Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Does Leiter Use the PGR to Punish his Enemies? [Updated on 10-2-14]

I was reading the comments on this post at Daily Nous (whose coverage of this episode has been excellent, in my opinion), when I was, I don't know, let's say 'bemused,' yes, I was bemused to see this comment, which reads in part:
I don’t see how he has used his authority as editor of the PGR to threaten, etc. His name calling is childish and the legal threats are probably without merit, but he’s not doing anything that you or I couldn’t do. To make your case you’d need examples of him skewing the PGR to punish his enemies. And I haven’t seen evidence of that.
The reason for all this bemusement is that I thought it was abundantly obvious that Brian Leiter absolutely skews the PGR to punish his enemies, at least in one key area. He doesn't hide it. This behavior isn't the basis for the current controversy, of course, but the fact is that he totally does that, openly and in full view of everyone who pays attention.

I guess I'd like to preface this by saying that I have no interest or training in continental philosophy. I was educated in thoroughly analytic departments; my teachers mentioned continental philosophy with derision when they mentioned it at all. Once, when I was an undergraduate, my roommate's friend left a copy of Being and Nothingness on my pillow, but I can't say I gave it the old college try--I gave up when I couldn't figure out what he was talking about after not more than a few of pages. I'm not the least bit informed about continental philosophy in any of its incarnations, and I have no interest in defending it as a serious intellectual enterprise. I'm not informed enough to know whether it is or not.

My own lack of interest in and engagement with SPEP-style, "party line" continental philosophy notwithstanding, that type of philosophy clearly exists, and is clearly philosophy. Its practitioners are typically trained in philosophy, have Ph.D. degrees in it, work in philosophy departments, and publish in philosophy journals. The historical figures they study and/or regard as their intellectual forebears were philosophers. If it's anything at all, it's philosophy.

But you wouldn't know this by looking at the PGR. If your department is strong in SPEP-style continental philosophy, you will not be rewarded for this strength with a position in the overall rankings. Nor will you see this strength reflected in specialty rankings. There are no SPEP-affiliated philosophers on the Advisory Board (which is hand-picked by Leiter), nor have any SPEP-affiliated philosophers serve as evaluators (who are nominated by the advisory board but subject to approval by Leiter). If you're a student who's interested in this kind of philosophy, the PGR will not help you in any way. (The PGR has specialty rankings for 19th- and 20th century continental philosophy, but Leiter doesn't seem to intend this to represent the SPEP style, and the SPEP people don't seem to think it represents them. This is one of Noelle McAfee's complaints, and is one of the reasons why the Pluralist's Guide was created.) Although this kind of philosophy exists and has a real presence in the discipline--lots of people specialize in it; lots of departments regard themselves as strong in it--it is systematically excluded from the PGR because Brian Leiter thinks it's shitty, and not because there is a consensus among people who work in the continental tradition that he is right. And I know that this is the case because he says so.

[Update (10-2-14): Discussion below has convinced me that some of the language in the above paragraph is too strong. Decisions about which departments to evaluate and which specialties to include in the "Breakdown by Specialty" section are made by the advisory board, and not Leiter alone. So it would not be accurate to say that SPEP-style philosophy is excluded from the report simply because Leiter thinks its shitty.

However, as I say in comments below, the composition of the advisory board is at Leiter's sole discretion, and its composition therefore reflects his opinions about what is important, rather than a discipline-wide consensus. Although it would be too strong to say that the judgments of the advisory board reflect Leiter's opinions full stop, it would not be accurate to say that its judgments reflect the kind of broad cross-section of the discipline that could reveal anything approaching a consensus.]

Now, again, just to be clear. The thing that bothers me about this is not that SPEP-style philosophy isn't represented in the PGR's overall rankings (although I think it should be represented in the Specialty Rankings--it is a specialty, after all). The thing that bothers me is that this is accomplished by editorial fiat. [Update (10-2-14): Again, this is too strong. I should have said, "...by vote of an unrepresentative body whose members are selected at the sole discretion of the editor."] I think it would be better, more democratic, more fair, and a better editorial practice if SPEP-style philosophers were proportionally represented in the pool of evaluators and then outvoted. (If they deserve to be outvoted, which, again, I don't regard myself as being well-enough informed to comfortably assert.) Then he could say it's marginal because it's marginal, not because he, the editor, [Update (10-2-14): and an unrepresentative advisory board] thinks it sucks.

