A senior philosopher at another top program (not Michigan) e-mailed an interesting question about attrition; she writes:
[Y]our most recent post raises a question that might be worth discussing, namely whether all grad school attrition is a bad thing, and how to tell good from bad if not. I think US News etc. have done a huge disservice to academe by suggesting that the higher the completion rate the better at the undergrad level, and I wouldn't like to see the same assumption become unquestioned at the graduate level. Some people are better off doing something else, especially when there are not going to be enough jobs for all qualified candidates, and it's often in everyone's interest for them to find that out before completion -- though the how and when is always tricky, and most departments don't handle it well. And of course from an applicant's point of view a high attrition rate is always reasonably taken as a bad sign.
I am inclined to agree with my correspondent. Readers?
You've linked to two articles by Todd Gitlin recently. Both indicate troubling characteristics of college students that are possibly (at least in part) attributable to the influence that capitalism exerts on American culture (e.g. freshmen are now in general more interested in great financial success than "develop[ing] a meaningful philosophy of life," while in 1974 the latter was more strongly valued than the former - perhaps this is explicable in terms of changes in the college population, but from what I understand (uniquely capitalistic) economic forces may well be to blame). Then there are larger worries about growing depression among Americans (Gitlin speaks to this in one of the articles that you posted), which is sometimes vaguely explained as a product of an empty consumer culture that allegedly breeds nihilism. (A more expansive list of cultural problems supposedly produced by capitalism is offered by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right: "Alienation, the ‘commodification’ of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence . . . .")
In light of the foregoing, my question is this: Are there any good, and relatively recent, books or articles that argue that capitalism has deleterious effects on American (or, more broadly, Western) culture? If there are, I've had little success in finding them. The Frankfurt School is clearly relevant here, but Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were (obviously) engaged with a world substantially different from the current one, and the modern representatives of the Frankfurt School (e.g. Habermas and Honneth) repeatedly strike me as far too gentle with contemporary culture, possibly for fear of seeming too pessimistic.
Habermas basically abandoned the original critical/Marxian/Freudian aspects of Critical Theory in favor of a return to Kant. But the question posed is a good one. What would readers recommend by sociologists, historians, political theorists, philosophers etc.?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY, AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENTS; MORE CONTRIBUTIOSN WELCOME
Stefan Sciaraffa (McMaster) calls my attention to a striking item by philosopher Elizabeth Barnes (Virginia); an excerpt:
I have sat in philosophy seminars where it was asserted that I should be left to die on a desert island if the choice was between saving me and saving an arbitrary non-disabled person. I have been told it would be wrong for me to have my biological children because of my disability. I have been told that, while it isn’t bad for me to exist, it would’ve been better if my mother could’ve had a non-disabled child instead. I’ve even been told that it would’ve been better, had she known, for my mother to have an abortion and try again in hopes of conceiving a non-disabled child. I have been told that it is obvious that my life is less valuable when compared to the lives of arbitrary non-disabled people. And these things weren’t said as the conclusions of careful, extended argument. They were casual assertions. They were the kind of thing you skip over without pause because it’s the uncontroversial part of your talk.
Now, of course, no one has said these things to me specifically. They haven’t said “Hey, Elizabeth Barnes, this is what we think about you!” But they’ve said them about disabled people in general, and I’m a disabled person. Even just thinking about statements like these, as I write this, I feel so much – sadness, rage, and more than a little shame. It’s an odd thing, a hard thing, to try to take these emotions and turn them into interesting philosophy and careful arguments. My first reaction isn’t to sit down and come up with carefully crafted counterexamples for why the views I find so disgusting are false. My first reaction is to want to punch the people that say these things in the face. (Or maybe shut myself in my room and cry. Or maybe both. It depends on the day.) It’s a strange thing – an almost unnatural thing – to construct careful, analytically rigorous arguments for the value of your own life, or for the bare intelligibility of the claims made by an entire civil rights movement....
