Saturday, December 28, 2013

As you wish...

Anonymous has requested a new thread. Sure, why not?

Play along, if it please you.

Zombie, can we start a new thread? 
Smokers, give us your vitals ... 
Number of APA/Skype interviews**:
Universities (n):
SLAC (n):
Other (n):
PhD in hand (Y/N):
PhD program (top 10/25/50/below or unranked):
AOS:
Publications (n):
Comments:
**Zombie thinks it might also be useful to know how many applications you've filed this year.

And two Anon replies have been registered:

2
2
0
0
Y
50
Political Phil/Ethics
40 (inc. 3 books)
No job market for old men

and

1
0
1
0
N
Unranked
1
Indeed, this is no job market for old men.

~zombie

p.s. Now that APA is over, how about some reports? Did the unemployed philosophers swarm seem smaller? Was the Smoker less crowded/desperate? Was the beer still lousy and overpriced?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Comics

"But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed."



-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The annual interview prep post

The interview skeds seem to be gradually filling up. My impression this season is that a lot of departments are offering alternatives to APA in the form of Skype/phone/remote interviews. Some are offering both, which, I guess, should raise concerns about the Skype interviewees being disadvantaged when compared to real live desperate philosophers. (See here, here, and here for Skype tips, and here for a defense of Skype). But, weighing the costs of going to Baltimore vs. staying home for the holidays, many will opt to stay home and try to become a Skype-master. If you ask me, a significant advantage of remote interviews (aside from cost) for candidates is that they allow you to be a little more relaxed, since you can do the interview in a familiar environment. APA interviews, whether you're in the ballroom or a suite, have added tension built in, since the setting is foreign, uncomfortable, noisy (in the ballroom), and smells of flop sweat. There's all that awkward time waiting outside the door (should I knock? are they running late? are my palms sweaty?). I'll be interested to hear how many of you are being offered Skype type interviews in lieu of APA interviews.

And increasingly, it seems some departments are forgoing first round interviews altogether and skipping straight to the campus fly-out. So, if nothing's happening for you yet, there's still time.

For those of you visiting scenic Baltimore, or chillaxing by the warm glow of your internet tubes, it's pre-game time.

Last year's post linked to previous years' advice and question preps, so start here.

When I was last on the market, I was surprised at how often I was asked about my dissertation, even though I had moved on to a different research project, and had a few publications under my belt. I guess that's a search committee asking everybody the same questions, but I didn't really prepare myself to talk about the diss 2 years after it was finished. So, even if you're a few years out... probably should prepare to talk about the diss. Or be prepared to gracefully duck the question by quickly segueing into how X relates/led you to your current research on Y.

Good luck to all of you!

~zombie

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How productive is productive enough?

Per the discussion here, how much does scholarly productivity (number of publications, prestige of journals, etc.) matter when it comes to landing a TT job? The answer is not obvious. Or at least, there is not obviously a simple answer.
Carolyn Dicey Jennings' research here is helpful (this is for 2011-2012 data):
Although some hirees have as many as 14 total publications and 7 top-15 publications, the median number of publications is 1 for both tenure-track and postdocs (0 for top-15 publications)
The data for 2012-2013 is here.
2012-2013 tenure-track hirees had a mean 2.22 peer-reviewed publications and 0.49 peer-reviewed publications in a top-15 journal (according to the same top-15 journal list used in 2011-2012: http://the-brooks-blog.blogspot.be/2011/01/top-philosophy-journals-initial-results.html). Postdoctoral hirees had a mean 1.48 peer-reviewed publications and 0.3 peer-reviewed publications in a top-15 journal. The medians for both tenure-track and postdoctoral hirees were 1 peer-reviewed publication and 0 peer-reviewed publications in a top-15 journal. (here)
The data shows the unsurprising fact that the top departments place a lot of their grads. What it shows in terms of publications is that the numbers are all over the place. People were hired with 0 pubs and  with 14 pubs. Pubs in top journals were rare.

Putting on my speculator's hat: the further out you are from your PhD, the worse it will look if you are not publishing. One explanation for this is that you might look like a bad bet for earning tenure if you've been fallow, research-wise, for a few years--worse than a fresh PhD with no pubs. Bottom line: you should be publishing. (Anecdotally, I know of two resignations this year in a single department at my university--both people were in year 5, coming up for tenure, with 0 publications. No books, no papers. You can't get tenure with no publications, unless you're at a school where they absolutely don't care about publishing. [If there are such places.]) This gets me wondering about the issue of PhD "staleness." Is staleness really just a function of your years post-degree, or your level of post-degree productivity, or both? That is, do you still go stale if you publish regularly?

Philosophy departments have their own standards for how much/often you have to be publishing to earn tenure. But you don't have to already be qualified for tenure to get a tenure track job. If there are standards for getting a TT job, the Jennings data shows that the number of publications is not a deciding factor (thus people with 0 pubs get hired, all things considered). The Chronicle has this interesting story (here and here) on two hires (in English), and what it takes to stand out in a crowded field. (Spoiler alert: there are lots of applicants with lots of pubs.)

So, how much will it help you in the job search if you are publishing a lot? And how much is enough?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Comics

"In tempestuous times like these, after everything above and aloft has been secured, nothing more can be done but to await the issue of the gale."


--Jaded, Ph.D

Monday, November 11, 2013

Update the Phylo Wiki, Please. (Updated)

A number of people have recently pointed out that it does not seem that the Phylo Jobs Wiki is currently being updated. (Or, rather, the updates are highly sparse.) Please update it if you can. Please. Thank you.

Update: In Comments immediately below, anon 9:24 writes:

The problem isn't just that folks aren't updating. The problem is that updates aren't being processed. I haven't checked throughly, but I think that if you make a revision/update to a position already in the wiki, it'll be processed immediately, but if you try to add a new position to the wiki it'll require moderator approval. But the moderator approval never comes through, so new listings in the wiki aren't coming through.
Thanks for the correction.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An important question

Someone please analyze this comment in Nadelhoffer's post about interviewing at the APA. Is it A++++ trolling or is the author serious? My faith in the reasonableness of academic philosophers rides on settling this question (just kidding, I don't have faith in the reasonableness of academic philosophers). If it is determined to be an excellent parody, I want to meet this person, buy them drinks, and learn the art of internet commenting from them. The comment (emphases added):
Skype interviews may well be preferable, overall, to APA interviews. But I do think we need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of both. Cost and inconvenience aside, I think that in-person interviews are *clearly* better than Skype interviews. Basically, I think this follows sort of a priori from the fact that in-person conversations are clearly better than phone Skype conversations. There's a reason we don't Skype our colleagues down the hall. I also have (very limited) empirical evidence of this, having had both APA and Skype interviews. In many ways, my Skype interview was quite positive, so if anything I should be biased towards that interview format. But there were a couple of significant downsides:
First, even though I'm pretty technically adept and almost never have trouble with Skype, there were repeated technical difficulties. I sort of laughed them off, but if I were only a bit more anxious about the interview those glitches could have thrown me off quite a bit. Second, I couldn't really clearly see the faces of the people interviewing me, since they were so small on the screen. This had three unfortunate effects: it made it difficult to interpret some things (was that a good natured joke, or are they annoyed with what I said, or what?). Second, if I run into one of them at a conference or something I will not recognize them, which is awkward. And third, it just make the whole thing a bit more "abstract". Even though there was video, it was a *bit* like teleconferencing. Anyway, I'm pretty convinced that the interview would have been significantly better (not necessarily for my job prospects, but as a human interaction) if it were in person. 
So: I think we need to assess how expensive and inconvenient APA interviews are for job seekers and hiring departments. Most of the focus has been on inconveniences for job seekers, but the lucky among us will probably conduct more APA interviews than we sit through. Basically, all I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't ignore the inconvenience to hiring committees. In any case, my graduate institution paid my way to the APA. How common is that? If it is almost universal, then while it would suck to be one of the few whose grad department doesn't pay, such is life. (Some grad departments have lots of money for conference travel, some don't. Some require a lot of teaching, some require none. Etc. Pick a grad school carefully.) The other question is about inconvenience. I have no idea how to measure that. And having the prospect of APA interviews lurking is *very* inconvenient. But *if* my trip to the APA were being paid for by someone else, I think I would choose an inconvenient APA interview over a Skype interview. But I have no idea how representative this preference is. I also don't know if this is the kind of thing that it makes sense to settle democratically, by survey or vote or something, or whether we should focus on protecting the vulnerable people whose trip to the APA won't be paid for by someone else, no matter how few in number they are.
-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Comics

"[A]s the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that in [his] case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth...thy thoughts have created a creature in thee..."



-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Where da jobs?


I kind of miss the landrush, when we'd all line up and start running when JFP came out. The irregular trickle of jobs just feels less exciting. And perhaps it is creating a false impression that there are fewer jobs this year, because there's no specific deadline for posting them.

