Friday, January 9, 2009

Top breeders recommend it

Douglas Portmore, over at PEA Soup has a post up trying to understand "how pedigree might affect hiring decisions". If, indeed, pedigree unfairly affects hiring (it more than likely does affect it, unfairly, is another debatable matter), Prof. Portmore suggests a procedure to counteract it:
Insist that candidates submit dossiers that contains blinded copies of everything, such that the files that are prepared by the staff and then passed on to the hiring committee members are assigned only a number, containing no information as to the candidate’s name, gender, or associated institutions.
Of course, as many are pointing out in the comments over yonder, there are practical issues with having blind dossiers, but there's also those arguing against blind letters more theoretically.

These arguments emphasize that blinding cutting out valuable information or makes it difficult to "calibrate the praise" in letters. But, on what scale are we doing the calibration and what valuable information is being left off? Uncharitably, the answer is obvious: the scale and information being left off is pedigree and ranking. I'd be more willing to be less uncharitable if there was any indication that something besides this information would be missing in blind dossiers.

But, in the end, maybe the arguments are good. Isn't it just obvious that the best student in 20 years at Pittsburgh is better than the best student in 20 years at Washington University? I mean, come on!



Anonymous said...

Hm, I think you were making fun of my comments!

On calibration:
Some ('big name') philosophers write absurdly over-the-top letters. Some write much more sober, straightforward letters. If I read a very laudatory letter -- or for that matter a more measured one -- and I don't know who wrote it, I won't know how to interpret it. (I explained this briefly in the comment you linked to.)

On 'best student in 20 years':
Okay, I guess you don't agree about Wash U and Pitt (I hope your readers will click the links and read what I actually wrote over at PEA Soup). Are there any two graduate programs such that you'd think it was more significant that a given student was one of the best five in 20 years at one than at the other? If so, then I think you're just quibbling. If not, then we do have a pretty deep disagreement.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Hope you didn't take offense, Jamie, and thanks for your response.

In any case, I do also hope my readers click over to PEA Soup to engage in the actual debate over there, and I encourage them not to just take what might be my uncharitable or sarcastic misrepresentation of yours and others comments at face value.

As to my post and your comment here, I think that your first point is very well-taken. If someone is known to write super-laudatory letters, then that's something that (perhaps) should be taken into account and would probably affect someone's evaluation of a letter and candidate. This is certainly separate from issues of pedigree.

As to the second point, I think that this is simply just falling back onto pedigree without telling me why I should care about pedigree or reputation. It may be obvious and right before me and I may not be willing to acknowledge it, or we may indeed be agreeing after all. But, as Professor Portmore hints at, there needs to be reasons why we care about pedigree and these should be made clear. This was the point I was trying to make, albeit much more dramatically (and sarcastically) in my post.

So, I guess the awkwardly phrased question I would have is (if my interpretation of your point is correct): are there any other problems, independent from assessments of pedigree, with blind dossiers?

Anonymous said...

Or... and this may just be CRAZY enough to work... SCs could stop being such fricking snobs about pedigree and actually consider a candidate on his/her merits, even if they went to Whattsamatta U.

Hard to do, sure, when there are 200+ applicants for every job (or so it seems this year anyway), but who said being on a SC shouldn't be hard?

Anonymous said...

Soon (if I may),

No offense taken; you were stirring the pot, I understand.

We might be talking past each other now. Let me try again.
In the comments here, I am only making two separate points about the interpretation of letters. The first one is now straightened out. The second one has to do with what a reader is supposed to think when the letter says that the applicant is "one of the best five students we have had in twenty years." This isn't a matter of pedigree. It's a matter of what the comparison means. Shall I spell this out more explicitly?
In my PEA Soup comments, I mentioned other pieces of information that couldn't appear in a blinded dossier. I might be wrong about those, but you haven't said why.

That would be the best solution. But I think Doug's point was that it may not be something a SC can do at will, so to speak. (This is why we have blind reviewing for journals, and don't simply tell referees not to favor their friends, etc., right?)

Anonymous said...

I think there's a big difference between "best student we've had in the past twenty years" and "one of the five best we've had in 20 years." In the latter case, it shouldn't be hard for most philosophy faculty to name three or four mega-amazing philosophers who came out of Pitt, and (maybe with the help of a list on the Wash U website) to list the three or four best from Wash U. Chances are that the average quality of the former will be greater than that of the latter, and the SC can rest easy. But it's quite possible that the best graduate of Wash U kicks the intellectual crap out of the best grad of Pitt: it's the numbers three and four who bring Wash U's average down. So "one of the best five" isn't about pedigree: it's about establishing a comparison class with data that are already in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the pedigree issue. Let's consider the case of UNDERGRADUATE pedigree -- if a student gets admitted to Harvard or Princeton or MIT or Berkeley or some such, and then does extremely well in comparison with his/her competitors at one of these schools, isn't that strong prima facie evidence that the student is stronger than one who went to a much weaker school? Certainly it's possible that the latter student was admitted to one of the fancier places, and just turned down the offer for various reasons, but in the absence of any such evidence of excellence, don't we have prima facie evidence that the first student is stronger? Is there any very important difference in the case of grad pedigree?

I know that in my own department we read very carefully all of the files of candidates who are strongly recommended, and when we reject someone from a weaker program (but who is identified as the greatest student in the history of the program), it is because the writing sample is crap, or because the student nonetheless had lots of Bs on the transcript, etc.

Hopeful Philosopher said...

I never quite know what to do with the pedigree question. My basic hesitation goes something like this:

The way to get a good pedigree is to get accepted into a good program. Many people go straight from undergrad. From personal experience, I had scary little information when it came to applying from undergrad. I knew my general field, but I didn't have a project, really know who was where (or who was who for that matter)... etc.

That ill-informed decision will have a strong and pervasive impact on my professional life. I guess that's just scary. I mean I think things turned out well and I guess there's still 'quality control' in that I had to get accepted by people who knew what they were doing, but man that feels tenuous.

In other news, that's why the Gourmet is a valuable resource love it or hate it. It tells undergrads something.

Anonymous said...

Regarding these qualifiers ("best", "strong") attached to candidates (regardless of pedigree): what is the criteria upon which these are based and to what, precisely, do they refer? If recommendation writer X says that candidate Y is the "best" or the "strongest" candidate that she has had in 20 years, this seems fairly empty in comparison to recommendation writer Z saying that candidate Q has done r, s, and t, which contribute significantly to sub-disciplines D1 & D4, showing promise to do a, b, and c in regards to publishing, teaching, and service. Now, if the SC that is hiring is not hiring for D1 or D4, then it seems quite understandable that they would move on. However, if, based upon recommendation writer/grad program, they simply move on to those candidates generically qualified as "best" or "strong" or what-have-you, then that seems like a fairly blind move.

"if a student gets admitted to Harvard or Princeton or MIT or Berkeley or some such, and then does extremely well in comparison with his/her competitors at one of these schools, isn't that strong prima facie evidence that the student is stronger than one who went to a much weaker school?"

In what, exactly, are these schools stronger in with regards to the particular student? Were the classes stronger than at some other school? Was each instructor for this particular student stronger than each instructor for the student who attended the weaker school? If so, what does stronger mean in these cases? Were the demands placed on this particular student stronger? Is there a causal connection between satisfying those demands and success (whatever one thinks that entails) in what has become a highly specialized field?

