Survey of Graduate Philosophy Departments
Survey of Graduate Philosophy Departments
Page Updated: Rolling, most recently August 12, 2007
Note on the Update: Since things have gotten significantly delayed this year, I decided it made the most sense to do a partial update on this page, rather than wait until all departments have been fully processed, which take until after the middle of the year. I will update this page whenever a department is processed that should be included on this partial list.
More importantly, there have been significant methodological changes introduced for the current survey, that I think have produced better results. As always, comments are welcome regarding any surprising results, as I use such comments to determine where the methodology might need to be need fine-tuned. This year, however, the changes have been significant enough that they realistically go beyond “fine-tuning”, and this survey should be regarded as the first with the current methodology, rather than an update to the previous survey.
I have also decided to change the method of presentation of the results, adopting grouping of departments, rather than a numbered list. Partially this results from the perhaps unsurprising tendency of viewers of the page to ignore the statement that small differences between departments should be ignored. However, I also simply decided that grouping presents the information in a more usable form.
Finally, note that the results thus far are subject to change. I would be surprised if any department moved more than one Level up or down, and change is less likely at the higher levels than the lower. Nonetheless, some changes will occur, and it is for this reason that I am currently only including the top 15 levels. The final list will again cover all departments surveyed. It will also be updated to reflect all notable faculty moves.
Since this page is most likely to be of use to prospective graduate students I will aim my comments at them, for the purpose of simplicity. However, the hope is that this information will also be useful to others. For example, where a department receives a graduate or employment application from someone educated at a school with which they are not familiar. The hope is that this site will at least provide a first step in evaluating such individuals, and so make it easier for people to move between countries.
It should firstly be emphasized that while this survey includes departments around the world, it is concerned with Western philosophy. As is clear from the listing by “Specialty”, it does consider other approaches, but ultimately only in so far as the work in question has an impact within traditional Western circles. Thus, while it may be helpful to someone wishing to study, for example, Indian philosophy in a generally Western department, it would be of little use to someone with an interest solely in Indian philosophy.
It should also be said that this list is specifically aimed at graduate departments, as it measures only publications records. While graduate students should obviously not only be concerned with the research abilities of potential professors, it is a more valid concern for them than for undergraduates. No-one should use this information in choosing an undergraduate school (even if you somehow already know you want to do philosophy for the rest of your life). I have taken the basic approach, however, of including all departments outside the United States and Canada. This is because some non-U.S. first-degrees most accurately correspond to an American MA, rather than a BA. Moreover, graduate work outside the U.S. often does not take place in an organised programme, but results from a direct agreement between a student and a faculty member.
There are also types of information important for any prospective graduate student that are simply not considered here, such as the atmosphere of departments, how supportive individual faculty members are of students, how good the teaching in a department is, etc. There simply is no way to factor this information into any ranking, no matter how it is done, partly because the same department will fare well or poorly on these factors for different students (e.g. some students respond well to close attention, others prefer faculty that are merely available but don’t interfere; some students are happier in large departments, some in small departments, etc.). This comment is meant to emphasize that the best guidance any prospective graduate student can get will not come from a ranking, but from someone familiar with both the individual in question and the departments he/she is considering. This list is not meant to supplant such advice, which should always receive more weight than information provided by this or any similar list, but will hopefully provide information useful both for the student and for the advisor.
Methodology of the Survey
As with the journals list, I have decided not to provide much information on the specific methodology used here. The reasons behind this decision are explained on the journals page, and apply equally well here. Indeed, I was unsure whether to include this page at all, simply because of the clear problems involved in any such evaluative listing. However, ultimately I think the information the survey provides can be helpful if used intelligently, so decided to include it.
The most important thing to note about this survey is that it is not a “power” list. That is, it does not simply list departments based on the number of famous faculty, or how well published the faculty members are. It is based upon publications, so clearly this is the primary element, but this introduction will describe other elements that are also considered. Anyone wishing such a list can probably compile one with the information provided on the “subject matter” departmental guide.