-- zombie

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Comics

"All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil...were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in [it]...He piled upon [it] the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."


-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The last time I convinced anyone of anything philosophical was in the classroom

(I've been jabbering about similar things over yonder too; I'll be mostly there from now on.)

Prof. Leiter's comment on the placement data at this post on Philosophy News has generated some heated responses.

I take Prof. Leiter at his word that when he suggested stratifying placement data according to "quality" - "4/4 school with mediocre students" versus "a placement at Princeton" - he was merely pointing out that "individuals have different preferences about different 'kinds' of jobs" rather than saying anything about the relative value or importance or job quality of teaching at a "4/4 school with mediocre students." That is a good point to make. Different people prefer different jobs; information about where departments place students - in mainly teaching positions or at Ivy League schools or nowhere - would be useful for helping people with those preferences make informed decisions.

In any case, I'm glad Prof. Leiter clarified his suggestion because I don't think his comments were put very artfully. And, as such, I don't think that the reactions belie some hyper-sensitivity on the parts of those who were offended because they "want to teach, and welcome the challenge of working with students from non-traditional backgrounds."

The fact of the matter is that many philosophers don't see teaching a 4/4 at an underfunded state school as qualitatively worse than teaching a 2/1 (!!!!) at Princeton. (Though, Prof. Leiter is right that many would prefer the latter over the former [which is a different point than the one about quality]). Those philosophers welcome teaching, see it as an integral part of being a philosopher, and would prefer to do that over research. I'm probably one of them. I like research alright and still actively engage in it, but I prefer teaching.

I think teaching will be my lasting contribution to philosophy. I want to be really good at it and I want to keep doing it. My research won't keep philosophy departments funded or add new members to it. Maybe, if I'm lucky, my research will generate a few citations and a response here or there.

However, the students I convince to be philosophy majors because I taught the hell out of Intro will help keep departments funded and add new members to the discipline. And maybe some of those students might be women or underrepresented minorities or first-generation college students who will bring unique perspectives to old problems or will come up with unique problems using old perspectives. And even if no one becomes a philosophy major because of my classes, I've at least exposed them to ways of thinking that they wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to or never had a chance to think about prior to my class.

Teaching is great. I want a job that lets me do it. I might even want a job that lets me do a lot of it with students who might at first be resistant to philosophy and who wonder why the hell something like philosophy still exists. I want the chance to show them why it exists and I want to see evaluations saying that my class blew their minds or was helpful.

That felt like a confession, but it shouldn't have.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Comics

"[M]y shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul."


I think I'm going to start fooling with something new, soon.

--Jaded, Ph.D.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Problem is Hope

This is what happens to me every year. I know what the job market is like. I know that there are lots of jobs and lots of applicants, and that the odds of me getting a job are not high, and that for any particular job, the odds of me getting that job are low. I know this.

But then the job ads start coming out. And I see a couple of jobs that seem really attractive. Maybe I know somebody in the department; maybe I've been to the city or town and thought it would be pretty cool to live there; maybe it's close to family or friends; maybe there's a reason why it would be particularly good for my family; maybe there's something about the job that I connect with somehow, where I'd be especially well-suited for it, or it would be especially well-suited for me.

And then I can't help but start to think about what it would be like to get that job. I start to get hope. I would rather not get these hopes, but it's hard not to. At least, I seem to have no ability to prevent it. I can't help it. And I have found myself doing this again over the past few weeks.

And a few times, I've actually gotten interviews at these places. It is very hard to avoid this hopefulness when you are prepping for an interview with your favorite job from this year's JFP, or with your favorite job ever.

And frankly, I'm not sure how you'd be able to summon the motivation to apply for these jobs, or to prep for the interview, if you weren't at least somewhat hopeful that you'd get the job. I once had an interview with a school that was located in a city I'd lived in as a child, and where I had a really tough time. When I thought about the possibility of moving back--and bringing my family with me--I didn't feel particularly hopeful. I wasn't excited about it. I wasn't "into" it. And I think that came through in the interview. I didn't say anything about it, of course; I didn't attempt to express these feelings and did what I could to conceal them. But I couldn't get myself excited about the job, and I think it showed. I don't think I fucked it up, or anything, but I also didn't blow them away, and I didn't get the flyout. So I suppose I see the utility of feeling hopeful. It seems to play a somewhat important role in providing motivation.

But I really don't like having to let go of these hopes as the season progresses. I don't like it at all. And so I wish there were a way to avoid it, and then to do without it.

Sorry if this post is a bummer. Here's some Miles Davis.



--Mr. Zero

Monday, September 16, 2013

Applying Out After A Postdoc

In comments here, an anonymous Smoker writes: 
I am about to go on the job market for the first time post PhD. I have had one year of a postdoc, but I imagine others who have spent two or three years on a postdoc have the same question.  
Are there any differences between what search committees will expect from my job app now and what they expected a year ago? What mistakes might I avoid as I prepare for the market this year? 
Thanks for your help in advance.
This is just a guess, but my guess is that the search committees will expect you to have some good publications--on the assumption that your postdoc is a research-oriented one, which may not be the case. If it's a teaching postdoc, I have no idea what they'll be looking for. Good evals? idk. Probably letters from your chair and other colleagues about your teaching. Not sure what else.

Of course, if you're only one year into your postdoc, it might not be reasonable for them to expect you to have a bunch of publications. After all, it takes a lot of time to get a publication. You have to write it, and then you have to send it out, and then they have to pester the delinquent referee, and even the best paper might still get rejected, and then you have to send it out again, and so on. It can take a long time. And the search committee might realize this, and they might even allow this realization to inform their expectations for your file. If they did that, they'd probably look for a highly solid writing sample. They'd probably also look for a well-developed research statement that sounded like it had clear, compelling descriptions of a lot of pretty fully-baked papers. (How many is "a lot"? idk.) You'd probably also want some letters from one or more of your current colleagues that discuss your research in detail, and in particular how awesome it is.

That's my $0.02, anyway. What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, September 5, 2013

PhilJobs/JFP

I've been using the joint PhilJobs/JFP website for a few weeks now. It seems to me that it works very well. They seem to have retained the entire PhilJobs user interface, which was better and more intuitive than any version of the online JFP. It also seems to me that the various search functions work better than the ones from the most recent online JFP did. I tested it on jobs in my AOS, and the search did not exclude any jobs. There were some false positives, but (a) in each case it was clear why the search picked it up, and (b) I'd rather have false positives than false negatives. I also like the "save job" function, which seems like it works better than the "star" function from last year's JFP. And I like that they just aren't running ads that violate the APA's nondiscrimination policy.

It's still very early in the job-market season, and so it's hard to say what the ultimate impact of the merger will be. And I haven't used PhilJobs very much before this--my usual procedure up until now was to consult the JFP first and foremost, and then to spot-check the other sources for jobs that didn't show up there. It was generally a pretty small number. So I don't really have a sense for how this is affecting PhilJobs. Maybe some Smokers who are more PhilJobs-savvy could weigh in: does there seem to be an appreciably larger or smaller number of ads up for this time of year? Does there seem to be an appreciably smaller number of ads for community college positions? For positions outside the English-speaking world?

My initial impression, when the merger was announced, was that it was all-things-considered awesome. That is still my impression. I think that the PhilJobs interface is superior in every important way to that of the JFP, and the fact that the JFP is now free to candidates is decisively awesome. Some comments left on that post convinced me that there were reasons to worry that PhilJobs will decline in quality as a result of the merger, because it will now adopt the JFP's practice of charging advertisers. But subsequent commentary convinced me that there were also reasons to worry that without the merger PhilJobs would have ceased to exist due to lack of funds. So I guess I'd rather have a somewhat worse PhilJobs that still exists as a PJ/JFP fusion than the same old JFP and a non-existent PhilJobs.

Though I guess I could be wrong. Am I wrong?

Anyways, it seems to me that this is another in a recent streak of good moves by the APA. And although I thought that last year's redesign of the JFP was a substantial improvement over the previous version, I am particularly impressed that they were willing to abandon it after only one year when this clearly better opportunity arose. A lot of people/organizations wouldn't have wanted to do that.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Small, Not Particularly Sad Thing, That Nevertheless Has a Minor, Slightly Sad Aspect

I was recently made slightly sad about something. Before I say what it was, I want to emphasize that I'm not complaining. On balance, it's a reasonably decent situation. Better than average. Overall, I have no ground for complaint.

I submitted a paper to a journal this summer, and heard back almost immediately. Often, a near-immediate response is a sign that the paper was summarily rejected by the editor and was not sent out for review. A "desk rejection," as they say. In this case, however, it is clear that this did not happen. It is clear that this submission was sent out for review, for a couple of reasons. First, the rejection letter says something like, "based on the advice received" or whatever. Second, there were comments. Comments! After it had been under review for just a few days. And the comments have been helpful. Helpful comments in under a week. I don't know anyone--and I include myself here--who has sent helpful comments within a week of receiving the paper.

