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03/20/2017

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Philosophy Adjunct

"I know my rant came off as whiny and unappreciative and I am sorry for that."

This is not exactly to the substance of the thread but I would like to say that I don't think you are being either whiny or unappreciative. Being treated with respect and with fairness is your right, and those who don't treat you that way are assholes (and whatever status and power they have doesn't change that, however strongly they might believe it does). I do not think you should be apologetic for insisting on being treated properly. Making you feel like you are whining and unappreciative is a tactic of control our 'superiors' use to keep us in line, to keep their power unchecked, and the culture of the profession unchanged.

S

I take Marcus's points and I do think they're excellent advice. We can and should make a difference through individual actions. And we shouldn't live in fear. (This last one is something I'm struggling with after years as either an adjunct or "visiting" faculty.) But we shouldn't deny that there are huge systematic obstacles to better individual behavior and limits to what better individual behavior can do. Take Amanda's point about how little the profession values teaching. Now I think that's horrible for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that good teaching is a lot more important and meaningful than is vast majority of the so called "research" that so many philosophers spend their time on. I'll leave aside the legitimate questions about the basic validity good many research programs in contemporary analytic philosophy that people like Dennett and van Fraasen have raised, even though I tend to agree with them. Even assuming there's some merit to the research the odds are that if you teach an intro class well you'll do more to change some people's thinking or at least broaden their perspective than if you publish a paper in even the Phil Review.
So teaching is arguably a better investment of our time than is much of our research. However, if you make the choice to focus on teaching then you will almost certainly be punished for that choice unless you're full time faculty at a community college (as I am), full time faculty at a very teaching focused SLAC, or lucky enough to have one of those rare teaching gigs that aren't full time but have a lot of security and a real path for advancement. Teaching well takes time and most of us have only so much of it, so if you invest time in teaching that time has to come from somewhere. If it comes at the expense of your research then you'll hurt your chances at tenure or sabotage whatever chance you have at moving on from being an adjunct. You could always shortchange your hobbies or family, but that's asking for a lot of sacrifice. Add to that the fact that the low regard that many philosophers' have for teaching makes it extremely hard for most people in research focused schools to maintain their enthusiasm for teaching. If admin and your colleagues say with both actions and words that teaching doesn't matter that will have an affect on you. Good teaching is valued and rewarded at my current institution and it wasn't at my previous one. Now while I've always thought teaching was important, I'd be lying if I said that the institutional incentives and focus didn't push me to be a better teacher here than I was at the last place.
So there are real limits on this front to what individual good behavior can accomplish. The problem is that I have no idea how we can make systematic change here. The only thing that occurs to me is that if the public were really aware how little academics value teaching there may well be such a scandal that they'd be forced to.

Pendaran Roberts

I'm not sure how blind peer review is. I have few connections and unpopular views, but have managed to build up a nice publication list. So, it doesn't seem to be a big problem for me; perhaps I'd do better if it were more blind?

However, invited publications for edited volumes etc are clearly an in-group thing. Established people give their friends and students these invitations.

The result is that people with the right connections can be more or less handed publications, giving them a leg up, whereas the rest of us have to compete on the open market, so to speak.

I know invited publications are worth less, in theory. However, the way many people write their CVs it can be difficult to tell invited from non-invited (do they do this on purpose?). As such, I'm not sure they are always weighted less.

Second Time Around

I understand Amanda's frustrations, and I would recommend getting out of Philosophy. By virtue of completing (or being close to completing) a PhD, and actually landing interviews, it is likely that you are an intelligent, talented, and motivated person. Intelligent, talented, and motivated people are in demand in the world. Leave academia. Be happier.

Amanda

Pen,

You might indeed do better if it were more blind. I would guess that around 30-60% of published pieces are actually done the right way, blinded. But that still leaves a significant percent that isn't. Rather than the thought the ordinary people have no chance with publishing, I think the more accurate summary is connected people have a huge advantage.

