The following appeared in Volume 03, Number 2 (Spring 2004), pp. 116-120, of the APA Newsletters
Association Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy
Postscript November 20, 2004 [updated 1/1/15]
A Modest Proposal for Picking Graduate Programs in Philosophy
The Philosophical Gourmet Report by Brian Leiter has become the Bible for students picking graduate programs in philosophy. Whether this is in the best interests of women in philosophy is another matter. I examine the issue of whether there is gender bias in the Gourmet Report and the challenge of proving or disproving the existence of gender bias. I then propose additional factors for women to consider in selecting a graduate program in philosophy, factors which address the openness of a department to women as faculty members and as students.
I do not argue here that students and professionals should ignore the Report, even though the American Philosophical Association in 1994 issued a statement that it was "highly skeptical" of any such rankings. (1) Whatever one thinks of the Report's numerical rankings, it admittedly is a goldmine of detailed and relevant information for picking departments, especially with regard to faculty members who are arriving, leaving, or retiring. Despite well-founded doubts about its methodology and import in the field, the Report seems here to stay.
Unfortunately, in addition to other criticisms of the Report, it has long had an uncomfortable relationship with women in philosophy. The current version does include a list of thirty women working on gender issues and the recommendation that students interested in these questions seek out a department where they are employed. (2) This is worthwhile, although women in philosophy do not work only on issues of gender or feminist philosophy, however broadly understood.
Equal opportunity surely means that women should be free to pursue any specialty they wish within philosophy, and it is with regard to the broader inclusion of women in the discipline overall that the Report is more troubling. I am not claiming here evidence that the Report is biased against women, mainly because the data are too incomplete to draw any such conclusion one way or the other. Yet, using information from the Report itself, we can at least raise serious questions about the inclusiveness of women in philosophy which warrant further attention and which also give us some insights into the status of women in philosophy today.
The Report's Advisory Board
The 2002-2004 Advisory Board consists of forty-three members, only five of them women, 12% of the Board. (3) Seventeen new members will join the Advisory Board for 2004-2006, three of them women. (4) As the Report says nothing about any current members rotating off the Board, the total membership will apparently be fifty, including eight women, 16% of the Board. The Report does not say how Board members are selected, but presumably there was nothing like a national election. Is 12% or 16% an appropriate representation of women? To attempt to answer this, we at least would want to know the percentage of women on the faculties of the research institutions which are the subject of this Report, and, to my knowledge, such data do not exist. Perhaps they should. A /p. 117 good source would be the faculty listings on all department pages of doctoral programs.
We do know, from data compiled by the National Academy of Sciences, from 1992-1996, that women received 27% of the Ph.D.s in philosophy in the United States, the most recent years for which this data is available. (5) We also know, from data collected for the U.S. Department of Education, that women received 18% of the Ph.D.s in philosophy in the United States from 1949-1994; that same data shows that women received 23% of the Ph.D.s from the more recent period, 1980-1994. (6) But we do not yet have data showing whether the proportion has increased since 1996, nor what proportion of women with Ph.D.s in philosophy is available in the labor pool for academic teaching positions in philosophy departments.
Nor do we have data on the total size of the labor pool in philosophy, those persons qualified and able to work. Many Ph.D.s, by choice, might be teaching in fields other than philosophy, such as law schools. They might be working as full-time administrators without faculty appointments, and some might be working in non-academic fields. Even if we did have more precise data on the available labor pool, we would need considerable study to determine whether women are appropriately represented in the research institutions of concern in the Report. We also would want to know whether factors leading people with Ph.D.s to leave academe affected men and women equally.
Statistical data alone, even for a very large group of workers, prove nothing in isolation. But it is well-established in Federal civil rights law that a significant statistical disparity of an employment group, compared to the overall labor pool, can raise at least a prima facie instance of gender discrimination.
So, for example, if the national labor pool in philosophy (Ph.D.s qualified and able to work) were, say, 30% female and the faculty at Ph.D. programs were only 15% female, that disparity alone would not prove that research institutions had discriminated systematically against women applying for faculty positions. But the disparity should at least lead us to ask more questions, to probe more deeply into this hiring disparity.