Sally Haslanger once told me to trust my anger. That was some of the best advice anyone’s ever given me. I’m trying to learn how to take my anger and use it as motivation to keep writing, especially on those days when the thought of using philosophical arguments to push back against the status quo feels somewhere between overwhelming and pointless. And while feeling this way can be exhausting – in a way that writing about, say, metaphysical indeterminacy never was – it can also make the end result deeply special and meaningful in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated.
Thoughts from readers on the issues raised by Prof. Barnes?
David Owens (ethics, philosophy of action), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, has accepted appointment as Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College, London. Together with the strong group in moral and political philosophy on the law faculty at KCL, this will make KCL one of best places in the UK for work in these areas.
Available here. Attrition appears to be much lower than when I was at Michigan in the late 80s and early 90s. In my class of nine (seven men, two women), the two women did not complete the program, but all seven men did eventually--and that was a good year. The following year, as I recall, only one or two students out of eight or so completed the program, and attrition of half or more of the class seemed to be the norm for the preceding years. A lot has changed in the interim: Michigan now offers better financial aid for all admitted PhD students than it did then; and the Department was a pretty ferocious place at that time (Peter Railton is alluding to this briefly in his Dewey Lecture); I think it is less so now.
The full report. Briefly: Michael LaCour, a PhD candidate in poli sci at UCLA, got a lot of attention for a paper co-authored with Donald Green in 2014:
LaCour and Green (2014, Science) report a remarkable result: a ~20-minute conversation with a gay canvasser produces large positive shifts in feelings towards gay people that persist for over a year. The study’s design is also notable: over 12% of voters invited to participate in the ostensibly unrelated survey that formed the study’s measurement apparatus agreed to be surveyed; nearly 90% were successfully reinterviewed; and each voter referred an average of 1.33 other voters to be part of the study who lived in the study area. The paper is based on a dataset that allegedly describes two field experiments, LaCour (2014).
Other researchers, taken by the results, want to pursue the research further: "Hoping we could harness the same procedures that produced the original study’s high reported response rate, we attempt to contact the survey firm we believed had performed the original study and ask to speak to the staffer at the firm who we believed helped perform Study 1 in LaCour and Green (2014). The survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the project and that they had never had an employee with the name of the staffer we were asking for. The firm also denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green (2014)."
Presented with this and other evidence of irregularities, Prof. Green "agrees a retraction is in order unless LaCour provides countervailing evidence." Prof. Green then reports that "LaCour has been confronted and has confessed to falsely describing at least some of the details of the data collection," and proceeds to post a public retraction of the 2014 paper.
Barring some further exonerating circumstances, I would imagine this is the end of Mr. LaCour's career as an academic political scientist.
Excesses of censorial zeal are easy to recognize, and pseudosolutions that require tiptoeing through minefields are easy to decry. The more deeply interesting question is: Why are we having this discussion at all? Deploring is simple, but grasping is hard.
The closer you look, the higher the questions pile up. Are more students arriving at college already feeling rattled? Is sexual assault on campus more common than ever, requiring new levels of preventive intervention? Or is the fear of rape, surely realistic up to a point, inordinate?
Does a troubling curriculum suggest an abundance of troubled minds? Is there an epidemic of fragility? Of the fear of fragility? Or both? (Are they the same thing?) Maybe more traumas — more date rapes, more racial "microaggressions" — lie in wait for unsuspecting students nowadays. Does the clamor for the right to be undisturbed emanate from a particular set of students, or does it reflect a more sweeping incidence of disturbance? Is there a climate of contagion? Is fragility the new normal?...
There is ample reason to believe that more college students now than 20 or 30 or 40 years ago consult campus counselors to deal with one stress or another. According to the most recent survey (September 1, 2012 to August 31, 2013) of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors:
Several readers have recently reported being redirected after awhile on the blog to other websites (one about gardening [!], for example). We've filed a "help" request with Typepad to see if we can fix the problem. Thanks for your patience (and also for letting me know).