And again, I want to stress that I am not complaining. As rejections go, this is the best-case scenario. It was lightning-fast, and it was accompanied by commentary that will help me make the paper better. No complaints.

But the minor aspect that made me slightly sad was, one of the things I'm looking for when I send a paper to a journal is a bit of a break from it. I know when I send something out--especially if I'm aiming a little high, as I was here--that I'm going to be thinking about this paper again in a few months. But I like having that respite. I kind of need it, so that I can move on to other things and get work done on other projects. (I realize that this is not a big deal, but since when does something need to be a big deal in order for me to remark upon it?)

On the other hand, one sort of nice thing about this situation is that I haven't had to spend any time re-familiarizing myself with the issues the paper concerns or the arguments the paper makes. So I would say that the revisions are going somewhat more quickly than they otherwise would have. Which is a plus.

So, in closing, thanks a million to the anonymous reviewer for an undisclosed journal.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

View #10

Remember when we were doing Views from your Window? I kind of let the project die, but there were a few submissions that I didn't get to. One of the ones I didn't get to was my favorite, and this whole time I've been sad that I didn't put it up. So I'm putting it up now.


Submitted by Wendy Pepper

Middleburg, Virginia

8:20 p.m.

January 27, 2012

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Should Phillis Bail?

An anonymous Smoker writes: 
Imagine a philosophy PhD student - call her Phillis -  who is about half way through her well-ranked program. Phillis is a bright student whose adviser thinks highly of her. She wouldn't fit a description like "best student this adviser has had in the last five years" but nevertheless she's a promising scholar in her mid to late-20s working in an area of philosophy that is high in demand, to the extent that jobs in philosophy are highly demanded. 
Further imagine that Phillis finds herself in the following circumstances with the following psychological profile: She has friends and family on both the west and east coast and would prefer to live near one group of them to not living near either group somewhere in the middle of the country. She doesn't currently want to own a house, nor does she want to start a family right now, but she wants to keep those options open in the not-too-distant future. She finds joy in the arts, professional sports, fine dining, the outdoors, etc. She finds philosophy intrinsically rewarding but she's not a true-believer, as she can imagine finding fulfillment doing other things, too. She has little work experience outside philosophy, however, and is worried that she is, to some extent, stuck on the philosophy-trajectory because of this. She also expects that if she were to leave philosophy she would regret not fulfilling her goal, but she doesn't expect that the regret would be debilitating. She is also mildly frustrated living on a graduate student wage and has come to find the solitariness of philosophical work a bit exhausting. Again, though, she not infrequently finds satisfaction in doing philosophy. 
Question: Does it make sense for Phillis to continue pursuing philosophy professionally, given the awful state of the job market? Why or why not? 
Go ahead and substitute for 'make sense' whatever normative terminology you find most useful (e.g. 'rational', 'the thing to do', etc). 
Surely some philosopher (you perhaps) has fit Phillis' description at some point in their lives. And if not, surely some philosopher who is paid to try and sort out how people ought to live would have some insight to share.
I don't really know what Phillis should do, and I don't really feel qualified to comment. But that's never stopped me before, so here's what I sort of think. To me, it seems like Phillis might be better off if she bailed on philosophy. Tenure line jobs are hard to come by, and it's even tougher if one is picky about being on the coast. If she can find a tenure-line job at all, she's probably going to wind up in Evansville or Des Moines or someplace. And if she wouldn't mind it too much, and wouldn't have a crushing sense of failure and regret that she didn't stick with it, and if there are other things about philosophy she finds unsatisfying or frustrating, and she can find something else on one of the coasts, maybe she ought to bail. 

But look. I don't know. I would say that my experience on the job market has been a real struggle, but I would not say that I regret my decision to pursue this career. And I don't think I'll end up regretting it, even if I end up giving up on it. Not that this really means anything. Your mileage may vary. 

On the other hand (back to the first hand?), I sometimes think about my friends and family who still live in and around the city we grew up in, and I am nearly overcome with insane jealousy. I guess my mileage may vary, too. 

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Some Things I Still Don't Understand About the McGinn Case

I have gone back and forth about whether to publish this post or not. There'd be something I didn't understand, so I'd write about it a little, then decide not to publish it and put it away. Then something else would come up, and I'd write about it a little, then put it back away. And so on. Interest in the case, as evidenced by our comment section, has waxed and waned several times. And McGinn's recent posts raise some interesting points. So I figured, what the hell. Readers who are sick of this shit should feel free to skip it--and let's be serious, maybe so should the rest of us. This is none of my business, and it's probably none of yours.

