Friday, January 29, 2010

Campus Visits

How are the campus visits going?

--Mr. Zero


An interesting thing about this blogging gig is that my blog posts are more widely read than my scholarly essays. And it seems to me that it is probably not close. I can only imagine that something on the order of 100 times more people read each of my blog posts than have read any of my journal articles. I work on these things a little harder than it maybe seems like I ought to, but I work on my papers a lot more. Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong.

Perhaps I should combine my scholarship with my blogging, and create scholarly blog posts. I would be schlogging.

I suspect that some of the smokers do some schlogging, and I think it's an interesting topic in itself. Do you get helpful comments? Is there a noticeable impact on the quality of your papers? How long did it take to build an audience large enough to be helpful? Do you find you have more name-recognition? Has it worked out well? Any advice for someone who was considering taking it up?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Pacific APA Hotel Situation

The upshot is, they're not moving the conference. The survey revealed that a plurality of the conference participants preferred to keep the conference at the St. Francis. More information here.

I'm pretty glad they decided not to move to Las Vegas. I don't know why that was mentioned at all. I'm disappointed that they're not moving to another Bay-area hotel, but I appreciate that this would be a logistical nightmare at this point. But because the union is not actually on strike, I am not outraged or anything. Just disappointed.

But maybe you're going and you don't want to stay at the St. Francis. Here is a list of hotels you might want to stay at instead.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In Response To A Couple of Criticisms of the APA Anti-Discrimination Policy

Back when it was first announced, Alexander Pruss at Prosblogion authored a post in which he indicated that he did not think that the APA's new anti-discrimination policy made sense. He quotes what he regards as the relevant part of the policy:
The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation) or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage). [Pruss's emphasis.]
Pruss then claims that this policy actually protects certain instances of anti-gay discrimination, since some instances of anti-gay discrimination are normal, predictable expressions of adherence to certain religious faiths, and these faiths are also protected.

Now, I didn't read the 48 comments that follow the piece, so maybe somebody else made this point already. But the policy, as stated, does not have this implication. It goes on:
At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement.
So although the APA's new policy protects against anti-religious discrimination, it does not thereby protect discrimination that has a religious basis. It makes an exception for cases where the normal, predictable behaviors are discriminatory in nature. When the normal, predictable behaviors violate the anti-discrimination policy, they are not protected.

More recently, Troy Nunley authored a guest post at What's Wrong With The World in which he objects to the three "integral connection" clauses of the policy. Since he takes them in reverse order, I guess I will too. The first clause says that:
(c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage).
Nunley's objection is that marrying white people, for example is not "integral" to being black. He asks what "makes marriage to a white woman “integral” to one’s status as a black man? Interracial marriage is not integral to any status I can think of."

Nunley's criticism here has to be that this is an unnatural way to interpret the expression 'integrally connected.' It cannot be that a university policy against miscegenation would not be discriminatory, or that the APA would be wrong to include such behavior in their anti-discrimination policy. So Nunley must be making the semantic point that this is an odd, unnatural way to understand what an integral connection is supposed to be.

If that's his point, then I guess I grant it, as far as it goes. Unfortunately for him, it does not go far. For however unnatural the resulting interpretation of 'integral connection' may be, the employment policy picked out is clearly discriminatory and immoral, and is clearly the proper target of the APA's anti-discrimination policy.
(b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy)
Nunley objects:
That a status S is necessary for behavior B is a lousy justification for the view that the two are in any way “integrally connected.” True, only women can become pregnant. It is also true that only women can have abortions, engage in repeated acts of surrogate motherhood with perfect strangers, conceive octuplets through modern reproductive technologies, incestuously bear the child of a close blood relative and so on. Which of these is “integrally connected” to being a woman? Or consider a recent case in which a male fertility specialist secretly impregnated his clients with his own sperm rather than their husbands. Only a male could do such a thing, but is that (despicable) behavior “integrally connected” to his status as a male? I hope not.
I am almost speechless. For one thing, it would be pretty bad for an employer to make not having an abortion, or not serving as a surrogate mother under whatever circumstances, or becoming an octo-mom, or what have you, a condition of employment. And it would be extremely bad for an employer to refuse to hire women because women sometimes have abortions, or serve as surrogates, or become octo-moms, or incestuous mothers. Such a policy would clearly be discriminatory and would rightly violate the APA's policy.

Moving on to the fertility clinic example. While I concede that only a man could secretly use his fertility clinic to impregnate women with his own sperm, Nunley must concede that anybody could secretly use a fertility clinic to impregnate women with sperm they didn't ask for. So it doesn't satisfy the APA's conception of integrality, because it's false that only men can engage in the relevant behavior. And if a fertility clinic used the possibility that a man would do this as an excuse not to hire men, I suspect that it would constitute discrimination. (Also, psychosis.) Moving along.
(a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation)
Nunley complains about age: "it is predictable, normal and expressive of being an octogenarian that one walks slowly. But what’s so “integral” about that? As if a spry eighty year old is somehow wrapped in some inner conflict?"

