The Poverty of Philosophy at Melbourne

A war of words has broken out in the pages of The Australian between friends of the
University of Melbourne School of Philosophy and the Dean of Arts at the
University of Melbourne, Mark Considine. See: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25816073-12332,00.html and

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25759103-12332,00.html.
At the end of 2007 six of the school’s thirteen permanent faculty members took
voluntary redundancy packages.
 Despite the large number of philosophers lost, the school has
only been promised one replacement position. The friends of the school, who
include international figures in philosophy such as Frank Jackson and Peter
Singer, make the obvious point that a school of only seven will be unable to
provide specialist teaching in all the major areas of philosophy as well as the
equally obvious point that a school that is reduced in size by almost a half is
going to suffer a corresponding loss of reputation. They back up this latter
claim by pointing to a drop in the international rating of Melbourne in the
most recent edition of Brian Leiter’s ‘Philosophy Gourmet Report’ (see http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/).


Now it might be expected that Considine would just accept
these points and argue that these are the regrettable consequences of budgetary
restrictions that face the University’s Arts Faculty. However, he has not taken
this line. Instead he has disputed the claim that the University’s Philosophy
program is no longer high quality and he has attacked the Gourmet Report for
being
  ‘impressionistic’. He
suggests that if a ‘… ranking system included high ranked publication per staff
member …‘ then the Melbourne school of Philosophy ‘… would still rank as a very
good outfit indeed’. His criticisms of the Gourmet report has drawn a letter in
response from Brian Leiter (http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/letters/index.php/theaustralian/comments/pre_eminent_force_no_more)
and Considine has responded to Leiter with a letter of his own (http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/letters/index.php/theaustralian/comments/the_philosophers_zone).

British-based philosophers will be familiar with the sort of
ranking system that Considine appears to favour, having been assessed by the
RAE for two decades now. While the claim that individual members of the Melbourne
School of Philosophy would rate well under such a system seems very plausible,
the suggestion that the school as a whole would rate as well, or even nearly as
well as it would have before the drastic staff cuts seems deeply implausible.
Is Considine arguing that the remaining seven members of the school have
suddenly started to produce as much high quality research as the thirteen
members who were present in 2007? If so, then this seems to be a remarkable
claim and he should produce evidence to back it up.

Considine is right that the international rankings of
Philosophy faculties in the English speaking world found in the Philosophy
Gourmet Report are impressionistic. They are, in effect, a summary of the impressions
of a large sample of leading international figures across a range of different
areas of philosophy and these leading international figures have discounted the
reputation of the Melbourne philosophy school as a result of the drastic staff
cuts that have taken place. Regardless of what Considine thinks of Leiter’s
methodology he should be concerned by the information contained in the report
because the Gourmet report has considerable influence in academic philosophy.
Indeed, it is the most widely used indicator of international standing in
philosophy that we have.

The fact that the Melbourne School of Philosophy has dropped
in standing will have consequences that should concern Considine, and anyone
else who cares about the good health of philosophy at Melbourne. One
consequence is that it will make it harder to attract quality academics to work
at Melbourne. All things being equal, academics will prefer to work in more
highly ranked faculties, where they have better colleagues to work with.
Similarly, it will be harder to attract quality postgraduates to study at the
school. Postgraduates typically want to study with the best available faculties
and most prospective philosophy postgraduates can be expected to visit the
Philosophy Gourmet Report website before deciding whether to study at Melbourne
or at a rival university.

 

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One Response to The Poverty of Philosophy at Melbourne

  • Michael Gentry says:

    Consider is right that the international rankings of Philosophy faculties in the English speaking world found in the Philosophy Gourmet Report are impressionistic. They are, in effect, a summary of the impressions of a large sample of leading international figures across a range of different areas of philosophy and these leading international figures have discounted the reputation of the Melbourne philosophy school as a result of the drastic staff cuts that have taken place.

    —————————-
    Michael Gentry

    “dofollow”> Melbourne

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