The survey is based solely upon the publishing records of regular faculty, and is produced by a statistical analysis of those lists. There are both strengths and limitations to such an approach. It allows results to be generated in a way more informative than if I simply looked at CV’s and decided how good I personally thought the department was. However, it is certainly not an approach free of my own judgements, as unless I were to do something as simple as count the number of articles published by a faculty members, even a statistical approach requires judgment calls as to what to consider, what weightings to give, etc. Then there is the process of “sanity checks”, in which test runs are made, the results examined, and the methodology adjusted where it produced bizarre results.
The survey takes into account journal publications, books and chapters in books. It is, then, a mixture of quality and quantity. For example, someone who publishes five high-quality articles (as measured by the survey) in the relevant period will have less of an effect in the survey than someone who publishes 10 of the same quality. However, they will have more than someone who publishes 10 of low quality, less than someone who publishes 5 high-quality and 5 medium-quality, and so on. Of course, a high-quality book will have more effect than a high-quality article, although a low-quality book would have less. I make no claim to have found a way to measure quality of publications, or even quality of venue of publication. Rather, I have come up with a methodology that I believe “tracks” quality with an acceptable degree of reliability.
Obviously, if done badly, a publication-based approach to evaluating departments is worthless, but if done carefully it can provide useful information. The benefit it has that a simple “reputational” survey does not is that it allows things to stand out that have been improperly overlooked. However, ultimately it cannot take the place of informed, personal judgments, and can only provide information to allow those judgments to be improved. As I’ve tried repeatedly to emphasise, the goal of the site is not to produce a “definitive” list, but merely to supply information. The desired response from a prospective graduate student is not “Wow, X is good, I need to go there”, but “Perhaps X is underrated, I need to take a closer look myself”. Or, even more interestingly, “I had no idea Colombia had a thriving philosophical community, I should look into that.” The other pages of this site can then help provide the information needed for such a closer look.
There are, of course, good philosophers who rarely publish, and promising junior faculty who simply have not yet had time to publish, so this survey can only be used as a partial guide to the strength of departments. Moreover, it is based on publications within a limited time period (a 10-year period for articles, and a 15-year period for books). There are, of course, philosophers who have done important work beyond those time periods. That work will not be reflected here. This is a conscious choice, as a way of directing the survey towards the current work produced in departments. In addition, faculty that I am aware have major administrative responsibilities have not been included, on the premise that they are not fully involved in the department.
This means, of course, that there may be a disjunction between the reputation of a department and its place in this survey. This may happen, for example, if a department includes a significant number of highly regarded figures who have published little in the relevant period (e.g. U.C.L.A.). Obviously the question in such a situation is whether or not there are good reasons for this lack of productivity (e.g. they are working on long term projects, or are actively working but simply don’t publish). This kind of information is obviously not available here.
I have generally taken faculty lists from departmental webpages, unless they were clearly less up-to-date than some other source. This list, then, depends to some extent upon the accuracy of those pages. Faculty were only included where they had at least a half-time appointment with the university. However, the fact that a given individual had only a half-time appointment did not have any effect upon the department. Originally I did make a reduction for half-time appointments, but decided that ultimately this is something best taken into account by individuals rather than by the survey. After all, a half-time appointment of a committed teacher may be make a department better than a full-time appointment of someone for whom students are just an annoyance, or of someone who simply cannot teach. In addition, because the survey is of department faculty it does not take account of extra programs departments may offer, such as the ability to take classes at other schools, a large roster of visiting faculty, or philosophically able members of other departments. These are considerations that individuals will have to weigh for themselves.
When I performed the original survey I excluded faculty with major administrative commitments, on the rationale that they would not truly be involved in the department. I’ve since decided that decision was wrong. It is certainly something that prospective students should consider, but is appropriately taken account of by students, not this survey. Thus, when the survey is redone in 2006 such faculty will no longer be excluded.