Anyways, here are some things I still don't understand about the McGinn case.
  1. At the University of Miami, under what circumstances would a faculty member be required to disclose a consensual but non-sexual relationship to his or her superiors and withdraw from evaluative authority? The Miami faculty handbook says, "romantic, amorous, or sexual," but (as McGinn has pointed out) that's not too specific. 
    1. Suppose the senior person wanted a sexual relationship with the junior person, but didn't act on this desire and was able to successfully keep it to him- or herself. Disregarding practical difficulties with enforcement, would the person be required to disclose and/or withdraw? [My guess: no]
      1. On the other hand, if we suppose that the senior person is secretly in love with the junior person, then I suspect that the senior person would be required to disclose and withdraw--although this would defeat the purpose of being secretly in love. But that just shows that you shouldn't be secretly in love with your graduate students. Literally: if you are, you have an obligation not to be.
    2. Suppose the senior person wanted a sexual relationship, suggested this to the junior person, and then the junior person declined. Does the disclose-and-withdraw requirement apply there? [My guess: possibly, yes. Maybe. Not entirely sure. It depends?]
    3. Suppose that, according to the senior person, the relationship could be correctly (if cryptically) described as an "intellectual romance" that was not at all sexual in nature. Does the disclose-and-withdraw requirement apply in that kind of case? [My guess: I have no idea because I don't know what that even means.]
  2. What was the basis for this (potential?) charge? Why did the University think that McGinn was obligated to disclose the relationship? Based on what I've been led to suspect is the evidence, this isn't the most obvious charge, after all.
    1. I think I understand the non-McGinn side of the story, thanks to a recent anonymous commenter. (Who, of course, may or may not be on the level. Who knows? Not me.) According to this comment, the university initially approached McGinn with this charge because when the RA turned over the incriminating emails, she submitted only those that contained McGinn's (alleged) advances and stuff, and did not simultaneously turn over emails or other evidence of her having declined (in spite of the fact that this evidence (allegedly) existed). This meant that although the University could see that there was an apparent sexual aspect to the relationship, in that he had (allegedly) proposed sex, it could not immediately determine that it was not consensual, or that it had persisted despite her objections. This meant that it could not sustain charges of sexual misconduct or harassment at that time.
    2. Now, maybe that's what happened and maybe it isn't. I don't know--I'm not Columbo. But I can at least follow the logic. On McGinn's version, though, I can't see how the University's behavior makes any sense. I can't see where there's any policy at Miami that says you have to disclose and withdraw from positions of evaluative authority over your friends or your mixed-doubles partner or whatever. If McGinn's version of the story is true, why would anyone have thought that he was required to disclose and withdraw? 
  3. McGinn says that the President of the University of Miami has the power to overrule the Faculty Senate, and can unilaterally declare that, say, sexual harassment has occurred even if the FS finds that it didn't. Where does this come from? The UM faculty handbook contains a detailed description of their disciplinary procedures, (I'm looking at § B4.9, pp. 29 - 33) but I can't find any mention of this power. 
  4. In Edwin Erwin's letter to Seth Zweifler, who is the author of both of the CHE articles about the case, Erwin indicates that it is his view that "most of" the second article "is very fair to [McGinn]," although some portions of it misrepresent the case against him. These portions misrepresent the case by suggesting that it was about sexual harassment when, according to Erwin, it was really just about McGinn's alleged failure-to-disclose and withdraw. 
    1. But as I read it, the suggestion of sexual misconduct has been present from the very beginning. It pervades both of the CHE pieces, and virtually all of the subsequent commentary. As far as I can tell, there has been literally no mention of the failure-to-disclose charge other than McGinn's own complaints that the case about him has been misrepresented, and my occasional commentary about it in which I wonder what in the hell that's all about. I don't see how anything anyone other than McGinn has said could be taken to suggest that this is anything other than a sexual misconduct case. And the bulk of what McGinn himself has said about it (apart from his explicit denials, that is) seems to suggest the same thing. 
    2. And so I don't understand why Erwin and McGinn (in virtue of the way he has approvingly reposted the Erwin letter) would be willing to say that "Most of [the second CHE] article is very fair to Colin". If they see things how they say they see things, they'd have to think that virtually all of the CHE's reporting on the case is deeply unfair. 
  5. I was reading McGinn's recent post, in which he reprints his initial response  to the University to the failure-to-disclose charge. 
    1. Reason 1 doesn't strike me as very strong. If a disclosure-requiring relationship exists, that one or the other (or both) of the relata do not wish to disclose it makes no difference whatsoever. Disclosure and withdrawal from evaluative authority protects both parties from a variety of potential negative effects, including a lot of the things McGinn mentions later on.
      1. Another weird thing about this is the implication that he and the RA had a discussion about whether he should disclose and withdraw. If so, then the existence of this discussion indicates that there was some question as to whether he should disclose and withdraw, and that it was thought by at least one of them to be worth discussing. If it's worth discussing, maybe it's worth discussing with someone who has a clearer understanding of the policy than McGinn claims to have. If the policy is as unclear as McGinn thinks it is, maybe he got it wrong.
      2. And I think it matters when this alleged discussion took place. Before or after the "handjob" email? Before or after the alleged request for sex? Makes a difference.
    2. Reasons 2 through 8 strike me as fairly compelling, but only if you construe them as reasons not to begin a disclosure/withdrawal-requiring relationship with the student. Construed as reasons not to disclose an existing disclosure-requiring relationship, they are very weak. 
    3. I don't understand reason 9--it is absolutely mystifying. I can't see anything in the relevant section of the UM faculty manual that might be interpreted as precluding the coauthoring papers, or the making of positive statements about the person in a general way. What's he talking about? 
    4. Reason 10 seems to me to assume facts not in evidence, given McGinn's own claims that he's not sure what the regulation means. McGinn says he doesn't think the relationship warranted disclosure/withdrawal. I don't know if he's right, but according to several people who have seen the emails, McGinn made sexual jokes involving her performing sex acts and suggested that they have sex. I don't know if that's true, but I also don't see a way to make sense of the University's position if it's not. (See item 2.1.) And McGinn's denials seem to be more semantical than categorical. And since McGinn admits that he doesn't understand the policy very well--he finds it incomprehensibly vague--I'm not sure I find his opinion here particularly trustworthy.
  6. Another recent post uses a hypothetical discussion about a nuclear attack on Iran as a prop to illustrate the difference between proposing a course of action and merely entertaining it. This post seems to indicate that the "sex three times" incident reported in the second CHE article actually happened, but not quite as reported. McGinn doesn't specifically say what he's talking about, so it's hard to be certain if that's it. But he seems to be saying that he did not literally propose sex, but merely was willing to entertain the possibility of sex in order to be assured that it was not a good idea and that it was not even the least bad of some set of alternatives. 
    1. For one thing, why does everything McGinn says about the case have to be couched in riddle and metaphor? Why can't he just tell his side of the story in plain, literal language? Maybe this is epistemically questionable, but the fact that he is unable or unwilling to do this makes it very hard for me to see things his way. 
    2. For another thing, under what circumstances would it make any sense at all to "entertain" this possibility? I think I understand why a top government official might be willing to entertain the possibility of a nuclear strike against Iran, if only to immediately rule it out so that the discussion can move on to more viable proposals. Especially if the goal was self-consciously to discuss the pros and cons of all possible courses of action. 
      1. But I don't see why it would be necessary for a professor to entertain the possibility of having sex with his research assistant, in order to assess the pros and cons of that course of action, on the way to consideration of more viable proposals. 
      2. And I don't see why it would be necessary to discuss specific numbers of sexual encounters as individual alternatives. (The "n times" remark. Maybe I'm misinterpreting.) Maybe that was supposed to make it funny.
      3. And I don't see why it would be necessary to include the research assistant in these discussions--seems like it would be a pretty bad idea. Suppose you're the high-ranked government official who's trying to find a solution about Iran. Suppose that you're having the discussion in which you entertain the possibility of nuking them. Suppose that, for some reason, you have not made this discussion private between you and your national security team or whoever, and that you have literally included  the Iranian government in this conversation. How easy is it going to be to convince them that this discussion of nuking them was entirely innocent, and that you were just contemplating it, were not suggesting it, and there's no reason to take it as a serious proposal? I think it would be hard. 
      4. And I don't see how an intelligent person could be surprised if other people were to miss the crucial detail that he was merely entertaining the possibility, and not actually suggesting it. Or, if the person didn't believe him when he said he was  merely entertaining it without intending in any way to suggest it. It seems to me that a discussion like that is all but guaranteed to generate misunderstanding. And that the kind of misunderstanding it would generate is likely to get a person fired and/or divorced. It seems to me that "entertaining" a possibility like that would be an incredibly stupid idea.
  7. Regarding McGinn's "advice" post from earlier today, I'm not sure I have much to say. Some of it sounds like decent advice--it might not be a bad idea to maintain a certain level of professional distance from one's students--but some of it seems a little unreasonable and extreme ("Do not form genuine friendships with students. Do not engage in any non-academic activities with students.) Of course, he's had a recent bad experience and can be forgiven for advising an abundance of caution. 
    1. He's clearly right, though, that "there will be an immediate presumption of guilt against you if an allegation is made," that you should "not suppose that the authorities are much concerned with justice"--assuming he means the administration, who will be concerned with protecting the institution from liability--and that if someone has accused you of sexual harassment you should immediately get a lawyer. That all seems basically right. 
I'm really sorry about this.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, July 12, 2013

Be Employable, Study Philosophy

Via Leiter, I found this nice little article about the benefits of a philosophical education. The author is a journalist who thinks that aspiring journalists should study philosophy, not journalism. Some choice quotes:
But a smattering of undergrad philosophy classes taught me something applicable to any and every job: clarity of thought. Name me one aspect of your life that doesn't benefit from being able to think something through clearly.
I express some version of this idea on the first day of every class I teach.
Because it delivers real skills, philosophy doesn't go out of fashion the way the vague, trendy subjects do. The University of Windsor just announced it's closing its Centre for Studies in Social Justice, after 11 years. I suspect some of the problem there may be that no one can actually define "social justice." And the importance of defining terms to ensure we all mean the same thing when we're talking is one of those skills I picked up in philosophy.
To be fair, it's at least kind of likely that nobody can define social justice because the nature of justice--social and otherwise--is a matter of ongoing philosophical controversy.

There's an amusing polemic against postmodernism, which leads into the following quip:
I've long thought that the debate about whether universities should be offering trades training or educating citizens is something of a red herring -- the discussion should be about whether to study knowledge or nonsense. 
The article concludes with some observations about the value of clear thinking.

Maybe I like this article only because it flatters my philosophical vanity. But I also like it because of the students I see some through my classes. A substantial proportion of my freshman-level students think that "if p then q" means "p is true, and so is q". Now, it seems to me that they can't really be that confused, because if they were they would be completely unable to reason about anything and would quickly die of starvation or accidental poisoning. But when they try to think carefully, this mistake consistently emerges. When they are trying to think carefully. I want to generate interest in the discipline of philosophy, and I want to generate interest in our major, sure. But if I can generate clear-thinking students who major in other things, I'll happily take it.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

McGinn Interview in the Chronicle

Here. It’s behind a paywall, and unfortunately I don’t know of anyone who has posted a PDF to the internet like last time. Sorry.

It paints a horrible picture of McGinn using mostly his own words. It has him saying stuff like, “a superior person is not necessarily arrogant, but just superior”; and how he is “the most enlightened person in the world”; and how “his situation will fan anti-American sentiment” (in the words of the author, but attributed to McGinn). He complains, again, of everyone else’s lack of senses of humor and irony.

(Which is really old hat, right? “It's not that I'm a jerk; it's that your sense of humor sucks.” Y’all jerks need to work on your excuses.)

But as far as I can see, it doesn’t say anything new or groundbreaking, other than a few stray details, with one fairly notable exception. It does contain what would seem to be the verbatim text of the handjob pun: he says that he “had a handjob imagining you giving me a handjob.” First off, that’s awfully yucky. Secondly, even if his claim that it was a joke in which ‘handjob’ doesn’t mean “handjob” is credible, it seems to me that it’s still pretty clearly inappropriate. Thirdly, although he makes another attempt to connect the stuff with the handjobs to his research, it still seems to me like that entire avenue is complete bullshit. Fourthly, even if you interpret it as McGinn says he intended, it’s still really weird. He, McGinn, had a manicure while imagining her, his research assistant, giving him a manicure. What? A) who thinks about their research assistant while getting a manicure? B) who thinks about getting a manicure from their research assistant under any circumstances? C) what is he talking about? I mean, he’s free to insist that he had created a context in which ‘handjob’ is to be read as “manicure,” and where anyone who doesn’t see that is has an irony-related disability. But the fact is that if you read it that way, the message doesn’t make any goddam sense. And this is why nobody who has ever read it has read it that way.

