Monday, July 28, 2014

Holy crap. New TT jobs posted already.

Missouri's got an early deadline of October 13; San Diego's is November 7.

So, although I've kinda been anxious to see what jobs there will be this year, I'm really not ready to think about submitting applications yet. In July. When I'm grinding through a bunch of papers/chapters, and just starting to think about fall semester syllabi.

But I guess it's time to start thinking about that.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Colorado's Best Practices and Collegiality

This thread at Leiter, dealing with Spencer Case's criticism of the Colorado Best Practices document, contains a pretty interesting discussion of the question that always seems to come up in this context: whether it's ok to disparage the subfield of feminist philosophy as a whole, and if not, why not? The most interesting action starts at comment #33 and takes the form of an exchange between "thefinegameofnil" and "slacprof."

thefinegameofnil asks us to consider the hypothetical(?) case of a philosopher named Sally who
... arrives at the considered opinion that feminist philosophy isn't a fruitful research program, and that philosophy is better served by allocating its limited resources to other sub-disciplines. [...] On that basis, Sally speaks openly and dismissively of feminist philosophy's ability to advance philosophical understanding to her colleagues, she's generally against her department hiring philosophers working in feminist philosophy, she doesn't think that courses in it should be offered on a regular basis, the NEH should fund other work, etc. Sally clearly runs afoul of the APA Colorado Report's Orwellian suggestion that those who "have a problem with people doing...doing feminist philosophy...should gain more appreciation of and tolerance for the plurality of the discipline. Even if they are unable to achieve a level of appreciation for other approaches to the discipline, it is totally unacceptable for them to denigrate these approaches in front of faculty, graduate or undergraduate students in formal or informal settings on or off campus."
Whether I have any objection to what Sally is doing in this story depends substantially on what, exactly, I am supposed to take Sally to be doing in this story. Suppose she's in a faculty meeting the purpose of which is to settle on an AOS for an upcoming tenure-line hire, and she argues that the department should not advertise for a specialist in feminist philosophy because, in her informed opinion, that subdiscipline is not a fruitful research program and a specialist in it is less likely than specialists in other disciplines to advance philosophical understanding, and stuff like that.

If that's what she's doing, I can't see any problem with it. It seems to me that we philosophers ought to be free to decide for ourselves which philosophical projects and methodological approaches are interesting, worthy of attention, and/or potentially fruitful, and ought to be free to express those decisions to our colleagues. That seems right to me.

But if that's what she's doing, I'm not sure I see how Sally's behavior runs afoul of what thefinegameofnil calls the "Orwellian Suggestion." It's true that the Orwellian Suggestion tells Sally to gain more appreciation of the plurality of the discipline, and that Sally has not managed to do this in spite of what we are clearly meant to see as a good-faith effort do do so. That might indicate that Sally has violated the Orwellian Suggestion.

But the Orwellian Suggestion also gives advice for what to do in that case: she should refrain from denigrating it in front of colleagues or students. To me, this tells against reading the Orwellian Suggestion as a categorical and unconditional order to appreciate feminist approaches to philosophy, tout court. If that's what it was, it would just say, "do x," instead of, "do x, but if you can't do x, at least do y." So, Sally saying in a faculty meeting that she thinks that whatever subdiscipline or approach or whatever isn't super fruitful and that, since tenure lines are precious, we should spend it on someone who will engage in a more potentially fruitful research program strikes me as possibly consistent with the Orwellian Suggestion, depending on the specifics.

But if, on the other hand, she says all that stuff in a way that is literally openly dismissive, I find the intuition that she's not being at least a little bit of an A-hole harder to sustain. It seems to me that she should be willing to at least consider the idea, even if she ultimately thinks that the subfield is worthless and that hiring someone who works in it would be terrible. It seems to me that she shouldn't just dismiss it. She should be willing to engage with it, and to explain to her colleagues how she came to make the judgement she made and why she thinks they should share it. (In fact, it seems to me that the details of the story make it clear that Sally is not being dismissive, even if that word is used to describe her behavior.) If she's not willing to do anything other than be dismissive, then I think she's not living up to her obligations to her colleagues. There's some suggestion on the floor to hire in this or that AOS, and she doesn't think it's a good idea. She doesn't have to enter into the discussion at all if she doesn't want to, but if she does enter it, then I think she owes her colleagues more than just dismissiveness. She owes them a thoughtful explanation.