I have seen students or alumni from supposedly strong programs give absolutely horrendous papers at conferences that offered nothing new or insightful and were delivered as if the presenters were in a Speech 101 class. I have also seen students or alumni from supposedly weak conferences give very insightful, wonderfully written and delivered papers at conferences. If one's work is the basis upon which to hire someone, I would opt for the person who did better work, not the kid from the "right" side of the tracks. It is unfortunate that there are still these 19th century class divisions driven by some antiquated desire for intellectual aristocracy in what is often claimed to be such a liberal and open-minded field. Algernon Greensleeves III might have been 'top-notch' at Ivy A, but if Stella Kowalski from QSU writes better papers and knows how to teach effectively, make Dr. Kowalski the offer.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for "Darby O'Gill'

1) Undergraduate attendance is a very poor signifier of anything. The Ivies often accept people of very little intellectual promise because of legacy considerations [think 'Current President']. And, of course, not everyone can afford to go to the Ivies.
2)Many of the so-called 'elite' grad programs select students from those same schools.
3)There is a serious problem of self-replication at work, here. This is a well-documented tendency in any hiring decision, but it ought to be subjected to critical scrutiny by academics, of all people and for whoever's sake!
4) The question should be: does this school turn out people likely to be good for our institution?
5) Question #4 ought not to be the first question anyone asks.
Chris Sistare (I have given up on Open ID and Google)

Anonymous said...

Re: my last post

"weak conferences" should be "weak programs"

My apologies.

One related thought to the thread: the one thing that no one on a search committee can admit, but is true of every member of a search committee, is that each member of a search committee is a charlatan when it comes to choosing a candidate. There is no expertise one can gain or develop for being on a search committee. No one is running correlation and regression analysis on past candidates. There is no line of best fit.

Prof. Martin said...

Another consideration that weighs against blinded dossiers: all of this talk of comparison is oversimplified, since there are many dimensions along which a candidate may be weaker or stronger. I don't just mean teaching vs research, or history of philosophy vs contemporary metaethics. Different departments have different styles and different takes on what is most important in philosophy. Thus, a blinded dossier lacks crucial interpretative context. Also, a search committee may have very good reasons to prefer a candidate trained up within a certain style or with certain philosophical priorities.

Anonymous said...

Just so everyone knows, you can now post anonymously and have a moniker, without having to register for any account at all. Just click on the "Name/URL" button under "Choose an identity".

That is all I have to say for now.

Anonymous said...

Darby O'Gill:

I was sympathetic with your earlier post, but 7:45 was appallingly false.

It is true that some SC members mistakenly think they are in a good epistemic position with respect to answering the question, 'Who are the top candidates?'

My own experience has been quite the opposite and I frequently hear the same thing from colleagues. I feel dreadfully ill equipped to sort the "top" candidate from other qualified candidates. I happen to think it's hugely imperfect process. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that after weeding out unqualified candidates from the pool, a dice throw would be just as successful a way of landing fine candidates for the jobs we advertise.

Academic job markets really suck. They are only fair up to a (very limited) point. I don't think sensible SC members think otherwise. Try not to take it too personally and try not to demonize SC's.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for seemingly demonized SC's. That honestly was not my intention. I have actually served on SC's before, and my point was simply that there really is no expertise to the process. Often members of SC's talk as if there is some unspoken, fair 'system' by which candidates are chosen, and this simply is not the case. Talking with an emeritus professor once, he commented that the only truly horrible experiences in his academic career were when he had to deal with other faculty members on SC's: everyone is an expert and barely anyone agrees.

Getting rid of unqualified candidates is easy. For instance, if someone has no academic training whatsoever, has training in an unrelated field, etc., then it is most likely fair to toss their application from the pool. However, as you indicate, once you get to the qualified candidates, there is no real rhyme or reason to the process of selection.

Again, my apologies for coming across as if I was demonizing or unfairly criticizing SC's. I sympathize with those who have to deal with this tough market this year, and I know that most members of SC's, especially at smaller schools or schools in areas that are referred to by coastal snobs as 'fly-over states', have a much harder job (e.g. "Will this person be here after 3 years?").

Anonymous said...

As someone with a PhD from a #30-40 ranked Leiter program, I can still see the value of pedigree, despite my lack thereof. It's a useful heuristic, though of course there are exceptions to this rule of thumb:

We can reasonably expect Harvard undergrads and grads -- on average -- to be better prepared, or show more natural talent, or be "smarter" than those from less selective universities. While an occasional student may elect to attend a public school rather than an Ivy League for, say, financial considerations, those cases seem to be kept to a minimum given financial aid programs at Ivy League schools.

So using pedigree as a factor is an admissions/hiring "best practice", since one is relying on the professional, experienced judgment of prior admitting institutions. Highly-ranked programs, we may reasonably assume, are in a position to better recruit faculty, building -- on average -- a department of the most talented philosophers. And it is also a reasonable assumption that some of this talent would rub off or otherwise translate into better preparedness in students.

Yes, occasionally, I'm resentful of the (strong) possibility of not being considered for interviews, etc. based on my lack of pedigree. But that's really my own damn fault: Had I worked harder in high school, I could have attended an Ivy League school; had I worked harder as an undergrad, I would have been accepted at a higher-ranked PhD program; and had I done that, I would have had more choices in my job search. Complaining about pedigree is just sour grapes -- get over it.

John Turri said...

Anon 5:23pm,

If elite departments provide as many educational advantages as you say they do, then isn't that advantage enough? Presumably if you're right, then those advantages will manifest themselves in a stellar writing sample and maybe a nice publication on the CV.

But you seem to be suggesting that elite pedigree be counted twice by promoting it as "a useful heuristic" for sorting applicants. And that's precisely what's unfair.

If students from elite departments are better, it'll show in their work. If they're not, then the pedigree "heuristic" is useless or worse.

And since it's the work that really matters, why not just let it speak for itself?

Anonymous said...

Dear 5:23, you are a fucking idiot. You contradict yourself in the space of 20 lines:

"We can reasonably expect Harvard undergrads and grads -- on average -- to be better prepared, or show more natural talent, or be "smarter" than those from less selective universities."
"Had I worked harder in high school, I could have attended an Ivy League school; had I worked harder as an undergrad,"

Since your first point is a weasely disjunction, perhaps your claim is too weak to contradict the second. In any case, had you worked harder as a high school student wouldn't mean that you have more natural talent, and it wouldn't mean that you are smarter. Perhaps you might be "better prepared" for college, but that's not altogether clear.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the sour grapes. Seriously, does anyone have anything remotely resembling hard date on any of this, especially the Ivy undergrad nonsense? My entering class at a top 5 program had zero undergrad pedigree between all of us, just midwestern state universities, mid-level SLACs, and non-oxford/cambridge foreign universities. Of course, since there has been a smattering of Hah-Vahds and Yales but for each one of those there was a place I had never heard of before except in passing.

So unless someone starts rockin' some hardcore stats up in this shit, drop the pedigree hate and move on, please!

Anonymous said...

John Turri;

If students from elite departments are better, it'll show in their work. If they're not, then the pedigree "heuristic" is useless or worse.

Maybe, but that's a bad reason to ignore pedigree. To see why, think of what's wrong with this dictum:

If students with terrific recommendation letters are better, it'll show in their work. If they're not, then the recommendation letter heuristic is useless or worse.

Does this convince you that recommendation letters should be ignored?

John Turri said...

Anon 9:21,

Sorry, your suggestion doesn't make sense.

What will show in their work -- that they have good letters?

Having good letters is not something that can manifest itself in your work. Your abilities and effort, by contrast, can and do.

John Turri said...

Anon 9:21

Sorry again, but I misread your remark.

It "clicked" as soon as I clicked "post".

To answer more properly:

Yes, if it's true that students from elite dept.s aren't better, then the pedigree heuristic is useless.

And yes, if it's true that students with better letters aren't better, then the "better letter" heuristic also useless.

More generally, if students with X aren't better, then the X-heuristic is useless.

Why would you want to use a heuristic that didn't track goodness?

Anonymous said...

John Turri,

(It's true that I am anonymous, but it will be easier if you call me "more data please".)

So, does this mean you really do think that recommendation letters should be ignored? For some reason you don't say.

John Turri said...

more data please,

Well, I asserted a conditional, so no, it doesn't mean that I accept either the antecedent or the consequent.

