Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some further thoughts on pedigree

1. The smokers love to talk pedigree. By a lot, our two most prolific threads are pedigree-related.

2. I think that in Marinoff's case, the "pedigree" charges are clearly warranted. It's not like he used it as a tie-breaker for APA interview invitations; he used it as a first-round weed-out criterion. It's the first consideration he mentions. That's pretty heavy.

3. In the first Marinoff post, I was inclined to be forgiving of the use of pedigree. In light of the discussion that followed, I am no longer so inclined. Whether fancy places really are better at producing productive philosophers is an empirical question; I'm not aware of any correspondingly empirical investigation.

4. And even if pedigree is good evidence of future productivity, there are enough exceptions in both directions--fancy people who aren't productive; non-fancy people who are--that it makes sense to look deeper. And Doug Portmore's suggestion that fanciness is related to productivity due to self-fulfilling prophecy ought not be ignored, neither.

5. I endorse Clayton Littlejohn's point here, about fairness. An advertisement is a request for applications. They're saying, please send us your dossiers. If you comply with the request, they have an obligation to give you a fair shake. Roundfiling your application because your Ph.D. is from a proletarian university does not satisfy that obligation.

6. There's no such thing as the Harvard of the proletariat. If your thing is a Harvard, it's not of the proletariat.

7. Grad-schools-that-train-you-to-be-a-teacher thread coming up.

--Mr. Zero

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whether fancy places really are better at producing productive philosophers is an empirical question; I'm not aware of any correspondingly empirical investigation.

Right, and there's no empirical work, just anecdotal evidence as is for the opposite case, that suggests fancy places are *not* better at producing productive philosophers. The tie-breaker seems to be that we already have some kind of social meme or intuition that pedigree ought to count for something, so perhaps that's why the hiring process seems to default to giving pedigree some weight?

Anonymous said...

Let's assume pedigree ought not to matter, because it's an unreliable predictor of future productivity, etc. And let's take the suggestion that published papers are more indicative of future success.

Now, why should having a PhD matter at all? I know plenty of useless PhDs. All that degree indicates is that you minimally satisfied course requirements and your particular dissertation committee at your graduate program. This seems to make the same mistake as those who advocate the use of pedigree allegedly make.

Why does it matter that a journal published the paper on which a candidate would be judged? Quality is quality, right? So an unpublished paper by an 11th grader could be regarded more highly than one by an ABD at Harvard. It shouldn't matter if "peers" had approved it; the implicit argument against pedigree is that hiring committees need to do their own investigations and not rely on opinions of others.

And if pedigree no longer matters, why would an institution invest in its faculty, facilities, etc. if none of that confers any competitive advantage to students? Indeed, how would high-school students even select colleges, if they must ignore pedigree: Do they have to evaluate each school's program, assuming s/he even has a firm idea of what her/his interests are and the course of study to be pursued? Again, pedigree seems to be a useful heuristic, though of course not perfect like any other heuristic.

Anyway, I think that the blog traffic we all see about pedigree shows that this is a difficult issue to sort out, and that there is no obvious answer as some on both sides of the controversy would like us to believe.

Mr. Zero said...

Now, why should having a PhD matter at all? I know plenty of useless PhDs.

I can get on board with this. Sometimes it seems to me that writing a dissertation is a lot like a hazing ritual. On the other hand, when I look at the first chapter I wrote for my diss and compare it to what I'm writing now, it doesn't seem like I was wasting my time. I got a lot better. It doesn't seem perverse to prefer candidates who had successfully done it.

Why does it matter that a journal published the paper on which a candidate would be judged? Quality is quality, right? So an unpublished paper by an 11th grader could be regarded more highly than one by an ABD at Harvard.

Yes. Although those papers did get published, a pedigree-minded editor would never have given them a chance.

And if pedigree no longer matters, why would an institution invest in its faculty, facilities, etc. if none of that confers any competitive advantage to students?

In order for a slippery slope argument to work, the slope has to be slippery. "If we're going to seriously consider applicants whose Ph.D.s are from Proletarian U, why should we even invest in our faculty and facilities at all?!?!?!?" Give me a motherfucking break.

how would high-school students even select colleges, if they must ignore pedigree

I don't know. Refusing to attend a non-pedigreed school seems like it might be a bad idea, though. You might arbitrarily rule out good schools that way. Maybe high school students should take some trouble to figure out which schools have good programs in their areas of interest. It's an important decision, after all.

Just to be clear, my point is not that pedigree should not be used at all; it is that pedigree should not be used to weed out applications on the first sort-through.

Clayton said...

There are different ways in which you might think pedigree should matter.