So I think this much is clear: Brian Leiter uses his authority as editor of the PGR to punish his "enemies" (are they his enemies? They are not his friends) in the SPEP by writing the Report so as to create the illusion that SPEP-style continental philosophy does not exist. Since SPEP-style continental philosophy does exist, I don't think it would be unfair to call that "skewing". If that's what it takes to show that Leiter has abused his authority as editor of the PGR, I think we can consider it shown.

I'm willing to be proven wrong about this--as I say, I don't really know anything about continental philosophy, so I could be misreading something or something. But it seems to me that he skews the report, because that's what he says he does.

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the future of Leiter's Relationship with the PGR [Updated]

As you may have heard, there have recently been a growing number of suggestions that Brian Leiter relinquish his position as editor of the PGR. A bunch of philosophers have signed a pledge authored by Stanley, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and David Chalmers [numerous people]*, not to volunteer their services to the PGR while it is under his control. According to Jason Stanley, (at least) 24 members of the PGR's advisory board have signed a letter [authored by Stanley, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and David Chalmers]* urging him to turn the Report over to new management. (I seem to recall reading that that number is now bigger, but I can't remember where.) Leiter has invited Berit Brogaard to serve as co-editor, and an additional invitation is pending.

This is, obviously, an extraordinary development. However, and I realize I'm not the first to make this observation, this is not what people are asking for. Some further observations:

  • It would be nice if whoever edits PGR was in the habit of responding more graciously to criticism.
  • As Brian Weatherson points out, it would be nice if whoever edits the PGR weren't openly hostile to the existence of other ways of ranking philosophy departments.
  • As Jon Cogburn reminds us, Leiter himself is not above publicly posting private emails
  • I agree with the point, as far as it goes, that Leiter engages somewhat routinely in behavior that is abusive and nasty, and that the harmfulness of this behavior is enhanced by his position as editor of the PGR. 
    • However, I think it enhanced even more by his position as owner, moderator, and principal author of Leiter Reports, which, it is often noted, is by far the most widely read philosophy blog on the internet, and which I'm pretty sure makes it the most widely read philosophy publication of any kind. I don't think removing him as editor of the PGR would have much of an impact on that, or to mitigate the harmfulness of his abuse. 
  • I also agree that the issue is not so much "civility" as it is that his behavior is harmful to the people he targets. 
    • I also, also agree that he's basically been like this forever. However, it seems to me that a) it's been an especially bad year for him, invective-wise, and b) it's totally okay to reach a point where enough is enough even in the absence of any important qualitative changes.
  • I've read arguments to the effect that the fact that Leiter is the owner of the PGR might have some impact on the prospects for removing him as editor. I don't know if that's a good argument. I don't know who owns the Report. I know Blackwell publishes it, and that they pay him (not much, I understand) in exchange for his services as editor. But I don't think it matters that much in any case. He's the founding editor of the PGR, and he may be its owner, but he's not its king. There's an advisory board, and this board votes on matters of substance, and the results of these votes set policy. This really ought to include determining who will be responsible for carrying out the duties of editor. If the Report is to have any legitimacy whatsoever, its editor must be answerable to its advisory board. 
  • Similarly, it also seems to me that although the PGR is not an official ranking, if it is to have a modicum of legitimacy, the Report and its leadership must be answerable to the profession at large. 
  • And so, it seems to me that the most powerful argument against Leiter's continuing as editor (or co-editor) of the PGR is that he seems to have lost the confidence of the advisory board. I suppose I'd like to see the letter before I register agreement or whatever. But if a substantial portion of the profession finds Leiter's abusive behavior unacceptable to the point where they are unwilling to work with him on the PGR (and the September Statement seems to indicate that this is the case), then the advisory board would be duty-bound to replace him as editor--either for the good of the Report, or because they themselves aren't willing to work with him anymore, either. 
--Mr. Zero

*edited to correct false/mistaken attribution of the September Statement to Stanley, et al. My apologies.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Answering (?) 'The PGR Challenge'

Spiros has a post up issuing a challenge for certain kinds of objections to the PGR (this post from the editor of the PGR seems to be in the same spirit). I dug around and, below, I link to some objections that may or may not answer the challenge.

Spiros's challenge is to find objections that do not fall into four broad categories:
1. Objections based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (its methodology, how it is produced, what it aspires to track, etc.). (E.g., "The PGR is just a small group of Brian Leiter's friends desperately trying to uphold analytic orthodoxy in the profession" -- actual quotation, by the way.) 
2. Objections, also based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (and its objectives), that claim that the PGR fails to satisfy its own objectives. (e.g., "The PGR, being just a small group of Leiter's friends, can't possibly be an objective measure of actual faculty quality" -- actual quotation,) 
3. Objections to the effect that the PGR is harmful because it is too easily misunderstood/misused by faculty, students, and administrators.