For one thing, I don't see why Nunley thinks that inner conflict is an important part of the APA's conception of integrality. For another thing, it would clearly be wrong and discriminatory for a university to use slow walking as an excuse to not hire a qualified octogenarian in virtue of her octogenariosity. And this behavior would clearly violate the APA's policy.

Nunley also complains that "[a] predictable, normal expression of [political] affiliation is propagandizing. But is such conduct “integral” to being a Democrat? I suspect not." But again, if someone were to use the fact that the fact that the Democrat (or Republican; it doesn't have to be a Democrat) in question is prone to propagandizing as an excuse not to hire Democrats--particularly if the Democrat in question kept the propagandizing out of the classroom--that would pretty clearly be wrong, and would violate the APA's policy. So I don't get what the problem is supposed to be.

In sum, if Nunley's criticism is that the APA has foisted an absurd and philosophically indefensible account of integral connection on its membership, then I guess I agree but don't see why it's an important point. If the criticism is that the APA has foisted an absurd and philosophically (or morally) indefensible anti-discrimination policy on its membership, then the arguments do not bear this out.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ivory Dungeon

This comment from Anon. 2:58, here, about teaching at a community college constituting social justice work, deserves discussion (much snipped):
[snip] I have a tenure-track full time teaching position at a HUGE urban community college. [snip]

The teaching loads and assignments for CCs vary by institution, location, student population, and (crucially) unionization/union effectiveness. My teaching load (12 classes per year split between fall spring and summer, with a guaranteed nine week off period) often elicits cartoon-worthy eye pops from others in the discipline. But its really not nearly as bad as all the fainting and chest-clutching would have one think. I still have plenty of time to do other things, or, you know, sit around and watch TV instead.

[snip] CC/Jr Colleges vary in the funding they are offered by their respective states, but the approach to budget is generally no-frills. (CCs are expected by state legislatures to teach the hardest populations at the highest volumes with the most effectiveness at the lowest cost; basically, it's the Ivory Dungeon.) [snip]

Another problem is (and don't take this the wrong way) most philosophy Ph.D.s are totally and completely unprepared for the sheer poverty of education students have had before arriving at these institutions. They are almost always completely unprepared for college, educationally immature, and borderline illiterate. They are typically extremely poor and have been systematically deprived of real education throughout their entire primary and secondary education. Working in CCs, depending again on location and economic background, is really, genuinely social justice work -- with all the stress and joy that brings with it. Frankly, most of the folks I know in philosophy -- from first year grad student to respected tenured full professor -- would not be able to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment. It requires real knowledge about pedagogy, real sensitivity to problems of race and class oppression, and some measure of actual training in how to teach. You can't fly by in this environment just with your innate abilities. You must consider teaching a skill and be willing to revise and change; you must give up the idea of meritocracy to some degree; you must face your own unearned privileges.

That being said, I love my job -- at least on most days. And I may be working in the Ivory Dungeon, but its still better than being a corporate slave (which I have done, and would never do again). I feel like what I do actually matters, and that even if I am not a philosopher remembered by time, I will have meant something to at least some of the students I teach. (I'm 3 years in, and the tally is at 2,600 students so far.)
Well put and, I imagine, right on target. As more and more of us start expanding our searches wider and wider, all of this seems to be worth keeping in mind.

-- Jaded Dissertator

Sunday, January 24, 2010

That's not a unicorn, you can see the string holding the horn in place

Fellow Smoker, Phaedrus, e-mails us with the following story/question/request:
Dear Phil Smokers,

I am a recent philosophy PhD in the UK, currently unemployed. I've had a string of brief appointments doing teaching work over the last two years. These have been very enjoyable. I would very much like to keep doing philosophy - especially teaching it - but like so many of us I'm having trouble getting published.

In fact, I've reached the stage where I'm fairly sure I just have a tin ear for writing publishable papers, and I no longer enjoy attempting to do so. I'm so convinced of this I'm ready to give up the profession. However, friends of mine keep telling me about these so-called 'liberal arts colleges' in the states, where publication is of little importance, and teaching is all (and I'm told by colleagues and students I have a gift for teaching philosophy, and that it would be a shame to waste it).

Now these places sound like mythological institutions to me, but before I quit the profession to become a soulless office drone in some large, ethically irresponsible corporation, can any of you confirm or deny these rumours? If these places exist, what god-like qualities are required to obtain employment there? Does it necessarily entail living in nowhereseville?