You might take good pedigree to be a necessary condition for considerability, but that seems like a rather strong position to take. (The ugly)

You might think that good pedigree should 'carry weight' so that it could break ties or compensate for a comparatively weak CV. (The bad)

You might treat pedigree as evidence for future productivity. (The good)

Someone who is anti-pedigree need not deny that pedigree is a good indication of future success, but, again, the question is whether there are better indicators of future success that someone can use in hiring. Someone who has actually produced shows that they know how to publish and are a step closer to tenure than someone who hasn't. That should count for something. It is one piece of evidence among many pieces of evidence, but I don't think that the anti-pedigree side has to deny the good, they only have to say that there's something that we should all know to be better.

"why should having a PhD matter at all?"

I'll go out on a limb here and say that it matters because the institution that you are working for requires that hires have them. I'll go out on another limb and say that there is probably a good rule-consequentialist rationale for them to apply the rule to us. I'll spare you the details. It consists of some hand waving and the conclusion that making people go through the paces makes us all better off.

"And if pedigree no longer matters, why would an institution invest in its faculty, facilities, etc. if none of that confers any competitive advantage to students?"

Matters to whom? Why should another institution's investment matter to me if I'm sitting on a hiring committee if the results of that investment are not made evident by the candidate's developed abilities as a teacher and researcher?

Anonymous said...

Quick Question: Would it matter to anyone to learn that Marinoff interviewed people with degrees from places like UMass, Rochester, Texas, Irvine, and UWash?

Just how expansive is the notion of pedigree at work here?

Doug Portmore said...

I think that the argument against pedigree and many of the other criteria that certain search committees use is that such criteria inadequately track the relevant goal. The relevant goal should, I think, be to hire the candidate who has the best chance of receiving tenure at the hiring institution. If the chances that someone will get tenure depend most heavily on things such as the candidate's publication record, teaching evaluations, and external letters from impartial judges, then these are the things that should weigh most heavily in selecting which candidate to hire. The problem is that many search committees put greater weight on things that don't matter at all (at least, not in themselves) in determining whether one will get tenure: the prestige of the Ph.D.-granting department/university, how well one responds to sometimes hostile questions during a high-pressure job talk, how well one performs in very artificial and high-pressure teaching situations, how smart and personable one comes across in an interview, how glowing the letter from one's dissertation supervisor is (and note that a letter can be glowing without providing good evidence that the one's work is subtle, original, and important), etc.

Clayton said...

"Would it matter to anyone to learn that Marinoff interviewed people with degrees from places like UMass, Rochester, Texas, Irvine, and UWash?"

Sure. Speaking just for myself, my beef is with the process described in the IHE piece which seemed to be a process according to which pedigree was a necessary condition for landing an interview. It would be surprising if the process described in the IHE piece led to candidates from some of the schools listed landing interviews. If the actual process used led to those sorts of results, speaking for myself, I wouldn't be so troubled. I also doubt that the process described would lead to those results, so if those were actual results, I don't think Marinoff did the best job describing what took place.

Rene Crevel said...

Doug Portmore: Thank you.

Popkin said...

"the implicit argument against pedigree is that hiring committees need to do their own investigations and not rely on opinions of others."

This is totally false (why it's false should be clear from the posts that followed).

anonynony said...

there is something quite crass and sell-out-ish about the way in which these criticisms of pedigree as a criterion of goodness focus on productivity. Seriously, people, there are brilliant philosophers who are not productive. There are very mediocre philosophers who produce crap, and are very productive. So what if many candidates coming out of top schools are not particularly *productive*. That does not mean they aren't *good at philosophy*.

If you are looking for the next Big Cheese, productivity really doesn't tell you much about a candidate's prospects.

Anonymous said...

"There is something quite crass and sell-out-ish about the way in which these criticisms of pedigree as a criterion of goodness focus on productivity."

Perhaps you can offer an alternative? Someone might say that there's something crass and sell-out-ish about using pedigree and connection to land much sought after positions in academia. I think that contributing to a literature is part of the job, so tortured geniuses are tortured by their genius and cannot do what they're supposed to do to earn employment. Now, the point you make about mediocre philosophers pumping out mediocre philosophy is worth mentioning, but I don't think that the way to address this is to hand out jobs on the basis of pedigree. So, what's your alternative?

At any rate, Andrew Cullison notes that the APA has a position on hiring and the rights of applicants for positions, "The APA recognizes as a professional right of applicants for any position advertised in Jobs for Philosophers that no qualification for the position that will be given weight in making the appointment should be concealed from such applicants."

There's nothing in CCNY's ad that would alert applicants in advance of this sort of thing, "An important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university. 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."

Tsk tsk.

zombie said...

If they're only going to consider pedigreed candidates, they ought to say so in their ad. That way, the rest of us can spend our time and money applying for jobs we remotely have a chance for. It costs me the same amount of time and money and hassle to apply to a school that wouldn't hire me if I were the last philosopher on earth as it costs me to apply to a school that will at least consider me for a job.
I suppose, however, that actually honestly advertising their up-front biases would get them in trouble, just like saying you wouldn't hire candidates with x skin color, or y sexual orientation or z whatever. To say that it's just because you got too many applications to seriously consider them all is disingenuous -- that state of affairs is going to continue as long as there are more of us than there are jobs. So either tell me I don't have an ice cube's chance in hell because I went to State U., or read my flurking dossier and give me due consideration.