But I'm presently persuaded by the suggestion that letters should initially be left out of the evaluation. I don't think they should be completely ignored. But it makes a difference when and how they enter the evaluation.

P.S. You're not really anonymous to me.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Professor Turri,

I'm not sure what you mean when you said that 'more data please' is not really anonymous to you, or if that remark was meant jokingly.

But, what I want to avoid in these threads are threats of outing people's identities, IP addresses, et cetera. That kind of behavior may fly on other blogs, but I won't stand for it here. Nor will I stand for unprovoked attacks on people from behind the veil of anonymity.

Many of us are graduate students who have absolutely no power/influence in the philosophical community at large, as such, it is important for us to maintain anonymity so that we can speak freely and avoid getting in trouble for speaking our mind.

Anonymous said...

Dear John Turri,

I will be pedantic now.

You wrote this:

If students from elite departments are better, it'll show in their work. If they're not, then the pedigree "heuristic" is useless or worse.

And, as I understand you, you thought that this pair of conditionals was a good reason to ignore pedigree.

Now, if that is a good reason to ignore pedigree, then the pair of conditionals I constructed by replacing pedigree with recommendation letters is a good reason to ignore recommendation letters.


To be even more pedantic: I think this is wrong. The pair of conditionals is a bad reason to ignore recommendation letters. Should I explain why?

p.s. I am not personally worried about being 'outed', Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator, but I support your principle.

John Turri said...


It's half-joking, but it's also true. I'm not threatening anyone, and I never would. I certainly would never out anybody who chose to remain anonymous.

more data please,

The replacement might not, as you suggest, be entirely risk-free, for reasons unrelated to the logical form of the conditionals. Letters tend to be much more specific and informative than pedigree (understood narrowly), and that might matter. The main reason to keep letters out initially is that they would not be very useful at all, unless they revealed pedigree in the process (no comparisons to previous students, cohorts, etc.). And that's precisely what I'd hope to avoid.

But I'd like to hear your explanation in any case.

And I didn't think you were being pedantic at all.

P.S. When you asked, "does this mean you really do think that recommendation letters should be ignored?" I thought you were referring to this claim of mine: "if it's true that students with better letters aren't better, then the 'better letter' heuristic is also useless." That's why I spoke of a conditional.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

I don't know what counts on graduate school pedigree hate. I think it should sort of count for something, but I doubt it should count for what it seems to. Maybe someone could answer some relatively simple questions.

Suppose you have two candidates that have been on the market for a few years. (Maybe one is looking to move to a different TT job and the other is looking for a first TT job.) Suppose that the first candidate comes from a Leiterriffic department whereas the second does not.

Q1: Supposing that their research profiles are not taken to be unequal, do you treat pedigree as a tie breaker?

Q2: Supposing that the research profile of the job seeker from the less prestigious program has a few more pubs in good journals than the job seeker from the more prestigious program. Is pedigree a tie maker?

We can roll this back if you like to talk about freshly minted PhDs if you like, but I prefer to talk about job seekers as such since that's what search committees have to consider.

Myself, I think that once you have a sufficient stock of people with multiple publications looking for TT posts, it's sort of weird to take pedigree into account. But, I'm guessing that there's lots of search committees that ended up interviewing only those with pedigree. If someone wants to correct me on that or justify it, have at it.

(For the record, I think Turri, as he tends to be, right.)

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that pedigree was most important not to the SC per se, but rather as ammunition for the SC when justifying the hire to the Dean and/or administration.

Anonymous said...

I had been under the assumption that pedigree typically functions as a weeder. That is, if on a SC faced with over 300 applications, we can pretty easily weed out at least half of those by looking at the first page of the CV. ABD and no pubs? You had better be from a top 10-15 program with amazing rec letters from amazing people otherwise the in the bin. No one gets tossed into the "must read" pile or the "bin pile" on pedigree or lack thereof alone.

And really what else can be expected? No SC has time to read 300 writing samples and to be honest, at least half of the dossiers coming in are rightfully destined for the bin before they ever get mailed.

Using pedigree for anything else I would hope rare--if SCs have thoroughly gone through Billy and Betsy's apps and writing and simply can't make up their minds, I doubt they then defer to pedigree for the tie-break. That's kind of double dipping isn't it? Pedigree usually functions only as a "Hey Look At Me!!!!" and that get's you to look in the window but doesn't get you to buy.

And given that pedigree does seem to track something positive about a candidate, its function as a general weeding tool seems appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why, given the situation Clayton describes (two candidates with equally impressive publication records, one from a Leiterrific program, one not), *lack* of pedigree shouldn't be the tie-breaker (that is, why shouldn't the candidate with the lowly pedigree be the one who gets the job/campus visit?) Isn't it plausible that the candidate from the undistinguished program is more talented or harder working if she managed to produce as many equally impressive publications in spite of inferior mentors and not nearly as many talented peers in graduate school? It should be even more impressive if the candidate from the lowly program has been shouldering a heavy course load for years while the pedigreed candidate has had a 2-2 TT position. And yet search committees never seem to take this sort of thing into consideration, for some reason.

Anonymous said...

I think Prof. Turri was trying to be helpful in letting MDP know that he was not fully anonymous here. It didn't appear to me to be a threat at all. It's the equivalent of letting someone at a party know that the person they are talking about (or might talk about) has just entered the room behind them.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a given that pedigree tracks something positive about a candidate, other than the fact that their name, and the name of the school they came from, will look good on a department's website.

Anonymous said...

Again, I happen to think that pedigree can serve as prima facie evidence of the superiority of one candidate over another, but here is a different reason why pedigree is taken to be important. It is one that ultimately involves unfairness, but that search committees might be crazy to disregard:

If a candidate is coming out of a top-5 or top-10 program, it is more likely that they will have an easier time making a name for themselves in the field, and thus enhancing the status of the department into which they are hired. These individuals will be likely to get some freebie publications, for example by co-editing an important volume with their super-famous advisor; or by submitting a paper to a journal where their advisor is on the editorial board, and so increasing the odds that they get a sympathetic referee; or by getting a book contract more easily; and etc.

So a question is -- should SCs single-handedly take on the responsibility of mitigating the unfairness here, when it is against their interests to do so? There is the interest in bringing prestige to the department, but there is also the interest in hiring someone who will get tenure, because if a department hires someone who does not publish enough, the department might just lose that position.

People certainly publish their way up the ladder -- it happens all the time -- and this is exactly what candidates are going to need to do if they are not in a top program and if their writing sample is not outstanding.

Anonymous said...

John Turri replied to Anon 5:23: "Presumably if you're right, then those advantages will manifest themselves in a stellar writing sample and maybe a nice publication on the CV.

The problem with this is that judging a writing sample to be stellar is also a highly uneven or subjective process, especially considering that SCs may not have an AOS/AOC in the issues addressed in the writing sample. Journal publications too, even blind-reviewed, are notoriously a product of fickle reviewers; there are plenty of poor (or at least not agreed upon as stellar or good) papers in top journals, as perhaps evidenced by all the subsequent papers that seek to rip the original paper apart.

So it's not clear (to me, anyway)that judging a candidate based on the writing sample or publications is any more accurate or easy than using the pedigree heuristic.

I would agree with Anon 5:23's conclusion that complaining about pedigree amounts to sour grapes. And SCs are not likely to abandon this heuristic anytime soon, since it is useful in justifying their hires to higher administrators: If a hire with pedigree doesn't work out, then the blame can be put on the reasonable heuristic; but if a hire without pedigree doesn't work out, then SCs might more likely be blamed for taking such a risk.

For those without Leiterrific pedigree (including me), ask yourself: Why don't you have pedigree? We know how important it is for our job searches, even if it is unfair, so if given the opportunity to study at a highly-ranked program, why would one turn away from that program? I'm willing to bet that, for the overwhelming majority of cases, it is because you did not get accepted into those programs; and now in complaining about pedigree, you're looking to shift blame or your bad luck on the job market on something other than yourself.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "pedigree," the Leiter Report comes out soon... He already has some preliminary stuff on his blog.

