Thursday, July 28, 2011

What if Nous & PPR Published More?

For the past few years, Nous and PPR have stopped accepting submissions for about half the year. This is, as they say, because they have such a backlog and their acceptance rate is so minuscule that it doesn't make sense to accept submissions all year. I wonder why they don't start publishing more issues. If they published bi-monthly instead of quarterly, they could accept more articles and have a shorter backlog. And if they have such a backlog, and they get so many submissions, and their acceptance rate is so small, the could do this without reducing the overall quality of the journals. What would be the problem with that?

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Strongly Recommended" for What, Again?

The University of Oregon is on the "strongly recommended" list on the Pluralist's Guide's Climate for Women page. But by now it is well-known that this department's climate for women shows clear signs of being terrible: their undergraduate program director is alleged to have made sexual advances toward female undergraduates and to have groped female undergraduates in his office, and another, "feminist" faculty member is alleged to have orchestrated a coverup of this information so as not to interfere with their being recognized for their friendliness to women. As far as I can see, these charges have not been disputed. (If they have, please let me know.) Why hasn't this school been removed from the list? The "Pluralists" removed Oklahoma from the "needs improvement" list almost immediately when it became clear that they had been working to improve the climate. I mean, if there was ever evidence of a chilly and inhospitable climate for women, that's gotta be it.

But as of this morning, it's still up.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, July 22, 2011

They didn't Really Do That, Did They?

I've been following with interest this discussion concerning the Pluralist's Guide to Philosophy Programs's "climate" ratings, which contains "information" concerning the degree to which various philosophy departments are hospitable to women. What seems to me to be the most interesting discussion is taking place in comments here.

What happened was, Linda Alcoff, Paul Taylor, and William Wilkerson have edited a ranking of philosophy departments that is supposed to compete with the PGR, and whose advantage over the PGR is that this ranking is more "pluralistic." The pluralistic rankings also contains some informatin about the climate for women, in the form of two lists: one for "strongly recommended" departments; another for departments that "need improvement." These lists are fishy. For one thing, the "strongly recommended" list is currently seven times longer than the "needs improvement" list. Based on what I've been led to believe about the actual climate for women in this profession, that seems like it couldn't possibly be an accurate representation of how things are.

For another thing, it seems that they didn't actually ask anybody at any of the "needs improvement" departments about the climates for women in those departments. At least, that's how Leiter puts it. But I think, if you read Linda Alcoff's comments in the Gender, Race and Philosophy thread, it's closer to the truth to say that they have no idea how the data was collected. The general procedure for collecting data for the Pluralist Guide was to ask experts to rate departments along the relevant dimension; this procedure was also followed for the climate ratings. We don't know who was asked to rate the climate at, say, Rutgers (who have defended themselves with the most vigor), though presumably the organizers do. It does seem clear that nobody who is currently affiliated with Rutgers, or who was until recently, was consulted. And Alcoff seems to have admitted that she has no idea how the people who rated Rutgers (e.g.) got their information (see the parenthetical remark in point #1 here). It seems to me, then, that we have no way of knowing whether the data was reliable, up-to-date, and paints an accurate picture of the climates of these departments.

This is really shameful. It's sort of unbelievable that this is actually happening. The "Pluralists" have published a web page saying that (e.g.) Rutgers is one of three departments whose climate for women needs to be improved--which strongly suggests that Rutgers (et al.) has a particularly chilly and inhospitable climate for women--and they didn't ask anybody at Rutgers whether this was true, or whether they were doing anything to improve the climate. This can also be seen in the way that Oklahoma was initially on the list but was removed when it came to light that they had been actively working to improve the climate there; it has been pointed out that the Oklahoma incident also suggests that the editors hadn't done their homework. Alcoff has made a bunch of excuses about how difficult it is to collect good data on a topic like this, but I don't see how that justifies the use of bad data.