Rabbit said...

No such thing as a Harvard of the proletariat, you say? Au contraire!

Anonymous said...

I read your dossier and it flurking sucked. Now everyone thinks that only flurking idiots come out of State U. Thanks a bunch, ass.

State U. football Rulz!

Anonymous said...

How about this for a post? You know how adjuncts get paid shit to teach a class here and there. Like $2000 and such. What do you think famous people like the former Gov. of NY get paid to teach one class? If it's a small class of say, 15 to 25 students, is the class a loss leader? What about Albert the former attorney general. Anyone know how much he is making. Most of these gents don't have Ph.D. degrees, but they are pedigreed in a different way. Anyone know how much they make? I bet it isn't $2000 a class.

Anonymous said...

"If they're only going to consider pedigreed candidates, they ought to say so in their ad. That way, the rest of us can spend our time and money applying for jobs we remotely have a chance for."

Ding ding ding. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

And to the SCs that are so self-righteous and AFRAID to admit their bigotry against state U(ironic that many members of those SCS are, themselves, utter asses and probably from a State U) out goes a big "KISS MY A**." I am changing my name, skin color, and gender to confuse you all, and you can all go to hell.

Anonymous said...

You might treat pedigree as evidence for future productivity. (The good)

But for this to mean anything, the corollary must be that a lack of pedigree is evidence for a lack of future productivity!


The relevant goal should, I think, be to hire the candidate who has the best chance of receiving tenure at the hiring institution.

Well, it could be to the advantage of the institution (say, Princeton) to remain non-commital and run their department on the backs of new, fresh professors that they have no intention of tenuring -- but put this point aside for the moment. What if a school has a good history of tenuring asst. professors from pedigreed institutions? Doesn't that justify the use of pedigree in hiring?

Anonymous said...

"the implicit argument against pedigree is that hiring committees need to do their own investigations and not rely on opinions of others."

This is totally false (why it's false should be clear from the posts that followed).


Oh, so hiring committes CAN rely on the opinions of others? If so, why should they discount the high opinions that many colleagues and other academics (including deans, provosts, etc.) have of pedigreed programs?

Mr. Zero said...

If so, why should they discount the high opinions that many colleagues and other academics (including deans, provosts, etc.) have of pedigreed programs?

They don't have to discount those high opinions. They should just take them with the requisite grains of salt. If the colleagues know what they're talking about, and have evidence for their views, by all means.

But however good the candidate's pedigree, they should make some effort to determine whether the individual is actually any good. I only suggest that they extend the same courtesy to non-pedigreed candidates. It's only fair.

Anonymous said...

It is worth keeping in mind that some search committees systematically ignore applications from very good departments. (At least, if you can only interview 10-20 and invite 2-3 to campus and you fear that hiring someone eager to "move up" would mean losing a tenure-track line if and when that person succeeds, then the ones who might deserve better offers seem like ones it would be too risky to interview (when you could be interviewing folks who might be good fits, but less able to--and interested in--moving up).

Anonymous said...

I find the disdain for the "Harvard of the Proletariat" line a bit amusing. CCNY had this sort of reputation for a long time, and it's not as if it were made up for the column. (It was also regularly called the "Jewish Harvard" back when Harvard didn't let in many Jews.) The now-removed open admissions program for CUNY mostly did in this reputation, but it was real and long-standing. The uproar over it is silly.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for everyone, by I'm not laughing at the idea of a Harvard of the Proletariat or CCNY's claim to be the Harvard of the Proletariat. When I hear it used in the specific context in which it was used, I laugh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:31 makes a good point about possible discrimination against the pedigreed. Is this bias is justified at all? If so, why is this generalization sound but not the rule of thumb that pedigree indicates something positive and valuable?

Anonymous said...

But however good the candidate's pedigree, they should make some effort to determine whether the individual is actually any good. I only suggest that they extend the same courtesy to non-pedigreed candidates. It's only fair.

I think you're overlooking something: Those who went to top programs were already determined by others -- well respected and experienced philosophers -- to be "any good" in order to gain admission and matriculate from those programs. And assuming that a student applies to the best graduate programs at which s/he has some chance of being accepted, and that s/he would usually go there if accepted, those who did not go to top programs were already determined to not be as good; otherwise, they would have chosen better programs or schools.

Isn't this at least a prima facie consideration that should receive some weight? Of course, many things can change from the time you enter a program to when you finish, but this item in a candidate's history should not be ignored.

This comment is directed at those who think that pedigree should receive no or very little weight. That is, it's not unfair to treat the pedigreed and non-pedigreed differently, though maybe not to any great extent on the basis of pedigree alone.

