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06/22/2020

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Seen it

I think the second worry is a really important worry. I have had similar concerns when I work at a different college. I felt my colleagues were interested in designing "fun" courses that would keep the students entertained. They did not take seriously the aspirations of our students to go to graduate school. Consequently, they did not help them prepare for it effectively. I think it was very disrespectful of the students, and shortsighted on their part.

M

"I believe that most faculty are wealthy white people..."

Do we evidence for the socioeconomic claim here? I am not sure what constitutes "wealth" in this context, but the faculty that I know are not wealthy, but often full up with debt, and sometimes living paycheck to paycheck. What are the statistics on how many faculty (and philosophy faculty in particular) are wealthy?

JT

re: @Seen it

I think it is important to bear in mind that the vast majority of students who take philosophy classes are not going to graduate school in philosophy (nor should they, given the job market and opportunity costs). If we are guided by the question - what would best serve the needs of our students? - I think there is real value in making courses fun, relatable, and relevant. Also, I find it problematic that "fun" is so often a pejorative in academia, as though "fun" disqualifies from being a meaningful learning experience. In my opinion, that's an equation for exclusion and empty seats.

This, of course, is not an excuse for short-changing students who want to go to graduate school. It seems like the issue could be addressed with thoughtfully advising the very few students planning for graduate school regarding course selection. And, if indeed there is a population of students seeking graduate school, to offer as best as possible the courses that will position them for success.

Tom

The rich part is easy: in the US starting salary for professors of all stripes is well above median income. So literally half the people in the country earn less than philosophy profs do in their first year on the job.

L

@M

Is it not your experience that most people in academia come from wealthy families?

Amanda

It is not my experience that most academics come from wealthy families. But it is my experience that most faculty at elite schools do...say Leiter top 30.

As for the median income, that is only tenure track, and the income statistics are misleading because last I heard it included everyone 15 and up! How much money do most 18 year olds make? Also while it is relevant to keep in mind the fact TT faculty make more than median income, not sure that makes you wealthy, especially given cost of living differences.

Elizabeth

Perhaps the more fruitful point to focus on in the original comment and the subsequent comments is how they invite us to interrogate our assumptions about people when we interact with them on online spaces such as this one - in which we don't know anything about their identity unless they tell you.

The original comment both demonstrates and critiques the practice of inferring what identity markers someone has, based on their own biases, their own imagination (or lack thereof), and the limited info they have (like someone being "a professor" or being "a grad student").

I will say that I have frequently made assumptions about the gender identity of posters on philosophy blogs (and journal reviewers of my papers!) due to statistical facts about the field, and the tone and nature of comments they make. Should I do this? Nope. I hope to hold myself to a standard of more humility and less bias.

a philosopher

I don't have much to say on worry #2. We should take the perspective of BIPOC philosophers seriously, and if they are concerned about being relegated to the "vocational track", then it's a real concern.

But at the same time, I think this concern at least in part misunderstands the proposal itself. The idea (at least as I would advocate for it) isn't that philosophy departments should have two "tracks": one for the professoriate, the other "vocational". The idea is that philosophy needs to be radically reshaped, such that philosophical research programs touch real world issues, professors work with stakeholders in industry, and we find and make better use of external funding.

To some extent this is already happening, e.g. with all the jobs going up this past year for people working on the ethics of big data. I imagine that with COVID-19, there will suddenly be a demand for people working on issues related to epidemiology, science-based policy, and the economic shutdown. Police racism and violence is another issue.

If more and more philosophers work on "relevant" issues, and develop professional ties to industries and organizations outside professional philosophy, the job thing for graduates will work itself out. For example, if a faculty member is working on issues related to science-based pandemic policy, and they have contacts in related government of NGO offices, then they likely have a rich network of contacts to share with their students for the purpose of internships, work experience, and job opportunities.

Regarding worry #1, I'm sure some of that happens, but I think it's wrong to view this website as some dichotomy between aloof, wealthy faculty who don't get it, and gritty graduate students struggling to get by. I don't actually know the breakdown of people on this site, but as a whole, there are obviously many types of people around. I've known plenty of aloof, wealthy graduate students. Many faculty are "gritty", e.g. carrying thousands in debt, employed in precarious semester-long contract jobs, and barely making enough to pay cost of living. Many of the "faculty" here (am I faculty?) don't even think of themselves in those terms. For example, I'm just some dude who has, since finishing his PhD, done everything from a good postdoc to working a part-time retail job for $11/hr. I was writing my dissertation when Trump was campaigning for president, so I certainly haven't forgotten what it's like to be a graduate student in philosophy. So, that's the position from which my advice comes.