It has him describe his relationship with the RA as an “intellectual romance.” Whatever that means. Seriously: what does that mean? Why would anyone ever say something like that? If I were in his position, I think I’d be very careful to avoid using the term ‘romance’ in any capacity whatsoever.

He seems to suggest that the “genius project” literally had that name while it was going on, in spite of what he says in one of his blog posts:
Another time, the professor says, the student expressed reservations about her job prospects in philosophy. He devised a solution, an undertaking he called the “genius project.” He describes it as an experimental learning endeavor in which he hoped to help the student improve her philosophical abilities by fostering creativity and encouraging taboo busting.
I totally understand being worried about your job prospects. I could not be more sympathetic. I worried about that when I was in grad school, and my worries have not been assuaged since then. And I completely understand approaching your faculty honcho person with these concerns for advice and counsel and stuff. Makes perfect sense. And I totally get why the faculty member might start a formal or semi-formal project designed to put the student in the best position possible to go on the job market. I understand. With perhaps less explicitness, something exactly like that happened with me and with basically everybody I knew in grad school. We were all worried; we all went to our advisors for advice; our advisors all tried to help us get prepared. Nobody ever gave it a name, as though they were the first person to ever think of helping their students get ready for the job market, or they were really special for actually going through with it, but we were all engaged in some kind of Genius Project. If you twisted my arm, I would have just called it “My Graduate Training.” The “Ph.D. Project.” Whatever.

What I don't get is why “taboo busting” always so high on the list of Genius Project techniques. My “Ph.D. Project” consisted, in part, of various discussions with my advisor: what I should read; what I had read; how to approach the material; where my ideas fit into the larger literature/conceptual space; etc. Another substantial chunk of the project consisted of submitting written work; receiving withering criticism in return; revising the work in response; receiving more withering criticisms; and so on. We spent a lot of time working on my teaching, too.

Now, I understand that the Genius Project involved spending part of each day thinking about your own ideas without relying on outside texts, and that it also involved asking, “is that really true?” a lot, and that sounds good to me. And I don’t have any problem with the tennis or the paddle boarding. Seems basically normal. But I don’t get why busting taboos was such an important part of the project. Is there some reason to suspect that unbusted taboos cause problems for candidates on the job market? And what was the pedagogical purpose of agreeing that manicures will henceforth be called “handjobs”? That seems to come out of left field, as far as mentorship goes.

(Just kidding, kind of. I realize that the reason that the “taboo busting” aspect of the Genius Project has been getting so much press is that the taboo-busting stuff is what got him in trouble, and that the press its been getting is not necessarily proportional to its prominence in the Project. But seriously. It got him in a shit ton of trouble, and it served no clear pedagogical purpose. It was a bad idea, and he should have known better.)

There's also this passage,
When he saw the student, they would perform a “ceremony,” he says, during which they went through a series of “hand grips” simulating closeness and social interaction.
Which sort of makes it seem like they had a secret handshake. What the hell? Is he a Mason? And what would it mean for a “hand grip” to “simulate social interaction”? Is that something people do?

Another passage reads,
“The relationship was difficult,” he says, speaking in his living room. “It wasn’t natural. It was constrained by the fact that I was a professor and she was a student. … We couldn’t just go in the way people normally would.”
Which really makes you wonder. Hadn’t he been teaching for a long time? The ins and outs of the teacher/student relationship shouldn’t have been that bizarre for a senior professor like him. You’d think that it would be sort of normal. He’d been around the block a few times by then.

But it seems to me that the most substantial new piece of information is that according to the RA’s boyfriend,
McGinn once wrote to the student that they should “have sex three times in my office over the summer when no one else is around,” Mr. Yelle [her boyfriend, that is] says. He also says the professor once suggested that the student should wear shorts more often because he thought her legs were attractive.
McGinn denies suggesting sex, and says that he merely told her that her legs were muscular. He also declined to share the emails.

Now, there are a lot of potential reasons why he might not want to share those emails, and the fact that he doesn’t share them doesn’t mean he said what Yelle says he said. And from our standpoint, there's a very real sense in which this is just a he-said/she-said thing. And if you just look at how he describes his style of interacting with people in general and her in particular, it’s fairly clear that the best-case scenario for these emails is that there's a lot of very borderline, easy-to-misunderstand material there, interspersed with a few things that are genuinely inappropriate (such as the oft-mentioned handjob pun). So, best-case scenario, releasing the emails won’t help him very much, and it makes sense for him not to release them.

On the other hand, on the best-case scenario, McGinn seems like the kind of person who wouldn’t realize how harmful releasing the emails would be. Case in point: everything he’s said up until now.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, July 1, 2013

The New APA Website...

...is up. Looks nice. Looks like an actual, professionally-produced website, and not* some piece of Geocities trash from 1996. Drop-down menus are clearly labeled and functional. Seems well-organized. I like the new logo.

It looks like I have let my membership lapse, and so I'm not able to get into the members-only section right now. Maybe somebody more responsible than me will let us know how it works.

It really does seem like the APA has gotten a lot better lately.

--Mr. Zero

*edited. shit.

Friday, June 28, 2013

APA and PhilJobs Will Jointly Produce the JFP

Holy shit. According to the email I just got, the APA and the PhilPapers people are merging the JFP with PhilJobs. And it will be free to job seekers, it says. Free! I love free. Holy shit.

They also say they'll use the PhilJobs software, which is better than the new JFP website from last year. So that's good, too.

I think this is a good move. I mean, we'll see what it looks like when it rolls out in a few weeks (or whatever--the timeline is pretty vague). But I gotta say, I've been pretty impressed with the APA lately.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fisking the Pinker Letter, or, More on McGinn: I Shouldn't Have Written This and You Shouldn't Read It

In a long tradition of continuing to talk about sexism-related stuff long after everyone is sick of hearing about it, I bring you a third post on L'Pickle McGinn.

McGinn has clearly rejected his own proposal “to say no more on the subject of recent allegations.” There are, by my count, seven additional posts on that subject since the proposal was proposed. (I made a judgement call to not count the one about his female influences, and I have no idea what to make of the one dealing with this "your sister is a prostitute" joke.) One of these contains a letter he received from Steven Pinker, in which Pinker expresses his support and solidarity. (Another contains a ludicrous threat of legal action, and begins by quoting the definition of 'libel' from the OED. Dear God. Since the dawn of time, philosophers have cleverly exploited Grice's findings on implicature in order to amuse themselves on Saturday nights with highly sophisticated X-rated puns.) Pinker's letter contains a number of inaccuracies, is based on a fairly basic misunderstanding of the situation, and is completely unworthy of attention. So obviously I'm going to go through it line by line. 

(Just so we're clear, the Pinker text is bold and      offset; my text justified normally and in italics.)
STEVEN PINKER
Harvard College Professor
Johnstone Family Professor
 
So far, so good. He knows who he is and where he works.
Professor Edwin Ervin 
I'm kinda sure it's 'Erwin' with a 'w', not 'Ervin' with a 'v'. Somehow I don't get the idea that this is going to be Pinker's most thoughtful work.  
Department of Philosophy
University of Miami
Miami, FL
 Coral Gables. 
June 13, 2013 
Dear Professor Ervin, 
Again, it's Erwin. With a 'w'. At least he's consistent.
I join you and other scholars, writers, and activists in protesting the threat of dismissal
According to McGinn, any threat of dismissal has been neutralized by the fact that he resigned. 

Also, activists? What activists?
of a brilliant and distinguished scholar, Colin McGinn, from the University of Miami for apparently nothing more serious than exchanging sexual banter with a graduate student.
McGinn claims that the only charge the University was considering was a failure to disclose a consensual but non-sexual relationship. But since the University has yet to publicly comment on the matter, it's difficult to know with any confidence what they thought he was up to, how serious they thought it was, how serious it actually was, or whether he would have been dismissed over it. 

Also, depending on whether the student was interested in engaging in sexual banter, the exact nature of the banter, and whether the student's participation was strictly and completely voluntary, engaging in sexual banter with a student could be fairly serious misconduct. Again, who knows what was really going on? Certainly not Pinker.
Even if the University had a clear policy that regulated communications between professor and student,
As far as I can tell, the University of Miami does have a pretty clear and sensible policy on this stuff. As I read the policy, very little in the way of professor/student communication is prohibited, though they are careful to point out that the uneven balance of power inherent in the professor/student relationship creates practical difficulties in establishing that the student has genuinely consented. 