4. Objections to the very idea of surveys / rankings / reports of the kind that the PGR is.*
After an hour or two of looking, I dug up the links below. Note that I intend these links to serve only as a response to Spiros's so-called "PGR Challenge."**

Richard Heck's original criticism, courtesy of the Wayback Machine (via Heck's current website).

Zachary Ernst's 2009 critique, "Our Naked Emperor."

The Smoker's own Mr. Zero's "PGR Minutiae" and "Bride of PGR Minutiae."

Some entries at Choice and Inference on the PGR's "sampling problem" and the "educational imbalance within the PGR evaluator pool." There are also many other posts linked within these on the Choice and Inference blog.

Jennifer Saul has a post at Feminist Philosophers to her paper “Ranking Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias," which appeared in Journal of Social Philosophy, 43:3, 2012.

Alan Richardson has a brief discussion of the PGR in his 2012, HOPOS, 2:1 (1 - 20), "Occasions for an Empirical History of Philosophy of Science: American Philosophers of Science at Work in the 1950s and 1960s." (I highlighted the discussion with screencaps on Twitter [the last three or four tweets]; the editor of the PGR calls this strain of criticism a serious objection in the second link at the top of the post.)

I welcome any further links or examinations of the objections in the comments below.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

*Spiros calls objections 1 and 2 obvious failures; 3 is not an indictment of the PGR, but of the reading comprehension skills of the various parties (and any such consequentialist arguments, he states in the comments, are failures because they don't consider that the positives, e.g., more information for grads, might outweigh the negatives, e.g., (my favorite) conservatism); and 4 fails since we all "walk around with some such reputational ranking of various programs."

**I leave it up readers to determine if they fall into the above four categories, are successful objections, etc. (I should note that I'm partial to the conservatism worry, as I mention at Spiros's original post.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On This Leiter/Jenkins Stuff

There's another brouhaha involving Brian Leiter this week. I'm too lazy to rehash the details, but if you're reading this you probably have a pretty good idea of what happened. (However, I suppose I should probably tell you to look at this, and then go see the discussion here.) I've been somewhat reluctant to wade into this issue, for a variety of reasons. (Not the least of which is that I don't like hearing from Brian Leiter.) But this seems like it's actually a pretty big deal, and a couple of people have asked us to say something, and I have grading to do, so I thought I'd make a couple of points and open things up for discussion.

1. I would like to express broad agreement with the things Jon Cogburn says here.

2. I think it's quite clear that Jenkins did not threaten Leiter in her blog post. I think it's pretty clear that she is reacting to Leiter--in particular, to his shall we say high-handed criticisms of Carolyn Dicey Jennings--but she is not threatening him. Of course, it's possible that I'm wrong, and I don't understand the concept of a threat as well as I think I do, but it seems to me that in order to threaten someone, you have to indicate an intention (possibly conditional) to do something that you think the person will find genuinely harmful. And I don't see where Jenkins is doing that, especially since the first thing she says is that she will treat other philosophers with respect.

3. It therefore seems to me that Leiter's response, which is nasty ("Are you going to spit at me if I see you at the APA or chase me from the room with a bat?"), mocking ("Does this mean I can’t list you as a reference?"), and much more clearly threatening ("calling me “unprofessional” is probably defamatory per se in Canada... It may be in the US too, I haven’t asked my lawyer yet, but I will."), is completely uncalled-for and inappropriate.

3a. I'd like to suggest that it would have been more constructive if he had done what I did when I found myself in a similar situation. I was in touch with Leiter (or, rather, he was in touch with me) throughout this past July regarding my own contributions to the discussion of the Jennings placement data and the associated Smoker comment threads. Near the end of that exchange, Leiter said some stuff that I took to be vaguely threatening. So, what I did was, I wrote back and asked him if he had, in fact, threatened me. He replied that no, he had not threatened me, and we were able to arrive at what I believe was a more-or-less mutually satisfactory resolution of our disagreement. Not to toot my own horn, but I think my strategy worked well (I was happy with it, at least), and I recommend it to others.