John Turri said...

Anon 5:23,

There are actually some pretty objective criteria that you can look for in a writing sample. Does it motivate the project? Is it professionally written? Is it well structured? Does it advance an argument that makes its thesis appear at least more likely than not (or considerably less unlikely than it might first appear)? Does it anticipate and competently address obvious objections?

Any professional philosopher should be able to make reasonable estimates of those criteria.

If it falls outside your AOS, you might not be able to tell if it engages with all the relevant literature, or if it is supremely novel, so those are drawbacks. And if it's unavoidably very technical, that might pose a serious logistical problem for the SC, and letters might need to take a larger role then. (But note: unless your dept is going to entirely outsource your hiring decision, you will (presumably!) need to make a judgment about the merits of some of the candidates' work in this field.)

Objecting to the undue influence that pedigree has on hiring decisions is not sour grapes. It is a legitimate issue of fairness.

I really don't think the armchair biographical and psychological speculation is very fruitful, but just to set your mind at ease about my own case: I'm from a Leiterrific program that was SuperLeiteriffic in my AOS. I also turned down several offers from higher Leiter-ranked programs, including one Leiter top-5 program.

Am I well enough insulated?

Anonymous said...

excellent point by Lowly Worm

John Turri said...

Philosophy Prof, you're right about that advantage, and it might not be prudent for SCs to strike out on a moral crusade individually. Any meaningful measure would likely come only with collective action.

And thank you, Clarence William, for noticing.

Anonymous said...

Pedigree, at least in this context, is more than just where you went to school -- it is a sign of accomplishment, sustained effort, talent, and sacrifice.

Where one has studied indicates past success/achievement, which is a reliable (but not infallible) indicator of future success, as is also a good, i.e., successful, writing sample. Ignoring pedigree -- a record of achievement -- is similar to the mistake of ignoring a record of good publications.

This isn't to say that pedigree is everything or weighs more than other factors, but it seems pretty obvious that it shouldn't be discounted, at least not entirely.

Anonymous said...

A Ph.D. in Philosophy is a sign of accomplishment, sustained effort, talent, and sacrifice, wherever one gets it. Pedigree is just where you went to school.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Clarence William -- it's certainly a significant achievement to get a Phd from any program, but it's also true that it's a more significant achievement to get into certain Phd programs rather than others, and a more significant achievement to actually make it through to the end in the first kind of program than in the second. It's not the same achievement to get a Phd anywhere, as there are plenty of instances in which a student would be weeded out of one program but would make it all the way through to the end in another.

Is there any chance that you are just lampooning the case for the view that pedigree is irrelevant?

Anonymous said...

Good. Sweet. Lord.

This discussion is tiring me out.

ALL other things being equal, pedigree might make a difference (at my institution) for the reason Anon 5:40 points out: We have to sell a candidate to the administration. Selling a Princeton PhD is easier than selling a PhD from a relatively unknown R1.

HOWEVER, I have never ever ever encountered an all-other-thing-being-equal scenario.

Some students end up at prestigious institutions because they are hard-working, sharp, charming gems. Some students end up at prestigious institutions because they've got the "right look"--they come groomed with additional pedigree already in their pockets. (I'm reminded of an analogous contrast that exists in scouting baseball talent.) I don't know for sure, but I doubt that pedigree is even an 'on average' indicator of philosophical talent. I do, however, think that it is probably an 'on average' indicator of professional success. But even if this is so, what causes what is a mystery to me.

The process is REALLY messy; too messy, I think, to make most of the claims that people are confidently asserting above. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

Hi Clarence William,

Sorry, pedigree is more than just where you went to school; asserting it doesn't make it so.
Gaining admission to a prestigious program implies strong qualifications (or do you believe that prestige is an empty concept?).

Try this experiment: Ask tenured faculty (whose opinion presumably weighs more, given their added accomplishment of securing tenure) at, say, Harvard and any unranked program whether they believe their programs to be equivalent to each other's in terms of caliber of faculty, students, preparedness of graduates, whatever. Only the most self-deluded unranked program, if any exists, would answer in the affirmative. Or ask the same to any distinguished philosopher that you respect.

Yes, some believe it to be politically incorrect to make claims of pedigree and, worse, to use pedigree as a hiring or admissions factor. Yet the reality is that pedigree matters in professions, and every industry recognizes this. For instance, your resume is much more appealing if you had worked for Google or Microsoft, as opposed to some unknown tech startup; and for good reasons similiar to those mentioned by others in this thread that defend the relevance of pedigree.

It seems that grad students without pedigree are the main ones who believe that pedigree doesn't matter and curse society and SCs when they aren't treated with the same deference as those with pedigree. So one should be forgiven in being suspicious of claims against pedigree...again, smacks of sour grapes.

Anonymous said...

The title of this post suggests the following question: What parallels are there between pedigree in, e.g., dog breeding and pedigree in job searches? If pedigree shouldn't matter in the latter, should they also not matter in dog shows?

Anonymous said...

Hey, "I remain Anon":

Some students end up at prestigious institutions because they've got the "right look"--they come groomed with additional pedigree already in their pockets.

I think you just made that up.

Also, it's one of the most hideous metaphors I have ever read. They come groomed. With a pedigree -- an additional one. In their pockets.

It makes my teeth hurt to read that.

Anonymous said...

Other contests in which pedigree matters, though pedigree means different things in each contest: politics (Kennedys would win every time; Yalies, etc.), college admissions, employment in management, executive, finance and other positions, NFL and NBA college drafts, and so on.

Of course, there are simliarities and dissimilarities between philosophy and every one of these, but this shows that pedigree is valued in many more places than in academia. While it's possible that everyone is wrong to use pedigree, there is at least prima facie evidence that many smart people believe or support or engage in a system in which pedigree has a great amount of influence.

Pedigree also seems to be another word for 'potential'. Some job candidates -- new Ph.D.s or even those without a Ph.D. in hand -- have NO publications and thus no track record of success to tout. Yet they are hired in many cases, because it is believed that pedigree helps guarantee continued and sustain productivity and success, just as no record of that is believed to help guarantee continued and sustained unproductivity and failure. (Of course, there are anecdotal exceptions.) Again, has everyone been fooled in being indoctrinated into this world run by pedigree, or are the current powers-that-be simply misguided or complicit (e.g., being in the pedigree club), or perhaps and God forbid that there's something to this pedigree mumbo-jumbo that most everyone, every culture respects.

Now, the position that pedigree ought not be a factor in hiring, etc. is supported by an analogue to the world of publishing: blind reviews ensure that referees are not biased by pedigree or lack thereor. Why does there need to be a process to guard against this bias? Because these intelligent referees -- the firewall for journals against compromising quality -- who are entrusted with content decisions (the main decision in publishing) objectively cannot be trusted to be unbiased fundamentally. There is either an inconsistency in logic somewhere in here...or it's in our DNA to use pedigree as a measure of a person. It is a heuristic that has served us well.

By the way, I'm sorry to report that I have no pedigree. I too would fall into the camp that didn't work nearly as hard has s/he could or should have to make it into a higher ranked program. Rat fart.

Anonymous said...

To those of you who defend the use of pedigree, do you recognize that, in at least some cases, a candidate's department can be significantly stronger in the overall rankings than in the specialty rankings in which that candidate wrote his dissertation?

In my AOS (narrowly construed), the top six programs in the US are spread out over the top 35 departments on the Leiter (overall) rankings. That means an applicant to grad school who knows he wants to work in that AOS can have good reason to pick a school ranked 30th (overall), even though he was admitted to a school ranked 15th. And then, despite being the better prepared candidate in his AOS, he doesn't get the interview because SC members -not being experts in that AOS- are more impressed with the candidate from the department with a higher overall ranking but a weaker specialty ranking.

