I'd like to comment here on this comment posted over at the Smoker, as it's something that used to bug me too, but which I have entirely changed my mind about:
A job portfolio contains a CV, writing sample, teaching evaluations, letters of recommendation, etc. In the presence of these other documents, I fail to see the predictive value of institutional pedigree at all. When a graduate student from Princeton who has no publications, no professional presentations, and only one complete chapter of a dissertation is awarded a job for which there were thirty candidates who had all of the above, something is wrong with the profession. And this happens routinely. It is fair to be bitter. The practice prevents the quick rise of talented philosophers, and instead, it perpetuates an unfair elitism in the profession.
Allow me to explain why I do not think it is fair to be bitter about this. Before I begin, I'd like to preface my remarks with the following self-disclosure: (1) I began my graduate career at Syracuse University, which was ranked #34 on the Gourmet Report at the time, (2) I transferred to Arizona, which was ranked #12 at the time, (3) I was not a "superstar" in graduate school, and (4) I am not a "superstar" now (I don't even have a tenure-track job). I'm disclosing all of this because I want to make it clear that I don't have a horse in this race. I have no illusions about being "better than anyone", and I'm not trying to "make myself feel better." No -- I'm someone, like many people reading this presumably, who has been beaten out for jobs by people from top-10 programs who have no publications.
First point: talent evaluation is a notoriously difficult process in just about every occupation, and there is a good deal of positive evidence that the kind division of labor that is usually set up to distinguish "top talent" from lesser talents -- a division of labor that in most occupations includes some analogue of "pedigree" -- tends to do just that. Here are two examples.
- First example: the National Football League. How do people end up in the NFL? Well, first they compete to get into top college football programs. Then, they compete in college to demonstrate their comparative talent against other similarly talented individuals. Then, their respective talents are evaluated at a "combine", where top players are compared to lesser players. It's usually pretty obvious at the combine that the division of labor described thus far has been pretty successful: the players who have succeeded the most tend to demonstrate better skills than those at lesser programs. Now, everyone admits that the results of this vast division of labor are defeasible. Only about 50% of first-round draftees out of college actually succeed. Still, this is far better than the success rates of second-rounders, who succeed more often than third-rounders, etc. Now, of course, there are elways exceptions. Some people who aren't even drafted out of college (e.g. Kurt Warner) or who are drafted very low (e.g. Tom Brady) succeed beyond everyone's wildest imaginations. It may seem unfair for people who have no professional experience -- e.g. Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, etc. -- to be handed millions of dollars and starting jobs straight out of college...but the evidence is that these "pedigree" players do tend to succeed more than non-pedigree ones.
- Second example: professional philosophy. There is a similar division of labor. People have to compete to get into top programs. Once in programs, they have to compete with other top people. Thus, there is a division of labor designed to separate top talent from lesser talents. This division of labor also tends to manifest its results in the equivalent of the NFL's "combine." I can tell you from experience that I've seen candidates with no publications come out of places like Rutgers and NYU totally blow my mind. I would also be willing to bet that search committee members would routinely say that many (though by no means all!) candidates from tip-top programs do pretty mind-blowing work, whereas this tends to be the case less often from candidates from lower-ranked programs.
Second point: just as is the case in most occupations -- including the NFL, business, etc. -- there are ample opportunities for people to demonstrate that they are the exception to the rule. On the one hand, there are people from top programs, both in the NFL and in philosophy, who don't make it at the next level because they just don't have the talent people thought they did. On the flip side, there are those who lack pedigree -- John Hawthorne is one obvious philosopher who comes to mind -- who prove they belong at a top level. John (whose student I used to be at Syracuse) started as a graduate student at Syracuse. If I remember correctly, without funding -- or at least without a fellowship. He wasn't even a "superstar" when he started Syracuse's grad program, and Syracuse itself wasn't a "superstar" program. Yet John eventually did work that impressed the profession-at-large, work that's now landed him at the very top of our profession. And that's the key: the quality of one's work speaks louder than words, pedigree, and all the rest. I believe -- on the basis of what I think is good evidence -- that quality of work tends to win the day, both in philosophy and other areas. If you really are good, people will notice. This is how the Tom Bradys, Kurt Warners, and John Hawthornes of the world got to where they are. Pedigree is important, epistemically -- but the rest of us have every opportunity to show that we are the exceptions.
These, in brief, are the reasons why I don't think it's fair to get bitter over people from top-10 programs getting jobs with no publications. Those people have proven themselves at every step through a vigorous, vast system of divided labor designed explicitly to distinguish top talent. They usually also demonstrate their talent in their work out of graduate school (even if they haven't published yet). Finally, and most importantly, the rest of us have every opportunity to compete: to show that our work and talent is worth taking a chance on. That, at least, is good enough for me.