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04/08/2020

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Grad Student

I was notified by University of Virginia that they would not make any new offers because of a graduate admissions freeze—which meant that no offers would be extended to those on the waitlist this year. The decision was administrative. Everyone I spoke to at administrative and department levels were kind and regretful—the situation is just terrible. These freezes, I assume, are just as warranted as hiring freezes. Nevertheless, I’m sad that, in the words of my youngest sibling, it be that way.

Justin Weinberg

One case here: http://dailynous.com/2020/04/08/u-arizona-retracts-ph-d-funding-pandemic/

Anonymous

I applied this cycle. I had one program in particular that I feel treated me horribly. I was waitlisted and never told I was waitlisted, told I would receive an email in an official capacity and never did, and now they’ve finally emailed me to say I am rejected because of COVID. This isn’t just me, I know other students on the same waitlist who were also treated horribly. I would like to express to this department that I find this treatment completely unacceptable, but obviously this would have negative personal repercussions. I guess my question is: does anyone even care? For as much as people here love to pretend they have grad students’ interests in mind (see the recent APA post), it’s ALWAYS graduate students who get thrown to the wolves at the first sign of trouble, and the attitude here is ALWAYS just to tell us to get used to treated horribly instead of having our back.

Amanda

My university is discussing whether or not to go to the waitlist, but we did not rescind any offers. No decision has been made yet, but we will decide soon. Leiter has a post today about a university that did however, rescind offers (or the financial aid that goes with those offers) and those accepted students must be heart broken. It is not the fault of the philosophy faculty, of course, but I doubt that is much consolation to the students. Especially when COVID means that it would be a horrible time to go look for a job, so perhaps a great time for grad school.

professor

Anonymous: I know at our school, a primary reason for not going to the waitlist is that we want to continue to fund our *current* graduate students. They will be going on a market with almost no jobs, and while we typically can extend funding beyond the contracted offer we give students when first accepted, we have lots of reason to worry that this will not be the case anymore. There is a lot that is simply out of the control of faculty.

That said, it is no excuse for not being upfront with students about the state of the game. I think, though, rudeness is a problem in all aspects of professional philosophy, and treating persons inconsiderately is certainly not limited to graduated students.

I am curious what you mean by, 'waitlisted and never told you were waitlisted.' How did you find out, then? Did they send you and email that said, "You were on the waitlist but because of COVID-19 you no longer are on the waitlist, your application is rejected." ?

Anonymous

@professor I solicited late into the cycle. My complaint is not that there are waitlists, but that the well-being of graduate students is very low in the list of priorities for most departments.

DS

There is literally no incentive for programs to treat grad students better, except for maybe the very top, well funded programs in order to compete over the very top students (Princeton, Harvard, Yale).

I agree with anonymous: That APA statement accomplishes literally nothing. Grad students are a fungible commodity. Can anyone think of a reason to treat them better besides 'it's ethical'. But we know universities aren't ethical: look at the treatment of adjunct wage slaves (which is essentially what grad students are, but grad students cost even more than adjuncts, since they have to be given health benefits and tuition wavers).

I am of course complicit in the system. I am the chair of a CC philosophy department, and 66% percent of my sections are taught by adjuncts. I and several other faculty had been advocating for the creation of full time lectureships (lectureships would pay less than TT positions, but there would be benefits and no service requirements), and it seemed like I was getting some traction with the VPI (in part because the strong economy was making it hard to find and keep capable part time people, especially in the sciences), but now that will not happen with COVID-19 causing huge deficits in state budgets.

I'm just glad I finished up 6 years ago and dont have to go through this! Recessions are usually good for CC enrollments, so perhaps down the road there will be more CC full time positions, but at least not in the immediate future.

Anonymous

An indirectly related fact: Several current PhD students in that rescinding-funding-program even told me that they literally do not get any funding from the program.

