Friday, September 4, 2009

Again into that fray

Following links from Leiter and The Philosophy Smoker, I read this piece by Lou Marinoff explaining how their department ran their search. I think it's good for people to see how the sausage is made and so I'm glad that Marinoff gave us an inside look into the process. In describing his strategy for eliminating applications, he writes:

How did we prune our field from 637 to 27? An important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university. Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.

This was the ad:

36. THE CITY COLLEGE OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK. The City College of New York seeks an assistant professor of philosophy, tenure-track, beginning fall semester, 2009. Candidates must have PhD by time of appointment. AOS: Open. AOC: Open. The City College of New York is an EO/AAE employer. Send complete dossier including letter of application, three letters of recommendation, CV and a brief essay length writing sample to: Prof. Lou Marinoff, Chair, Search Committee, Dept. of Philosophy, The City College of New York, 137th Street at Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10031. Preliminary interviews at the APA Eastern Division Meetings. Deadline for applications: December 1, 2008. (179)

Better ad:

36. THE CITY COLLEGE OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK. The Harvard of the Proletariat seeks an assistant professor of philosophy, tenure-track, beginning fall semester, 2009. Candidates must have PhD by time of appointment from somewhere that makes us look good if we hire you. AOS: Open. AOC: Open. The City College of New York is an EO/AAE employer. Send complete dossier including letter of application, three letters of recommendation, CV and a brief essay length writing sample to: Prof. Lou Marinoff, Chair, Search Committee, Dept. of Philosophy, The City College of New York, 137th Street at Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10031. Preliminary interviews at the APA Eastern Division Meetings. Deadline for applications: December 1, 2008. (179)


Knowing the market, I doubt that the hire didn't deserve that sort of post. There's a glut of good candidates. (You could, for example, pitch all applicants from women and minorities and still find a satisfactory candidate but that's hardly a justification!)

If you screen candidates on the basis of pedigree, you probably won't regret who you end up hiring. I take it, however, that applicants have some claim on receiving something like fair consideration from search committees and I don't think that you get that when the search committee knows or should know that there are many better ways to screen candidates (e.g., on the basis of the publications listed on the CV) but chooses to go with something like pedigree because they like making trophy hires.

**
I've been hit by the Philosophy Smoker! A couple of additional thoughts.

I agree with Mr. 0 that the claim that pedigree is a good indication of something other than pedigree is an empirical one. I suppose that it is also an empirical question whether past research performance is a good predictor of future research productivity. My guess is that you'll do a better job determining what sort of philosopher someone will be by looking at their CV than by looking at the application they put together as undergraduates to get into graduate school. I don't think that can seriously be debated. You might say that graduate school weeds out bad applicants, and that's right, but I still think the information available on a CV is a better way to judge talent than noting that someone who could put together a good application for graduate school didn't get weeded out by the program. Of course, the choice between using pedigree or using publications isn't forced. There are oodles of better ways of picking candidates than eliminating all those candidates that don't come from good programs and then using research or teaching to pick through the remains.

If pedigree is going to be used at all (not something I'm against, depending upon how it is done), it isn't obvious to me that you should look at overall department ranking rather than department standing within the candidates AOS.

Some salt to take if you are going to use pedigree. It may well be that the best that the best departments have to offer are better than the best that weaker departments have to offer. That might be a law. Suppose it is. If you don't think you can land and hold the best from the best, it seems rather irrational to pick on the basis of pedigree since it is probably often true that the best candidate from a weaker department (where I'm guessing strength of department is determined by a department's overall ranking on the Leiter Report) is better than the weaker graduates of strong departments.

Candidates who have nothing on their CV (no pubs and no good conference papers, say) might have come from programs that discourage publishing and presenting at conferences. That's unfortunate. That doesn't change the fact that they are going to be playing catch up when it comes to getting their research profiles in shape.

4 comments:

Matthew said...

Glad to see someone is speaking up about the article. I thought much the same thing when I read it too.

Clayton said...

Thanks, Matthew.

I was expecting the first comment to be something anonymous and unpleasant.

Andrew Cullison said...

Clayton,

I share your sentiments here. Just thought you'd like another echo.

Here's something that I find even weirder. All jokes aside, I think that second ad IS a better ad, and in so far as we take departments to task for not being honest about what they're looking for in terms of AOS/AOC - Why is no one taking them to task for having pedigree be a litmus test and not disclosing that?

Departments are already chatised for listing AOS as "Open" when they are really, secretly looking for someone who is a specialist in X. The APA expects you to list "anything" that is high on the list of things you're looking for. Presumably part of the reason is so that you don't waste poor grad students' time and money making them apply for a job that you lead them to believe they have a shot at.

If pedigree is going to be one of your big initial screens, you should say so in the ad.

(p.s. I have some thoughts about your most recent mentalism post...I hope to post them today)

titmouse said...

Check this out:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=9

Apparently, Marinoff is libertarian of a particularly wacko stripe. He thinks of all forms of multi-culturalism and general liberalism as somehow Marxist. And he thinks that there is good hard evidence that women are not as innately cut out for work in math and science. Does he think the same about philosophy?

He uses the label "PC" to apply to cant as well as all manner of, well, everything. He's a real embarrassment to the profession. Just check out this nutter's rant for yourself.

I can't believe that no one found this!