Clearly, the above scenario seems to be a case where pedigree is likely to mislead. I'm curious as to whether SC members look at the Leiter specialty rankings when hiring in AOS's which are not their own.

Anonymous said...

Am I lampooning the view? A little bit. Some posters aren't making much of a case at all. In any event, I have a little trouble separating the case being made here by some from self-congratulatory back-patting. Too much of that in this discussion, in my view. It should be revealed and lampooned.

I suppose my view is closest to Anon, who mentions how messy the whole process is. It is plain silly to assert (as I did) that where you come from doesn't matter. (That should be obvious.) It is equally silly to assert that pedigree reliably tracks philosophical virtue, talent, achievement, etc. (Again, obvious, in my view.)

In my experience, the most reliable thing we can draw from pedigree is how the person's name will enhance the department webpage.

Anonymous said...

asserting it doesn't make it so

Right on. Sprinkle liberally over this discussion.

pedigree matters in professions

No doubt, but I think the issue is why, or, more pointedly, is it so for normatively sound or compelling reasons? It seems to me that cases can be made for both sides.

It seems that grad students without pedigree are the main ones who believe that pedigree doesn't matter and curse society and SCs when they aren't treated with the same deference as those with pedigree. So one should be forgiven in being suspicious of claims against pedigree...again, smacks of sour grapes.

Really? This is just bad social science, of the armchair variety. Surely they teach better reasoning skills at the top programs. Anyway, give yourself a pat on the back.

Anonymous said...

Do they teach such excellent deployment of the sour-grapes ad hominem at Leiterific departments?

Here’s a serious problem with this discussion: Everyone is casting this as a sharp pedigree/non-pedigree contrast, but it’s obviously much more a matter of degree, which is relevant to the discussion. Does gaining admission and completing a PhD at Pittsburgh show stronger qualifications than gaining admission and completing a PhD at Washington (to stick with the initial examples)? Perhaps so. But does gaining admission and completing a PhD at Pittsburgh show stronger qualifications than gaining admission and completing a PhD at Cornell? That seems much less likely. It seems unlikely to think you can draw reliable inferences about quality of applicants based only on relative rankings of programs within a certain broad range—perhaps within the top twenty or so programs. So, if candidates from the top five or so programs have a leg up—and we’d need some hard data on hiring to determine if that were the case—that would be unfair.

Another problem with the pro-pedigree line is that it seems to rest on an appeal to experts. Those who rely on pedigree (as an independent factor) in making hiring decisions, must think highly of the ability of esteemed faculty at top programs to make great judgments of quality when they populate their programs. That’s natural, since there are so many applications to go through and search committees are so pressed for time. But, seriously, is the job any easier for admissions committees? I know that my program's pool of applicants was greater than 300 in the year I was admitted, for seven or eight spots (which are fewer spots than typical APA interview schedules at the APA--with alternates, the number of spots may be comparable). And admissions committees have even less of an individual’s personal record to go on in making decisions than do hiring committees.

Finally, I’m not sure that we could even reliably measure how likely pedigree is to contribute to future success. Assume that faculties with good jobs to offer do take pedigree to be a reliable measure, so make more hires from top programs. Well, obviously, it’s going to be easier to publish if you have a two-two load at a department which supports research than a four-four load at a department that doesn’t particularly value research. So, assuming more people from pedigree conferring departments get the better (2/2) jobs, more people from pedigree conferring departments are likely to have better publication and presentation records, so more future success. So, the pro-pedigree line seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I should say, too, to gird myself against the sour-grapes ad hominem, that my PhD is from a Leiter 5-10 range department.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:14,

I was in a similar situation on the job market last year. I went to a school that was very strong in my AOS, but not-Leiterrific. Don't worry. In this scenario, I still beat out candidates from more Leiterrific schools to get job offers.

In situations like this, the SC tells the Dean the truth... "Pragmatist Specialty State U. is actually much better than Yale in pragmatism"

There is a slight risk that in such cases someone on the SC might not be aware of the actual specific strengths and weaknesses of schools in particular AOSs.... but it is rare that no one on the SC will be aware of the real situation and inform the others.

Anonymous said...

Phil Prof:

Both sides, when drawn too sharply, deserve rotten tomatoes. Pedigree matters, without question. But what it reliably indicates is an open and empirical question. So it is silly to assert (as I did) that it is insignificant. But it is equally silly to think that, without empirical investigation, we can assert that pedigree reliably tracks anything interesting. What I've seen here are (occasionally) interesting empirical hypotheses, utterly unsupported by evidence.

In my experience (not small, but admittedly limited by the fact that it is mine and mine alone), pedigree does not reliably track philosophical skill, intellectual integrity, future productivity, potential as a colleague, or teaching ability.

Anonymous said...

Not sure who's patting their own back here. I see the merits of considering pedigree, yet I don't have much. Is this self-hate, or just realistic recognition of one's liabilities on the job market?

Anonymous said...

CW said:

"pedigree matters in professions

No doubt, but I think the issue is why, or, more pointedly, is it so for normatively sound or compelling reasons? It seems to me that cases can be made for both sides."

At least part of the answer had been offered throughout this thread: Pedigree is a useful heuristic or measure of a person, even if it is imperfect. There are good reasons for this (as previously discussed).

What would be the argument on the other side...that pedigree is completely uninformative? That's much too strong a conclusion and unsupported by anything other than the occasional bad pedigreed apple.

Anonymous said...

Let's assume that pedigree does not matter, that it is an unreliable indicator of anything relevant in judging a philosophy job candidate.

Absent any relevant distinction, we can also extend this assumption -- indeed, we seem required to, for the sake of consistency -- to judging the caliber of students in undergraduate programs. Thus, under this assumption, we would be committed to the view that Harvard students are no better or worse prepared/talented/whatever than students at Podunk Community College.

Of course, this conclusion is wrong, though there will be the odd exceptions from time to time: the underachieving Ivy Leaguer and the outstanding community college student. But we might conclude that relinquishing the notion of pedigree as relevant implies that all programs are equal, or that the quality of programs have no bearing on the preparedness, etc. of a student. And neither of these seems accurate.

Anonymous said...

prof. turri,

do you think there are something that one gains from one's graduate education that may not manifest in the form of one or two pieces of one's writing? if so, how do you think the SCs should take these skills or knowledge or whatever into account under the anonymous system?

i take it that people agree that pedigree should count for something. the issue is to ensure that it is not double- or overly-counted, or giving it more weight than it deserves. but it seems to me that it is some evidence for some things that do not show up in one's writing.

for example, if a prominent philosopher says a student is a great interlocutor throughout the writing of her well-received manuscript, shouldn't that count for something?

Anonymous said...

Did you guys not read what Dr. Killjoy wrote?

I had been under the assumption that pedigree typically functions as a weeder. That is, if on a SC faced with over 300 applications, we can pretty easily weed out at least half of those by looking at the first page of the CV. ABD and no pubs? You had better be from a top 10-15 program with amazing rec letters from amazing people otherwise the in the bin. No one gets tossed into the "must read" pile or the "bin pile" on pedigree or lack thereof alone.

This practice is wholly unobjectionable. If someone thinks it's not, I'd love to hear the argument. But, of course, no one is responding to this point, because, really, everyone just feels like engaging in (Leiter-)class warfare.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. My wife warns me about sticking my nose in.

I understand the arguments for considering pedigree, and I don't think it is unreasonable to do so. I also understand the arguments (made every time this discussion comes up) for discounting pedigree, so I don't think it's unreasonable to find other factors more telling or useful. All-things-considered, I have less faith in pedigree than (apparently) many reading this thread. This is partly based on my assessment of the arguments pro and con, but partly based on my experiences.

For instance, Phil Prof says:

It's not the same achievement to get a Phd anywhere, as there are plenty of instances in which a student would be weeded out of one program but would make it all the way through to the end in another.