It's not clear which comparison would be appropriate in considering whether the 12-16% female composition of the Advisory Board raises a prima facie instance of gender discrimination. If the national labor pool of Ph.D.s in philosophy is 25-30% female, the Board seems disproportionately low on women. We don't know the proportion of women at all doctoral programs in philosophy, and perhaps the Advisory Board is appropriate by that measure. But if historic hiring practices in doctoral programs have disproportionately excluded women, then the Advisory Board would merely be reaffirming hiring practices that themselves might have been discriminatory. (7)
And any Advisory Board that is 88% or 84% male in this day and age, regardless of the other data we have, still strikes many of us as troublesome.
The Report's Evaluation Process
The same questions can be raised about the evaluators who actually completed the surveys used for the rankings in the Report. Of the 177 evaluators who returned the survey upon which the current rankings are based, only 25, or 14%, are women. (8) The Report says the survey went to almost 300 philosophers, but no information is given on the gender of the original group surveyed. The Report also explains:
Approximately half those surveyed were philosophers who had filled out the surveys in previous years; the other half were nominated by members of the Advisory Board, who picked research-active faculty in their fields. (9)
The Report's description of selection criteria for the survey does not mention gender. Rather, "Evaluators were selected with an eye to balance, in terms of area, age and educational background," but the survey is also limited to what Leiter calls "research-active faculty." We can perhaps assume that the five women and, hopefully, many of the men on the Advisory Board nominated women to complete the survey. Were the nominations of women proportionate to the female "research-active faculty" in the country? Has Leiter compiled a master list of "research-active faculty"? What criteria were used to compile this list and who is on it? Is the proportion of women on that list comparable to the proportion of women at all doctoral programs? To all women in the profession? The data, if they exist, have not been released, so we do not know.
Especially if women are underrepresented on the Board and as evaluators, then we might wonder if there is a male bias in the rankings that have resulted from the survey. The rankings, the Report says, "are primarily measures of faculty quality and reputation." (10) Do male and female evaluators make different assessments of male and female scholars, or are the evaluators gender-neutral in completing their questionnaires? Are the perceptions of the quality and reputation of female scholars assessed by the same standards as those of the males? Are the research issues and publication venues of women held in the same esteem as those of men? Is published work in feminist philosophy or applied ethics or aesthetics regarded as highly as work in logic or philosophy of language or philosophy of science or the traditional, core specialties?
Many women have anecdotal experience that the work they do and the publication venues they pursue are not always valued as highly as those of men, but no empirical study of such questions exists, to my knowledge. Nor do we know whether any such biases exist in the Report's evaluation process.
The Report's Rankings
If there was a gender bias in judging the work of female researchers, then we might expect that departments which have a higher percentage of women on tenured/tenure-track appointments suffer in the rankings overall. Departments with higher percentages of women might be lower on the list than they should otherwise be, and departments with lower percentages of women might be higher on the list than they should otherwise be. If we saw a clear and consistent correlation (say, the lower the percentage of women on a faculty, the higher the ranking of the department on the list), that might raise reasonable suspicions about gender bias, but certainly not settle the matter. It would be even more suspicious if a department moved up or down on the list over the years in concert with increases and decreases in its proportion of faculty women. In fact, there is no obvious correlation between the rankings in the Report and the percentage of women on the tenured/tenure-track faculties of those departments, but that does not settle the question of possible gender bias in the rankings either.
Evaluators for the Gourmet Report are given 90 faculty lists that identify names of faculty but not the institution. Philosophy is a fairly small world in the academy, and it must be assumed that reviewers recognize individuals they know, including their gender, as well as affiliations. An evaluator quoted anonymously on the site refers to studying departmental Web sites and CV's, (11) /p. 118 so the identity of institutions does not appear to be truly anonymous, nor does there seem to be any reasonable way to maintain that. A more promising test of gender bias might be ratings that did not even identify the names of faculty, but only the academic training and publications. But within a given specialty, the authorship of books and articles will quickly be recognized by active researchers, so this would not provide anonymity either. Indeed, it is not clear how a reasonably convincing study of gender bias in such rating exercises could be developed, so long as the ratings depend on the stature of graduate training, publication, and publication venues.
