Class and exclusion in academia

There’s an important post up on Leiter:

I am pleased that the Leiter Reports continues to provide a forum for discussing the important issue of gender imbalance in academic philosophy. It needs to be noted, however, that some of the regular discussions regarding both admission to graduate schools and the hiring of faculty are deeply troubling regarding the accessibility of the profession to individuals from poor or working class families.

There are also a lot of comments that I haven’t yet read. Go check it out and contribute!

9 thoughts on “Class and exclusion in academia

  1. It’s an interesting idea that the reputation of one’s undergraduate institution should make little or no difference in one’s admission to grad school or elsewhere.

  2. Someone on there–Rob Wilson, I believe–also makes the point that it seems there are more exceptions to the rule of MALE working class people making it in academe than of FEMALES. No one on there picked up on this but perhaps someone on here would want to.

  3. If I could just explain my comment?? It doesn’t seem to me to be the case that in general the education one gets at, e.g., Swarthmore or Reed is no better than that at a mid-level state university. That doesn’t mean that someone from the less good school shouldn’t be admitted to a top grad school, but it is important to realize that the philosophy community has hardly started to think about the issues.

  4. In response to jj, I would reckon that the education one gets at some place like Swarthmore or Reed is often less good than that one might receive from a mid-level state university. I am a graduate of a mid-level state university now studying overseas at a very well known university. I am, as far as I can tell, the only one of my pg cohorts who did not go to an Ivy League or similar ‘name’ school for undergrad and yet I have had no trouble keeping up with them and in many cases have a more thorough background knowledge than they do.

    The idea that prestige of an institution attended somehow entails a particular and related quality of education in a given individual is the fallacy of division, and a very dangerous instance of it.

  5. I’m inclined to agree with Katherine. I was an undergrad at a small, not-quite-high-level liberal arts college, and I’ve taught as a grad student at community colleges, a mid-level state university, and a very prestigious private religious university. Based on my experience, I’d say that the average student at the more prestigious schools is only a bit more talented, hard-working, or otherwise able than the average student at the less prestigious schools.

  6. Please do notice that I said “in general.” I also picked Reed and Swarthmore for the high faculty to student ratio. Most of Reed’s courses end up being like very careful tutorials, from what I understand. I think Swarthmore may be the same.

    Let me take a mid-level university I know of with 850 faculty to 35,000 students; the quality of education suffers from that proportion. Everyone agrees – except perhaps the state legislature – that more faculty are needed. Further, in such provincial universities, you can get older members of departments who are woefully out of touch; in the 1990’s students in the department at that university learned about very few contributions to philosophy of language after 1970. No kripke, and in effect no Davidson (since his influence probably started later than his early writings). There are lots of changes also that someone at a school with fairly out of touch faculty might not learn about. E.g., the empirical turn in philosophy of mind, the quite vast change in how historians of philosophy view textual accuracy, naturalism in epistemology, and so on. It is quite possible in some schools to learn to read Early Modern Philosophy in a way that it is considered unacceptable by leading scholars today. In my experience, there’s a huge tendency for faculty who are not fairly active professionally to keep their view of the discipline fixed largely by their graduate school. (Not all these problems are exemplified in my one sample school.)

    So I think we need to distinguish these: Someone graduating from the department might be as bright as anyone graduating from Harvard. And certainly, some mid-level universities do provide students with what they need to know of their field. They may also struggle to keep class sizes down and to provide opportunities for tutorials. But if the students are in the situation I describe, they almost certainly won’t have as good a philosophy education in the sense of having a basic grasp of the most important current ideas and approaches.

    In fact, playing catch-up in philosophy if one is very bright might be much easier than playing catch in chemistry/physics, etc. So that’s a factor too.

    In short, I think we are in need of a more extended consideration of the issues. There are many variables to consider, and anecdotal evidence really doesn’t take us very far. There are complicated reasons for this, one of which is that one might not be in a position to assess all the factors operating in one’s own case.

    One final thing: looking at the distribution of feminist scholars, of course, there is little reason to think that the best education in feminist philosophy is at the prestigious scholars.

  7. An important point raised in the discussion on Leiter is that a student from a top institution who has a great writing sample may well be *less* talented than a student at a less good institution with a slightly less good writing sample– because the latter may well have managed it despite greater obstacles.

  8. Isn’t there a tension between claiming (1) that state schools typically educate their students just as well as, or only marginally less well than, more prestigious schools, and (2) that we should upgrade writing samples from students from state schools in light of their having overcome “greater obstacles”? I feel like you can’t have it both ways. (And, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of both claims.)

  9. But Andy, no-one has claimed both (1) and (2). Some people think (1), whilst someone has raised one point which could be evidence in favour of (2), but without actually saying that we should do (2).

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