Mr. Zero said...

I think you're overlooking something: Those who went to top programs were already determined by others -- well respected and experienced philosophers -- to be "any good" in order to gain admission and matriculate from those programs.

Do you really think I didn't realize that?

But these judgments are about 22-year-old college grads, and concern potential that will materialize 6 or 7 years after the time of the judgment. (In my admittedly non-fancy department, about half of us don't finish.) How heavily would you weigh that judgment when picking someone to be your colleague for the next 30 years?

Isn't this at least a prima facie consideration that should receive some weight?

WTF? Of course it's prima facie consideration. I admit as much in my post @ 8:12. Can you read?

It's not an indefeasible consideration, which is why you'd bother to read the candidate's letters and writing sample even after you identified her as pedigreed.

Maybe the fact that a competing candidate went to a non-pedigreed institution is prima facie evidence that he's a weaker candidate, too. Of course, it's not indefeasible either, and could be outweighed by any number of considerations. You owe it to him, and to yourself, to avail yourself of the available evidence.

This comment is directed at those who think that pedigree should receive no or very little weight.

Like who? Although you use a quote from me as a foil, you couldn't possibly be addressing me if you understood my point. So, who are you addressing?

Anonymous said...

For those who still don't get why people are bitching about pedigree here, read the following post from Wide Scope:
http://www.andrewcullison.com/2009/09/the-profession-the-academy/

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

It seems that the folks who argue in favor of use of pedigree as an initial screening mechanism have the view that access to the "good" programs is uniform.

I'd be quite surprised if an inside look at the grad student admissions decisions didn't look very similar to the hiring process itself... question 1 --is the applicant from a "good" undergraduate program, 2 -- does the applicant have a "good" philosopher writing their letters of rec? -- etc..

I'd be happy to be wrong -- but it seems to me that a brilliant writing sample from a 'directional' state U wouldn't get a second look n it's own.

Thus -- those who support pedigree as an initial screening method effectively eliminate most applicants based on an educational decision made by the applicant when they were 17 years old...

This is sad, but not surprising. If philosophers are actually interested in diversity, this model must change -- but, I'm not going to hold my breath until it does.

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that people think it's a violation of APA rules not to list pedigree as a criterion in the ad if it's being used. Most ads don't mention anything about publication record. So I suppose that it's a violation to use that as well.

Of course, that's ridiculous. It's ridiculous because it's well understood that the requested CV contain education and publication info. Of course that info will be used. (Some searches will disqualify any applicant without pubs. I'd expect equal outrage.)

m.a. program faculty member said...

It's also worth noting that, with a small number of spots and a huge number of applicants at top places, there is a high degree of dumb luck regarding how pedigreed a program you go to.

I know of cases of (excellent) applicants who got off of the waitlist and into High Prestige U on April 15, but if things had broken just slightly differently, they would have gone to So-so Prestige U instead. Search committee members who presume that applicants from (say) Leiter Report #9 are way more philosophically high-powered than applicants from Leiter Report #43 are being pretty obtuse.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or do most philosophically astute books and papers from American philosophers usually come from middle of the road institutions rather than Ivy League type places? For example, it seems like part of this is that philosophers from Harvard and the like are too full of themselves to reply to objections and dialogue with philosophers from no-name U, whereas those from less prestigious institutions must actually prove themselves on the basis of their merits as good thinkers and thus can't afford to let devistating objections go unanswered no matter who they come from.

Anonymous said...

For example, it seems like part of this is that philosophers from Harvard and the like are too full of themselves to reply to objections and dialogue with philosophers from no-name U

I hadn't noticed that. I don't think it's true.

I do think that a very well established, very well known philosopher is less likely to reply to a given criticism of her work than a much less well established, much less known philosopher, at least partly because the well-known philosopher gets lots more attention and criticism. But I don't see any correlation at all between being 'above responding' and being at a very fancy university (beyond the correlation between being at a fancy U and getting lots of attention, I mean).

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

Regarding your last rant about indefeasability, that's exactly the problem: You're viewing pedigree as something that should either be trumped or upheld. However, it would seem more appropriate to view it as just another piece of evidence, perhaps of equal or less weight, than other evidence such as writing samples, etc. The difference is that, in a tie-breaker situation, the pedigreed candidate ought to win, because s/he has a longer history of success. This person is a more proven commodity. Do you get it now?

Nathan Hanna said...

Anon 6:51 - I don't see what's wrong with being annoyed at ads that don't make it clear that an established research record or strong evidence of research potential is a criterion when it is. It's not hard to do (you might say it should be obvious, but it isn't always). Many smaller schools are happy to make it clear that they want someone who's really into undergrad teaching and who already has quite a bit of teaching experience and good evals. The USydney Postdoc ad from a while back is a wonderful example of openness about their research requirements:

http://groups.google.com/group/philosophy-updates/browse_thread/thread/a4e01983584a4c6f?hl=en

Anon 8:34 - I don't think anyone's denying that pedigree can be useful in certain tiebreaker situations (esp. the paradigmatic one: two candidates fresh out, without much to say for themselves yet besides their PhDs). The annoyance here is primarily directed at SCs that use pedigree as a necessary condition before paying attention to other qualifications. (Mr. Zero's talk of defeasibility brings up other issues, which I'll set aside b/c they're just a distraction from the this one. Though I'm inclined to think that his use of the word "defeasible" is appropriate.)