There are two specific elements of the survey that I want to highlight. Firstly, there is what might be called a “concentration” factor. This is based on the rationale that while a department is doing well to have, for example, 10 top-line philosophers, a department of 20 with 10 top-line philosophers, and 10 of lower stature, is stronger than one of 50 with the same 10 top-line philosophers but 40 of lower stature. However, the placing of the large Rutgers department in the top grouping indicates, I believe, that this factor is not unfairly emphasized. Ultimately a larger department is perhaps more desirable from an undergraduate perspective, as it will usually be able to provide education in a broader variety of areas. However, graduate students will usually benefit far more from intimate contact with specialists in their own area than with the mere availability of someone who happens to work in a different field but is of no particular prominence. Students need to evaluate departments themselves to ensure their own interests fit with those present in the department. A small department filled with quality faculty is an attractive choice for students with interests in the areas in which it specializes, but should hold little appeal for anyone with interests not well represented there.
Tending in the other direction, there is what might be called a “breadth” factor. This reflects the idea that a department with, for example, 5 philosophers who have done notable work in 5 distinct areas, is stronger than one with 5 philosophers who have all done notable work in the same area. Importantly, it only considers philosophers who have done notable work in the field. Hence, having junior faculty who work in other fields would not satisfy this particular factor. I think this is valid because this survey is of graduate departments, and research ability is arguably the primary factor in such an evaluation.
Naturally, small differences in the survey mean nothing – particularly since you don’t know the precise methodology. I considered grouping departments, rather than presenting them in a list, however that approach tends to exaggerate differences, suggesting that there is a large difference between departments in different groupings. Ultimately I decided the best approach was simply to present what is clearly an excessively precise list, and let each reader him/herself adjust that precision to a proper level of sanity.
Language and International Mobility
Language is always an issue for individuals considering studying outside their own country. However, at least one university in a non-English-speaking country (Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski in Bulgaria) now offers a graduate program in English. Hopefully it will not be the only such program for long. Whatever one might think of the unwillingness of many English-speakers to learn a second language, the reality is that philosophy (just like any other academic subject) only benefits from a widely shared language, and English is simply the best candidate for that role. An ideal approach is, I believe, that taken by the European University Institute (although it has no philosophy department), which requires competence in English from all students, but actively encourages the study of other languages and requires at least one substantive piece of written work in another language.
This issue of language is particularly a problem for those countries with smaller linguistic communities. Realistically, few people are, for example, going to learn Bulgarian in order to read Bulgarian philosophy. The best approach for departments in such countries, then, would seem to be encouraging interaction with the English-speaking (or perhaps French or German) philosophical community, just as Sofia University is doing. Similarly, while it would certainly be counter-productive to ignore local graduates and only hire philosophers trained at English-speaking (French, German, etc.) universities, the intensity of competition for positions at the major English-language departments means that every year talented and well-trained philosophers are forced to accept positions that they may find far less attractive than a position at a prominent university in a country outside the English-speaking world. Indeed, they may even be willing to accept an appointment that was delayed for a year, and conditioned upon their learning the local language to an acceptable degree. Combining such foreign appointments with the appointment of the best domestic graduates would help build a domestic philosophical community trained for and experienced at international-quality philosophical work. It would also be a way to avoid the problem that such countries often face, of the best students going abroad to study, and often remaining there. Of course, the reverse also applies, and English-language departments that have difficulty competing for the top English-speaking graduates would similarly do well to consider a talented applicant with limited English, again conditioning the appointment on the acquisition of suitable language abilities.
Almost every link below is to the department’s website. On the now-rare occasions when a department did not have any sort of website, a link has been posted to the most relevant part of the university’s website (such as the School of which the department is a part). If you know of any programmes that should be listed here, or that are listed here and should not be (e.g. the department has closed), or if a link has ceased working, please let me know: Tony,