It does give one pause that the top five departments on the Report ranking list all have faculties that are less than 20% female, (12) while the next group, ranked from 6th to 11th, have faculties ranging from 19-36% female. (13) It is tempting to wonder if the larger proportion of women on the faculty moved those departments out of the top five. We simply don't know. Indeed, the next grouping, from 12th through 15th, is also weak on female faculty members, ranging from 6% - 13% female. (14) For those, we can wonder if they would have dropped even further on the list if they had higher proportions of female faculty members, but we don't know that either.
No pattern emerges further down the list either. Departments with 10% or fewer female faculty members can be found at the top (Princeton, tied for #1, 10%), further down (University of Texas, Austin, tied for #14, 6%), much further down (University of California, Riverside, tied for #32, 7%), and near the bottom (University of California, Santa Barbara, tied for #40, 8%; Boston University, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, and University of Virginia, tied at #42, all with 7%; and University of Rochester, tied at #46, with 10%).
Only seven doctoral programs on the top 50 list have over 30% female faculties: Columbia (#7, 32%), Harvard (tied at #8, 36%), Yale (tied at #16, 33%), University of Massachusetts (tied at #30, 31%), University of Washington (tied at #32, 33%), University of Illinois, Chicago (tied at #36, 37%), and University of Connecticut (tied at #40, 31%). Only two of the top ten terminal MA programs in the Report have over 30% female faculties (Virginia Tech, 45%, and Tufts, 33%). (15)
We also might wonder whether some doctoral programs with 30% or more female faculty failed to make the list of top-50 doctoral programs because of a perception that at least some "women's work" in philosophy isn't good enough to make the top 50. Notable here are Pennsylvania State University (41%), the University of Utah (39% female), UC Santa Cruz (33%), Duquesne (36%), New School University (36%), and Temple University (33%). But without controlled studies of bias among the evaluators, this is pure speculation.
The verdict on the Gourmet Report? Despite some data which are troubling on an impressionistic level (especially the small proportion of women on the Advisory Board and the Evaluator panel), we simply do not know enough about the labor pool, doctoral departments, or possible evaluator bias to draw any meaningful conclusions about gender bias in the Report. Designing a reliable test of gender bias in this evaluation appears difficult. But this does not mean that students should be satisfied to rely only on this Report in making decisions about graduate schools to attend. Although the incomplete information discussed above makes it impossible for us to claim gender bias against women, we also do not have information which would prove gender-neutrality in the rankings.
Women in Philosophy
Philosophy remains the most male-dominated field of the humanities in the academy, and speculation abounds as to why that is. Is the profession unusually hostile to women, discouraging them from pursuing a career in this field? Does the relative paucity of female role models make the shortage of significant numbers of women a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy in philosophy?
Three decades after the leading edge of the Baby Boom charged into professional and graduate schools, encouraged by the Title IX protections against sex discrimination in higher education, other specialties do not seem to have suffered this seemingly endless male lopsidedness. Women poured into the law schools in the 1970s, so that women now make up about 50% of law school enrollment, a striking improvement over female enrollment of less than 10% in law schools in 1969. Perhaps the women who chose law school in the 1970s might have considered philosophy, if they had not been discouraged by the melt-down in academic employment during that decade, and opted instead for a career choice more likely to lead to gainful employment. Given that undergraduate training in philosophy is so supportive of successful work in law schools, it might well be that philosophy lost out to law schools in the 1970s to the influx of women enjoyed in other fields of the humanities. If so, this might help explain why philosophy missed an important transitional opportunity in the 1970s and 1980s to refashion the discipline to be more welcoming to women, with faculty who would have served as the female role models for later generations of students.