I mean, seriously. Did they really do that?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The King's Dean's Speech Email

I got an email from my Dean last week. The email went out to all of the College's non-permanent faculty and says that we might get a raise starting in the Fall. I was like, that sounds pretty good. The email goes on to point out that there are potential problems, as of course we all knew it would. For one thing, the legislature could put the kibosh on it. For another thing, the raise is contingent on whether the school meets its enrollment goals. The Dean concludes the email by pointing out that we all have an interest in ensuring that the students have an obstacle-free path to enrollment.

I realize, of course, that most Deans are incompetent psychopaths. But what the hell is that supposed to mean? Does the Dean imagine that the temporary faculty spend their summers putting obstacles in the paths of students who are trying to to enroll? What influence could he possibly think I have over this process?

The more I think about this, the more angry I get. I teach a lot of classes--many more than my colleagues (this calendar year, I will teach 10 more classes than a typical TT person in my department; this figure includes summer school courses, which are elective). I work hard to do a good job. My evaluations are above average for the department and the College, I get good feedback on my classroom visits, and many of our best majors have come to the department through my intro classes. This school makes such extensive use of non-permanent faculty that it could not function without us and our hard work. And this guy emails us not to say, thanks for all the hard work that keeps this institution of higher education running, but the vaguely threatening you better not get in the way of us meeting our enrollment goals or you won't get a raise.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Multiple Guess

I am on record as being opposed to multiple choice philosophy tests. But suppose I have been tapped to teach a large introduction to philosophy course that will meet in a humongous lecture hall, and that I won't have any TAs or help with the grading, but I will have 150 students in this one ginormous class. I'm thinking that multiple choice might be the way to go. But I still sort of worry that these things are frowned upon. Suppose I get a nice interview at the APA, and the committee says, "I see you've got a humongous lecture class here. How'd you do it?" If I say, "Multiple choice tests..." will I be fucked? Or will the people be understanding and merciful? I plan to work in some in-class writing, but this wil have to be highly informal. What do the Smokers think?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Best Way to Use a VAP?

I was looking through the JFP Summer Web Ads the other day, and saw this gem from Seattle Pacific:

7. SEATTLE PACIFIC UNIVERSITY, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON. Philosophy: One-year, full-time, Visiting Assistant Professor position, available September 2011. Qualifications: Ph.D. or ABD. AOS: Open. A successful candidate must be able to teach all or most of the following: ethical theory, social ethics, history of ethics, aesthetics, and a general education course that focuses on questions at the intersection of philosophy, science, and religion...

It seems to me that whoever wrote this ad is thinking about visiting professors wrong. It seems to me that your basic 1-year non-renewable visiting assistant professor ought not to be asked to teach a weird interdisciplinary general education course. It seems ot me that because VAPs teach much more and get paid much less than permanent faculty, have little or no research support, are on the tenure-track job market, and must publish constantly in order to be successful on the job market, it is not fair to assign a course like that to a yet-to-be-identified VAP. You should be trying to make the VAP's courseload as manageable as possible.

It also seems to me that it's prudentially unwise to run an ad like that. It seems to me that the pool of applicants for visiting positions is much smaller than the pool for permanent positions or even the pool for visiting positions with the potential to be extended beyond the first year. It is my understanding that 30 or 40 applications from qualified candidates is a huge number for a position like this. So if an ability to teach a interdisciplinary course that focuses on questions at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion means anything other than a willingness to do it, you might be cutting your potential applicant pool down to zero. You're looking for someone who has, or is close to having, a Ph.D. in philosophy, who has experience teaching ethics and aesthetics, who doesn't already have a job, who is willing to spend her own money to move to Seattle for a year, and who has experience teaching this highly specific interdisciplinary course. I can't imagine there are a bunch of people like that.