Phil Prof seems pretty level-headed to me, but I just don't have all that much confidence in this judgment. Why should we assume that the people weeded out of this top program wouldn't also be weeded out of others? Why should we assume that the people who succeed in "lesser" programs would be weeded out in top programs at all, or weeded out instead of some other student at Better U who just got over the bar? What comparative experience does Phil Prof have of the two groups of students referred to?

I'm sure Phil Prof has some sample, some experience to draw on, but I doubt it's any bigger or more relevant than anyone else's.

In my experience, pedigree is less useful at predicting, say, future productivity than something like past productivity. Indeed, as I said, I haven't found that pedigree reliably tracks much at all.

I don't study this issue, but I've been around some. I've seen and participated in hiring decisions on many occasions. I'm not claiming this sample is adequate for a reliable inductive generalization, but instead trying to explain why I don't find pedigree all that compelling.

In most cases that I've been around, pedigree has played an important role in hiring decisions. For better or worse, it just does. The people hired have turned out to be a mixed bag. Some are productive, some aren't. Some are good colleagues, some are a--, uh, some aren't. Some make interesting contributions to philosophy and to departmental life, some are dead wood from day 1.

You might ask, "well, do you really think you would have been better off if you'd picked someone without the pedigree?" My point is, who knows?

For what it's worth, in my experience, pedigree only reliably tracks two things: (a) ease with which you can get a dean's approval, and (b) how impressive your list of faculty looks on its webpage.

So, for these and other reasons, I don't find pedigree all that compelling.

One last thought. (And sorry this is so long.) Many people from the top schools end up taking teaching positions and publishing little of note. Just look at the faculty lists of your local/regional college or university. In these cases, I don't see why anyone would think people from the "lesser" schools would have done a significantly poorer job than those from Better U.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I suppose I should be glad this seems to be petering out over at PEA Soup.

Some final thoughts, in inverse order of relevance:
1) I know one can post anon on this site, but it does get tiresome trying to figure out which Anon is responding to which other Anon. I thought using a name of some sort would be helpful, although I can see why others would not want to or might want to make up a psuedonym.
2) Much of this conversation, and that on PS, focuses on hiring for 'top tier' research positions. Most hiring is not for those positions. Where someone did her undergraduate or graduate work might be relevant at the last stages of hiring at a SLAC, but not necessarily 'pedigree' in the Leiter sense.
3) Even Deans and Presidents at SLACs are unlikely to care about the Leiter ratings (and many times the Admin. keeps its nose out of hiring decisions, unless something really goes awry).
4) As to the meaningfulness of 'pedigree': not everyone selects a grad program [or an undergrad school] on the basis of pedigree, alone. Some people have family constraints or regional attachments. Some are interested in working with a particular person - not always one Leiter thinks of as fabulous - or in an area not really represented at the leiteriffic programs. So, the worth of the job candidate is not usefully assessed in terms of the [Leiter] pedigree at all, in many cases. Given that, why should everyone be so obsessed with attending or hiring from those few programs?
5) I am coming to the view that all this attention to Leiter rankings, and that particular 'pedigree,' and publishing only in these 5 journals ... that all this is bad for the profession. I have no doubt that it is very bad for graduate students and job candidates.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Killjoy wrote:

I had been under the assumption that pedigree typically functions as a weeder. That is, if on a SC faced with over 300 applications, we can pretty easily weed out at least half of those by looking at the first page of the CV. ABD and no pubs? You had better be from a top 10-15 program with amazing rec letters from amazing people otherwise the in the bin. No one gets tossed into the "must read" pile or the "bin pile" on pedigree or lack thereof alone.

This doesn't seem consistent. If I understand Dr. Killjoy correctly, they weed out half of the files just by looking at the first page of the CV and end up with two piles: (1) the must-take-a-closer-look-at pile and (2) the bin pile. And it sounds like Dr. Killjoy is saying that some make into the must-take-a-closer-look-at pile simply because they are from a "top 10-15 program with amazing rec letters from amazing people." But coming from a "top 10-15 program with amazing rec letters from amazing people" versus coming from a non- top 15 program with amazing rec letters from not-so-amazing people is just the difference between good and not-so-good pedigree. So why, then, does Dr. Killjoy say, "No one gets tossed into the 'must read' pile [which is, I take it, the must-take-a-closer-look-at pile] or the 'bin pile' on pedigree or lack thereof alone.

And anonymous (January 13, 2009 11:40 AM) claims that the practice Dr. Killjoy describes is wholly unobjectionable. But suppose that there is a tendency among a significant number of philosophers to give pedigree more evidential weight than it in fact has, putting candidates with lower pedigrees at an unfair disadvantage relative to those with higher pedigrees and leading search committees to make worse decisions than they would have made had they ignored pedigree in making the first round of cuts. Would the practice still be unobjectionable?

I think not. I think that before we can rest assured that the practice is unobjectionable, we need to know that there is no pedigree bias. Some evidence for there being a pedigree bias can be found here, here, and here.

Anonymous said...

Absent any relevant distinction, we can also extend this assumption -- indeed, we seem required to, for the sake of consistency -- to judging the caliber of students in undergraduate programs. Thus, under this assumption, we would be committed to the view that Harvard students are no better or worse prepared/talented/whatever than students at Podunk Community College.

If I get to choose either the whole freshman class from Harvard or the whole freshman class from Regional State U, then I'll take Harvard's freshman class. But this isn't the choice that search committees are asked to make.

First, the contrast b/w top and bottom ranked Ph.D. programs isn't the same as the contrast b/w Harvard and Podunk CC. (I like that, by the way.) But even if you doubt that, second, search committees are not selecting whole freshman classes, but instead get to pick only one person. And they don't get to pick just any Ph.D. from Harvard, (as your example suggests) but only from among the group who happened to pick philosophy, and who happened to be on the market that year, and, well, you get the point. It's not obvious that any particular Harvard philosophy Ph.D. on the market this year is better than some particular Regional R1 U. Ph.D. on the market this year. If you get to hire a hundred new Ph.D.s, then I suppose you should get them from Harvard. I think in this case the averages work out in your favor. But if you just get to pick one, I'm not sure pedigree is the best way to go.

Anyway, when it comes to undergraduates, in my experience, the best students at Regional State U would be fine at Harvard. The real difference seems to be at the bottom end, which is much lower at Regional State U than it is at Harvard. (And yes, I have some experience of students at both ends of this spectrum.)

Again, I'm not going to say that pedigree is irrelevant, or that I think people who find it a weighty consideration are being unreasonable. I just don't have as much faith in it as many others seem to. I don't think it is a very reliable predictor of what we want to know (emphasis on "reliable").

Anonymous said...

I think there's a false dilemma here:

Horn 1) Pedigree is a good indicator that a candidate possesses some desiderata. Therefore, SCs are justified in considering pedigree to some significant extent.

Horn 2) Pedigree is not a good indicator that a candidate possesses some disiderata. Therefore, SCs are not justified in considering pedigree to some significant extent.

The problem is that it is entirely likely that, as stated in the first horn, pedigree does track some desiderata, but, as stated in the second horn, SCs are not justified in considering pedigree.

The reason it may be wrong to consider pedigree is that it may not be a positive indicator holding other indicators constant . It may even be a counter-indicator, given, for example, a specific level of writing sample quality. That is, it may well be that pedigreed folk tend to have better writing samples (for instance), but that non-pedigree folk with writing samples of similar quality are likely to be better (or at least as good).

There are all sorts of factors that play like this. Think, for example, of a baseball team's record in games decided by a single run. Taken by itself, it is a positive indicator, but taken in conjunction with overall record, it is a negative indicator. (You'd bet on a 10-10 team with an 0-10 record in one-run games over a 10-10 team with a 10-0 record in one-run games).

Anonymous said...

Clarence W.,
I can't tell for sure, but I *think* the upshot of your points is that no SC should use pedigree alone to make it's hiring choice. But no SC does, so isn't that a red herring?
Maybe the only real point is this: for all sorts of reasons, each of us gives different epistemic weights to the various components of a dossier. You (CW) give a lower weight to pedigree than most.

