Daily Nous and Leiter Reports have linked today to this Inside HigherEd piece describing a new "accelerated PhD program" at UC Irvine. I'm not prepared to say that I think the new program is all-things-considered bad idea, but I do have some serious concerns about it.
Here's a brief overview:
Under the so-called 5+2 program, humanities graduate students at Irvine will receive additional funding designed to push them through course work and their dissertations within five years. Those who finish within that time frame are eligible to apply for an up to two-year, teaching-intensive postdoc.
Irvine’s 5+2 program, which two departments are set to pilot in the fall, works something like this: year one is a fellowship with course work, followed by a funded summer with attendance at a teaching institute. Year two is a teaching assistantship with course work, through which the student identifies an adviser and dissertation committee. If the student has made appropriate progress, he or she attends another funded summer teaching institute.
In year three, the student takes on another teaching assistantship, and completes his or her qualifying exams and prospectus (to be approved by a five-member advancement committee by spring). Successful students see another funded summer and attend a third summer teaching institute. There’s another teaching assistantship in year four in composition or the university’s signature freshman Humanities Core program for intended humanities majors and most honors students. There’s also dissertation research and writing. Those who’ve made satisfactory progress get another funded summer and attend a teaching seminar.
Year five is a fellowship to complete one’s dissertation. Successful new Ph.D.s are offered assistant adjunct professorships to teach in Humanities Core and possibly in their own departments in year six, with two-thirds of a full teaching load and two-thirds the pay of tenure-track assistant professors. Those with a strong teaching record are reappointed in year seven.
Okay, so let me get this straight. Students in this new program are expected to take one year of coursework before identifying an advisor and dissertation committee in year two. Then, in year three, the student is expected to complete their comp exams and dissertation prospectus.
This seems patently absurd. There are almost no philosophy PhD students who are competent to select a PhD dissertation topic after a year or two of coursework while studying for their comp exams. The only way I could see this being at all feasibly is if grad program faculty strongly steer students toward dissertation topics that they, their advisors, consider promising. But this seems to me a terrible idea. If there's one way to undercut someone's philosophical development as an autonomous, original thinker, steering them toward a dissertation in their second or third year of graduate school is almost certain to do the trick. I've already raised concerns about how disciplinary trends--teaching students primarily how to write 'publishable articles' above all else (including above developing an original, large-scale research program)--increasingly threatens to turn grad programs into a philosopher-assembly-line making 'mass-produced philosophers.' We should be very wary of pushing students through programs so quickly that they have little opportunity to develop their own philosophical identity--and I see little way in which forcing students to declare advisors, dissertation committees, etc., in their first two years can avoid this.
Finally, I share the worry that some have at Daily Nous that because very few students are likely to complete all the stuff such a program asks for in five years (coming up with and writing a dissertation is not easy), what will in fact happen is that students will spend their last two years struggling to finish their dissertation while working under the program's admittedly "high teaching load." Consequently, what I expect will happen is that a good proportion of these students won't finish their dissertations--because they will be so distracted by their teaching duties their last two years--and so, after their seventh year, will lose funding and at best become contingent faculty somewhere with little pay or benefits.
In short, although only time will tell, I highly doubt that this new program will succeed, and even if it does, I believe it is likely to have unexpected costs on students and the discipline more broadly, undermining philosophical development once again for the sake of faster "professionalization."