Ranking Philosophy Programs

There are now two sets of rankings of Ph.D.-granting philosophy departments in the United States: Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet (PG) and Academic Analytics’ Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index (FSPI). The latter only ranks the top ten, so I’ll stick with comparing both rankings’ top ten. Only two universities are listed in both rankings: Princeton and Rutgers. The rest are entirely different. FSPI ranks Michigan State first; PG ranks NYU first. Here’s the run-down:

Academic Analytics’ Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index

1. Michigan State University
2. CUNY Graduate School
2. Princeton University
4. University of Virginia
5. Rutgers
6. University of California – San Diego
7. Pennsylvania State University
8. The University of Texas at Austin
9. SUNY at Stony Brook
10. Rice University

Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet ranking

1. New York University
2. Rutgers
3. Princeton University
3. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
5. University of Pittsburgh
6. Stanford University
7. Harvard University
7. MIT
10. Columbia University
10. Univ. of North Carolina –Chapel Hill

The discrepancy can be explained by different methodologies. FSPI is based on data generated by a web-crawler of individual faculty members’ productivity in terms of scholarly publications, honors and awards, and grants. Comparing the sheer volume of scholarly publications is, I think, a bit dicey, since it equates publication in more- and less-selective presses and journals. However, the honors, grants, and awards criteria, a better gauge of quality, probably balances things out. Also FSPI takes into consideration whether one’s journal articles are cited in others’ journal articles — certainly an excellent indication of the influence of one’s work.

The Philosophical Gourmet’s methodology is as follows, according to its web site:

This report ranks graduate programs primarily on the basis of the quality of faculty. In late September and early October 2006, we conducted an on-line survey of 450 philosophers throughout the English-speaking world; over 300 responded and completed some or all of the surveys. The survey presented 99 faculty lists, from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia and New Zealand . Note that there are some 110 PhD-granting programs in the U.S. alone, but it would be unduly burdensome for evaluators to ask them to evaluate all these programs each year. The top programs in each region were selected for evaluation, plus a few additional programs are included each year to “test the waters.”

Leiter lists the names and affiliations of the people who filled out his survey. The full list is available here http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/reportdesc.asp. Note that there is no one on the list from Michigan State, Penn State, or Stony Brook: and only one each from Rice, and CUNY — and none of these schools show up in his top ten even though they do show up in FSPI’s top ten. But four of Leiter’s responders are with NYU; nine have been affiliated with Stanford; thirteen with Michigan; twenty-two with Pittsburgh; and another twenty-some with Harvard — and all of these schools show up in his top ten. Leiter notes that no one who has received a Ph.D. or taught at a particular institution may rank that institution. That’s goood. But still one might suspect that the entire pool of respondents comes from a particular orientation and holds a certain set of conceptions of what counts as quality faculty. Few hale from truly pluralist departments, and so it’s not suprising that truly pluralist departments don’t end up on PG’s top ten. In fact several of PG’s top ten bill themselves on their own web sites as working solely in the analytic tradition.

Note the following.

Schools ranked in the top ten by Academic Analytics that don’t appear in the top ten Philosophical Gourmet rankings:

Michigan State University (lots of strengths in ethics, continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of science)

CUNY Graduate School (mostly analytic, diverse interests)

University of Virginia (strong analytic department with strengths in ethics and political philosophy)

University of California San Diego (analytic faculty, strengths in philosophy of mind, history of modern, ancient)

Pennsylvania State University (some faculty have left since the study was done, but it still has its characteristic strengths in continental philosophy, pragmatism, and feminist theory)

The University of Texas at Austin (at the time of the study, it had a bit more strength in continental philosophy – Louis Mackey and Robert Solomon have since passed away)

SUNY at Stony Brook (a school exceptionally strong in continental philosophy, feminist theory, and critical race theory)

Rice University (also has strengths in continental philosophy)

Schools ranked in the top ten by the Philosophical Gourmet that don’t appear in the top ten Academic Analytics rankings (links can be found here ) :

New York University
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
University of Pittsburgh
Stanford University
Columbia University
UNC-Chapel Hill

No doubt these are excellent programs, but to say they are the very best based on the judgment of an unrepresentative cohort of faculty selected by someone with already marked views about what counts as quality is simply bad logic. I’d opt for the Academic Analytics’ Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index any day. It more accurately reflects the productivity and range of scholarship in philosophy today.

