Monday, October 1, 2012

The Absurdity of Politics and Employment in Philosophy

The dilemma: be good at your field, or be reputable in your field.

I would respond to an article at Inside Higher Ed entitled "Mid-Tier Doctoral Programs". In it, the semi-anonymous author asks why graduate students apply to "mid-tier" graduate programs given the poor chance of employment. I would respond to the situation within philosophy, which may be at some remove to what the article targets. The author has a point, but there are some areas where this line of thinking falls terribly short.

What counts as mid-tier and why? The author ignores the politics of this. Let's start with an example.

There is no "top-tier" institution that teaches American pragmatism. Also, if I am remembering a colleague's words correctly, it is in question whether a "top-tier" institution is teaching Black/Africana/African diaspora philosophy. This leaves persons interested in those fields in a bind. Either attend a "top-tier" institution and gain reputation and status in the profession, or attend an institution that trains one in the field of study, but sacrifice employability. But since one's graduating institution is often also a stand-in for credentials, institutional reputation de facto matters more than training. Worse, non-specialists cannot tell the difference between reputation and training or scholarship.

The so-called "mid-tier" universities are often those not from the *political* top of the heap, which is frequently conflated with the *intellectual* top of the heap. It is horrifying that intellectuals are so blind to their situation. Consider another example.

Schools specializing in American pragmatism and continental philosophy are often not considered "top-tier" by the general standards of the Leiter Report or analytic philosophy, but are top-tier within their own traditions. This is why the Pluralist Report was launched last year, and anyone familiar with both will recognize that they are wholly incongruent.

Why mention this?  The philosophy job market begins today with the publication of the Jobs for Philosophers. For anyone in pragmatism on the market who was trained at the top-tier pragmatism schools, e.g., University of Oregon, Texas A&M, Vanderbuilt, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, etc, we all face this bind. Continentalists face a parallel bind. Asianists face problems as well, but the analogies break down.

Finally, I salute and thank fellow scholars who recognize this problem and are trying to overcome it. We do not have to be at odds, and we do not have to build fences.  But we must recognize the politics that infuse a profession even if we do not want to engage them, else we will surely become ensnared.


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