It also says, and I have no idea whether this is strictly relevant, that faculty are required to disclose certain kinds of "amorous" relationships to a supervisor, and that they must do whatever is necessary to guarantee that they are not in a position of evaluative authority over someone with whom they are in such an "amorous" relationship. Failure to do so would create a clear conflict of interest, it says. It threatens the faculty member's ability to evaluate the person's work objectively. It can create the appearance (or fact) of favoritism. It creates a risk that the junior person might be exploited. It creates a risk that the faculty member or the University will be sued for sexual harassment, it says. Now, I'm not saying this is the kind of wisdom you'd consider going all the way to Dagobah to receive. But at the very least, it's fairly decent advice, and McGinn seems to have largely ignored it. At his peril. 
the punishment is ludicrously disproportionate to the alleged offense.
Again. McGinn says he wasn't "punished" or even charged by the University. He says he resigned and thereby halted any disciplinary procedures before they began. There's no such thing as the punishment. It doesn't exist.
As well as harming the reputation and intellectual quality of the University of Miami,
There's some low-hanging fruit here, but I'm not going to take it. Instead, I'm going to point out that this is one of the things that makes it so hard to square McGinn's version of the facts with reality. The story doesn't jell. 

McGinn really was one of the more prominent members of the UMiami philosophy department. Though I don't mean to disparage the other members of the department, it seems to be widely acknowledged that McGinn was disproportionately responsible for the department's overall reputation. The administration would have to have known this when they called him into a meeting and told him whatever they told him about what they found out about his "relationship" with his RA, explained to him that he was required by University policy to have disclosed it, and informed him of his options going forward. And whatever they told him must have been at least kind of bad news, or else he wouldn't have resigned rather than fight the charges or accept sanctions. It is at least a little unlikely that they would have done that unless they thought it was sort of serious. Add to that the disconnect between what he seems to have done and what he says the charge was going to be, and I'm not sure how to make it add up. 

Of course, for all I know, the administration was mistaken about how serious it was, or they were out to get him even though they knew he didn't do anything wrong. 

Of course, for all I know, they were not mistaken, or he is paranoid and has a persecution complex. 

On the other hand, maybe Pinker knows more about the case than I do. No he doesn't. 
such an action would put a chill on communication between faculty and graduate students and on the openness and informality on which scholarship depends. 
Perhaps Pinker's scholarship and teaching habits differ from mine (McGinn's seem to, after all), but I have not had to rely in my teaching on lurid puns about handjobs. To a captive audience. And from what has been made public, McGinn didn't get into any actual trouble until he inserted the RA herself into the jokes, and made handjob puns that were literally about her. I don't think I'd be chilled by a policy prohibiting handjob puns involving the students themselves in my communications with them. I don't think that would make me less "open" with them--and if it would make me more closed off, that just speaks to the necessity of the policy. A policy like that would really just codify what I've already been doing this whole time, in an attempt to avoid being thought of as a creep or having to explain my offbeat sense of humor to the Dean. 

There is such a thing as too much openness informality, you know. 
If the dismissal proceeds, I will certainly bring it up with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, on whose advisory board I sit. 
Pinker can rest assured that the dismissal will not proceed, because of the apparently little-known fact that McGinn has resigned his post. 

But really. Although McGinn's posting of the Pinker letter suggests that he substantially approves of it, it doesn't really seem as though FIRE's involvement is something that McGinn would welcome--and I base this entirely on McGinn's statements and actions, and not at all on my own suspicions concerning his innocence or guilt. He says doesn't want to spare the time or resources that a serious defense would require; he's unsure whether his passion for teaching could survive the ordeal; he's concerned about how it would affect his wife and family; he didn't like working at Miami anyway. He says he wants to put this whole mess behind him and move on. So he decided not to contest whatever charges an investigation might have turned up and resigned instead. Take this job and shove it, as the fella says. 

(On the other hand, McGinn doesn't totally act like someone who wants to put this whole mess behind him and move on. Someone who wanted to move on from this might begin by not posting fifteen blog posts about it, including seven following the one where he said he was done talking about it.)

I'm also far from convinced that this is the kind of case that FIRE could really dig its teeth into. I don't follow FIRE's activities very carefully, but it seems like they tend to go after freedom-of-speech/freedom-of-religion/due process cases where there's a relatively compelling prima facie case that someone's Constitutional rights were violated, or that the University jumped the gun in applying discipline, such that the accused didn't get a fair shake. Whereas, based on what has been made public, this seems like a case where the accused really did kind of break the rules, and where it's not possible to know whether he would have gotten a fair shake because he resigned before any shaking took place. I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but it's hard for me to see where FIRE might find a handhold.
Feel free to circulate this letter, and to add my name to any list of McGinn’s supporters. 
Shorter Pinker: I'm not sure who I'm writing to, and I don't have any idea what's going on, but I have chosen sides and am attaching my name to this half-baked letter, which you should feel free to spread around. 

Man, what a pointless waste of everyone's time.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Citations

Kieran Healy's recent posts on co-citations in philosophy (also this one) got me thinking about citations more generally. (Not this kind of citation, or this kind, of course.)

According to Healy, the average paper in his database cites 15 papers. That seems approximately right to me, as far as what is typical. But I find that I almost always cite way more than that, and I almost always want to see more citations when I'm reading. There are several reasons for this. (Some of these are reasons why I try to include more citations, some are reasons why I want to see more citations, and some are kind of both. I hope it will be clear which is which.)

  1. I want to demonstrate the importance of my topic to the referees. I want to show them that my topic is something that prominent people have been talking about in the relatively recent past.
  2. I want to demonstrate that I am up-to-date on the literature, and that my contribution is current.
  3. I want it to literally be true that I am engaging in a current, ongoing philosophical conversation—I don't want it to just look that way (though I realize that ‘demonstrate’ is factive). 
  4. I want to demonstrate that my interpretations are accurate. I have, on occasion, been disbelieved when I have said that certain philosophers said certain things. It can be nice, in these situations, to have a reference in the text indicating where this happened.  It can also be nice to have a quote handy. And, of course, if you have the quote, you have to have the citation. 
  5. I want to demonstrate that I did not just make this up, as a way of lending credence to my views. I am not a very prominent philosopher, and I sometimes find it helpful to point out that other philosophers more prominent than me have made similar points, or are somehow in agreement with me. (I don't have a clear example of this that I'm comfortable sharing, but I regularly see prominent philosophers making bald assertions that no referee would ever permit me to get away with. I tend to have better luck with “it seems to me that p, and I'm not the only one; look at all the smart people to whom it seems that p!”)
  6. I want to alert my reader to more detailed discussions of topics I can cover only briefly. I especially want to do this when the more detailed discussion is something I wrote, but I often want to do it anyways.
Sometimes I see other people not doing this stuff and I get annoyed. Sometimes I'll be reading a paper, and I see the author consider some view or principle or something, and I'll think, “that's crazy. Whoever said that?” and the author doesn't say who said it. And then I'll think, “Geez, why would I ever consider believing that?” and then not only does the author not rehearse the argument, he doesn't even bother to tell me where I might go to find it. Doesn't even give me a name. And then maybe I get kind of interested in knowing whose view it is, or what the argument for it is supposed to be, but then I have to do a bunch of my own research in order to run it down. And then maybe nothing turns up, and I just wasted a bunch of time I could have spent reading something more worthwhile, or researching something that wasn't a dead-end, or writing something of my own, or tickling Junior, or playing Scrabble with Mrs. Zero, or watching baseball, or anything at all. 

So while some of the reasons why I try to cite more papers in my work are kind of utilitarian and bogus, owing to the fact that I'm a nobody who's trying to play defense against hostile referees, I think that some of them are widely applicable. It seems to me that the fact that typical philosophy papers have so few references indicates that we as a discipline have some bad scholarship habits. 

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to expect when you're expecting tenure...

Some of you are getting ready to move into new jobs this summer. Woohoo! Grad school, postdoc, and adjunct teaching did not prepare me for a tenure-track job in some important ways. Here's a few things it would have helped me to know from the get-go.

