-oriented possible world--if they weren't primarily judged on the worth of teaching those not so richly endowed with natural talent, which includes many, many more possible worlds, and perhaps as indicated by the numbers of such needed teachers, even this actual one.

Popkin said...

Crito, you're right that he doesn't explicitly claim that he gave more weight to pedigree than publication. I was inferring that from the fact that he mentions pedigree first and ends with administrative service--it just sounded to me like he was ranking those criteria by order of importance (but maybe I'm reading too much into that).

In my defense, he certainly sounds like a pretty serious snob:
"Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy."

Anonymous said...

This is all getting way out of hand.

Don't you think it may be a tad disingenuous to accuse Marinoff of excluding candidates solely on the basis of pedigree merely from his statement that coming from a "good" university was an "important" factor?

Don't you think it may be a tad hasty to accuse Marinoff of hunting for trophy hires without first knowing the degree-granting institutions of more than two of six finalists let alone the other 21 people who made the interview/alternate cut?

Don't you think it may be a tad assholish to suggest that Marinoff may have made a bad hiring decision (worst of the best) when both of the hires have decent if not substantial publication records and apparently satisfied all of the committee's other criteria?

Don't you think it may be a tad crotchety to suggest that merely because you didn't get an interview, the search committee regarded you as "beneath consideration"?

While I'm impressed at how quickly many of you transformed Marinoff into a vicious, mustache-twirling, sycophantic, mobbed-up thug hell bent upon securing at all costs a Leiter-dynasty for his department, perhaps we all should step back a moment, re-read (or simply read for the first time) Marinoff's original article. It's really not that bad.

Of course, if you still find it nauseating, then you're going to be sick all over because "Marinoff's Method" ain't too far from standard.

Anonymous said...

What I can't understand is why such a person would give pedigree more weight than publications.

Seriously? If you're facing hundreds of applications and want to clear them as quickly as possible, would you rather take 2 seconds to consider someone's pedigree or take 10-20 minutes to read someone's paper. Of course it's a convenient meme, but there also seems to be *some* justification for the meme; so it's not obvious that pedigrees shouldn't be considered.

Anonymous said...

To judge a publication takes a lot of time. Besides the time it takes to read it, you also have to know or look up the publication and determine its significance for the candidate. Other than for the top 5 journals or so, it would be difficult to compare the relative quality of journal X to Y, especially if your AOS is not in the candidate's field (which is most of the hiring committee, if they have a reasonably balanced department; even more when you consider that they're looking for your AOS to fill a hole in the departmet composition). So pedigree beats publications as an easier metric to use and evaluate.

Second Year TT guy said...

I've been wondering something.... are there any schools that have developed a reputation (and therefore can provide 'pedigree') for developing unusually good teachers. It seems that all of the reputations I'm familiar with focus upon the supposed research training that departments give....

Therefore, I wonder if some non-Leiter schools could make their students more marketable by focusing on creating the best teaching professors. After all, teaching ability SHOULD be more important than research ability in getting and holding a 4/4 teaching oriented professorship. Does anyone know of schools that have a reputation for creating the best teachers (as opposed to and independent of their ability to create the best researchers).

Popkin said...

Anons 11:14 and 11:23, I obviously wasn't suggesting that the members of a search committee would want to read the publications of every candidate. Philosophers list their publications on their CVs, so it wouldn't take any more time to establish where and how often someone has published than it would to determine where they went to school.

Rene Crevel said...

2nd Year TT:

Jesuit graduate programs have an excellent track record of producing high-quality teachers. Non-Jesuit schools that come to mind are Bowling Green, Penn State, Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, and Oregon.

Tim O'Keefe said...

2nd year TT:

I think that Georgia State's philosophy M.A. program does a good job of preparing teachers, as they have hordes of M.A. students teaching Critical Thinking. A brief description of what they do is here. Georgia State also has a common textbook, an almost-standard syllabus, and common midterms and finals--it's fairly prepackaged so that 1st-time teachers can step in and teach the class without the time commitment being totally overwhelming.

Note: I'm affiliated with GSU, so I'm probably biased, but the above is sincere, not merely self-puffery.

Tim O'Keefe said...