Evan

The commenters on here have provided interesting perspectives. I’m going to touch up on (financial) wealth amongst professors. Currently the U.S.’ GDP per capita is $62,794 annually. That’s what the medium income is for the average American. According to the AAUP’s Faculty Compensation Survey, the average full time professor makes about $104,820 annually. That is $42,026 more than the average working person.

If we’re strictly looking at the salary and compare them, then we can argue that yes, the average college professor is wealthy. At least, compared to the average working or poor person.

But if we take a contextualized approach, we have to consider the cost of living. A college professor working in Honolulu is going to make more than a professor working in Austin, Texas because the cost if living is higher in Honolulu.

Thus, if we apply contextual analysis, it remains unclear as to whether or not the average (white) professor is actually “wealthy” since it will show us that it’s highly relative and dependent in certain a factors.

I don’t *exactly* know the essence of financial wealth in the U.S. or world. I think this could be an interesting and fruitful philosophical investigation. However, I think there are some reasonable or necessary criteria needed to consider somebody “wealthy” in the financial sense:

1. She must make enough money (or have enough money) to be able to afford to live in the most expensive city in the US or world.
2. She must make enough money (or have enough money) to not live “paycheck to paycheck.”
3. She must make enough money (or have enough money) to save at least 25% of her income or money without have to worry about paying for other things.
4. She must make enough money (or have enough money) to spend at least 50% of her income on overhead e.g. bills, rent, investment, mortgage, loans, etc. without having to worry about saving money or spending the rest of her money on other things.
5. She must make enough money (or have enough money) to spend at least 25% of her income or money on personal or miscellaneous things she enjoys without having to worry about paying for other necessities.

Obviously, these percentages are arbitrary. I got them from the Buddha’s advice he gave to a young householder. But nonetheless, it seems reasonable and practical in today’s time. Many of us agree that we should have at least three months worth of salary saved up anyways. These percentages may change depending on what most of us would consider being financially wealthy. It’s also a conservative criteria as well since debt is also part of overhead. There are people who aren’t rich, but have little to no debt. And there are rich people who still have debt to pay off. I don’t exactly know whether having or not having debt is a necessary criterion for being financially wealthy or not. But I think these criteria are fruitful starting points for empirical research.

I’m not going to add the futural aspect to this list because it’s uncertain whether or not somebody who is financially wealthy now will remain financially wealthy in the foreseeable future or even the next day. After all, most of us have heard of rich people who went bankrupt either suddenly or gradually. Thus, *actual* financial wealth status of somebody is applicable to the present and not the future.

Now, if these criteria are reasonable or necessary to consider somebody financially wealthy, then they raise the question: How many (white philosophy) professors are financially wealthy? I don’t have an answer, but this criteria could be fruitful for empirical research.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Evan: Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I think that AAUP figure may be a bit misleading, though.

What kind of average is that? A mean? A median? Is it for all professors as a class (assistant, associate, and full)? Is it for philosophy professors specifically? Here's why I think these details matter.

Full-professors can routinely make upwards of $100K. But that is usually after 15-20+ years on the job. Other full professors are stars that make $300+ on the job. Finally, salaries in other disciplines (business) are vastly higher than in the humanities.

My understanding is that it is not at all uncommon for full-time Assistant Professors in philosophy to make between $40K+ on the low end to $50-60K in some markets to $70-80+K in expensive cities. Given that PhD students have lived the previous decade of their life making low wages as grad students--often racking up years of student debt with interest--these kinds of salaries by *no* means qualify many of these people as wealthy by any measure. Many of the Assistant Professors I know live paycheck to paycheck and have a negative net-worth due to all the debt they racked up.

Evan

Marcus: I think it’s mean. At least that’s how I was taught to calculate the average. I used the word “medium” wrong in my first paragraph. So “average” is synonymous with the mean in this case.

