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09/26/2022

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one perspective

I do not work at an elite university, but I moved from a teaching centered college to a research university, and for me the move has been great in every respect. I have much more financial support for my research, my new location has led to many invitations to give talks (more than I can accept), and I have been significantly more productive (2 monographs and an edited volume + many articles in 5 years). I teach less, and more tightly related to my research interests; I also teach graduate students (which I did not before). I enjoy teaching, but there was always too much of it. My teaching load is significantly lower now. I am sure many of my former colleagues would not enjoy my current job, as you required to be quite an active researcher. So a lot hangs on what you value.

Daniel Weltman

I think there are at least three axes of "elite-ness" to consider: 1) how elite the university is broadly, 2) how elite the university is with respect to research, and 3) how elite the philosophy department is.

Axis 1 is about the university's reputation with normal people. Does the university attract students with wealthy parents who are status focused, top performing students who want to get the best education they can, and other students who want to go to a "good" university? Or does it have a reputation as a party school? Etc. The Ivy Leagues are very elite in this sense. Most state colleges less so, and among the state colleges there's some hierarchy, etc. And so on.

Axis 2 is about the university's reputation in academia. Are faculty there expected to do a lot of research? Are tenure standards pretty high? Does the university value research as much as or more than teaching, or are there few or no research expectations? All sorts of colleges can be elite in this sense, although I think it's almost always larger universities that have this reputation. The R1 universities are the most elite, the R2 less elite, etc.

Axis 3 is about the philosophy department's reputation. This is often pretty close to axis #2 but some universities are higher on one than the other.

I went to undergrad at a pretty fancy place along all 3 axes, especially the first 2. I went to grad school at a pretty fancy place along the second two axes, but only mildly along the first axis. I now teach at a very fancy place on the first axis but not quite as much on the second and not at all on the third axis (it's a SLAC that cares about research a decent amount).

I am very new in the profession so I don't have a lot of experience, and my thoughts should thus be taken with a grain of salt. But in general I think there are two main things to say. 1) there's a lot of variation, even between two universities positioned similarly along all the axes, and 2) there are definitely differences. I won't elaborate on point #1 although it might turn out to be the most important point, since the particulars of where you are at will determine quite a bit about your experience. Some places buck the trends! Instead, though, I'll say a bit about point #2.

In my (again, extremely limited) experience, the first axis can make quite a bit of difference in terms of the students you are teaching, and thus in terms of what it's like to teach. Fancier universities will have students who are more inclined to want a liberal arts education, or even specifically a philosophy education, and they will thus be more excited and animated. They'll be willing to do more work and they might even be better at it than students at other places (especially if it involves reading and writing). Students at less fancy universities along the first axis will be more likely to be in your class because they want to satisfy a distribution requirement or because the course is a required one. You'll have to do more work to sell them on what's interesting about philosophy, perhaps you'll have to teach different stuff, and they may even be worse at reading and writing, such that you'll need to scaffold those skills more closely.

Along axis #2 I think the post above me by "one perspective" nails most of it.

Along axis #3 I think the more elite places often have more elite attitudes. I cannot say enough good things about my graduate school but one thing about my graduate education which you might consider a drawback is that it inculcated a pretty elitist attitude in me with respect to where to publish, what to publish, etc. (This is perhaps something to blame on me, not my grad program, or maybe on some of the people there but not everyone, etc. Imagine six more paragraphs of caveats here.) As a duly-indoctrinated elitist I don't regret the indoctrination: I now think it's good to publish in the top journals, good to publish in decent journals rather than publishing something invited in a volume edited by a friend of yours, good to publish a book with Oxford University Press rather than Polity Press, etc. But I also think maybe I ought not to be so stuck up about that sort of thing and that if I hadn't been indoctrinated to think like this, I would look at people like me and say "bleh." If you prefer not to be stuck up about these sorts of thing, you might be happier at a university which is less elite along the third axis, where you will encounter fewer people like me, hopefully (and where you won't be expected to pass this attitude on to grad students, if you have any). (I bet the Philosophical Gourmet Report does a decent job tracking this kind of elite-ness, but I don't have enough experience in other places to know.)

Associate Prof

I currently work at a wealthy, private, relatively selective R1 with a low-Lieter-ranked grad program. I previously worked for 6 years at a large state land grant R2 with no grad program in philosophy. I have friends at a broad range of places. Here's my two cents:

1. All other job duties will almost certainly not be equal. More classes, larger class sizes, no TA/grading support, less research funding, will make a huge difference to your day to day professional life.
2. At my current job, I love teaching students who are really excited to be there and sought philosophy out. At my last job, I loved teaching students who likely wouldn't get the chance to talk about ethics or justice in a structured way if not for their required philosophy class. I loved them both, but they were *very* different kinds of teaching experiences.
3. My sense is that friends at more elite places are a lot more stressed out about research, their position in the profession, and getting tenure/promotion. Depending on your personality, that kind of pressure day to day can be really awful, and being at a less elite place can bring a lot less of it. (But FWIW, a lot of friends at less elite places are much more worried about their working conditions deteriorating - or even losing their jobs - due to budget cuts, falling enrollments, etc.)
4. My sense is that different kinds of philosophy can be easier to publish in more versus less selective journals - that, in particular, more selective journals require more precision and tighter arguments, and that less selective journals can sometimes allow for messier but more interesting papers. More selective publications will of course be expected at more elite schools, so if this is also your sense of what you can publish where, it's worth thinking about what kind of philosophy you want to write.

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