And it seems to me that this obligation is even more clear if Sally already has colleagues who work in feminist philosophy. If Sally is openly dismissive of a subfield in which her colleagues specialize, and she is dismissive in this way to those colleagues—rather than being, say, engaged in an informed way but ultimately skeptical, or neither engaged nor dismissive—then it seems to me that Sally's department has a real collegiality problem, and that Sally's behavior is a contributor. So, while I would not say that I endorse the Orwellian Suggestion unhesitatingly or in full, it seems to me that it definitely points in the right direction.

What's more, the language of the actual Best Practices document is somewhat softer than that of the Orwellian Suggestion:
2. Students and faculty should be open-minded and cultivate a wide interest in philosophical work, investigate and not disparage areas of philosophy or other disciplines with which they are not familiar. We encourage people to be respectful of those working mainly in other areas of philosophy. Constructive criticism is an important source of progress in philosophy, but it is generally better to focus criticisms on particular arguments and theories rather than whole areas of the discipline, which typically contain a wide variety of work. And we should always avoid raising criticisms that could be construed as an invidious personal attack by any reasonable person—especially in public contexts.
This doesn't say that one must actually develop an appreciation of the plurality of philosophical approaches; it just says that one should be open-minded and cultivate a wide interest in philosophy. That sounds exactly right to me, and it seems to me that Sally is described as having followed that advice. It says that one shouldn't disparage areas and disciplines without being familiar with them, but that's consistent with Sally, as she is described, "disparaging" feminist philosophy, since she is described as being highly familiar with it. What's more, the "non-disparagement clause" is accompanied by a caveat stressing the importance of constructive criticism. It admonishes us to remain respectful, but that's true. We should remain respectful. It counsels us to avoid raising criticisms that could be construed an invidious personal attack by a reasonable person (I'm not entirely sure how to parse the 'any' in that sentence), but that's true, too. If you have a criticism, you should try to avoid raising it in a way that could make a reasonable person see it as a personal attack designed to make them angry. To me, that seems like Personal Interaction 101. But it also says, fire away. To me, that seems right.

So even if the Orwellian Suggestion is unacceptable (and although I don't read it that way, I see how a reasonable person could), it seems to me that it has been superseded by what I would describe as a nice piece of concrete, sensible advice about how to get along with one's colleagues. It seems to me that departments where this advice is not followed—in which colleagues are openly dismissive of one another's work, and of the subfields into which that work can be situated, and in which they are open not only with one another but with one another's students—are likely to be unpleasant places to work (depending on the frequency and severity with which it occurs).

--Mr. Zero

Friday, July 4, 2014

On the Recent Leiter/Jennings Dustup

Five years ago, I wondered whether Brian Leiter's contention that a department's PGR rank correlates well with its job placement record was really true. Recently, over at NewAPPs, Carolyn Dicey Jennings attempted to run the numbers and was met with something of a hostile reaction from Leiter. If I'm honest, though, I'm not sure I see why such hostility was necessary. He airs four main criticisms:
First, by her own admission, the data is incomplete (indeed, woefully incomplete in some cases I know about).
Of course, she was up-front about the incompleteness, and the up-front admission of incompleteness was accompanied by a request for additional data, and she has updated her analysis in light of the additional data. It really seems fine to me to run a preliminary analysis on incomplete data, and then publicize it in the hopes of generating more data (and a discussion of your findings). Of course it would be pretty bad to publicize a preliminary analysis without mentioning that it was preliminary, but Jennings didn't do that.
Second, no one would expect a department's reputation in 2011 to have any correlation with its placement prior to 2011, but almost all the placements recorded by Prof. Jennings are from students who would have started graduate school between 2000 and 2005.   I would think philosophers are smart enough to understood that past placement success is a backward-looking measure, and that current faculty reputation, as it correlates with job placement, is a forward-looking measure.
I'm not sure about this. I would expect a departments reputation in 2011 to correlate at least somewhat with its reputation prior to 2011, so I would expect a (potentially indirect) correlation between placement in 2011 and reputation prior to 2011. I'm not sure why it matters when the recently-placed students started grad school. If my department is trying to place me now, I'd think that its current reputation is more important that whatever its reputation was 10 years ago. (I suppose it would be interesting to see whether PGR rank at the time of enrollment correlates with job market success upon graduation, but the suggestion that Jennings should be doing this study rather than the one she did is too strong.)