Specifically, from July 21  Wise was herself touting Salaita’s free-speech rights, and during the subsequent two days leading up to the BOT meeting she consulted multiple times with UIUC Provost Ilesanmi Adesida and UIUC Assistant Provost and Associate Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access Menah Pratt-Clarke on Salaita’s hire letter. These exchanges are notable because they show Wise consulting regularly with these faculty members, and not just in the administrative vacuum that UIUC’s earlier FOIA productions to the public had suggested. And of course it’s also interesting to note that from very early on Wise’s thoughts and those of Provost Adesida and Assistant Provost Pratt-Clarke had turned from Salaita’s free-speech rights to the question of whether or not he could be un-hired based simply on a decision not to forward his hiring to the BOT.....
Consider also the email exchange of July 22 in which Adesida tells the UIUC Vice President for Academic Affair Christophe Pierre that, regarding the Salaita hiring, “He [Salaita] accepted the offer; this has been done since September last year! It is final,” which I discuss in detail in the Open Letter I sent to the CAFT on their investigation. This email was seemingly never provided by UIUC to the CAFT. Why? It’s unfortunately quite possible UIUC didn’t provide it because it supports the argument made by Salaita’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) of what’s termed “promissory estoppel,” that is, a legal doctrine that, if applicable, would bind UIUC to its hire offer because that offer was unambiguous and Salaita relied on it to his detriment. According to CCR, UIUC’s lawyers claim estoppel is not applicable because “Defendants [UIUC, Wise, etc.] contend (a) that no unambiguous promise was made to Salaita, and (b) that Plaintiff’s reliance on any promise was unreasonable.” But that email of Adesida’s on July 22 sure suggests Adesida himself believed the offer was unambiguous and “final,” which certainly seems strong evidence against UIUC’s claims.
I myself do not think on the evidence available that Prof. Barnett acted wrongfully (though without a doubt imprudently, as one of his colleagues suggested the other day), but I can certainly see how reasonable people could differ on that question. I am more astonished by the 10% who think that what Prof. Barnett did could constitute a firing offense for a faculty member with tenure.
I hope a Department looking to raise its profile in philosophy of language and mind, as well as metaphysics, will take advantage of the misconduct of Colorado's Administration in the Barnett case. In addition to having a strong publication record (papers in Mind, Philosophical Review, Nous, Australian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research and elsewhere), Barnett also got a Teaching Excellence award at Colorado a few years ago.
The Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine has made (so far) two senior hires for 2015-16: Annalisa Coliva (philosophy of language and mind, metaphysics, epistemology, history of analytic philosophy) from the University of Modina, and Karl Schafer (epistemology, ethics, history of modern philosophy, Kant) from the University of Pittsburgh. Coliva starts in Spring 2016, Schafer starts this fall.
(Thanks to Aaron James, Chair of the Department, for confirming the particulars.)
Just posted the Mary Louise Gill interview. It's interesting stuff. She talks about reading Gone with The Wind in secret at home (it was forbidden), being required to read J Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit in the 6th grade, her father, John Glanville Gill—a unitarian minister who was eventually fired for being too radical --and his fight with the Ku Klux Klan in St. Louis, how she realized she was never really religious, being Chair of the Classics Department at University of Pittsburgh, a department the administration was itching to get rid of, finding out about and subverting a secret plan to get rid of Classics, suffering reprisals in the form of rumors, finding peace of mind at Princeton and, eventually Brown, teaching philosophy in China, and what she would do if she was a philosopher-queen!
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--COMMENTS ARE NOW OPEN, SEE THE UPDATE
Several readers sent this. The correct answer is, of course, 'yes."
UDPATE: A graduate student at a top PhD program writes:
I was wondering whether you would consider opening the thread up for discussion. I agree with you that grad students and adjuncts, and philosophy grad students and adjuncts in particular, ought to unionize. But I honestly have no idea how, and I would appreciate it if a discussion on the subject could point the way toward doing so. Which unions are grad students and adjuncts in philosophy joining if any?