Anonymous said...

There's a truth in business: "No one ever got fired for buying an IBM."

Search committees and departments look bad when their new hires aren't able to make tenure. Using pedigree as a key consideration in evaluating a candidate gives you (the employer) credibility, like the corporate exec who buys IBM's new servers: These companies and schools usually produce high-quality products, so if these products fail, you can blame the employer or executive too much. It was a reasonable decision.

I think Apple fanatics can relate to this: How do you choose what computer to buy next? If the machine is a brand new model, there's no track record you for that model you can refer to; so you make your best guess based on other products made by the company. The same seem to be true of pedigree.

Now, if you buy a computer from a no-name start-up, because you determined that their technology indeed was superior, etc. -- or if you're an employer who hires a non-pedigreed Ph.D -- then you've put yourself out on a limb. You've opened yourself up to the criticism that you've ignored a good piece of evidence for buying or hiring another brand, one that was trasparent to a lot more people than the results of your thorough research.

This is to say that there is great institutional inertia in steering a culture away from brand names.

Anonymous said...

"I find it amusing that people think it's a violation of APA rules not to list pedigree as a criterion in the ad if it's being used. Most ads don't mention anything about publication record. So I suppose that it's a violation to use that as well.

Of course, that's ridiculous. It's ridiculous because it's well understood that the requested CV contain education and publication info. Of course that info will be used. (Some searches will disqualify any applicant without pubs. I'd expect equal outrage.)"

Here's the APA statement:

"The APA recognizes as a professional right of applicants for any position advertised in Jobs for Philosophers that no qualification for the position that will be given weight in making the appointment should be concealed from such applicants."

I think it's fair for people to know whether a potential employer treats pedigree as a qualification distinct from research and teaching. We all know that some will use it as evidence for research and teacher. We can argue about whether it is rational to do so. However, I think it's clearly in the spirit of the APA's position for departments to try to be up front about how they'll use pedigree if they plan on treating it as something other than, say, ability to do the job advertised.

Anonymous said...

Just curious: If you were an employer, would it count against a candidate that he was an ex-convict for some white-collar, non-dangerous crime, that is, he has reverse-pedigree? Is it unreasonable to use this as the first factor in paring down a stack of applicants? If so, could reasons for doing so justify the use of pedigree as a first filter in hiring?

Note that the question is about reasonableness, not fairness.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:34 - Did you really just compare being a convicted criminal to graduating from a low ranked department?

Anonymous said...

12:16,

No, I was pointing out that there is a continuum of pedigree, with criminals toward one end and Ivy Leaguers toward the other end. I was also simply asking whether reasons to be biased against one end (criminals) are consistent with reasons to be biased for the other.

I trust that your post was not the start of an ad hominem argument that my question shouldn't be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

"Just curious: If you were an employer, would it count against a candidate that he was an ex-convict for some white-collar, non-dangerous crime, that is, he has reverse-pedigree? Is it unreasonable to use this as the first factor in paring down a stack of applicants? If so, could reasons for doing so justify the use of pedigree as a first filter in hiring?"

I'll bite. We aren't hiring in a vacuum. In addition to information about pedigree, we also have information about research. Often that information is so close to the information about pedigree, you couldn't miss it unless you tried very, very, very, very, very, hard. The standard rationale for using pedigree to hire is that it is evidence that the candidate has the skills needed to get tenure, contribute to a literature, etc... With pedigree and no pubs, you get some evidence that the person hasn't yet managed to place papers in spite of having any number of advantages that those who would use pedigree to say that it's likely that someone with such a background will be a good researcher. That seems like grounds for a strike against. With no pedigree and good pubs, it seems we have evidence that the candidate gets just what some are supposed to be getting from a good program. At that point, evidence about pedigree seems not to matter so much. With pedigree and pubs, the interesting question is whether the pedigree should count as a reason for placing them ahead of a similarly accomplished candidate without pedigree. That's a tricky one. I can see going either way. That's why I don't have a view. As for no pedigree and no pubs, I'd treat them like an ex-con. I got worries and I got nothing to assuage those worries.

That seems like a reasonable set of claims to make (to me, at least). The problem is that it seems that using pedigree as a screen ignores most of it.

(Full disclosure, I'm from an unranked department and have committed my share of non-dangerous crime. That was the norm at my department. Drugs, nudity, drunken firearm play. Most of us were guilty of some of this.)

Mr. Zero said...

