COACHE: Faculty assessing their university

Or: Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.

COACHE is a product of Harvard’s School of Education. One of its main outputs is a survey that is taken by faculty and then analyzed by COACHE. As I remember, the survey gives one standard assertions such as “The administration of this university strongly supports interdisciplinary research” and then gives one an option of five answers from “agree very strongly” to “disagree very strongly”. (Or at least something much like that.) One great thing is that the score the university gets is a comparison with what are counted as peer institutions. So if your university is ranked in the bottom third in interdisciplinarity, for example, that is not simply because you have a lot of malcontents. Rather, it is because your faculty are much more negative about that feature than most of the faculty in your peers. And that becomes a problem for the university.

If you are on the job market or if the tenure decision is coming near, do think of asking if your (prospective) university has a COACHE report, and ask to see it. (Those applying to grad school may also benefit; see the next para.) At least the one for my now former university reveals two things: (1) major weaknesses and (2) differences between tenured and non-tenured (tt) points of view; see below for a remark about this. If you want to dig a bit deeper, it may also show you more general facts about the university that are holding the problems in place. In my experience the report is stunningly accurate. That is, the university ranks low on features that, to be perfectly frank, drove me crazy. The faculty, however, love the upper administration, a fact that shows a very important disconnect.

TENURED VS. NON-TENURED points of view. In my former university the tt are generally more positive than the tenured profs. It would seem easy for the tt also to be much more negative, as I would guess they are in some other places. In any case, there are contexts in which this won’t matter, and ones in which it will. If a set of discontented tt faculty have been bullied into being enthusiastic for prospective grad students, those who believe them may be in for a shock. Equally, if the tt folk are much happier than those with tenure, they may not be a good source of information about whether you should join the department as a faculty member. Now the COACHE report does not mention specific departments, so differences in these respects are really just warning signs.

The differences between tenured and tt points of view are interesting, and I don’t really know what explains them. When I was following the literature on sexism in STEM quite closely about ten years ago, it appeared that STEM women did not perceive the sexism until the tenuring process started. One can think of a number of possible reasons for this, and some of them would spread across genders and disciplines. Perhaps, for example, some senior faculty feel protective about the younger ones, and smooth things out for them a bit. Another might be that the tenured faculty may try to draw on more resources, and so discover what the weaknesses are. On the other hand, it would seem most unfortunately easy to make the tt faculty miserable, so differences in directions different from those at my university would seem to be more understandable.

Emulating Socrates

I recently assigned an undergraduate class reading the Apology to consider Socrates’ manner in presenting himself to the jury. Specifically, I asked them to evaluate whether Socrates’ condescension in his speeches to the jury and prosecution rises to insult and rudeness, and whether this matters in seeing him as exemplar for emulation. The results were mixed. Some concluded that Socrates was both rude and justified since the trial was rank persecution by the dangerously unthinking. Others thought Socrates unwarrantedly rude, remarking on how it was no credit even to noble purposes that he should be scornful or even arrogantly dismissive in his self-presentation. What was striking to me in all this was the gender breakdown of these responses in a class with almost equal enrollment of men and women.

Those who found Socrates rudeness warranted and worthy of emulation:
70% of the men enrolled
13% of the women

Those who found it unwarranted and not worthy of emulation:
30% of the men
87% of the women

I have myself long felt ambivalent about Socrates on this score, and I think this result may capture some of why. Many of the women students remarked in their responses what I would characterize as sympathy to human frailty, a sense that if others have to earn our respect rather than respect operating as a default given, then we’re all in trouble. They were not at all sanguine about Socrates’ rightness, which they acknowledged, giving more general permission to anyone in the right to express contempt or scorn for others. Put simply, they were far more skeptical that we can ever be sure enough that we are in the right or that another’s being in the wrong licenses breaking general respect.

I don’t want to over-assign significance to this outcome, but I do think Socrates casts a long shadow even still over how philosophy is practiced and that even if, in his own case, his manner is explicable or even sympathetic, it ends up conferring status and legitimacy on conversational tactics that, in far less dire circumstances, are quite problematic. It is perhaps tempting to conflate Socrates’ general bravery with the manner of his self-presentation, a willingness to “speak plainly” (i.e., often without regard to offense one may provoke) implicitly equated with courage. It’s perhaps too easy to imagine that one is “being like Socrates,” engaging in bold challenge against the unthinking rabble, when one is really but engaging in garden-variety rudeness and evincing arrogance. Put simply, the model of Socrates can alibi bad conduct and tempt all sorts of self-deception about one’s motives and manner. Calling out what one perceives to be the rank wrongness of others can just be power assertion heroicized as noble.

The history of philosophy’s racism

In the Chronicle,

“Stated more simply,” Park contends, “historians of philosophy began to exclude peoples they deemed too primitive and incapable of philosophy,” noting Hegel’s belief that the African mind-set invited slavery. While it may surprise contemporary philosophers and graduate students brought up on the standard canon, Park correctly reports that from “the time of Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) to the death of Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-80), the prevailing convention among historians of philosophy was to begin the history of philosophy with Adam, Noah, Moses (or the Jews), or the Egyptians. In some early modern histories of philosophy, Zoroaster, the ‘Chaldeans,’ or another ancient Oriental people appear as the first philosophers. It was in the late 18th century that historians of philosophy began to claim a Greek beginning for philosophy.” –

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