Are philosophy departments truly giving women at least a fair and equal opportunity as graduate students and, later, in their tenure-track hiring? Is the field still dominated by a male-centric bias which judges quality in male terms which women find difficult to endure, let alone change?
I have no answers to these questions. But I do have a suggestion for how women in philosophy might start to have a noticeable and much-needed impact on philosophy departments: vote with your feet. In selecting graduate programs, after consulting the Gourmet Report, female students should be encouraged to consider whether the programs they are interested in attending are "female-friendly" - or, at least, not "female-hostile." If talented female graduates start to shun departments which are hostile to women, lowering the number and quality of applications, they might actually start to make a difference, especially in second- and third-tier programs which must work the hardest to attract quality graduate students.
What female-friendly factors should students look at? The Report
does not address this, so here are a few suggestions:
1. Does the department show an openness to hiring female faculty members for tenure-track positions? If it is not open-minded in its hiring, perhaps it is not female-friendly to its graduate students. Certainly there are many factors that contribute to hiring patterns by gender, and I am not suggesting any particular quota for what is "acceptable" representation of women on a faculty. Very few philosophy departments are more than 30% female and some of those with less have made genuine efforts to recruit more women. But a department with only one or two token women might warrant caution. If the department is essentially a male club forced to tolerate a token woman or two by the dean, female graduate students might not feel welcome either.
This data should be reasonably available to potential applicants on
department Web sites. Applicants might also raise this issue with
current graduate students, who will likely be familiar with recent
tenure-track /p. 119
searches in the department. Were female candidates taken seriously in
the search? Were reasonable numbers of women brought to campus for the
all-important finalist interviews? Do current graduate students
perceive that the department is making a reasonable effort to open its
doors fairly to new female faculty?
2. Are female faculty
hired mainly for temporary, visiting, or adjunct positions? At
first blush, some department faculty listings look impressive in their
diversity - until you notice that most women are congregated at the
lower end of the faculty hierarchy. They are likely to be teaching far
more introductory courses. They probably are not available for
dissertation supervision. They might be moving on in the near future or
face lay-offs in a bad economic climate. An out-of-proportion
clustering of women in these lower-ranked positions might also suggest
reluctance by a department to treat women in the department with equal
respect as peers, a troubling symptom for how they might treat their
female graduate students. This data should be readily available, both
on department Web pages and from conversations with current and recent
graduate students in the department.
3. What is the department's placement record - for women? Do they work as hard to place their best female graduates as the men? Students should not be satisfied with a few examples of placements, but ask for more complete data and consider how the female graduates are faring in comparison with their male counterparts.
Although many departments now list placement information on their
Web sites, it is not always clear how many graduates are missing from
those lists or what efforts were made on their behalf. Prospective
applicants might consider contacting female graduates on those lists
for their perceptions of the department's helpfulness in placement for
both men and women.
Do female graduate students get choice teaching assignments and
research experiences comparable to the men? Developing a
repertory of courses during graduate school might help in some
employment searches, but not if the best courses only go to the male
graduate students. Contacting current and recent graduate students in a
department should yield helpful impressions on this issue.
5. Does the department have an established policy on faculty-student dating, and is it enforced? An attitude by male faculty that dating young female students is one of the "perks of the job" can poison a department. A permissive department impacts not only the students being dated, but the colleagues and graduate students who find themselves with impossible conflicts of interest. Imagine that your department chair is dating a student in the discussion group you are leading or is lavishing extra perks on a grad student he is dating - at the expense of the other graduate students - and you can understand how debilitating this environment would be to any woman with the slightest feminist sensibilities.
The existence of a University policy on faculty-student dating
should be available on the University's Web site. Insights into whether
it is taken seriously by faculty in the philosophy department might be
gained in conversations with current and recent graduate students in
the department. As they might be reluctant to be candid in e-mails,
professional meetings with opportunities to talk with other graduate
students could be explored as an alternative source of information.