Oh, let me add that we actually require our grad students who are going to be teaching Critical Thinking to first sit in for the whole semester on a section of the class, taught by the Coordinator of Graduate Teaching out of the textbook they'll be using, and they have to take the common midterm and final.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of schools that have a reputation for creating the best teachers (as opposed to and independent of their ability to create the best researchers).

Aye, there's the rub. Despite all the lip service we pay to quality of teaching, there hasn't been any serious study (that I know of) in this or any other academic field. First, there's the problem of methodology, which would vary from one college to the next: Do we look for teaching awards, student evals, recommendation letters, or what? Any given factor here would be controversial.

So the "meme" here, to continue on that track, is that quality of research somehow correlates to quality of teaching. Of course it doesn't do it accurately, but there might be some correlation. For instance, if you were a crap researcher, then that doesn't give anyone much confidence that you know what you're talking about in class, either factually or critically.

And the meme for quality of research is quality of educational institution and reputation of journals that publish your papers. The latter is more difficult to discern that the former -- as pointed out by 11:23 et al. -- so that's why the former may receive more weight.

Otherwise, I'd agree that a list of schools known for producing the best teachers would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:44 (Sep 6):

Amen

Clayton said...

"Don't you think it may be a tad disingenuous to accuse Marinoff of excluding candidates solely on the basis of pedigree merely from his statement that coming from a "good" university was an "important" factor?"

No. In saying that candidates are "expected to live up this legacy" of earning a Ph.D. from a "good" university where the examples are Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London, it sure seemed that Marinoff was saying that a necessary condition to making it to the interview is coming from a good university understood as fancy university.

If you don't read Marinoff as saying that pedigree is a necessary condition for making it past the initial cuts, what process do you think he actually used? Here's what he says about publication and research:

"A second criterion was research and publication. We looked not only for quality and promise of quantity, but also for originality. Creativity and individuality are assets for philosophers. We did not want candidates who merely parroted back what they had been taught at graduate school."

Do you honestly think that while making initial cuts he balanced pedigree against originality, creativity, and productivity? That would seem to require reading the work of 637 applicants (or a large percentage of applicants who had published). That's precisely the sort of thing people say you don't do to justify using pedigree as an initial screen because it is so damn impractical. So, I think the probability that he did this is quite low.

Maybe Marinoff did something else. Maybe the real Marinoff method isn't described by his own writing. If you read what he wrote, however, it sure looks like pedigree is a necessary condition for making it to an interview. At the very least, it looks like he thinks pedigree is part of what constitutes a good candidate rather than just evidence that the candidate is a good candidate. I think these views are indefensible.

"Don't you think it may be a tad hasty to accuse Marinoff of hunting for trophy hires without first knowing the degree-granting institutions of more than two of six finalists let alone the other 21 people who made the interview/alternate cut?"

No. My accusation is based on his description of his process, not a description of the result of that process.

"Don't you think it may be a tad crotchety to suggest that merely because you didn't get an interview, the search committee regarded you as "beneath consideration"?"

No, anonymous jackass, I don't. I don't because I didn't suggest that the committee regarded me and those like me as beneath consideration _because_ I didn't get an interview. I don't get lots of interviews. I haven't looked at my notes, but I don't think I need two hands to count the number of interviews I've landed over the years. My judgment about being beneath consideration was based on Marinoff's description of his process. When I think about the 600 or so jobs that I've applied for without receiving any invitation to interview, I don't automatically conclude that I was beneath the consideration of the search committee.

Crito said...

Popkin (8:32PM 9/6),

Yeah, that's a cringe-inducing passage, for sure.

Clayton,

At the very least, it looks like he thinks pedigree is part of what constitutes a good candidate rather than just evidence that the candidate is a good candidate.

I don't see this. To me it looks like he's thinking of it as evidence. (You make a good point, though, about using it as a necessary condition rather than a weighting consideration.)

Anonymous said...

It seems that Marinoff wouldn't have considered applications from Brian Weatherson (Monash now at Rutgers) or Mark Timmons (Nebraska now at Arizona).

Other fun examples? Is Syracuse fancy enough for his taste? If not, Alistair Norcross and John Hawthorne are out as well.

