Friday, September 14, 2007

The Philosophy Job Market

This post by Jon Cogburn on the utter irrationality that is the philosophy job market in North America is all the more remarkable for being quite true. Nothing in this system makes sense; nothing in it has any great probability of improving philosophical work done; nothing in it has any of the nobility, or honor, or, for that matter, good sense that everyone has every right to expect. The whole system is simply a sloppy crazy quilt of practices that no one has ever bothered to think through properly.

That said, I've had a number of very pleasant interactions at APA and campus interviews; I suspect how nice or nasty the interviews are tends to depend a great deal on the type of search and college your AOS tends to get you.

But do you want to know the think that really shocked me? How much philosophy professors despise the students they teach. Perhaps it's just the questions I ask, or the fact that I tend to design courses that are intellectually very difficult (although I always make it easy for those who participate to pass; the intro course I'm currently teaching is a good example), but it comes up in a surprising number of interviews. Indeed, of all the departments that have interviewed me, of which there have been many, three and only three expressed an explicitly and clearly positive view of the students they teach (Kenyon College in Ohio; Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire; and Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania). At least three, who shall remain nameless, had interviewers who in one way or another tried to impress upon me the view that their students were in the main stupid and/or selfish. It goes well beyond the concern about whether a set of courses or a particular approach is suitable for undergraduates, which is undeniably a legitimate one given that my approach is always unconventional to the point of eccentricity; it's very different from that, because the contempt for the student shows through. There was one early one where it was so bad that I left the interview with the absolute conviction that I would never teach in such a department, and since then I watch for the warning signs like a hawk.

What I found most fascinating about the 'smoker' is that at any given moment probably a quarter of the people in the room are talking about how bad it is, or how they don't want to be there, or how they'd rather be somewhere else, or how tiresome a responsibility it is. And yet there they all are, milling around between moments of gladhanding so that they can find people to complain to about how there's nothing to do but mill around, and gladhand, and complain.

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