Regarding your last rant about indefeasability, that's exactly the problem: You're viewing pedigree as something that should either be trumped or upheld.

Perhaps 'indefeasible' was a poor choice of words. Sorry. Perhaps I should have said that even if pedigree is evidence for something that would be of interest to search committees, it's relatively weak evidence. It's the kind of evidence that it would be easy to override. It could be, uh, trumped. It's not an end in itself, and it's only indirectly related to relevant criteria that could constitute legitimate ends.

However, it would seem more appropriate to view it as just another piece of evidence, perhaps of equal or less weight, than other evidence such as writing samples, etc.

For one thing, that view is totally compatible with my "rant."

For another thing, that's not how pedigree was used in the case we are actually talking about. So I don't see where this is an objection to my view.

For a third thing, it is obviously much weaker evidence than writing samples. Who's gonna say, "this writing sample sucks, but she went to a fancy university so I'm sure she'd make a good hire."

The difference is that, in a tie-breaker situation, the pedigreed candidate ought to win, because s/he has a longer history of success.

I suspect that this isn't right. In a tie-breaker situation, the non-pedigreed candidate is likely to be better, because she has excelled just as well (that's why it's a tie-breaker situation) in a (potentially) less optimal environment. (In fact, I find this idea that "fanciness" is closely related to optimality to be questionable. But even if it is, the person who gets equally good in the less suitable environment is the more talented.)

Minor Leaguer said...

Both of the main sides appear to be attacking strawmen:

(A) Having a PhD from a 'name brand' school is a necessary condition on us even considering you as a candidate--regardless of anything else; or having a PhD from a 'name brand' school will be used as our sole initial weeding out criterion.

(B) Having a PhD from a 'name brand' school should only operate as a tiebreaker in cases where two candidates are otherwise exactly tied, or as incredibly weak defeasible evidence that a candidate is viable (defeated, presumably, by an otherwise 'weaker CV'); it should never be used to get people past an initial screening on its own.

Does anyone really think that any steering committees do or should operate using either (A) or (B)? Isn't the space of 'reasonable' views clearly between these two poles? 'Pedigree' is both more important than (B) allows, and much less important than (A) would suggest.

I know, I know, Marinoff says that "[a]n important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university." This makes it sound like he's endorsing (A). But shouldn't we, charitably, interpret him to be saying something like "an important consideration was whether the candidate holds a Ph.D. from a good university"? Does anyone really think that if someone showed up right out of grad school with the perfectly matched AOS, amazing teaching, amazing service record, amazing letters, and 8 publications in Nous, Mind, Phil. Review, J. Phil. and wherever else, but they got their PhD from a middling school, they wouldn't even be considered? Absurd! I'm more inclined to believe that Marinoff was just being sloppy, particularly since they ended up hiring someone from Rutgers--which is, of course, a great philosophy department, but you probably don't go bragging to your dean (or your donors) that you hired a Rutgers PhD, at least not without carrying around a copy of the Philosohpical Gourmet Report (just like you did when you told your parents you were going to Rutgers rather than Harvard). (No offense at all to my New Brunswick peeps.)

And (B) is equally absurd (assuming 'name brand' is 'name brand in philosophy'). It's just willfully ignoring lots of information in a context where you don't have much information and the costs of obtaining information are high.

Continued...

Minor Leaguer said...

Continued...

Mr. Zero says that "these judgments [about grad admission] are about 22-year-old college grads, and concern potential that will materialize 6 or 7 years after the time of the judgment."

I think this understates what one can learn about philosophical potential in undergrads.  I've taught at a variety of places (poor state schools, big rich private non-Ivy, Ivy), and you can see a great range of ability in 18
and 19 year olds.  There is wide variance, even in a particular classroom,
in how quickly students 'get' complex material, how interesting/innovative
their responses to the material are, how much they can absorb.  It seems
like some sort of anti-realism about philosophical ability to deny this or
to think that it only 'shows up' 5 or 6 years later.  Of course, you just
have the talent pool in front of you.  But if you've taught for a while,
you see quite a range. Routinely, undergrads from 'non-pedigree'
institutions are admitted to the best PhD programs precisely because they
have the grades, writing, and letters saying that this person was the best
person from the school in X years.

(Just checking out NYUs website/alums, for example, shows that of the ~50
people who've been in the PhD program, they've had people from UC Davis, UC
Santa Barabara, Messiah College, University of Minnesota, New College of
Florida (2), Nebraska, Western Washington University, Calvin College, Texas
Christian, etc.)

The 'X' has to be bigger if the person is from a 'non-pedigree' place, but
that's not crazy, since the quality of the students at those places will
tend to be lower than at places that are have the most competitive
undergraduate admissions.  The same basic thought applies coming out of
grad programs with respect to letters.