Yours in last-ditch-hope,

Quick answer, because I should be working on finishing a draft of the dissertation: Yeah, small liberal arts colleges exist where teaching is very important, though at the very good ones my impression is that research shouldn't be, and isn't neglected at all. A lot of these places are in nowheresville, but not all of them. Finally, it's just as hard to get a job at these places as it is to get an academic job at research-oriented universities. The secret formula for these jobs is just like that for any other: do everything, yes, *everything*, really fucking well and hope that the people reviewing your awesomely composed dossier have some modicum of interest in you.

I'll have more to say about this less-than-foolproof strategy in a later post.

--Jaded Dissertator

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pacific APA SNAFU (Updated)

Via anon 11:11 and Think Tonk, we learn that the organizers of the Pacific APA meeting are in a bit of a pickle:
The Pacific Division recently learned that the union representing San Francisco hotel workers has called for a boycott of several San Francisco hotels, including our conference hotel. The Executive Committee would like to know whether you feel that the meeting should be moved outside San Francisco or whether you oppose moving the meeting.
Apparently they are considering moving the meeting to San Jose, which is less than 40 miles from the San Francisco airport, or Las Vegas, which is less than 570 miles from the San Francisco airport.

A less fair person would point out that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the union has been urging a boycott against the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco since at least August, 2009, and that a responsible organizing body would have made this decision much earlier in the game. But let's not play the blame game. Let's be constructive.

For one thing, I think it would be very, very bad to move the conference to Vegas at this point. People who are planning to attend have already made travel plans. On the other hand, I think it's pretty important to stand in solidarity with our hotel-working brothers and sisters. While they are lucky to have jobs, their jobs are no doubt much more unpleasant, soul-crushing, and exploitative than the jobs we have (or hope to have). We should help them out and avoid the seven San-Francisco-area hotels they ask us to. So I'm in favor of finding another hotel in San Francisco or else moving to San Jose.

Does anybody know what's actually happening?

--Mr. Zero


Clayton Littlejohn of Think Tonk shares the following email from a Local 2 member:
My co-workers and I are currently in the midst of a dispute with Starwood Hotels, the company that manages the Westin St. Francis. The company is insisting on proposals that would make health benefits unaffordable for myself and my family, cut workers’ retirement benefits, and increase workloads.

This is despite the fact Starwood made $180 million in profits during just nine months last year, and the Westin St. Francis hotel itself generated over $11 million in earnings. My co-workers and I went on a 3-day strike in November to show that we will not let Starwood, whose CEO made $4.8 million in 2008, use the economy as an excuse to squeeze as even harder. We are calling on all Westin St. Francis customers to BOYCOTT the hotel until it agrees to a fair contract.

I understand the APA is taking input on whether or not to hold its conference at this hotel. Unfortunately, the information the APA sent its members was false and misleading on several counts. For example, the APA said that “there is no dispute over salaries or working conditions” and that “the parties do not appear to be far apart.” This simply isn’t true. The issues at stake in negotiations include wages, working conditions, workers’ right to join unions, and affordable healthcare.

Moreover, the APA said, “There are no pickets, though union staff may distribute leaflets at the hotel doors”. Local 2 members have held multiple picket lines outside the St. Francis. I myself participated in a lively picket line just a few days ago, along with 150 coworkers, in front of the hotel. Starwood is trying to spread the idea that it’s just a few “union staff” at our actions – but APA members shouldn’t buy into this line. You can get a glimpse into our struggle through a video that’s posted on our union’s website,

We are asking you not to eat, sleep, meet, or speak at the Westin St. Francis. I would also like to ask you to contact the APA to let them know that you will not violate this boycott. Please contact the Pacific Division’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dominic McIver Lopes, at 604-822-6703 or

We’re counting on your support. Thanks for taking the time to stand up for working people in San Francisco.

Posting Paper Drafts on the Web

I notice a lot of people post paper drafts on the web. Is this a good way to get helpful feedback on one's work? How long do you wait around with the papers up there, waiting for feedback? Then, when it's time to send them out, do you leave the papers up, or do you take them down? I guess I'd be worried about the referee googling the paper title, finding out what a loser I am, and then rejecting the paper on that basis. Thereby extending the vicious cycle of loserdom.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Conference Papers and Publications

Something that occurred in a comment thread at Philosophers Anonymous got me thinking. Dr. Killjoy says,
What actually may hurt the candidate is if I spy several years-old conference presentations ("Qualia Can Suck it" Main Program Eastern APA 2007, "Girthy Concepts" Main Program Pacific APA 2007) but notice a lack of transition to publication. Just because something's interesting enough to make on to a conference program doesn't mean that it's good enough to get published. And there are some folks out there who are quite adept at coming up with projects of the former sort but are terrible at turning those into works of the latter sort.
Suppose I have a bunch of refereed conference presentations, and just one that never turned into a publication. Would that be bad? Or, suppose I have a bunch of refereed conference presentations, and one of them has like a six-year lag between when it was presented and when it was published. Would that be bad? Or, suppose I have a paper listed as a conference presentation under one title and a descendent of that paper listed as a publication under another title. Should I fudge the titles of conference presentations so they match up to the publications they resulted in?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy MLK Day

I know it's a day off, but I find that the nicest thing about holidays is that there are no college students hanging around outside my office. Although I do take the opportunity to sleep in, I am convinced that the best way to use this time is to take a free research day.