1. Once you've landed a TT job, you cannot rest on your laurels. The quest for tenure begins before you've got your books unpacked. Seriously. Hit the ground running, kid. (If you're in a department that lets you go up for tenure early, this is doubly true.)
2. Find out what the specific tenure requirements are for your school and department. Start doing those things right away. Departmental committee work. Some number of p-r publications. A book. Grants. Teaching. If your dept doesn't have some kind of orientation for new faculty, talk to someone on the P&T committee about what you have to do.
3. Keep track of what you do. I find it useful to keep a yearly log of my work activity, with dates, brief description of activity, and time spent. It includes things like meetings, guest lectures, conferences, papers submitted and accepted, papers I reviewed for journals, interviews and promo stuff, training, etc. It just takes a minute to enter the info, and when it comes time for the annual P&T review, it's handy to have it all there in front of you.
4. Keep a "self-promotion" file of stuff that supports you and your work. Print out nice emails from students or colleagues, copies of favorable comments from student evals, reviews of your work, awards and recognition, those stupid certificates you get for completing training, etc. Put notes in there about stuff you've done for others (e.g. helped a student get an internship). If you have anything that shows how awesome you are, put it in the file.
5. Keep your CV up to date all the time. Add all the stuff you never had on it before, like departmental service.
6. Keep track of when/where your papers are cited (I use Google Scholar for this) if you're at a research (or other) school that cares about that. If your papers are not listed on philpapers.org, submit them yourself.
7. Volunteer for the minimum number of committees you can get away with, and volunteer for the ones that are likely to meet the least often. You will not get tenure just for being that person who volunteers for everything and publishes nothing. Here it pays to know what you're expected to do by your department (e.g. smaller departments may expect/need more committee work from each individual, etc.)
8. Find a trusted mentor in the department, a senior person who can advise you on tenure-related matters, fill you in on departmental politics/squabbles/history/culture. Someone you're comfortable talking to. The first several faculty meetings are bewildering. I didn't know what the hell people were talking about half the time.
9. Find a focus in your research. Most Some places (e.g. research-oriented departments) will expect you to at least start to gain a national reputation as a scholar by the time your tenure review comes along (typically 6 years), and to do that, you will likely need to specialize your research and have a coherent and important research agenda. This might not be true of SLACs. If someone knows, please enlighten.
10. Make time to write/do research in proportion, more or less, to how important it is to tenure. This can be especially tough in the first year, if you're teaching new classes and doing preps, but it has to be done. You hopefully have some pubs in the pipeline already, so that one or two of them will be published in your first year. But if you don't do any new work in the first year, your pubs will be scanty to nonexistent in your second year, which is probably when your first probationary period will expire and your first review happens.
11. Build a network/alliance of people in your department or school (for social and professional support) and also start building a network of people nationally/internationally who can support your tenure review by serving as external references. Join the relevant professional societies/groups and go to conferences. Join faculty groups on campus that are relevant to your interests.
12. Juggling work and family is tough, especially when you're moving to a new community and don't know anyone. I wish I had excellent advice on how to do that, but I don't (although it is super helpful if your kid(s) are in school or daycare). Try to make friends with other people in the department who can tell you about useful resources, places to go, reliable daycare, good doctors, dentists, veterinarians, hair salons, etc. Taking care of that day to day stuff can suck up a lot of time when you first land in your new town.

I reckon others will have useful advice. Or questions. Chime in.

~zombie

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stray Thoughts on the McGinn Kerfuffle

I've had some time to read through and (hopefully) digest McGinn's recent blog posts and related commentary, and I (a) am too lazy to provide links, and (b) have a few disorganized observations I'd like to share. I'm pretty sure that some of these observations have been gleaned from comments here and elsewhere, but searching through all the relevant discussions for the original sources is not going to be possible. If I have stolen one or more of these from you, please let me know in comments. And sorry.

  1. My hypothesis about how the McGinn's "offending" comment might have been related to his research. It was not because, as I speculated, McGinn imagined that there was some non-trivial link between masturbation and the evolution of the hand. Mea culpa.
  2. The presence of a relationship between McGinn's offending comment and his research has been greatly exaggerated. The fact that your research project is about the hand does not mean that your "hand-job" puns are research-related. 
  3. The "Genius Project" is pedagogically ludicrous. I'm not talking about the tennis or whatever, which sounds like a relatively normal mentoring situation. I'm talking about the "nothing will be taboo," "if anyone is uncomfortable, they just have to say so" stuff. That makes no pedagogical sense. 
  4. It's also incredibly naive about human interactions. You can't make a deal with someone that nothing will be taboo or otherwise off-limits. I think about the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega tries to get Mia Wallace to promise not to be offended by what he's about to say. A promise like that cannot be taken seriously. 
  5. Nor can you just stipulate that someone will trust you enough to let you know when you have made that person uncomfortable. 
    1. Especially when you are that person's mentor. Especially when you have already gotten that person to agree that there will be no taboos.
  6. If this arrangement is substantially as McGinn describes it, it was a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. It was only a matter of time.
    1. From the Miami faculty handbook: "Furthermore, the line between consensual and non-consensual relationships may be blurred, particularly in regard to the freedom of the junior party to end the amorous relationship without fear of inappropriate repercussions. This creates vulnerability of the senior party and the University itself to charges of sexual harassment." I realize the relationship was not amorous, but the basic principle applies, especially if the relationship included jokes about who was thinking about whom during some possible interpretation of a 'hand job.' 
  7. Although it's hard to tell exactly what he's talking about, because he doesn't just come out and say what he means and instead couches everything in vague or figurative language (I understand why this is), it seems like he pretty much did what the CHE article says he did. A joke like that, I gave myself a handjob and thought of you, ha ha, is obviously at least potentially inappropriate. Maybe I have a tin ear for this sort of thing, but it's hard for me to imagine a situation in which it wouldn't be kind of weird. Guys usually don't make jokes like that unless they mean it, at least a little. 
  8. I don't understand the "I'm Joking" defense at all. As if it's not possible for jokes to be offensive. 
  9. I've seen several attempts by various people, including the editor of the blog to which McGinn contributes, attempt to claim that it's not possible for the imbalance of power between McGinn and his RA to have been a factor here, because the RA is an adult, not a child or even an undergraduate. This is pure balderdash. Being an adult does not confer immunity to power imbalances.   
  10. He has let his lawyer go. That explains a lot. 
  11. Some of his remarks about the circumstances surrounding the allegations strike me as possibly retaliatory. If so, this would violate University of Miami policy, as well as (so far as I understand them) applicable state and federal laws. Am I right about this?
    1. For another thing, his resignation is effective at the end of this year. He still works for the University of Miami. It seems to me that he can still be disciplined. 
  12. He claims that the University of Miami allows the president of the University to overrule the Faculty Senate sexual misconduct committee's findings. That sounds absolutely batshit insane. Is that true? If so, is that legal? If it is true, then the University of Miami's faculty union is for shit.
  13. He claims that the only charge the University was considering was a failure to disclose a nonsexual relationship. Is that kind of failure to disclose the kind of big deal that it would be worth resigning over? 
    1. I mean, I guess the relationship could be non-sexual while still being inappropriate in a variety of ways, and I guess the threat of a "failure-to-disclose" charge could be just for starters, while they decide whether to conduct a formal investigation and/or wait for the outcome of that investigation. 
    2. Also, what is the academic freedom angle? Why would it be a violation of academic freedom to accept sanctions over a "failure-to-disclose" charge? Is the idea that academic freedom means the freedom to conduct a mentoring relationship however one sees fit, no matter how pedagogically fucked it may be? Because that seems implausible. 
This ended up being more observations than I thought. Sorry. 

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Few Words on the McGinn Imbroglio

As I guess we all know, Colin McGinn has chosen to resign from the University of Miami rather than allow the University to proceed with an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving a research assistant. The article at the Chronicle of Higher Ed is here (paywalled); Sally Haslanger has posted a PDF of the whole thing here. Discussion at NewApps hereherehere, and here; discussion at Feminist Philosophers here; discussion at Leiter here and here.

Briefly, what seems to have happened is this: McGinn had a Research Assistant who was a female graduate student. Last spring, the RA started feeling uncomfortable with McGinn. Then, last April, McGinn allegedly started sending her sexually explicit email messages, including one in which, according to the RA's boyfriend and two unnamed faculty members, “McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.”* Wowza.

The RA then contacted the Office of Equality Administration. According to CHE, “after the university's Office of Equality Administration and the vice provost for faculty affairs conducted an investigation, Mr. McGinn was given the option of agreeing to resign or having an investigation into the allegations against him continue in a public setting, several of the philosopher's colleagues said.”

It's hard to know exactly what to make of this. On one obvious interpretation, there's a clearly implied threat: if you don't resign, we're going to publicly drag your name through the mud. And I'm not sure how normal the prospect of a “public” investigation is in this kind of circumstance. For example, if I recall correctly, the Oregon case from a couple of years ago involved an investigation that was supposed to have been kept private, and was made public only in violation of the University's procedures. But procedures vary from institution to institution, and I don't have any expertise here. I don't really have any idea whether this is unusual or not, although my suspicion is that it is at least a little unusual.

It therefore seems reasonable to worry about whether the procedures Miami followed here were respectful of McGinn's right to due process. But it's worth emphasizing that the CHE article is not very clear about precisely what happened—for example, Leiter says that McGinn had legal representation and was acting on his lawyer's advice, but the CHE doesn't mention it. It is also worth emphasizing that the account in the CHE comes from unnamed “colleagues,” not McGinn or his representatives or any official source at the University. And this comment at Feminist Philosophers, the veracity of which I am not in a position to verify, makes the meeting seem at least a little less troubling. On that account, it was more like, we've got some pretty compelling, well-documented evidence of misconduct, which we are duty-bound to pursue; but we'd like to give you the opportunity to resign now and save us both a big headache.