(And this is why the more 'pedigreed' of two candidates with equally strong pubs and letters should be seen as 'ahead'--pubs are tied, and it is harder to get a good letter from a better department.  The profs see better students, and it makes it that much harder to impress them.  Of course, I am assuming that letters from better departments are not 'inflated.'  I see no reason to think that they would be in a systematic way, since all departments seem to have roughly the same incentives (and disincentives) to inflate letters.)

Minor Leaguer said...

Continued... (windbag!) (sorry about formatting)

Ultimately, this is all about demonstrating ability and potential through 'shining' in various competitions.  That's what 'pedigree' is.  Doing well in high school.  Doing well on the SAT/ACT.  Doing well in college.  Doing well on the GRE.  Doing well in grad school.  Doing well with publications. Doing well with teaching evaluations.  Doing well in interviews...

If someone 'aces' the first four, that's evidence that shouldn't be tossed
out or only used to break ties.  Of course, there are local injustices and
unfairnesses along the way.  But absent evidence of significant, systemic
unfairness (and we may have that evidence), it hardly seems that we should
just throw out *all* of this information.  Sure, it's harder if you don't
have money (I know), but so is everything.  Publishing is easier if you are
independently wealthy, too.

Additionally (and this is important to respond to Clayton's resaonable why
not just use publications? question), high school, college, SATs, GREs, and
grad school are 'competitions' that everyone (just about) in the pool has
entered.  And doing well in high school, college, and grad school involves
extended, consistent effort and performance, and involves evaluations from
a great number of different people.  Publications provide some evidence,
certainly (which is why (A) would be absurd).  But many people haven't even
tried to publish anything while in grad school, and it can provide a skewed
perspective to compare those people with people who have been out for 2 or
3 or more years and focusing on turning the dissertation into publications.
Sure, you have evidence that one person can publish in (say) mid-level
philosophy journals if given two or three years--that's certainly not easy,
and that counts for something (particularly since the VAP teaching life is
tough).  But I don't think it's crazy to think that such a person from a
mediocre program might still only be 'tied' with a person from a very top PhD program who has strong letters.  There is good reason to believe that such people will go on to publish in equally good or better places in the next two or three years.

'Pedigree' does and should count for something (because of the information it includes and reflects); it shouldn't count for everything.  It's hard for me to see how anyone could think otherwise.

Doug Portmore said...

"The standard rationale for using pedigree to hire is that it is evidence that the candidate has the skills needed to get tenure, contribute to a literature, etc... With pedigree and no pubs, you get some evidence that the person hasn't yet managed to place papers in spite of having any number of advantages that those who would use pedigree to say that it's likely that someone with such a background will be a good researcher. That seems like grounds for a strike against."

I like this. This explains what irks some people (including me) about the way pedigree factors in hiring decisions within our profession. Most hiring committees don't consider the lack of any good publications from a candidate with an exceptional pedigree as a reason to suspect that this candidate doesn't have what it takes. Indeed, we all know cases where someone with a great pedigree and no publications gets tons of job offers. There is good reason for this. A number of prestigious programs have a history of discouraging their graduate students from even trying to publish. Thus, given that some prestigious programs discourage excellent students from trying to publish, we can't necessarily infer from their lack of publications that they won't be productive researchers. And this means that some people with great pedigrees but little talent for productivity get better jobs than those with worse pedigrees and established records of excellent productivity. To me this seems unfair. I would like to see all graduate programs encourage their students to try to publish (and I don't mean that they should encourage them to submit every seminar paper that gets an A) and to see hiring committees take the lack of publications from candidates with excellent pedigrees to be evidence that they're not as good as those with worse pedigrees but good publication records. My sense is that things are moving in this direction.

Popkin said...

Minor Leaguer, how can you claim that the anti-pedigree folks are attacking a strawman by attributing something like (A) to Marinoff, and then turn around and say "I know Marinoff says that, but . . ."?

Anonymous said...

In a tie-breaker situation, the non-pedigreed candidate is likely to be better, because she has excelled just as well...in a (potentially) less optimal environment.


So...going to a top-ranked program can or should count *against* you under some circumstances? Yeah, that makes sense.

Mr. Zero said...

going to a top-ranked program can or should count *against* you under some circumstances? Yeah, that makes sense.

It is important in this context to distinguish between "counting against you" and "counting in favor of you, but not quite as much as something else counts in favor of someone else."

Anonymous said...

I see that no one has responded to a very good point raised earlier in the thread (by 7:17 anon):

If the goal is to hire someone who can win tenure (as suggested by Doug Portmore at 9:40), what would you say if your university has a history of tenuring pedigreed faculty and less consistency of tenuring non-pedigreed faculty?

If a university largely denies tenure to people of color, does that mean hiring committees ought not to hire someone of color? Clearly not. This is why the suggested goal of hiring committees needs to be reconsidered: it turns this discussion into one about practicality than about fairness, and the two can wildly diverge.

Anonymous said...

I think the top programs do a service to the profession by not encouraging their graduate students to publish.