[H]er latest publication, For the New Intellectual, offers a selection of those passages, with an overtly philosophical introduction which places the rest of the system in perspective. At last the eager student can get some sort of overview of the intellectual edifice which is presented for his acceptance. I must say at the outset that I have not found the offering very palatable. Not, let me hasten to add, because I disagree with the conclusions—free trade, a minimum of governmental interference in the economy, the immorality of altruism, are, I think, eminently justifiable intellectual positions. Rather it is the paucity of rational arguments, the frequency with which nonsense is offered as self-evident truth, the hysterical ranting against opponents who have had their views distorted beyond recognition, the amateurish psychologizing—in a word, the sloppiness of the whole thing, which forces me to regard it as a paradigm of philosophical incompetence. The temptation is to see it as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible. But at the risk of being taken in I shall treat this book seriously, with perhaps only the popularity of the doctrine to justify the enterprise. My method shall be the following—I shall quote, sometimes at length, from the book, and then comment on the material presented.
And this from the conclusion equally sharp:
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are travelling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
Although predictable sanctimonious posturers in the bowels of cyberspace (like David Koepsell) apparently think it correct to fire a tenured professor for writing a report trying to exonerate one of his graduate students, the overwhelming response of philosophers and others appears to have been that a grave injustice was done in this case, either because Prof. Barnett did not act wrongfully in trying to defend his student or that even if Prof. Barnett was wrong to do his own investigation of the University's investigation into the allegations, what he did was not by any stretch of the imagination a firing offense. That's my impression only; I wonder what readers think about this case? If you have not followed it, please read some of the Daily Camera articles before voting.
A young philosopher in a non-tenure-stream position (and who has an extremely impressive publication record) writes:
Naturally, being non-TT faculty or an independent scholar can be trying. But I don't know if people realize how much non-TT professionals are ignored, even when their CVs are much better than some TT professors (and even though securing a TT-job is somewhat a matter of luck). I've seen recently on social media some good suggestions about how to improve things, for example, by inviting non-tenure-track philosophers to contribute to a volume you are editing, or speak as part of your department's speaker series, or speak or comment at the conference or APA session you are organizing.
Quite a distribution of reports on time spent, but the majority cluster in the 1-4 hours per week per 20 students range. It would be interesting to hear from those at the extremes what kinds of classes and/or students are involved.
They have secured the resignation of philosophy professor David Barnett, whom a faculty committee found did not commit "retatliation" against a complainant in a sexual harassment case, with a payout of $160,000 to Barnett (roughly 1 1/2 years of salary and benefits), forgiving an $80,000 loan, and payment of his legal fees. Since philosophers don't really understand how lawsuits work, let me explain what actually happened here.
The University has been under intensive Title IX scrutiny for several years; toleration of sexual harassment in the philosophy department was the tip of the iceberg (those boys, now forced into early retirement or resignation, look like "saints" compared to some of the misconduct associated with the athletics program). Serial violations of Title IX can result in loss of all federal funding for a university (the Obama Administration has been aggressive in cocking the trigger on that gun); for a school like Colorado, whose areas of academic excellence (outside Philosophy) are overwhelmingly in the natural sciences and engineering, such a loss of funding would be fatal. So the University has been keen to show that the bad 'ole days are over. To that end, they actually got rid of serial sexual harassers and, allegedly, stopped the recruitment-by-rape program for football. Good for Colorado! But so fearful are the administrators at Colorado that they've now forced out a tenured professor whose only malfeasance was to write a report that tried to exonerate one of his grad students against hotly contested accounts of sexual misconduct.
So what does the settlement mean? It's pretty simple: the university knows its case for firing Barnett is pathetically weak; it knows there is a real risk he would prevail in litigation; it also knows that the University, unlike Barnett, can afford to spend years litigating the matter; so it has offered not only a cash settlement with Barnett but it has offered to pay his legal fees hoping, reasonably, to take advantage of Barnett's prudent risk aversion (five years of litigation, lawyer fees, he loses, etc.--for just a year, his legal fees are already 50K). Just for the record: you generally don't agree to pay legal fees when you're on the side of the angels. You do so when you have a chance of getting rid of a complicated legal problem--firing a tenured professor who didn't engage in a fireable offense--that it would be to your advantage to get rid of.
