November 11, 2014

1979 and 2014

In a previous post I suggested that discussion of the PGR is best seen in the context of changes in the profession from the 70s which lead to the current institutional structures for job placement. Prior to the 70s, for the most part job placement happened through personal connections one's advisors had. This started to be replaced in the 70s by a "neutral" system of applying for jobs.

A positive of this new system was that presumably anyone could apply for any jobs and so the profession became more open. A downside of this new system was that the departments which controlled the institutional structure which oversaw the job placement process - namely, the American Philosophical Association (APA) - had a built in advantage when it came to placing their graduate students. If the APA positions and meetings were dominated by philosophers at Princeton, Pittsburgh and Berkeley, then it would suggest, or reinforce the idea, that those were the best departments in the country, and that their graduate students were the best candidates on the job market. Naturally, departments which were not well represented at the APA would see their lack of inclusion as cause of concern, and worry that their mode of philosophy and their graduate students were being marginalized under the very rubric of "neutrality" which was being used by other departments to position themselves as the best.

It is amazing how similar this is to the current issues regarding plurality and the PGR. The main thing that has changed in the past 35 years is that whereas in 1979 the locus of the "neutral" evaluation of the profession was a physical organization (the APA), now in 2014 it is an online organization (the PGR). But the concerns regarding insularism and lack of plurality in the self-representation of the profession, especially as concerns the institutional structures most closely connected to the job market, are strikingly the same. 