Illusion of Terra

In a major university here in Europe we are just having
our PhD interviews for the next semester. In theory the university could just not hold the interviews and reject all candidates. But since we cannot reallocate the money which was applied for for new Phd students, or at least it would be a bureaucratic chore, they will be conducted as planned and the successful candidates will receive their funding.
It's great for them but that money won't go to prolonged funding of current graduates who can't find a job.

Mike

@Anonymous: "For as much as people here love to pretend they have grad students’ interests in mind (see the recent APA post), it’s ALWAYS graduate students who get thrown to the wolves at the first sign of trouble, and the attitude here is ALWAYS just to tell us to get used to treated horribly instead of having our back."

I'm a bit confused. If you're just applying to programs, how do you know what it's like to be a grad student in philosophy? Are you an MA student applying to PhD programs?

In any case, I think this claim is wildly unfair and made from a lack of perspective. It's of course true that graduate programs could treat students better, and that graduate students are exploited in various ways. But (as you seem to know), so are many other people at other levels of the profession. I've been a grad student, an adjunct at CCs, a VAP, and a postdoc, and without making direct comparisons, I can say with certainty that the worst I was treated was *not* my time as a graduate student. I've been around the discipline for over a decade now, and my impression from talking to lots of people (all over the world) is that my experiences aren't unique.

Many philosophers (and philosophy departments) are unprofessional and handle things like hiring searches in ways that would be totally unacceptable in industries outside philosophy. Philosophy is filled with a lot of rude, out-of-touch people. But it's also filled with lots of good people with self awareness doing their best (like Marcus and Amanda). The discipline, overall, is supportive of graduate students and most people do their best to work within the tough conditions they find themselves. At the end of the day, it's university administrators who make the budgets and constrain what departments can do.

I'm posting this defense because I imagine other students applying to grad programs, who may be affected by COVID-19 cuts, will visit this thread. I just want to say: don't take this personally. You're no more being thrown under the bus than all the people on the *job* market now finding their own offers being rescinded, or contingent faculty finding out that their contracts won't be renewed, or (what may start to happen) *tenured* faculty finding out they're being cut via retrenchment.

Anonymous

@Mike Thanks for proving my point. What is your point? That because academia is exploitative in other ways that — what? — we should just accept the conditions of graduate students as they are? If that’s the message you want to give, then I was right to say that you regard the content of the recent APA post bullshit, since that stresses the unique precarity graduate students face (no, I am not implying that this precarity is *worse* than that faced in various temporary positions).

It is also odd and vaguely theatening to have people who position themselves explicitly as my superiors try to solicit information about my personal situation.

Mike Titelbaum

The Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has informed our applicants that we will not be admitting anyone from our waitlist. To be clear—and to avoid inspiring further anxiety—this was a decision we made within our department, not because of any administrative edict or budgetary constraints. We had an unusually high acceptance rate this year, and so have already reached the target size for our incoming class. We couldn’t see ourselves admitting anyone further off our waitlist next week, so we decided to announce that now, in hopes that it allows the people on our waitlist to make other acceptance decisions as soon as possible. In these times of uncertainty, we figured it was better to give people information as early as possible so they could move decisively.

We still have a few admissions offers outstanding, and are dearly hoping those folks will join our program. All of the offers we made—both accepted and as yet unaccepted—are still good, along with their guarantees of financial support.

If any other departments find themselves in a similar fortunate position with respect to their acceptances, I would encourage them to consider a similar course.

Graduate Student

The responses from Mike and Professor are excellent demonstrations of why this is not a safe or encouraging place for grad students.

Marcus Arvan

Graduate student: Thanks for raising your concern. I will confess that I had some uneasiness regarding approving those comments. But I try not to moderate with a heavy hand, so as to shut down discussion. Instead, I usually respond to reader concerns like your own when they arise. But I think you're right: I messed up here as moderator.

In any case, now that you have raised your concern, I will moderate more carefully. This forum's mission is very important to me, and the general feedback I have received is that we do a pretty good job of satisfying it. Of course, nobody is perfect, and moderating is not easy (it is always a difficult decision whether to shut down conversation or allow it to continue).