And I just don't get this "forward-looking/backward-looking" stuff. Correlations are not inherently directional. Obviously the past is the past, and if you're looking to the past you're looking backward. But people look to the past in the hope of learning about the future all the time. It doesn't always work, but it's not nonsense. It seems to me to make perfect sense to investigate whether current "reputation," as the PGR attempts to measure it, correlates with overall placement record.

But maybe I'm all wrong about this. It's not as though I know what I'm talking about. So if I'm wrong, I hope some Smokers will set me right.
Third, her measure of placement success takes no account of the kinds of jobs graduates secure.  2/2 is the same as 4/4, research university is the same as a liberal arts college, a PhD-granting department is the same as a community college.  I know philosophers happy in all kinds of positions, but it's not information, it's misinformation, to equate them all in purporting to measure job placement.
This criticism strikes me as patently unfair. First, the additional data that would be required to control for these factors would be prohibitively difficult to collect and manage. Second, controlling for job type suggests an unnecessary value-judgment about which jobs are best. Of course people are free to make those judgements, but I'd rather not see them reflected in an analysis of the placement data---particularly not at this preliminary stage. If someone were to do a breakdown of the placement data by job type, similar to the PGR breakdown by specialties, that would be fine and even welcome. Knock yourself out. But the idea that not doing so is "misinformation" is, like, not true.
Fourth, the placement rate is calculated nonsensically:  comparing average placement, as incompletely reported on blogs, between 2011-2014 to average yearly graduates between 2009-2013 is equivalent, in most cases, to comparing two randomly chosen numbers, since many (maybe most) of those placed in 2011-2014 will have completed their degrees well before 2009 and well after 2013.  This is so obvious that I'm mystified why anyone would think this is a relevant comparison.
Again, I just don't see how this is nonsense. The average yearly graduate figure tells you the number of job-seekers per year each program has recently produced; the average yearly placement tells you how many job-seekers per year each program has recently placed in a tenure-track job. In effect, it's a comparison of the department's recent graduation rate with its recent placement rate, and I think it makes perfect sense to make that comparison. Taking averages over several years will smooth over outlier years and compensate for the fact that the candidate's hire year might not be her graduation year.

I see why someone might want to see a straight comparison of graduates to tenure-track hires per year, but---as Leiter points out---a person might get their first tenure-track job well before or well after graduation. I see why someone might want to see a metric that strictly follows individual graduates, but doing so will raise problems in data-collection (departments often don't publicize it when their graduates are unsuccessful on the job market), and in indexing placement records to times (since, again, one's graduation year is often not one's year of first TT hire). (Of course, I don't know which comparisons Leiter would find acceptable, or if he had anything in mind at all. He doesn't suggest a better way to do it, so I'm just guessing.)

So, anyways, the comparison doesn't strike me as nonsensical, but maybe that's just because I don't know what I'm talking about. If that's how it is, I hope the Smokers will set me right.