I appreciate everyone's feedback! I certainly think that it is incumbent upon those who stay in the profession to try and make it better:)

Second Time Around - I don't leave the profession because I love philosophy, and in spite of all the hardships I mentioned, there is still enough good stuff to keep me in. The other reason is that there is not an obvious alternative path. I think there are alternative paths, but the issue is most of the desirable ones really take a year of either full-time training or job searching. This is a hard thing to manage as a single person.

Analytic philosopher

Cronyism is a huge problem these days, in all its forms: from publication, in the ways Amanda and Pendaran Roberts point out and in other ways (e.g. through adherence to amateurish rankings of journals), to actual job hiring, both directly and indirectly (e.g. through a preference for supposedly better PhD-granting departments). Possibly even more of a problem is the chasm between the nature of supposedly top contemporary analytic philosophy and the nature of (Western) philosophy tout court, or even of analytic philosophy in its earlier days. Contemporary analytic philosophy's scholasticism is linked to its cronyism and each makes the other worse. No-one really complains as loudly as the situation deserves---I am no exception. Haack, Dennett, Searle, Unger, McNaughton and a few others sometimes speak out, but they are mostly ridiculed away as too old, confused or not sufficiently rigorous as philosophers to be worth engaging with. The decadence of analytic philosophy is a real thing, with its accompanying nominating-of-horses-to-senate practices. The reduction of trust in and consequently funding to philosophy on the part of institutional funding bodies is a consequence of the decadence of analytic philosophy. However, the absence of any real alternative (in Continental philosophy for instance) and the increasing adoption of the analytic framework in emerging markets (China for instance) make a real change unlikely in the short term. The revolution will come one day but, I worry, not soon enough for us to enjoy it.

Amanda

I think you're right Analytic philosopher. And I think there is a large contingent of professional philosophers who agree. However, there is also a very vocal contingent that disagrees, and when people speak out they are usually blasted in the most negative way (as you mention). Michael Huemer recently gave what I consider a great criticism of contemporary philosophy, but almost all responses criticized him for it. Part of me suspects this is due to his political views, but that's just a guess.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda & Analytic Philosopher: As luck would have it, I was already composing a post on this very topic for next week (or perhaps the week after). Stay tuned!

Pendaran Roberts

Cronyism is a huge problem. It tends to be worse is highly competitive areas, because determining merit becomes too difficult. When there are so so many great candidates for a job, including your friend, it's much easier to select your friend, than when there are less candidates and some are clearly the best.

Amanda

Great!

Analytic philosopher

Thanks, Amanda. I had not seen the Huemer discussion on Daily Nous. Marcus (if I may), I very much look forward to your discussion of these themes. Yours is quickly becoming the best philosophy blog I know.

If I may add one more root of the problems contemporary analytic philosophy faces, I'd mention the incapacity, for lack of selection committees' perceiving abilities, their disinterest or for external institutional constraints, to discern a good philosopher from their job applications. Knowing how to put together a convincing application is a skill, and mentors, academic consultants and the like can help with that. Knowing where to publish and how to publish where one wants to publish are also important skills and pieces of knowledge. But having these skills does not necessarily make one a good philosopher, nor does a good philosopher necessarily have those skills.

Is this a reality that is taken into account? Or is it simply brushed off below the proverbial carpet because it is easier or more convenient for one's own time or friends to do so? Or is it, perhaps even more worryingly, the case that it has become really difficult for philosophers to realize that philosophical quality is not covariant with good packaging, and to discern the latter from the former?

Whichever is the case, philosophy has a(nother) problem.

Marcus Arvan

Analytic philosopher: Thank you for your very kind comments on the blog! :)

I have been pressing on some of these issues for quite a while. Academic hiring practices are anachronistic and at odds with our best science. Decades of science show that we should hire people on the basis of past accomplishments and performance, NOT packaging (this is my spouse's field, who is a PhD candidate at the #2-ranked program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology).

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2016/01/on-academic-hiring-practices-and-the-science-of-selection.html

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/02/more-news-on-the-interviews-are-worse-than-useless-front.html

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2016/01/more-reasons-why-interviews-shouldnt-matter.html

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/01/nobody-wants-to-hire-weirdos.html

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