Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Philosophy Department Rankings

Noelle McAfee has been raising questions recently about the methodology of the Leiter Report ranking graduate departments of philosophy.

I think a more basic question is: what is the purpose of the Leiter Report? Its stated purpose is to provide undergrads with information so they can make informed decisions about where to apply and attend graduate school. But Leiter, to his credit, admits that the information it provides is incomplete: while the rankings are about faculty "reputation" and "quality" they don't say anything about the climate or education in these departments.

So how does this incomplete information help undergrads? Well, I can imagine it would help undergrads who are debating about whether to apply or attend Pitt or NYU or Rutgers or Princeton, say, but aren't getting good advising from their undergraduate professors.

But how many of those students are there? I certainly wasn't one of those students. Like a lot of people, I think (and hope!), I was praying to get just one acceptance. Two or more would have been hopelessly confusing. Having to choose between Princeton or Rutgers? Well, I can't imagine how hard that must be.

The simple fact is that most of the people who attend the top graduate departments come from the top undergraduate departments -- undergraduate departments stocked with recent Ph.D.s from the top graduate departments. For that reason I have a hard time believing that these students don't have access to good advising.

And that brings me back to my question: what purpose does the Leiter report really serve?

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