Why DO We Do The Job Market This Way?

There’s been a great discussion lately on SWIP-L (US SWIP mailing list, but anyone can join it) about how to get and keep more women in philosophy. Loads of great stuff to take up there, and hopefully we’ll get to all of it eventually. But I wanted to pull out one suggestion from Shelley Tremain, which I think is absolutely on target. (What follows is my words, though, not hers.) The point, put very succinctly, is that the way we (at least in the US) do the job market in philosophy is TERRIBLE. It’s terrible not just for women but for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of disposable cash. Unemployed philosophers, we all know, do not in general have a lot of money. And yet:

  • The standard demand is that every applicant post a vast and heavy dossier containing writing samples, etc. This gets very expensive, and even more so (obviously) for non-US applicants. Much of this material, we all know, doesn’t even get read. What gets read is, at best, the stuff from people who make it past the first cut, and probably less than that. Given that email is much faster and more reliable, and given that we all supposedly care about the environment, it’s unconscionable not to allow electronic applications. If we can manage that for grad school applications, etc, surely we can manage it for jobs. Yes, this means that receiving departments will have to do the work of and pay the cost of printing all those dossiers. But this cost will have to fall on someone, and can we really justify putting it on some of the most disadvantaged people in our field (the unemployed)? Besides, we’re all increasingly used to reading things online rather than printing them, so printing costs may be lessened not only by the fact that not everything needs reading, but also by the fact that we can read without printing.
  • APA interviews: Why do we insist on these? Think about it: we’re asking UNEMPLOYED people to spend hundreds of dollars to get to the APA, then hundreds more on accommodation. Moreover, I’ve never met anyone actually prepared to give a rousing defense of the usefulness of APA interviews. In fact, I seem to recall lots of studies showing that interviews lead to people making poor hiring judgments. (Anyone have a reference?) Certainly, it seems to me that being good at APA interviews is not a great predictor of one’s future in philosophy. (I’m pretty sure I’d think this even if I wasn’t totally crap at APA interviews.) And, aside from economic equity and effectiveness issues, let’s at least give another passing thought to air miles. If people do think it’s useful to have a large number of initial screening interviews, why not allow phone interviews?
  • Current and recent job applicants: What else do you think would improve the process?

    The Future State of Equality in Philosophy

    As some of you may know, in the US many philosopers tend to get their jobs by applying for interviews at a large annual meeting of the American Philosphical Association. There are sometimes as many as three hundred positions up for grabs, and for those trying to get jobs, the whole process of applying and interviewing is fraught and unpleasant. This year, this experience has been chartered, in blog form, by some anonymous grad students(see here).

    Much of the blog is amusing, often well observed, and highlights just how looking for a job in philosophy affects you (it sends you crazy). Some of the recent posts have started to look at just what it means to be a women or a minority going through the APA job market. Indeed, they even talk about Sally Haslanger’s recent paper on women in philosophy. The most interesting posts are this one, and this one. Sadly, part of what is interesting about them is the comments they generate.

    What you find is a lot of white male philosophers – presumably grad students looking for jobs – complaining that women and minorities who get these jobs are doing so purely by dint of their gender or race and at the expense of their more qualified white male counterparts (“Its reverse discrimination I tell ya”).  In one or two cases, people name black philosophers at top institutions, decry the value of their work and openly suggest that the person holds that post purely because they’re black, and it looks good if the department is ethnically diverse. You will even find the term “I’m not racist, but…”. And of course there is the age old “girls can’t do metaphysics” plum – the real reason women aren’t getting jobs easily and need “reverse discrimination” to help them out is because hard-core philosophy is abstract, and women prefer things with material results.

    Don’t get me wrong, plenty of commenters point out how sexist and racist this all is, and there is alway trolling to take into account, but all the same, I can’t help feeling a bit depressed by it. We know things were bad for women and minorities in philosophy thirty or more years ago. We also know from Sally Haslanger’s paper that they aren’t all that good now. But reading some of the comments coming from those that aspire to staff philosophy departments for the next thirty years, the future doesn’t look all that rosey either.

    I’m probably just over-reacting. But have a look at the comments and see what you think.

    More bad science

    Suppose you wanted to show that some attractiveness preference was innate (this requires considerable suspension of disbelief for me, but let’s go with it).  What would you do?  I know, you’d round up a VAST sample of ‘over 200’ volunteers from a single culture at single point in time, and state that you “suspect the effect to be common across cultures”.  I mean, it’s not like there’s any evidence that there’s cultural variation across places and times regarding what is considered attractive.  No, not at all.  So, if you like this kind of study, you might get convinced that men and women are both innately predisposed to find longer legs more attractive.