I can assure you that I will not approve any further comments of the sort that have made this thread an unsupportive place. Further, given that your concerns appear to be more general than this thread, I will redouble my efforts to moderate more rigorously on the blog moving forward.

Amanda

Marcus, I am honestly confused about the problems with Mike's and professor's comments. Can you explain? Is it that they asked questions about the poster? The poster can (justifiably) just not answer. But I am not sure I would have read either of those questions as ill-willed.

I think "professor's" point was that they do care about grad students, they are just forced to choose between current and future ones, and they are restrained and can't choose both.

I think Mike's point was *not* that it is okay to exploit grad students because we exploit everyone. Rather, I think his point was that there is not evidence that grad students are "the first to be thrown to the wolves." Because so many people in academia are treated poorly, it might be hard to establish who is treated the worst.

My own thoughts are that there is a huge variation in the treatment of grad students, adjuncts, etc. So that who is treated "worst" will probably vary by institution.

Again, a serious note: what should departments be doing in this time, if they are very constrained by administration rules? Our department has been giving grad students (current ones) money out of various donor funds and fellowships. We are giving students extra time to graduate and pass their exams. We are providing extra years of funding whenever possible. We are trying our best to get jobs for students who are currently on the market (or will be in the fall, I should say.) We sent out resources about mental health services. I am happy to take other suggestions.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: The overall tenor of the conversation doesn't seem very supportive (claiming someone views something as "bullshit", claiming comments to be "vaguely threatening", etc.). I debated whether to approve Grad Student's comment last night when it first came in, as it made me feel uneasy. The fact that Grad Student experienced the conversations as unsafe and unsupportive as well made me think I should have trusted my gut on this one. Fwiw, I myself didn't find anything objectionable in Mike's comment. I just shared Grad Student's concern that the conversation had veered away from this blog's mission.

On that note, I take it there's no Platonic Form regarding what constitutes a Safe and Supportive environment. I have always made it clear that this blog's policy aims to err on the side of ensuring such a forum rather than not. I'm happy to give free reign to debating issues (viz. whether grad students are adequately supported in the profession or not). But when things begin to look acrimonious, as they began to here, and other readers raise concerns, I do feel the need to step in.

Anonymous

Look, you have to pick between these two options: either graduate students are a particularly precarious and exploited worker (as the APA said and as professors like to say) or they have it relatively well off and should just shut up about mistreatment. They both can’t be true at the same time. I believe that professors send mixed messages about this intentionally: they tell the graduate students about how bad their situation is, about how it is unjust, and how they will fight for them, but the second they will receive *any* form of blowback for this they will immediately fold. Look, it may not be true of your department, but it is simply a fact that in many or most departments graduate students are not paid anything close to a living wage because professors assume graduate students are well-off 20 year olds who don’t need the money because they have no substantial obligations. And if you want philosophy to continue to be the worst discipline in the humanities about class, race, and gender (perhaps apart from classics), then this is a good recipe for success.

[MODERATOR: this comment has been edited for content. This blog is not a place for ad hominem comments targeting the integrity of particular individuals].

Prof L

"Safe and supportive" can be twisted into dishonesty if it's interpreted as "validation/affirmation". I think the claim that "It's always graduate students who are thrown to the wolves" is false, and should be challenged. In my experience, adjuncts are thrown to the wolves. And then contract faculty. And then, perhaps in different ways, graduate students.

If someone is under the impression that exploitation will cease once they receive a PhD in philosophy, well, they ought to be disabused of that notion, especially if they are considering pursuing a PhD in philosophy. I find it a bit strange that Marcus was considering not approving the comments of those who seem even-keeled and sympathetic, even though they are not in agreement with all of Anonymous's claims. That some people *experience* disagreement as not supportive does not mean that it is not supportive.