Doug P.,
"I think that before we can rest assured that the practice is unobjectionable, we need to know that there is no pedigree bias."
Yes, but exactly the same could be said about whatever criteria *you* favor. Before we can be sure, for example, that using teaching evaluations is unobjectionable, we have to know that there is no bias in their use. Well, we don't know that.
So, sure, there's lots of stuff we don't know and we cannot be sure that any of our practices are perfectly fair given that we don't now those things.

Anonymous said...

Here is one ugly way that pedigree plays a role in hiring decisions: Suckass, second rate dipshits with R1 pretensions and a bootlicker's reverence want to do good by super-stars at Leiterific neighboring school. Just look at how the ass-kissers move around the smokers and reply to back-channel letters: "Please consider candidate X." Reply: "Thank you mister super-star, I'm so grateful to get a letter from you. Let me suck you off at the smoker, please." Didn't anyone see these creeps trying to jockey favors from Leiteratti at the APA?

Anonymous said...

titmouse: are you joking? seriously? I mean, even if that was going on, what psycho would bother to notice? take a xanax. half of what you thought you saw probably didn't happen.

this thread is truly truly depressing.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, you are a naive fool. Your stupidity is depressing. I'm not basing my remarks on mere speculation. It did happen, you fucking twit. And besides, why would it make me a psycho to notice the stench of a parade of pathetic second rate bootlickers sucking ass around the smoker tables? The Leiteratti had many good laughs that night!

Anonymous said...

titmouse said: Didn't anyone see these creeps trying to jockey favors from Leiteratti at the APA?

This is an example of how some or many people are interested in pedigree, so much so that they would engage in pandering. Now is this a rational practice? Perhaps both yes and no at the extremes.

Here's another question to ask yourselves: Think of some department you really respect. I'd wager that it is likely ranked higher than yours or at least within a couple ranking-spots to yours. Why? Because pedigree matters to you! To each of us, whether we choose to admit it or not!

Pedigree is simply branding, and few humans are immune to that, even in impoverished regions of the world (brand of your gun, your social class, a gold necklace, etc.). Nike, Adidas, Puma are name brands; the non-descript Kmart line is not. Whether rational or not, wearing brand-name clothes conveys some status, real or perceived; and real is defined as whether others (broader public or only by those whose opinion you care about) share your same sense of status-confirmation. Some use brand clothes to say "I'm rich, bitch!", others to say "I have the right tribal markings (e.g., of being a gangbanger)", and others say "Huh?".

Pedigree can be fairly called academic branding. It's possibly some human instinct we've inherited for eons and is hardwired into us: a bias toward our own tribe. There are pragmatic reasons for tribal mentality, though it's a habit we're trying to break for enlightened reasons.

So why are we so surprised when SCs use pedigree in their decision making? Or philosophers pandering to Leiteratti (love that)? They are simply being human. All this talk that pedigree shouldn't this or shouldn't that is moot if we can't really change anyway, e.g. making humans into vegetarians.

Tim O'Keefe said...

It's worth pointing out that one's grad pedigree has a large element of luck built into as (as I know advising many students applying to Ph.D. programs).

Many people are in the following situation: they're waitlisted at Leiterriffic program #10, whereas they're accepted to program #30. And (yeah!) they're taken off the waitlist on April 14. But they wouldn't be any worse as a philosopher if thing hasn't happened to break that way.

Even if the grad admission process is basically fair and rational--as I think it is--there is a huge amount of contingency in where you happen to end up.

Anonymous said...

I can't tell for sure, but I *think* the upshot of your points is that no SC should use pedigree alone to make it's hiring choice. But no SC does, so isn't that a red herring?
Maybe the only real point is this: for all sorts of reasons, each of us gives different epistemic weights to the various components of a dossier. You (CW) give a lower weight to pedigree than most.


My point is a bit more pointed. When I say I think a view is reasonable, that just means I understand that a thoughtful person of good will might hold it. That is consistent with my holding that this thoughtful person is mistaken.

Take your favorite problem area in philosophy. One of mine is free will. I understand the compatibilist/soft determinist point of view, and I don't think its proponents are simply nuts. That is, I believe that a thoughtful and sincere person could reasonably affirm soft determinism. Despite this, I think proponents of soft determinism are wrong. I don't find the view plausible as an account of human freedom or of the nature of moral responsibility.

To bring this back to the job search: I know people who think pedigree is an important consideration, and I don't doubt their sincerity or integrity or intelligence. Still, I think they are making a mistake. I try, when I can, to convince them to put less weight on pedigree, and more weight on factors that I am convinced are more compelling.

What would count as an unreasonable consideration in a job search? "We should hire that guy, because he looks good in those pants." Ok, silly example, but I think you see my point?

And yes, my point, though reasonable (on my account of reasonable) might reasonably be judged mistaken by others. I accept that.

Anonymous said...

I know of several instances of Leiteratti having a good laugh at obsequious second-rate, status-hungry philosophers on search committees. I don't think it makes anyone a psycho to notice the pathetic fawning and the ensuing laughter.

Anonymous said...

Harry, how dare you! Say what you will about me, my friends, and my profession, but for the love of all that is holy, leave scotch and paid-for-sex out of this! Is nothing sacred anymore!?

Anonymous said...

I love you, Dirty Harry!!!

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Combudsing note:

In the interest of semi-transparency, I admit to deleting Harry Callahan's comment, perhaps rashly and at some prompting.

In the interest of calling people out like I did (amidst charges of unfairness I see some merit to) to Prof. Turri, Titmouse, cool your jets.

I'm not interested in pissing any of my readers off, including those who rank above most of us in the philosophical world, and if anyone has any concerns with my practices, just shoot me an email.

But, then again, I want people to be able to feel like they can speak freely in these forums, and if I'm fucking that up, I'll gladly take the heat. I've heard your complaints before and will again.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that Dirty Harry's comment was hilarious. I'm a fan of inspired vitriol. And I'm not sure that it's out of bounds to insult you-know-who's pallor. I don't get the censorship. . . .

Everyone is discussing pedigree in hiring decisions, but it works in much more insidious ways than anyone had suggested. I've talked to candidates that have had a good laugh with their letter writers at the expense of obsequious search committee members. I wanted everyone to know just how messed up this process is. Don't get me started on the "blind" review process. Meritocracy my ass. . . .

Jaded, Ph.D. said...


I do also appreciate inspired vitriol (and juvenile humor; your name makes me giggle like a schoolgirl every time I read it).

I admit to being rash in taking the comment down rather than just remarking on it in negative tones. I think to some degree it was inspired and to another just vulgar. And, also, I found some of your comments funny too, in an over-the-top kind of way.

But, this whole venture is built on being over-the-top, and the censorship, in the future, will be kept to the pre- rather than post- variety.

Anonymous said...

I think both cogitocogito and Clarence W make sensible points about the unreliability of [over]attention to 'pedigree.'

As to the titmouse story of 'secondraters' kissing up to leiteriffic folks at the APA? Two quick thoughts: 1)SOME of the leiteriffic folks, told they are such, often interperet ordinary collegiality as kissing up; this is because they think no one 'lower' on the totem pole than themselves could reasonably presume to speak to them simply as fellow philosophers. 2) SOME philosophers undoubtedly have inferiority complexes - most likely those who think that not being at a leiteriffic place means they are failures. Perhaps they do kiss up. That's sad, but the reaction titmouse describes of the 'stars' having a laugh at the lowly kiss-ups is ugly. I'm not sure which set I would rather belong to, really - sad or ugly; I'm happy to not have to choose.

And, happily, most philosophers do not think the whole Leiter/pedigree thing is the measure of 'success' in philosophy. This is a fairly recent development, you know, and lots of us prefer other kinds of situations [slacs, programs that value our peculiar interests, places near to our families, colleagues who are supportive and generous, places we love to live, etc.)