6. Does the department offer a reasonable selection of courses in feminist philosophy? Even if a student is not planning to specialize in feminist philosophy herself, a department that has developed such offerings as an essential part of its curriculum is more likely to be open to other concerns of women.
The availability of courses should be on a department's Web site,
though perhaps not the frequency of offerings. The seriousness of a
department's commitment to the courses also might be indicated by
whether the department has hired a tenured/tenure-track specialist on
the faculty to teach such courses, and provides dissertation advising
and student mentoring. If feminist philosophy is being taught only by
temporary lecturers or advanced graduate students, potential applicants
should wonder how seriously the department is committed to this
7. Does the department include a reasonable proportion of women among its invited guest speakers at department events and conferences? Do the faculty members attend to hear the women as well as the men they have invited to campus? If they are not interested in hearing what female guest speakers have to say, perhaps they're not interested in listening to female students either.
Names of speakers invited to a campus are now typically on a department's Web site. The seriousness of a department's interest in listening to these speakers might be learned from conversations with current and recent graduate students in that department.
First and foremost, taking into account whether a department is "female-friendly" is likely to help ensure a better graduate school experience for women. No Gourmet Report exists for such information, and obtaining answers might require many conversations with students, faculty, and graduates of a department. But that important research could avoid unhappy experiences from enrolling in a department hostile to women.
In addition, taking into account a department's treatment of women in selecting a department for graduate study will be one of many ways women can exert pressure on recalcitrant departments to open their doors to more women on their faculties. In the long run, that too will benefit women pursuing graduate degrees, by opening up the market once they are ready to pursue career positions themselves.
Let us also hope that departments that are open to more voices, more methodologies, and more perspectives will some day be recognized as better departments, period.
1. "APA Statements on the Profession: Rankings of Departments and Programs," http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/governance/statements/rankings.html. The APA publishes its own A Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy.
2. Brian Leiter, "Class, Race, Gender & Philosophy," The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2002-2004 (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/class.htm, December 4, 2003).
3. Brian Leiter, "Welcome to the 20002-2004 Philosophical Gourmet Report," The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2002-2004 (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/, July 16 and December 4, 2003).
/p. 120 4. Ibid.
5. Complete data are available on the American Philosophical Association Web site (http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/profession/phdgre.html, July 16, 2003).
6. This data was compiled in the Digest of Education Statistics, prepared by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. The data for philosophy are available on the American Philosophical Association Web site (http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/profession/degrees.html, July 16, 2003).
7. The Advisory Board includes one member who does not currently teach at a doctoral program, Julia Driver, Dartmouth College, but she was previously an Associate Professor at the CUNY Graduate Program. (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~jdriver/cv.html)
8. Brian Leiter, "Description of the Report," The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2002-2004 (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/reportdesc.htm, December 4, 2003).
10. Brian Leiter, "What the Rankings Mean," The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2002-2004 (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/meaningof.htm, December 4, 2003).
11. Leiter, "Description of the Report."
12. Throughout this discussion, I rely on data about faculty composition from each Department's own Web site, although these are continuously in flux as persons pass away, retire, or move to different institutions. Some departments seem to keep their Web sites more up-to-date than others. I exclude faculty who are visiting, temporary, adjuncts, lecturers, or emeriti. The data cited here were accurate for Web pages on-line in late November 2003, and might well change by the time this appears in print. With those caveats, the percentage of female tenured/tenure-track faculty for the top-ranked departments on the Gourmet Report are: Tied for #1: New York University (13%), Princeton University (10%), Rutgers University, New Brunswick (15%); #4: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (19%); University of Pittsburgh (18%).
13. #6: Stanford University (21%); #7: Columbia University (32%); tied for #8: Harvard University (36%), MIT (20%), University of Arizona (24%), UCLA (19%).
14. #12: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (11%); #13: University of California, Berkeley (13%); tied at #14: University of Notre Dame (11%) and University of Texas, Austin (6%).
15. Brian Leiter, "M.A. Programs in
Philosophy," The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2002-2004
(http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/maprog.htm, December 4, 2003).