Marcus Arvan

Prof L: just to be clear, I have not and will not consider doing that. I will absolutely approve even-keeled comments sympathetic with Anonymous's position. What I require is that comments on this blog express themselves in ways that do not undermine this blog's mission. I ask all commenters to be charitable and preserve what makes this place different a more supportive than other places. That is all.

DS

I definitely agree with Prof L. If you think grad students are treated poorly, just wait, you'll find Ph.D. holders who are treated worse or about just as poorly.

"If someone is under the impression that exploitation will cease once they receive a PhD in philosophy, well, they ought to be disabused of that notion, especially if they are considering pursuing a PhD in philosophy."

Basically, this is what I was trying to say in my own earlier post about adjuncts, but I think Prof L put it much better. If it seem terrible to a person as a grad student, they should get out while they still can. Sadly, a great number of Ph.D. holders and aspirants will simply be treated with little consideration, and there is very little incentive within the system to change that.

I certainly think aspiring academics should hear it now rather than later.

Amanda

Okay, thanks Marcus. Neither of the problematic comments you mentioned were made by Mike or Professor. But I understand the veering off topic concern, and about the general tone of the discussion. These are hard times. We are probably all more stressed than usual.

Prof L

Thanks Marcus, I think I got lost somewhere in the dialectic. What you say makes a lot of sense.

Amanda

Anonymous: I didn't hear anyone say anything about graduate student wages. Nor about not having any responsibilities like 20 year olds. Maybe I missed that.

Anyway, I think all of these things below can be, and are, true:

1. Graduate students should be treated much better. They are often treated poorly and inexcusably so, and we (the profession) should make efforts to make things better. (All professors, of course, were graduate students at one time.)

2. Many people in the profession are making lots of effort, effort that they are not in any sense mandated to make, to improve the lives of graduate students. Lots of faculty members care about graduate students, and they go out of their way to help.

3. Lots of faculty do not even adhere to their basic professional duties owed to grad students, much less go above and beyond. Many faculty are morally and professionally blameworthy for the poor way in which they treat graduate students.

4.Often what actual philosophy professors can do to help graduate students is severely restrained by administrative decisions out of the control of faculty.

I think the world is complex. And so is the condition of graduate students and faculty. All of the above things can be true, without contradiction. I believe they all are true (but that is up for debate.)

I don't take a position on exploitation, because I find that entire discussion confusing to the point of not knowing what the word means. However, there is not a contradiction in saying that grad students are exploited and in a precarious position and also that they are relatively well off. The key is relatively. If everyone is exploited and in a precarious position, then it is possible to be *relatively* well off when exploited, etc. I *don't* think this is the case with grad students, but just pointing that out.

Marcus Arvan

"These are hard times. We are probably all more stressed than usual."

Thanks Amanda. I agree, and I empathize (and to the extent that I cannot, sympathize) with what everyone is going through. I myself raged against the profession, both as a grad student and beyond. And I understand that now are especially dire times. I wish everyone the best, and I am trying to do my part to help improve things, as I know are you and other people of good will.

anonymous junior faculty

"Look, it may not be true of your department, but it is simply a fact that in many or most departments graduate students are not paid anything close to a living wage because professors assume graduate students are well-off 20 year olds who don’t need the money because they have no substantial obligations. And if you want philosophy to continue to be the worst discipline in the humanities about class, race, and gender (perhaps apart from classics), then this is a good recipe for success."

I think part of why this conversation is difficult for *some* faculty is that blame gets attributed to (at least in some cases, e.g. this sweeping generalization) the wrong people. I teach at a university in a high cost of living city; our PhD students are grossly underpaid, and cannot survive on the salary that my university pays them. The entire time I have been in my job, our faculty have (almost, but not quite universally) been extremely concerned about this fact and have been trying to push our administration to change it. While I love my colleagues, I don't think they are incredibly unusual in this respect. I'm sure there are places where the faculty literally doesn't care what happens to the grad students financially, but I think this is the exception and not the norm. (And not necessary for altruistic reasons; it's better for a department along a whole host of dimensions if graduate students are treated fairly and well and are paid a living wage.)