I don't know much about UCL from when Marinoff received his Ph.D. from there, but is it really properly set alongside Oxford, Harvard, or Columbia?

Asstro said...

My. This is a long thread. Can we change it up a bit? There's a fair bit of interest here. One thing that strikes me as worthy of a new thread is the question posed somewhat earlier about whether there are any schools that produce excellent teachers of philosophy.

I'm not particularly interested in the pissing contest about which schools produce the best teachers, but rather the normative question: why _shouldn't_ some graduate faculties aim to produce good philosophy teachers, maybe as their core mission? This seems like a natural niche for schools that, say, don't have the same Leiterrific research clout.

There are many more programs than those fifty that Leiter ranks at the top of the heap. These faculties could certainly start branding themselves around their excellent SLAC PhDs. A move like that might level some of the playing field....

Anonymous said...

Just a quick shout-out to Oregon: My experience there, which aligns with that of many others, is that Oregon cultivates a culture of grad students (and professors) that really care about teaching. It may be the dark horse, but it's no small stretch to say that nearly any and all philosophical issues taken seriously are considered there, and in the classroom, to boot.

Please don't consider this post as part of a "pissing contest," but as a post directed to a program that works hard to value community, both in the graduate school atmosphere and in the classroom. FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Other fun examples?

We might think of a few more, but doesn't the lack of examples here show that the "pedigree rule" is mostly reliable? Or would you argue that the pedigree bias is so entrenched in academia that very few non-pedigreed philosophers ever had the chance to prove themselves in a respectable academic position?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks thing about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it....

Mr. Zero said...

I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks thing about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it...

I never, ever decide what to read like that. I read articles by people I know to have written good articles in the past, or by people I know, or that come up in other articles I'm reading, or that somebody laughed at me when I revealed I'd never read it.

I have never once filled a two-hour window of time by going down to the library, pulling a Phil Review off the shelf and reading what was in there.

But maybe I'm weird.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks think about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it...."

I would totally start picking what to read on the basis of journal pedigree if top tier journals would determine what to publish by looking at the author's application to graduate school instead of submitting the paper to a process of peer review.

Anonymous said...

I read articles by people I know to have written good articles in the past, or by people I know...

Um, this is exactly the pedigree rule but applied on a smaller scale, that past/general quality of work is indicative of future quality.

CTS said...

Anon @September 6, 2009 4:24 PM:

What we see/look for in a class-like presentation are traits such as these:
1) Is organized but also able to be flexible to repsond to students;
2) Is poised and comfortable with students;
3) Has chosen the topic of the class wisely - both to display own expertise and to show readiness for ,e.g., a course inwhich we have expressed particular interest;
4) Uses a variety of pedagogical devices, again in response to student interaction and to get students to respond.

And, so on.

CTS said...

....the student (if truly seriously about having an academic career) might have tried to get better grades, etc. in high school so that s/he could have attended a better undergrad college. Yeah, yeah, sometimes a student needs to stay local for reasons related to economics or family and had to turn down a Harvard admission, but I take this as an exception rather than rule.
Really? You really think only a few people do not attend Harvard because of economic reasons? ANd, conversely, you are quite sure that those who do attend are all brilliant young people with great hs records?

Anyway, your concern, CTS, also shows that pedigree matters along the entire academic foodchain, not just at the hiring level. Even high-school pedigree matters to some degree: You'll be more likely to get in to any given university if you attended Exeter than some underperforming public high school, given the same GPA, activities, etc.

Exactly. And, so, we perpetuate the advantaged getting more advanatages.

could all the decision-makers along this foodchain be incorrect in using pedigree as a factor? Or is it more likely that these complaints are ordinary sour grapes of the same varietal that any unsuccessful jobseeker expresses about the supposed unfairness of the industry in question?

I suppose there might be a third, or even fourth, alternative: all these folks use the same irrational grounds and do not reflect on their reasons for using them, and/or some see no problem with giving the haves more chances than the have nots, and/or some are so enthralled by elitism that they just have to have students or colleagues who attended those name schools.
There are probably other possible reasons as well.

CTS said...

About teaching: We have had very good luck with grads from Purdue, and they tell us it is because the program is serious about preparing teachers.

Anonymous said...