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oh, That's What It Is

I know I shouldn't do this, but I was reading What's Wrong With the World again. In a post that reacts to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, Lydia McGrew (who lives in Michigan) explains how same-sex marriage is harmful to straight people in other states who might otherwise be thought of as disinterested parties by imagining a dialogue between a "conservative" and an advocate of the "homosexual agenda." I was interested in this because I have always wondered what the big deal was. I always thought that if you don't believe in same-sex marriage, you should decline to get same-sex married and mind your own business; if other people want to get same-sex married, that's not your business.* Anyways, here's the dialogue:

Homosexual agenda advocate: What do you conservatives care? How does it harm you? Why are you trying to control other people?

Conservatives: Here are 352 examples of the fact that when this stuff is in place, your side gets to control other people--namely, people who think like me--and punish us for not agreeing with you. That's why, just for starters.

HAA--Well, those are all _reasonable_. If people choose to deal with the public, they should _have_ to go along with this. And when we've passed homosexual "marriage," then it really _is_ legal marriage, and it's just acknowledging _reality_ to call it "marriage," so people should be forced to do so.

Conservative: I rest my case.


To be clear, according to McGrew, same-sex marriage is harmful to the conservative because if same-sex marriage is legal then the conservative will be forced against her will to acknowledge that it is technically true that same-sex marriage exists. There's harm, and then there's harm.

--Mr. Zero

* I realize it's not that simple. You can't argue that e.g. slavery should be legal as long as you have the right not to sell yourself into slavery if you don't want to, and if somebody else wants to sell herself into slavery then you should mind your own business. Certain freedoms, such as the freedom from slavery, ought to be protected no matter what. But that idea is instructive in itself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Music For Working

I feel like I've touched on this topic before, but I couldn't find where, so what the hell.

I work better if I have music going. But I don't work very well if the music has words I might accidentally get interested in or listen to, so it has to be instrumental music. It also has to be somewhat uptempo--it can't be sad or slow or else I will go to sleep. And it can't be boring or particularly repetitive, for the same reason.

I have tried what uninitiated rubes like me call "classical" music, but I find i am not familiar enough with its traditions or distinctions to weed out the stuff that won't work. I know a few pieces that work for me, but only a few, and so it starts to get repetitive. And in this context, researching the music defeats the purpose.

I find that first-quintet-era Miles Davis is about right. The music is generally not slow or boring, and that group (and its cousins) made a hell of a lot of recordings, so there's a lot of variety.

What do the Smokers do?

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Academia

In comments here, "40yearsold, noTT" promised a story. Here it is:

Dear Readers:

I'm a 40 year old philosophy instructor without tenure (I'm working as an adjunct this year in a very fine department, but this may be the last year I can afford to continue in the discipline). The odd thing about my story is that I actually gave up a secure teaching position last year and, despite the fact that I was unsuccessful in all 85 of the TT and VAP competitions I sought last year, I find I cannot regret my decision to leave my former job.

For reasons of discretion, I haven't had the ability to discuss my choice with very many people at all. I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you smokers think of it, and how many other people have found themselves in similar circumstances.

Here's a summary of what happened. Many years ago, a local community college was transformed into a four-year college. More recently, it became a university. However, owing to a strange series of events and a couple of loopholes, it managed to do this without introducing a system of tenure or even of faculty titles. Instructors spend their first two years on a sort of probation, at the end of which they become 'regularized' rather than tenured. Once one is regulated, one's work is never reviewed again. Some smokers may recognize this as standard in the community college system. The faculty at this university strongly support the view that a lack of tenure, etc. makes the school more "collegial."

A few years ago, this institution's philosophy chair initiated a process to start a philosophy major. As part of this process, nearby schools were invited to give input. The response of at least one nearby research university was that the proposed major would seriously disadvantage its graduates. Among other things, nobody in the department was current or even competent in mainstream analytical philosophy. Hence, a position was created by the department to rebut this criticism. This position was advertised, in classic two-year college style, only internally and for a very brief period. For various reasons, I learned of this fact and won the 'competition'. A week after my hire, I helped the department make their final case for the major, assuring the skeptics that we would all keep current and bring students to a high standard. The major was granted and I began work.