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, September 11, 2014

[Untitled Post About Dealing with an Anxiety Disorder/Depression in Grad School]

An anonymous Smoker writes:
In the course of getting my M.A. in philosophy, I was diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and major depression. During treatment I learned that, while I may have always been prone to anxiety or have had one of the disorders in particular since a very young age, extremely stressful environments can trigger the onset of mood and anxiety disorders and also worsen their symptoms. I just recently graduated with my M.A., maintaining excellent academic standing while also pursuing treatment. I would say I was anxious and depressed for 3/4 of my M.A. experience. I did not tell any of my advisors about my struggles in any detail, as I felt it might negatively impact how I might be perceived by potential letter-writers. Now that I’ve graduated, and am focusing more on my health, I am starting to feel a bit better. But now I’m plagued by the question of whether or not I am well suited for academia. 
I wanted to get other people’s opinions on whether it would be extremely unwise for me to enter a PhD program. I have been told and have read that the stress only compounds as you begin to have to focus on publications, writing a dissertation, the job market, etc. Knowing that stress could possibly trigger a relapse, and feeling as though the initial stress of graduate school is what triggered the onset of these issues in the first place, am I setting myself up to have a miserable 5-7 years ahead of me if I pursue the PhD? What are other people’s experiences, if anyone will share, struggling with mental health issues during the course of PhD work or working as a professor?
I've thought about this question a lot, and I keep coming back to the same three things: 1. It seems to me that if you are under the care of a good doctor whom you trust, and your symptoms are well controlled, you'll probably be in a position to be successful in a Ph.D. program; 2. Nevertheless, there is always some probability that your symptoms will return in what you correctly see as a stressful environment; and 3. I have no idea what I'm talking about. So rather than offer any concrete advice, I'd like to open the floor to the Smokers. What say you?

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cover letters for teaching schools

On the topic of job materials, Bonnie Kent (UC-Irvine) writes to us reminding us of the important differences between applying to research universities and more teaching-oriented schools:
Philip Howard’s advice about cover letters might be good for people applying to research universities, but it isn’t so good – might even be counterproductive -- for people applying to teaching-oriented schools. Considering that most of the available jobs are in teaching-oriented schools, I recommend that you read this (two-part) article by Terry McGlynn: 
Agreed! Take a look.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A new dossier service, now-shifting deadlines of the job market, and advice dump

(Ahem. Moving on.)

It's job market season. A few things.

I was e-mailed a while back about a new, FREE dossier service from Chronicle Vitae. Check out the FAQ, here. You might wanna use it.

As was pointed out by "ArrghJobMarket" in comments here (skip over all that other stuff; I got a bit carried away; ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), some departments are asking for applications to be submitted by October 1st, mentioning Princeton and Stanford.

These deadlines sounded like they were attached to post-doc apps, since these tend to have much earlier deadlines than do philosophy departments (something to keep in mind!). Sure enough, the Princeton application is for the Society of Fellows. (See Zombie's advice about applying to post-docs here.)

However, the Stanford job that was mentioned was for an Asst. Prof. job. So, it seems like Zombie's advice is spot-on and worth emphasizing:
There is no more print JFP. There is no more print JFP deadline, and hiring departments can set their application deadlines to suit their own needs/schedules. Consider the deadlines to be rolling for PhilJobs. Get your letters and dossiers together, peoples.
Now that it's advice-giving season, I came across this post from Philip N. Howard (UW-Seattle, Communications) on the twelve lines that should be part of any job application. It seems like it could be pretty helpful when adjusted for philosophy job market expectations.

For some insight into these expectations, see this recent post at Philosophers' Cocoon (and browse through their archives). Other, older discussions about prepping job materials are in the comments at the Smoker here (2011) and here (2012). See also these 2011 discussions, here and here, at NewAPPS (mentioned in Mr. Zero's 2011 post; browse through our archives/tags too).

And be sure to check out Karen L. Kelsky's, who does some paid consulting, but also offers can't-miss free advice at The Professor Is In .

Of course, the best advice in preparing job materials is "Make them good," where "good" can't be captured in any magic formula. Thus, more advice: Take all advice with a grain of salt. The only thing that can for sure take you out of the running for any job is a shitty application. This too is likely false; there are many other things that can take you out of the running, but it's the job application that you are directly in control of. Make it good and trust, as much as you can, your own judgments about quality while doing enough prepping to feel good about your judgment.

(And if you are on a search committee, consider this post about Eastern-APA interviews, Zombie's post about remote interviews, and consider filling out this form gathering information about first-round interviewing practices.)

-- Jaded, Ph.D.