In this light, Chapter 8 of Neil Gross's Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher (published in 2008) is very interesting. Gross describes how in 1979, when Rorty was president of the Eastern APA, tensions regarding power dynamics in the APA came to a head at the eastern division meeting. Here are some snippets from that chapter:
"Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was a successful and controversial book almost as soon as it was published. In 1979, however, the year of its release, the main controversy to occupy Rorty’s attention involved not the book but the APA. The year before, Rorty had been elected president of the prestigious Eastern Division of the Association, a testament to his standing in the profession. No sooner did he take the helm than he found himself embroiled in a major challenge to the APA’s leadership: the so-called pluralist revolt. The pluralist revolt centered around the demand of nonanalytic philosophers that analysts relinquish their control of the APA and allow philosophers associated with other intellectual orientations and traditions the chance to serve in leadership capacities and present papers at the organization’s annual meetings. These demands were not without justification." 
"Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, graduate departments where analysts predominated ranked highest on reputational surveys, journals devoted to analytic work were the most well regarded, and nonanalysts felt looked down upon by their analytic colleagues. Analysts parlayed their intellectual influence into control over the APA. Between 1960 and 1979, nearly all the presidents of the Eastern Division were analytic philosophers. Because analysts held top positions in the APA, they could appropriate for themselves one of the organization’s key resources—slots for papers at the annual meetings. In a report drafted in 1979, Rorty observed that 'many ‘non-analytic’ people feel that the chances of their papers getting on the program are so small that they don’t bother to submit them. . . . Some such feelings may be exaggerated. But I don’t think all such feelings are. . . . [Analytic philosophers], who make up most of the membership of the Program Committees, tend to have . . . suspicions about Whiteheadians, Deweyans, or phenomenologists, not to mention bright young admirers of Deleuze or Gadamer.'"
"Yale’s John Smith recalls that the group [some philosophers known as The Saturday Group] soon broadened out into “a combination of philosophical discussion, exchanging of experience and common concerns and keeping tabs on what was happening in the Eastern Division of the APA, especially as regards officers and personnel on the . . . committees, the make-up of the annual program, and the distribution of research awards”. Expanding their cause, the Saturday Group members decided to hold a meeting at that year's Eastern Division APA convention in Washington, D.C., to see if there was national interest in collective action aimed at challenging analytic dominance in the profession. Rutgers philosopher Bruce Wilshire reports that "well over a hundred people" attended the meeting, where a “Committee for Pluralism in Philosophy” was founded with the goal of 'work[ing] for an APA which is more representative of the diversity of philosophical activity in the U.S.'"
"When the meeting adjourned, “pluralist” philosophers made their way to the poorly attended business meeting of the APA. There, because of their numbers, they were able to push through a “sunshine motion” requiring that the activities of the Nominating Committee be carried out in a manner open to public scrutiny. For although the Committee was free to nominate whomever it wanted for executive positions in the organization, it was supposed to take into consideration the preferences of the membership at large as these were revealed through suggestion forms sent to all APA members. The pluralists’ sunshine motion required that these suggestions be tallied and read aloud during future business meetings."
"Just as Rorty’s self-understanding as pluralist and historicist marked him as an exception in the Princeton philosophy department, so too did it mark him as an exception in the analytic community more generally. He wished to move the association in a more pluralistic direction, but others did not. He reported in depressed tones to Sokolowski in November, just a month before the winter meetings, that 'I argued at length at the APA National Board meeting that the APA’s committees did not include a sufficient spectrum of philosophical points of view, but did not get much sympathy. Indeed, [some board members] were furious at me for raising the question. I am glumly inclining to the view that the Analytic Establishment’s refusal to make concessions is not the result of simple thoughtlessness and self-absorption, but of active hostility toward those who refuse to acknowledge the analytic hegemony.'"
"In preparation for the 1979 APA meeting in New York City, leaders of the pluralist movement had discovered that suggestions made by the membership to the Nominating Committee “had been ignored whenever they proved unpleasant—deposited in the circular file.” Pluralists spread word of this through mailing lists and, as the New York City convention drew closer, announced plans for a rally to be held the night before the business meeting. Attendance at the rally was greater than the pluralists could have dreamed possible. Smith recalls that “the main ballroom of the hotel was packed” with philosophers who “expressed outrage at this disregard of their rights.” Speakers at the event, which drew the attention of the New York Times, asserted that “the American Philosophical Association ha[d] become ‘a monolith’ and ‘intolerant,’ that its programs ‘neglect[ed] basic philosophic issues,’ and that its leadership ‘ha[d] lost contact with other philosophers.’” At the business meeting the following day, Nominating Committee members—as had been their routine—announced their nominees for executive positions. Beardsley, on behalf of the committee, nominated Adolf Grünbaum of Pittsburgh for the vice presidency, a position that would roll over into the presidency the following year." 
"The pluralists, invoking the sunshine motion, then demanded to know whom the membership at large had nominated, and a number of names were read out, including Smith’s. Because of the sunshine motion, committee members were also forced to reveal the tallies of nomination suggestions from the membership. The chair of the committee “was . . . reluctant to read the list. In a hesitant voice he began. The top achievers for each post were not those his committee had nominated." That Nominating Committee members would so blatently disregard suggestions from membership at large, even in the face of public scrutiny, sent waves of anger rippling across the room. Prepared for such a turn of events, those affiliated with the pluralist cause then further enhanced their legitimacy as champions of democratic reform by nominating from the floor precisely those candidates who had received the largest number of votes from the membership at large and whom they had planned to nominate all along. Smith was promptly nominated in this way, along with John Lachs, Quentin Lauer, and John McDermott—other organizers of the pluralist revolt—and the matter was put to a vote. Because the pluralists had packed the room, Smith beat Grünbaum by a vote of 198 to 165." 
"Accusations were made that some students had voted in the election and that the results were therefore invalid. The meeting was adjourned while Rorty decided what to do. The next day, he reconvened the meeting and reported, according to the minutes, “that although a check of the credentials of those present at the first session of the Business Meeting had revealed that some 56 voting cards had gone to persons not affiliated with the Eastern Division . . . it had also revealed that the number of legitimate voters present (368) exceeded the vote total for each election where members were allowed one vote each.” Rorty declared the election valid, and Smith the winner. His ruling was challenged but sustained by a voice vote."
"The fact that the sitting APA president, who had refused to stem the rising tide of dissent, was ... agreeing publicly with the dissenters that something was awry with the discipline must have made Rorty—despite his doubts about the intellectual achievements of some self-described pluralists—seem something of a turncoat to other analysts. Rorty wasn’t worried, however. He believed that opening up philosophy to nonanalytic approaches and concerns was a good thing. To be sure, he doubted whether the pluralist revolt itself or his actions as APA president would have any lasting effect. Analytic philosophy was just too entrenched, he thought."


  1. Great excerpt! Thanks for posting this.
    It looks like philosophy [profession] is a good mirror of [human] nature.