1) It gives students time to learn.

2) It discourages excessively early specialization.

3) Most importantly, it allows for papers to improve over the course of a few years. Just because something is publishable in a good journal doesn't mean it can't be made much much better. And who here hasn't cringed at the site of some of their juvenalia.

All that being said, I understand why most need to try to publish early and often as graduate students. And I also understand the frustration at practices that fail to create a level playing field in the job market. But let's not go assuming that the handful of departments that place a significant majority of their students and discourage early publication are playing some pernicious game. They have the luxury to consider their students' long-term philosophical development and want their articles to be as good as can be.

Think about it this way - if the job market weren't tight, everyone would be better off if most grad students sat on their papers for a few years and improved them (response papers and such excluded, of course).

Popkin said...

"Sure, you have evidence that one person can publish in (say) mid-level philosophy journals if given two or three years . . . But I don't think it's crazy to think that such a person from a mediocre program might still only be 'tied' with a person from a very top PhD program who has strong letters. There is good reason to believe that such people will go on to publish in equally good or better places in the next two or three years."

So, X and Y are 'tied' because, while X has already published in solid journals, there are good reasons to think that Y will do so before long (in other words, there are good reasons to think that someday Y will do what X has already done)?

That's not a tie, Minor Leaguer. The fact that you think it is would seem to be further evidence of the deleterious effects that pedigree has on the rational capacities of philosophers.

Minor Leaguer said...

Popkin says:

"So, X and Y are 'tied' because, while X has already published in solid journals, there are good reasons to think that Y will do so before long (in other words, there are good reasons to think that someday Y will do what X has already done)?

That's not a tie, Minor Leaguer..."

The point here is that we should see them as tied *with respect to their talent as philosophers*, not with respect to their current publication record. I am tempted to say 'duh' but it seems impolite.

Additionally, there are good reasons to think that a person with strong letters from a very top program will do *more* than just publish in mid-level journals--they may well publish in very top journals. There are lots of instances bearing this out.

Glaucon said...

Though there are some obvious differences between candidates with great pedigree and rich kids, I think Mr. Blume's advice is well worth considering...

Popkin said...

"The point here is that we should see them as tied *with respect to their talent as philosophers*, not with respect to their current publication record."

The point, rather, is productivity: which philosopher is most likely to publish regularly and have no problems meeting tenure requirements. To say that X and Y are 'tied' in the sense that a committee has just as much reason to think that Y will accomplish the above as to think X will, even though X has already been publishing regularly and Y has no publications but comes from a good school, is crazy. That's what I meant by saying "that's not a tie."

"Additionally, there are good reasons to think that a person with strong letters from a very top program will do *more* than just publish in mid-level journals--they may well publish in very top journals. There are lots of instances bearing this out."

So a committee has more reason to think that someone with no publications from a top department will soon be publishing in elite journals than they have to think that someone who has published in mid-level journals will soon be publishing in elite journals?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:08: Nicely put.

titmouse said...

This deserves its own thread! Check this out:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=9

Apparently, Marinoff is libertarian of a particularly wacko stripe. He thinks of all forms of multi-culturalism and general liberalism as somehow Marxist. And he thinks that there is good hard evidence that women are not as innately cut out for work in math and science. Does he think the same about philosophy?

He uses the label "PC" to apply to cant as well as all manner of, well, everything. He's a real embarrassment to the profession. Just check out this nutter's rant for yourself.

I can't believe that no one found this!

Anonymous said...

Marinoff considered pedigree in part because he needed to sell the candidate to the administration of his school. Many CCs and such advertise to potential students with factoids such as percentage of faculty from fancy pants programs. So although the question of pedigree in predicting future productivity may be independently interesting, or not, its not obvious to me that the Marinoff article is relevant to the issue.

I've participated in eight searches over the last five years at a Leiterranked department. For us, pedigree isn't a consideration for its own sake, although knowing the institution does help to interpret the letters and to formulate a general impression of the candidate. Some bias may enter the process at this stage. But, for what its worth, I've seen no evidence which would justify the worry expressed in some of this discussion, that otherwise weaker candidates with strong pedigrees are being favored over otherwise stronger candidates with weaker pedigrees.

CTS said...

drunken firearm play?

Yikes.

CTS said...

I am going to repeat something I have said onthis matter of 'pedigrees,' and which I think must be repeated: our idea of pedigree appears to be based on the Leiter Reports. That is a very narrow conception/test of 'a good program.'

The sel-freplication of programs and departments is not good for our discipline, and it is not good for students at any level.

zombie said...

Having read, per Titmouse's suggestion, Marinoff's essay, I can only say, "Wow." It's worth reading. He sounds bitter beyond belief, and utterly disdainful of Ivy League schools, utterly disdainful of women, but he sure does love to mention all those Nobel Laureates his school has allegedly graduated. And, uh, he sounds pretty nutty.