And I think this is especially true for those of us without a tenure-track job. And for those of us who did not snag an on-campus interview this year. One of the most frustrating things about the academic job market is that it's on this annual cycle. If things don't work out this time around, it's going to be October before another tenure-line job ad comes out.

The only constructive way to handle it is to use the year to your advantage. We've got until the middle of October to put ourselves in position to do better.

Also, God damn it.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Do You Wear For A Campus Visit?

Like any interview situation, I guess you dress to impress. But I don't totally know. What say you?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teaching Demonstrations

I'm a little late to the party, but here's a thread on teaching demonstrations. The discussion has already been going on in comments starting here, and Michael Cholbi tackles the topic at In Socrates' Wake here.

I've never done a teaching demo, but I've witnessed a few. My sense is that sending a reading may not hurt you, but conducting your demo in a manner that presupposes that they have done the reading will definitely hurt you, and not sending a reading will definitely not hurt you. So I think the safe play is not to send one. It's okay to base your demo around a particular reading; just don't base your demo on the premise that the students have read it.

It also seems to me that it would be a profound mistake to devote 12 minutes of your demo to a discussion in small-groups. What would such a discussion demonstrate? That you can effectively break students into small groups and let them discuss the material on your own? It will demonstrate that you were not prepared to give a teaching demonstration. Am I wrong?

The best teaching demo I have witnessed was on a historical topic, which was to be the candidate's primary upper-division teaching responsibility. The candidate had a particular issue to discuss, set out the issue in a clear way, explained how the relevant historical figures solved the problem, and explained the difficulties associated with these proposed solutions. He solicited student participation (one of the main difficulties was proposed by a student), made us feel comfortable, and was funny and engaging. In the final section of the demo, he connected the historical topic to a closely-related current debate. This candidate got the job.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, January 4, 2010

Assorted Observations From the 2009 Meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association

A. When on the job market, it is more fun to attend the meeting with interviews scheduled than without. This was my first time attending with an interview scheduled. It was also the first time I didn't want to gouge my eyes out. Coincidence? I think not.

B. It is more fun to attend the meeting when off the market than when on.

C. When off the market, it is more fun to not attend the meeting than to attend.

D. I spoke to one of the people running the placement service. She told me that 428 people signed up to use the service. She also told me that in a typical year over 600 people sign up to use the service. She told me this was the worst year she could remember.

E. A senior member of my Ph.D.-granting department who first went on the market in the middle 70s told me that he had never seen such a terrible job market. We had a very small number of candidates who managed to get any interviews at all, and several departments much higher than us in the PGR didn't do much better.

F. I didn't stay at the conference hotel. I stayed with a friend a half-hour subway ride away. This was less convenient, but not so much so that it would have been worth $130 a night or whatever. It seems to me that this is the way to go.

G. However, I took the time to ride the elevator up to the 45th floor and back. Totally awesome.

H. I honestly do not see the point of holding interviews at the APA. It's expensive for everyone involved, including interviewing departments, but is expensive in a particularly unfair way to the applicants. Although interviewing in person feels better than the alternatives, I don't see any reason to think it's better in a way that makes up for its obvious drawbacks. I propose phone/skype interviews or bringing more people in for campus visits.

I. I had a nice time talking to my interviewers at the smoker. It was a pretty weird interaction, though. I tried to find a time when they weren't talking to anyone else, and it didn't work at all. There were always at least two other people chatting with them. Plus, I'm nonchalantly walking past their table every 20 minutes or so, not making eye contact, checking to see if they're available. Or else I'm standing with my back to them a few yards away, chatting with a friend who's facing them, asking if they're still occupied every few minutes or so. Highly weird. I ended up joining a larger group than I was comfortable with. It worked out okay, though. I think.

J. I have no idea how my interview went. I've spent the time since trying not to think about it.

K. Some schools who had already rejected me were accepting on-site requests for interviews, so I thought about reapplying. This called to mind a key scene from A Few Good Men: "I apply!" "Rejected." "No, no. I strenuously apply." "Oh, well maybe I should take some time to reconsider."

--Mr. Zero

"Ten Things" from Feminist Philosophers

Here are ten small things you can do to promote gender equality in philosophy.

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Comics

I don't know about y'all, but everything about the last few months has me feeling this way. But, I'm getting it out of my system because fuck if I'm not glad to be able to work on my dissertation again.

Happy New Year.

--Jaded Dissertator