Additionally—and here I want to emphasize that I don't know what happened, I haven't seen the emails, and I don't have any special insight into the matter—my other suspicion is that the allegations are at least somewhat likely to be at least a little true. Again, I don't know anything, but my evidence for this suspicion is how the University has behaved. It seems to me—and it could be that I am being very naive and trusting and totally wrong about this—that if it really is just a “he-said/she-said” type deal, the allegations don't go anywhere. It seems to me that if an RA accuses her supervisor of sending her sexually inappropriate emails and then cannot produce the emails, or the emails don't say what she said they say, the allegations don't go anywhere. Particularly, it seems unlikely that the university would ask the single most prominent scholar in a given department to resign like that in the absence of pretty solid corroborating evidence. But that's not dispositive, and I haven't seen the emails, and I don't know what really happened.

The CHE article also contains this noteworthy passage:
Advocates of Mr. McGinn, however, say that the correspondence may have been misinterpreted when taken out of context.  
Edward Erwin, a supporter of Mr. McGinn who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, said Mr. McGinn was working on a book about human evolution and the hand. Part of the reason Mr. McGinn was sending messages that could be interpreted as sexually explicit, Mr. Erwin said, was probably because of communication about that research.
I'm reading between the lines here, but this explanation—that the discussion of masturbation was an innocent byproduct of research related to human evolution and the hand—makes sense only if McGinn's idea is that masturbation played some non-negligible role in the evolution of the human hand. Now, I'm not a biologist and I'm not competent to evaluate that idea, so I'm not going to tell you how stupid I think it sounds. It doesn't matter how stupid I think this idea is. And I don't really want to speculate about the plausibility of genuinely research-related emails, even on this topic, being misinterpreted in the manner described in the CHE article. I don't want to speculate about how someone might misinterpret a research-related message that innocently discusses the role masturbation played in the evolution of the human hand as saying that he, McGinn, “had been thinking about the student while masturbating.” Or how this alleged misinterpretation might come to be shared by what seems to be at least four different readers, including the RA, her boyfriend, and the two unnamed faculty members. The fact that all this seems totally preposterous is of no interest to anyone whatsoever; I haven't seen the emails and I don't know what they say. For all I know, this preposterous thing is exactly what happened. All I really want to say about this passage is, with friends like this who needs friends?

Professor Erwin goes on:
“There was some sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes made between the two,”  Mr. Erwin said. “The written records, I believe, show that this was an entirely consensual relationship.” 
No, no. That is not how it works. It is remarkable how profoundly this misunderstands the student/professor relationship. A professor's relationships with his or her students are not “entirely consensual” like that. Student/professor relationships inherently have a highly unequal balance of power. That includes students in one's undergraduate and graduate classes, obviously, but it also includes teaching- and research assistants; academic advisees; people whose thesis or dissertation committees one sits on; exam proctors; everyone. Everyone. Anything a student says or writes to a professor has to be seen in that light. Suppose the professor engages in sexual banter and the student banters back. Maybe that's because she consented and wanted to banter, but maybe it's because the power differential inherent in the relationship placed her in a position of duress, in which she felt like she had to banter or face unpleasant consequences. If the return banter was performed unwillingly or under duress, there is no reason to think that the written records will reveal it.

But the larger point—and on a certain level this is so obvious that it is not worth saying, but on another level it clearly needs to be emphasized—is that when you are dealing with other people, it is not all about you. It is also about the other person. You have to be careful with other people. You have to go out of your way to ensure that they feel comfortable and respected. This is your responsibility if you want to go into the world and deal with the other people there, and it is especially your responsibility if you are a prominent scholar in a highly-respected research university who oversees graduate students who do work for your academic department.

And so it seems to me that there's no scenario in which McGinn is blameless, even if Professor Erwin's story is literally the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The student was a research assistant working for McGinn's department, and he was a prominent scholar serving as her supervisor. He had a responsibility in that capacity to ensure that she felt comfortable and respected. Obviously, given the sexual nature of the research topic, a certain level of sexual content is to be expected, and an RA for such a research topic needs to either be comfortable with that content or ask to be reassigned. (And the researcher needs to make it clear that it is okay to ask to be reassigned.) But Professor Erwin's remarks make clear that McGinn's conduct with this RA went beyond mere discussion of the research material and into “sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes.” This sexual stuff seems to have made the RA deeply and extremely uncomfortable, and it had a similar effect on her boyfriend and several other faculty members. And McGinn seems to have kept it up for kind of a long time.

You can't do that. It therefore seems to me that the best-case scenario for McGinn is that his behavior warrants disciplinary action, and from there the possibilities only get worse.

--Mr. Zero

*All quotes are from the CHE article.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

[Forgot to Title This Post]

In comments over here, anonymous 8:56 writes:

Hey Smokers, 
I am beginning the first phase of my dissertation research (the topical), and I was wondering if anyone had any specific tips about how to keep track and organize articles, reading notes, etc. and perhaps any tips on how to go about working through a large body of literature. Do you take notes on every article? If so, how much time do you spend summarizing an article? How many articles/chapters do you read per day?  
Thus far, I have been logging everything in a word document, but it's getting out of control...I really need a better (and hopefully less stressful) system 
I really appreciate any advice.

If there's one thing I've learned from the various discussions of research and writing strategies on this blog and others, it's this: there's no one way. I've got things that work ok for me and various anonymouses have things that work for them, but there's nothing anyone can tell you that will be guaranteed to work. Moreover, the dissertation is a learning experience. You're supposed to struggle with it. I know you know all this, but it bears emphasizing. If you knew what you were doing, it wouldn't be a learning experience to do it.

When I'm in reading/research mode, I generally don't compile a formal bibliography or anything like that. Annotated or otherwise. I make use of a couple of bibliography/PDF organization applications, BibDesk and Mendeley (I don't really like Mendeley; I use it because it's free), and I use keywords to help stay organized. But that's about it.

Then I just sort of read, at whatever pace feels right. I start by taking notes in the document itself, be it a book, JSTOR printout, or PDF document, and I start taking more detailed notes in a separate medium only if I can see that the article (or book or whatever) is going to end up being important. But I don't try to read a certain number of things—articles, pages, whatever—per day. I try to give each thing the attention it deserves; sometimes that means breezing through, and sometimes that means spending a week or more on one article.

When I'm dealing with an important article, book, or chapter, I open a .tex file and take notes in it. Depending on where I am in the project, this might be a separate file devoted just to this one article (or whatever), or it might be section in a larger document. Here, I try to articulate the views and the arguments, how the author defends the premises, how the author responds to criticisms, how the material fits into the larger picture, and my own reactions to the material. At this stage I am meticulous about documentation. I quote passages that support my interpretation and cite page numbers. Always cite page numbers. Always. I think about how the material should be organized—I think about what order things should go in. Often, this is not the order in which it appears in the source text. I find that I end up spending a lot of time moving stuff around—I find that I struggle with organizing the ideas more than almost anything else.

At this stage, the distinction between “taking notes” and “drafting” is pretty thin. A lot of the time, I'm taking notes in the actual document I'm writing. However, I still try to be careful in distinguishing between what we might think of as “notes” and what we might think of as “writing”—that is, the very rough “drafty” stuff and the semi-polished stuff that I'm more-or-less satisfied with. (Of course, everything is subject to revision, but some things are more subject than others.) Here I find LaTeX's percent signs to be very valuable. Drafty stuff gets a percent sign with a [bracketed label] indicating why it's percentaged. When the passage is ready for promotion, I delete the percent sign and a new paragraph is born. This also lets me excise material in a slow, noncommittal way. I find that those percent signs get a lot of use.

So, to get back to 8:56's specific questions: I take notes on every article, but often just in the article itself and not necessarily in a separate medium; the amount of time I spend on an article depends on its importance for my project—although I probably wouldn't spend much time summarizing the article, exactly, but would spend whatever time was necessary to summarize the particular arguments or views or whatever that were pertinent; the number of articles/chapters I read in a day depends on the articles and chapters. I don't try to keep summaries of everything in one document; I don't even try to keep summaries of everything.

A dissertation is obviously a big project, and it's obviously going to be difficult to keep track of all your research. So I wouldn't try to keep track of it all in the same place. I'd carve the material up into manageable bits. It is, obviously, customary to organize one's dissertation into chapters, so I'd start there. Maybe organize into sections or subsections if there's a particular chapter that's getting unwieldy. But I suspect that the kind of annotated bibliography 8:56 alludes to, containing all your research for your dissertation, is going to be more trouble than it's worth and will cause you to spend more time than you should on articles and chapters that aren't central enough to your project to be worth it. And, as 8:56 mentions, it will be hard to keep a document like that organized, and so the document wouldn't even be particularly useful.

Anyways, that's what I think. What do you think?

--Mr. Zero