I don't know...I feel that teaching philosophy is a different animal than doing philosophy. Education is an art form in itself; there are education majors and colleges, etc. So why should we think that any grad program in PHILOSOPHY trains its students to be proficient in delivering EDUCATION? That's like expecting engineering PhD programs to generate students who are also proficient in aesthetics, history, ethics, teaching, you name it. These are ancillary goals to the primary mission of training students to be experts in engineering, and in our case philosophy.

I suppose there could be some philosophy programs that are known for particular strengths in teaching pedagogy, just like there are departments known for their expetise in Greek philosophy or philosophy of mind. I'm just not aware of any. It would be a great idea if departments did focus on this, though.

Mr. Zero said...

Um, this is exactly the pedigree rule but applied on a smaller scale, that past/general quality of work is indicative of future quality.

Um, that is not what pedigree is. When pedigree is applied, it is the fancy institutional name, and not the quality of their graduates, that is being used as an indicator.

Even when the PGR is used as a metric for pedigree, the quality of output (in terms of high-quality philosophers or producers of high quality philosophical work) is being ignored. After all, Leiter isn't even trying to measure that--he's trying to measure aggregate faculty reputation. The hope is that aggregate faculty reputation is connected to overall program quality, and that overall program quality is connected to quality of graduates, but as far as I know, these are just untested assumptions.

If Marinoff were to weed people out by attending to dissertation advisors, trying to identify those who are (or are not) prone to producing quality students, that would be much closer to what I'm doing. But that wouldn't be pedigree.

Anonymous said...

Martin Benjamin of Michigan State University taught a brilliant seminar for many years (both in house and traveling) about how to teach philosophy. (Caveat: he used several of my pubs in his curriculum, so there's my bias.) But if you ever had the privilege to hear that wonderful man lecture, you'd have understood what is was to be an empassioned and gifted teacher of philosophy. I was lucky enough to hear his "retirement" lecture many years ago at Central, and it brought tears to my eyes.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks think about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it...."

Who comes up with this horseshit? I mean, seriously. Are you out of your fucking mind? Next you'll tell me that a rag which has got its "pedigree" only because of an outright coup (i.e. the board of directors putting a piece of shit journal into the status of "pedigree") has nothing to do with it, either. Right.

Anonymous said...

"We might think of a few more, but doesn't the lack of examples here show that the "pedigree rule" is mostly reliable?"

Why would the lack of examples show that the pedigree rule is mostly reliable?

(Reliable for what? Identifying the best candidate? Obviously it's reliable for picking a qualified or adequate candidate. You could do that by any number of wholly arbitrary processes given that it is a buyer's market.)

I can't think of any good examples of good female Catholic priests, but I don't think that this shows that the process by which women are automatically excluded reliably enables those hiring priests to pick the best of the available candidates.

David Chalmers went to Indiana, so I guess he's out.

Steve Finlay at USC went to University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign so I guess he's out.

There might not be a ton of examples of people who came from less than lustrous programs landing in peach jobs, but if pedigree is a necessary condition for making it to the interviews, a process that excludes Chalmers from an interview in spite of his research profile is f***** shit.

Anonymous said...

CTS,

You really think only a few people do not attend Harvard because of economic reasons?

I'm not the person you were addressing, but as a matter of fact I do think that. Harvard's financial aid is need-based and it's huge. A middle class family will have to spend less money to send a kid to Harvard than to send a kid to U. Mass.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks thing about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it..."

This is a fine point. When I have time to kill and am near the stacks, I hit up Nous, Phil Review, AJP, Phil Studies, and PPR. But then again, I've taken to ignoring JPhil (despite its high profile); they'll publish anything these days, it seems. I would not be surprised if this fact is closely connected to the poor editorial practices (e.g., no guarantee of blind review).

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the anti-pedigree folks thing about the pedigrees of journals. If you have two hours in the library, do you read Phil Review or the Lower Slobovian Journal of Philosophy? Of course, the latter MIGHT have a brilliant piece in it..."

Ummm, no...this is an idiotic post. Total horseshit. Complete. So let me ask the poster a question: What happens to the rest of the brilliant work that doesn't make the cut in your beloved journal with a 2% acceptance rate. Fucking retard.