In short, this settlement says: We, the University of Colorado are acting wrongfully, but we are leveraging our superior financial position, to get the result we want, to show that we are Title IX saints, despite the sordid history.
I do not know David Barnett; I do not even know his work. The only time I ever posted about him was here. Some people have told me David Barnett is an asshole; perhaps so, though his enemies would seize the moment to say so. But that isn't a firing offense, or lots of philosophers would be fired, and for worse behavior than trying to defend graduate students they believed to be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. (When the Velleman/Shulz story becomes public soon, this will be rather clear.)
As with many such cases, there is no doubt a lot that is not public. What is public suggests that Barnett has been wronged, and the terms of the settlement suggests that the University knows its position is legally dubious, but they hope to sustain it by virtue of superior resources.
In the current neoliberal environment for state universities--in which right-wing Governors like Scott Walker are eviscerating preeminent public universities, while others are privatizing their functions--this development can only be viewed with alarm.
ADDENDUM: It's indicative of Colorado's highly selective interest in alleged faculty malfeasance that it has not moved to fire Paul Campos, a law professor who is such a notorious charlatan and underperformer--one who even admitted in print that he is a fraud--that a Dean of another law school wondered in public about the case for firing him. But since there is no Title IX credibility at stake, the University, so far, isn't interested.
ANOTHER: A philosopher at Colorado writes:
Your diagnosis of the situation at Colorado was quite accurate. For the record, I can assure you that Barnett is not an asshole. It is true that he is not a terribly prudent person. He rather recklessly risked his career, and ultimately lost it, trying to defend a graduate student from an administration that became deeply invested in making an example, in the first instance, of the accused graduate student, and then of Barnett himself. Having placed an $825000 bet [the amount paid to settle the retaliation claim] on Barnett’s guilt (prior to having conducted any kind of inquiry into the accusations against him), they were never going to back down, notwithstanding the Privilege and Tenure committee’s not-guilty verdict. Barnett’s real character flaw was his rather naive faith in the willingness of administrators to respond to evidence and reason. (Some philosophers have no sense of audience.) There are a couple of assholes in the CU Philosophy Department - as there no doubt are in most large departments - but Barnett was not one of them.
AND ANOTHER: David Koepsell, a familiar noxious mediocrity to readers of this blog, tweets sarcastically, "Guess who thinks Barnett was the one wronged at Colorado." Apparently not Koepsell!
I was wondering if you could ask your readers for what they think is the best advanced introductory texts in their respective sub fields. I am thinking of something akin to Miller's excellent 'Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics' or Kymlicka's 'Contemporary Political Philosophy'. I found Miller's book to be very helpful and it would be nice to know what other advanced introductory texts are widely considered top notch (I'm most interested in suggestions for epistemology, philosophy of science, and normative ethics, but I suspect readers might be interested in advanced introductions for other areas too).
Miller's book is indeed an excellent example of the genre in question. (I have not read Kymlicka's, though have often heard it recommended.) In epistemology, I will note that I learned a lot in grad school from Laurence BonJour's The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, which was an important scholarly monograph in its own right, but hugely instructive about the state of the art in epistemology in the 1980s. Richard Miller's Fact and Method was similar in philosophy of science, but again also a bit dated now. Frederick Suppe's long introduction to the old The Structure of Scientific Theories was a terrific overview of main currents of twentieth-century philosophy of science through the early 1970s. I'm sure readers will have more current suggestions.
Consistent with Brennan's supposition, almost half the respondents reported an hour or less of prep time per class hour. But 30% did report spending two hours or more. I'd be particularly curious to hear from those spending 2 or 3 hours for each classroom hour to say a bit more about the kinds of classes these are, and what they do to prepare.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)