Perhaps I should be posting this under the newest lede - about the PGR and its current influence. But, as I am running out of interest in the whole thing, I will leave the crew with an anecdote:

Several [ok, many] years back, I had just moved to my 'highly competitive' SLAC in a suburban/rural area where my partner and I had bought a lovely old farmhouse. We CHOSE to leave NYC [horrors!], because we had a child (so, had started to notice the razor wire around all the primary schools), and because we hated the stress of living there, and because we wanted more space than a 'bedroom and a half (the 'half' means 'no window'),
and because I wanted to teach at a SLAC like the one I attended as an undergraduate, and because we wanted to have some hopes of saving enough money to retire at some point, and because we wanted companion animals that could venture outdoors, and so on.

At an APA, we ran into old friends and went to dinner. It was a large group, and all the others were at
R1 or R2 schools. And, they were universally unhappy: they hated their colleagues [especially the senior ones]; they hated their teaching and their students; they felt under constant pressure to publish not on what interested them but on what was 'important' [to someone else] and in the 'best' journals; their participation in conferences and at the APA consisted of a series of battles with other miserable people trying to rip them to shreds; they could not make their partnerships work given the constraints of location; they did not know if they could afford to have kids -financially or professionally - assuming they could keep their partnerships going, and so on.

Towards the end of the evening,I talked about philosophical work with someone I had met at the dinner. This person had no interest in speaking to me until I was the last one capable of coherent speech. After some conversation, he said, " You know, you're really good; you should be at a better place."

I thought,"Thank Whomever I escaped that hamster wheel."

(I do not claim their general inability to hold their liquor had anything to do with their pretensions.)


Anonymous said...


I can't believe you deleted Harry Callahan's comment. I don't get why you would remove or refuse to post anything that's generally on the topic of a thread, but this time your move was especially egregious. Callahan’s comment was hilarious. Who are the pathetic little prigs who couldn't stand to have their profession mocked and prompted you to remove it? I suppose Brian Leiter may have had a reason to be peeved, since the piss was taken out of him personally. But he's also put himself in a position where it makes those sorts of comments about him sort of impersonal. Anyway, I liked Harry’s comment so much (particularly the end) that I gmailed it to friends, so here’s a copy. Put it back up or I, at least, am done with this blog.

What a pathetic profession. The physics envy of the 1950's and -60's was bearable, but this stuck-up boarding school envy is simply juvenile and counterproductive. When you finally do get that R1 job you covet so much, you will finally go to your high school reunion to show off how far you've come; how wonderful and accomplished you are. Neither the bully that picked on you, nor the cheerleader who still does not remember you will care. Most likely you will end up stuffed in a trash can in the same way you were in high school. The only difference will be that you will be nervously clutching your high ball of scotch (a pretentious habit you acquired to be a good little disciple and seem cultured) while your tweed jacket is stained by the remnants of wrestler vomit from the inside of the bin. Even with your PhD, your R1 job, and your numerous publications that no one apart from your sub-discipline reads, you will still be ridiculed for being a complete and utter douche. Car mechanics will still overcharge you, waiters and waitresses will still put bodily fluids in your food, and most of your students and colleagues will correctly assume that you permanently have a stick up your ass, secretly own an ascot that you wear with nothing else on while in front of the mirror and drunk on scotch, and privately scared out of your mind that someday, somehow, someone will find out about your failed attempt to pay for sex while at that conference in Asia. Eventually you might sit at the edge of some body of water, hung over from a heavy night of scotch drinking and complaining that 'things aren't how they used to be.' From the photos in your wallet, you will take out the Olan Mills portrait of Brian Leiter that you still have. You will gaze at his toad-like features and nightmarish skin tone, and you will realize that absolutely none of this has mattered at all. Finally, you will let out a tremendous fart, which will have been your most significant, original contribution to the world.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...


Yeah, I fucked up and overreacted to a degree. It's been a tough week or two for me and I've been trying to avoid any sort of conflicts.

It's hard to moderate this forum to everyone's liking, but, generally, my policy is going to pretty much let everything through, but also to call out people when it feels appropriate, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

As for that particular post, I think no one was too offended by it per se, but just by the way I've been poorly conducting my moderating duties.


John Turri said...

Phallusophy, I think HC's comment was crass enough that anyone, including STBJD, would have been fully justified in withholding it, or afterwards removing it if they initially didn't notice how crass it was.

The moderators here will of course decide how they want to proceed, but I'm all for nixing comments that level personal insults.

Anonymous said...

Chris (anon 7:34): Great post. Seriously.

Obviously there are junior people at R1's who are happy (I've known a few). And obviously there those at SLAC's who are miserable that they are not at an R1. But clearly there's no settled model for happiness and success in academia. I take that to be your point. It's a really good one.

I sort of object to being called a 'fucking twit' by titmouse. But it helps that this comes from someone who insists that he was just trying to describe "how messed up the process is" after earlier describing the non-Leiteratti members of these interactions as "second rate bootlickers" and "creeps."

In any case, I remain unconvinced. Sure, there are suck-ups out there and assholes that laugh at them. But if you were less disposed to employ concepts such as "Leiteratti", you'd probably appreciate that many of these interactions are merely collegial.

Anonymous said...

STBJD, you say you messed up by removing the Dirty Harry quote. So re-posting it would seem to remedy that mistake. I don't see that has been done yet, yes?

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Anon. 9:58,

Phallusophy already reposted it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ugh,

"...that many of these interactions are merely collegial."
Yeah, I was going to say that too. Good point.

I know a philosopher you've never heard of who teaches at a school you've probably never heard of. At an APA meeting, I saw him hanging around a whole lot with a very well known philosopher. A casual observer might well have thought that the lesser was kissing up to the latter or attempting to catch some of the glare of the spotlight. But in fact, I happen to know they were having some serious philosophy talk.
When you observe these interactions, treat them like texts: interpret charitably!


Anonymous said...

One point that no one has made yet:

It's often harder to get tenure at some of the "top" places. So while it's true that search committees at these places are taking a risk in hiring someone with no publications but who is potentially amazing based on writing sample, letters, etc. (it is a risk because it is consistent with the data that this person will turn out not to publish anything, and it is consistent with the data that they may turn out to publish incredible things), it is also something they can easily salvage if it doesn't turn out well, i.e. they can not give the person tenure. This is why you might expect promise to count more at these places, and output (of not-necessarily-amazing quality) to count more at places that give tenure more readily. And that seems to be what does in fact happen.

Anonymous said...

On the tenure thing: What does this have to do with pedigree? That the pedigreed asst. phil. prof. really doesn't deserve our envy, because s/he will likely be out of a job in a few years and have to settle for a lesser-ranked school?

It is an interesting perspective, but I think most, if not all, asst. profs. suffer the same uncertainty in the hands of the tenure process. If the point is that R1 asst. profs. suffer from it at a higher rate than those at schools not so selective or pedigreed, then again, interesting, but what's the point?

Anonymous said...

The point of the "tenure thing" is not at all about how hard people have it. It's about what hiring practices it makes sense for departments to have. I take it that a common thought is: the pedigreed person who is touted by all these famous people as the next big thing but doesn't have any publications could turn out to really be the next big thing, or he could turn out to be a dud. But the person who has a lot of decent-but-not-amazing publications and hasn't caught the attention of anyone famous is a good philosopher but in all liklihood not the next big thing. Departments that usually give tenure should want to hire this latter person, so they guarantee themselves someone good and don't worry about having a dud in their department for life. But departments that don't always give tenure (or don't usually give it, like Harvard or Princeton) should want the first person, because either he'll be amazing and they can keep him or he'll be a dud and they can throw him back (or he'll just be good, and they'll be in the same situation as they would have been with the second person).

Of course, this argument assumes that pedigree does track something. If you don't think that, then this argument is not for you. But I take it there are a lot of people who share the "common thought" mentioned above.