One thing I didn't realize until a little later was that many of my new colleagues had felt rather put out by the suggestion that the work they had previously been doing was inadequate for a major. Another thing I took for granted was that my colleagues were being sincere with me in saying that they were excited to have such a dedicated teacher join their ranks. That error led to my undoing.

In the years that followed, I devoted myself entirely to the department. I ran a club; I held extended office hours; I ran extracurricular reading groups; I initiated a colloquium series that brought 10-12 visiting philosophers to the campus each year; and I worked with my students on papers that they might later present at nearby undergraduate conferences. Whenever one of our students had a paper accepted, I would organize a student carpool to the conference. When students wanted to study areas of analytic philosophy beyond our meagre offerings, I would run a directed study section. All this left me no time for publications, but I imagined that my place at the school would be assured due to my strong enrollments and reviews.

However, my former colleagues blamed me for the fact that their enrollments were sometimes very poor. Just to be clear: that isn't my interpretation of their view, but exactly what they said to me at meetings (even in front of student representatives). They literally told me that, since none of them had any wish to take part in extracurricular activities, attend conferences, or keep current with the literature, my openly doing so was making them "look bad" and creating an imbalance in the way we and our courses were valued by students. I was asked to cease and desist. I took this up with the dean, but unfortunately the dean turned out to be a strong advocate of the mediocracy and a close personal friend of many of my colleauges.

When my colleagues cancelled the directed studies sections I had planned to offer, there was a student outcry. How were they to have a chance at following their older peers in presenting at conferences, getting into grad school, and generally getting the sort of education others had been receiving? And why shouldn't other measures be taken to increase enrollments, such as making the senior member of my department actually attend all his classes (he often admitted with a smile to frequently cancelling classes or exams or showing up an hour or more late)? These questions made my colleagues feel more sure that I was the spawn of Satan. As a result, they took several measures.

First, they told the phil. majors that it was sheer lunacy to think that one needed any special guidance to be great at philosophy. They claimed that one of their graduates had recently been accepted into a top 20 PhD program (what actually happened was that a student had merely audited a course at the top department in question in order to qualify for admission elsewhere). They also claimed, falsely, that no doubts of any kind had been raised about the major during the qualification process.

Then, they had a rather confrontational meeting with me, apparently styled after an AA intervention. They warned me that, by presenting students in class with the central metaphor of climbing a mountain through taking more and more advanced courses, I was damaging the harmony of the department. Iinstead, I was to begin to present philosophy courses as a collection of 'foothills', none higher than any other. Second, I was blamed for bringing students to a particular undergraduate conference from which some returned complaining that they had been unable to join any discussions on advanced topics despite having taken upper-level courses in the relevant subdiscipline (the instructor of the core course in question seems to have used the course as a platform for his own religious views, and not to have introduced any of the technical details or even the terminology of the field). These complaints reached the chair via the student representative, and I was asked to give them a list of all the 'suspects' -- that is, all the students who had attended the conference -- so that they could ferret out the malcontents. I refused to play ball.

It was made clear to me that I had to choose between conforming to the wishes of my colleagues (which would have included curtailing all extracurricular activities, being complicit in whatever claims those colleagues wished to make about the successes of former graduates, etc.) or else being branded as a troublemaker and ultimately running into institutional trouble. I saw this as a choice between egoism and principle, and went with principle.

I think I had had some fantasies about my leaving making more of a difference than it did. After I left, some of the core students switched majors or migrated to other schools. But many of them are still there, and the department is presumably recruiting new students as before. These new students will have little, if any, exposure to contemporary philosophy (nearly all the upper-level courses currently on offer focus on the reading of novels!), so I suspect the major will continue for years to come, just as it would have had I not left. To some extent, that makes me wonder whether sacrificing my career was worth it. At the same time, though, I feel glad I took a stand.

Anyway, that's the story. I wonder what other people think of it, whether others have had similar experiences, and what they did. Thanks.