To clarify, it’s for all professors. Specifically, “Associate professors had an average salary of $81,274, and assistant professors had an average salary of $70,791. The average salary for lecturers was $56,712, and the average salary for instructors was $59,400” (Pg. 1).

I think they just lumped all professors together and calculated the mean salary. I do agree that there are philosophy professors who aren’t wealthy. I don’t have data for just philosophy professors specifically. I think it would be fruitful to have data on them specifically in terms of their salary, title, job-description, etc.

If it is true that the average professor makes $104k annually, then we should provide possible explanations for why many philosophy professors specifically are not making that much in the first place.

These are some possible reasons for why: 1) a great many of them are just lecturers or instructors, 2) a great many of them are adjuncts, 3) a great many of them are just starting out, 4) a great many of them aren’t full time professors, 5) a great many of them don’t have tenure, and 6) a great many of them work in the humanities and not in other high paying departments, programs, or industries.

Given how small philosophy is as a department compared to other departments, it is not far fetched to infer that these are some of the reasons why many philosophy professors are making significantly less than the average professor.

My problem with the data is their distinction of “lecturer” and “instructor,” from that of associate and assistant professor. Don’t most professors lecture and provide some instruction anyways? I’m not sure why they made that distinction unless there is a significant difference between them that I’m not aware of.

Source:

https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/ARES_2017-18.pdf

Rex

@Evan,

Many states publicly post the salaries of faculty at state institutions. This may give you some better sense of what Philosophy faculty make in different areas.

E.g.,

https://data.tennessee.edu/salary-database/

anon

Can we come back to the OP's first point about graduate students being treated like adolescents?
Some of us have been studying philosophy for ten years (or longer, if you did a masters or took time off to read on your own before returning to grad school), yet when we raise a critique of philosophy's culture, we're treated like we don't know what we're talking about. I can see that pattern of engagement even here in the comments, where the OP is assumed to not know what wealthy means or what salary a professor makes. (As a grad student on the job market, I can tell you that we are intimately familiar with what wealth means and what first year professors tend to make.)
Adding to the OPs point, I've also seen this pattern happen elsewhere. For instance, whenever grad students object to philosophy's culture of combative Q&As, we are told some variation of: "That's just how things are done around here. We ask hard questions. You have to learn to live with this practice if you want to get a job as a professor" [translation: when you grow up and have real problems]
Thinking of grad students as overzealous, sheltered adolescents is an all too common problem that needs to stop. We are adults with families and other responsibilities, and in any other profession, ten years of labor would give us seniority and some level of respect. Why not academia? Why not philosophy? Let's not get distracted from that conversation!

Evan

Anon: People aren’t distracted from that conversation. OP made multiple claims and we have a right to respond to whichever claims they were making. The commenters are responding to points that they have answers to or concerns to raise. Other than that, I’m going to assume that they find OP’s first point valid anyways, which is possibly why they’re silent about it.

I am well aware of how philosophy students of color face stigmatization in the academy. I am also well aware that there are *many* wealthy white professors or white graduate students who don’t care about issues facing students of color or other marginalized students. I am also well aware that students of color have issues with being taken seriously as philosophers or academics in general. Many (white) professors are privileged to not know that some of their students are actually marginalized economically, academically, socially, etc.

Nevertheless, we are philosophers and many of us are academics and thus we should be careful about certain quantitative or empirical claims about “most” white philosophy professors. “Most” means more than 50% for those who don’t already know.

OP said they “believe that most faculty are wealthy white people.” OP did not claim to *know*. It was their belief. In general, I think many of us (marginalized people) have an idea of what wealthy generally means.

But that’s not the same as assuming or believing that more than 50% of white professors are wealthy. I know that *many* white faculties are wealthy due to publicly published wages, but whether *most* of them are, is still largely unknown.

There are ways to do phenomenological analysis of our experience without undermining standards of scholarship.

We all have our own idea of what it means to be wealthy. Granted, some homeless people would think we are already wealthy. But is that true? Do you understand the problem? It’s important to investigate wealth to have an objective understanding or maximal clarity of it so we don’t end up with unfruitful relativistic quietism, which would undermine actual economic justice for all of us.

If anything, it seems to me that some academics generally understand what it means to be wealthy, but they tend to keep it to themselves or beat around the bush about it and as a result, we get little done and provide little advancement to economic justice.

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