I'm still an assistant professor, but one thing that really hit me when I started my job straight out of grad school was that I needed to reconsider how I had been assigning blame for various problems in my graduate program. Certain things are structurally very hard to change, especially at less rich universities. I think we should think hard before we blame faculty in a department for things that are I think mostly structural problems with the academy as a whole, the way power is distributed within it, and the lack of public funding for higher education.

(Similarly: I am lucky to work at a place that does not rely on adjunct labor very much at all; but we also have little control over, e.g., what happens to the lecturers in our department. We can prioritize things, work hard to change them, but at the end of the day, it's a question of whether the administration is motivated to listen to us and take our concerns seriously, and them balancing our concerns against their own financial interests.)

There are all sorts of things that are like this, not just grad student salary, but this comment really jumped out at me. It turns out my department (and other humanities depts in my university) has managed to finally make a difference with respect to grad student salaries after arguing with our administration for years; but the difference involves making a choice between something that will harm our department in various ways (both faculty and graduate students) but will increase graduate student salaries, and maintaining the status quo. Very often, behind the scenes, at best these are the kinds of scenarios that philosophy departments face.

I think that it is helpful to remind ourselves that the real structural problems with the academic world are not things that any of the kinds of people commenting on or reading philosophy blogs are centrally responsible for. Of course we all contribute to maintaining the status quo in certain ways when we aren't actively resisting, but I think it is important to keep in mind that active resistance, even on the part of people who *seem* powerful to graduate students and undergraduates (e.g.: an entire philosophy department faculty!) often does absolutely nothing with respect to effecting change.

(Also, for what it's worth, at most universities humanities PhD students who are funded all make at least roughly the same amount of money, so I doubt that the very true claim that humanities PhD students are underfunded and underpaid is a central contributor to philosophy being less diverse than other humanities.)

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous junior faculty: Your entire comment is really great. One thing that I don't think a lot of people appreciate is that a great deal of hard work goes on behind the scenes--work that usually isn't readily apparent or recognized.

For example, it's sometimes argued that tenure-track and tenured faculty don't care about adjuncts or do anything to change things for the better. At my university, though, faculty worked tirelessly for well over a decade in our Faculty Senate to create new full-time, full-benefits positions (to lessen dependence on low-pay adjunct labor), as well as family leave for all faculty and staff. It was a very difficult and long process, and to anyone who wasn't aware that it was going on, it might have appeared that 'no one cared.'

My own experience in the academy is that there are a LOT of people working very hard to improve things (though of course there are also those who don't). But, as you note, due to power structures, etc., changing things for the better is usually very, very hard--and all of the hard work is not always apparent to people who don't see what is going on behind the scenes.

Mike Titelbaum

Just to build on what Marcus said: Since becoming chair of my department, I've learned a lot about how decisions get made in my university, who makes them, and who's on which sides of which debates. I've also seen a number of instances of people attacking the individuals who are actually the strongest supporters of their cause. There are good reasons I didn't know these things before—I was busy doing my teaching, advising, and research. But now that I know them, I've tried to share the information with others in my department.

Of course the best thing would be to have real victories in these fights, and to pay graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty in line with their actual value. But in the process of trying to do that, at least letting them know that those closest to them in the academy recognize their value can go a little ways towards decreasing angst and alienation.

Amanda

I have also seen many attacks on persons who are the strongest supports of "the cause." Maybe this is because righteous indignation feels good, even intoxicating. Such indignation is often justified, too. However, the direction of it often is often unjustified, it seems. I think the misdirection is explained by the fact that the supports are also those willing to listen. Faculty who simply don't care about grad students won't even make efforts to hear the complaint.

G2

I’m happy to hear that faculty are so eager to help graduate students. Does anyone have any recommendations for the problem mentioned in the original post by anonymous?

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