I also don't see how the reference to NYU's placement record is instructive. Leiter complains that although NYU has "one of the best placement records in the world" but ranks only 26th on CDJ's analysis (this ranking was revised to 14th after new data came in), which Leiter thinks is mediocre. In defense of this, Leiter links to NYU's placement page. But, for one thing, the placement page doesn't tell the whole story of NYU's placement record---it shows how many people they placed (and where) without showing how many people they tried to place. But knowing how many people they put on the market every year is crucial to evaluating their placement record. If (And 26th doesn't have to be mediocre; it could be excellent if there was a large but tight group near the front. Which is one reason I don't love ordinal rankings.) And anyways, Jennings' spreadsheet indicates that NYU's placement record isn't as stellar as Leiter claims---most of their graduates get nice tenure-track jobs, obviously, but a substantial minority do not. You don't need a "perverse ingenuity" to generate that result; you just need to compare the rate at which they produce graduates with the rate at which they place those graduates into tenure-track jobs.

Now. I did not find the way the information was originally presented---as a comparison between the (ordinal) PGR rank and an ordinal "placement" rank---to be at all illuminating, and I'm glad she revised the post to present the information in terms of percentages. I think the focus our profession puts on ordinal rankings is pernicious, as is the fact that the PGR is principally organized in terms of them. But I think it is absolutely worth wondering whether whatever it is that the PGR measures is correlated with success on the tenure-track job market---as I indicated at the top of this post, I've been interested in this question for a long time---and I am grateful to Dr. Jennings for her work on this. And I appreciate her willingness to engage with her critics, to explain what she did and how she did it, and to revise her analysis in response to criticisms. To me, it seems like she has responded to her critics in exactly the right way.

So I'm not sure I see the need for such a hostile response on Leiter's part. Doesn't seem helpful. But what do I know? Nothing.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Should we do job talks at on-campus interviews?

A while back, Colin Marshall (UW-Seattle) initiated a discussion over yonder about the sometimes-central role that job talks play in the interview process. The discussion didn't really get going, so he wrote in to us -- we who are more familiar with "the horrors and inequities of the market," as Colin put it -- and says:
[M]ost search committees seem to think that the traditional job talk is a perfectly fair way to evaluate job candidates. After going through the market three times and watching various friends' experiences, I'm pretty sure it's not remotely fair (especially for introverts). It would be great to hear from people who have recently been on the market whether they think that job talks should be the norm, and whether there are other things that job committees should consider doing instead.
His original question was the following:
Almost every department I know of gives the job talk a central role in hiring decisions, but I'm wondering whether the traditional job talk really deserves to be sacred while other aspects of the hiring process are changing.

My main reason for skepticism is that I know a number of young philosophers who are (a) great researchers, (b) great teachers, (c) great members of the profession, and (d) great departmental citizens, but who, for various reasons, aren't great at presenting their research to a room full of judgmental strangers, most of whom are non-specialists. The latter skill isn't a bad one to have, but it's surely much less important than (a)-(d). Yet in the traditional job talk, this latter skill is what's privileged, and often used to make judgments about (a)-(d). That seems like a recipe for false negatives.

So here's my question: what alternatives to the job talk have hiring departments tried for campus visits, and are there un-tried alternatives we should consider? I have a hunch that our profession could do much better.
I like giving talks, but that just might be because I feel like I'm really good at giving them. In fact, giving talks is probably the philosophical skill I feel like I've mastered (the content, on the other hand...). Though I've only had to give 2 or so job talks, they seemed to go pretty well.

I've also had on-campus visits to other schools that did research sessions -- passing out a paper beforehand and being asked questions about the paper for an hour or so like a mini-defense; the horror! -- and I've bombed; just did an outright terrible job.

And for my current position (VAP), I didn't have to do a job talk at all. Instead, I was only interviewed over Skype, which I will never fail to plug as the most equitable, fair way for departments to do first-round interviews of graduate students, adjuncts, or other members of the profession who do not have travel budgets, but who do (likely) have internet connections.

And while I might prefer giving talks, I probably agree with Colin that they might be especially noisy for making hiring decisions (like so many other parts of the interview process). Perhaps we might do better.

Any thoughts about interviews and what to do instead?

-- Jaded, Ph.D.