EDIT: More on this topic can be found in this subsequent post.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. Leiter’s report is more of a popularity contest than a serious attempt to rank departments by academic worth. And while we at Michigan State are pumped to be at the top of the FSPI ranking, there’s more than a bit of bean-counting in its methodology. I prefer bean-counting to social snobbery myself, but there’s gotta be another option!

  2. I share your concerns about the lack of distinction between more and less selective journals, but at least what we have here is a strict methodology with a definite conclusion tied specifically to that which it tests. In other words, it purports to study productivity, it measures (measures, doesn’t ask subjective opinions about) productivity, and concludes which programs are most productive. Leiter, by contrast, asks for subjective opinions from a non-random (hence non-representative) sample of faculty about where the “best” faculty are (whatever that means) and then generalizes from those subjective statements to conclusions about “best programs.” My first-year critical thinking students could drive a truck through the holes in Leiter’s methods.

    1. Hello,

      I am begining to research a MA in Philosophy. I live in Nashville, TN and would prefer to stay close. Being a married homeowner working as a Senior Financial Analyst in the healthcare industry, I am also disinclined to expensive programs. Do you know the reputation of MTSU, UT (Knoxville or Chattanooga), etc. I am open to suggestions as well.

      Please feel free to contact me. I would enjoy speaking with somone to provide me an objective opinion.

      Thank you.

      Tom Wiser

      1. Tom,

        I recommend you contact Mary Magada-Ward on the philosophy faculty at MTSU and discuss with her what your interests and goals are.

        In general, I recommend finding a graduate program that has faculty with whom you’d like to study. If a place has an excellent reputation in X but you really only care about Y, then its reputation is of limited value. A good mentor will open doors as much as more as a big name on the degree.

        Good luck.


  3. I agree about the Leiter’s Gourmet Report being a rather biased beauty pageant, and as a faculty member of the MSU philosophy department, I’d love it if MSU philosophy really was #1. Unfortunately, there is a very, very serious problem with the methodology of FSPI with regard to the humanities. In particular, the index FSPI used for references to journal articles and citations of them, Scopus, only covers the sciences and not the humanities! Scopus covers life science, health science, physical science and social science. This can be verified by visiting the Scopus webpage.


    You can also check to the FSPI website to verify that they do not use another index besides Scopus. In fact, I contacted FSPI via email about this to confirm this point.

    So, philosophy publications in the Journal of Philosophy, for example, would not be found in Scopus. In contrast, the main bioethics journals are there, as are some philosophy of science journals Biology and Philosophy and Philosophy of the Social Sciences. (Incidentally, I had publications in both of those journals in the study period for the FSPI ranking.)

    I think the coverage of Scopus explains why MSU philosophy came out #1. MSU philosophy has strength in bioethics, and the main bioethics journals would be covered in the medical science section. So, ironically, while bioethics counts for almost nothing in the Leiter report, it makes a big impact on the philosophy section of the FSPI. Moreover, MSU philosophy has a few faculty who publish in science journals (like Rob Pennock).

    Basically, you can think of the FSPI as a ranking of research productivity if all that counted were philosophy papers published in journals that are included in science citation indices. That might tell us something interesting, but it definitely does not provide an overall assessment of the research productivity of philosophy departments. I hope that in the future FSPI will use an index that covers the humanities. And my guess is that, if they did, their rankings would look a little bit more like the Leiter report.

    Dan Steel

  4. Note that the ‘productivity’ that the FSPI more accurately represents is a ‘marked view about what counts as quality’ as well.

  5. Dan, Thanks for this information. I checked the SCOPUS database and it does include the Philosophy Documentation Center as well as databases in all the humanities. But as you noted SCOPUS doesn’t bill itself as a humanities site, so I’ve also left a message with Academic Analytics to clear this up. To John Z, yes, I admit to placing a value on productivity. We all have values; let’s just put them on the table. –Noelle McAfee

  6. Philosophical Gourmet is the best site for those interested in the intense, rigorous, logic skills used at analytic universities.

  7. how does Noelle McAfree know that there are only two philosophy school ranking websites?

  8. philosophical gourmet updates
    it is more of a specialized rating guide
    it helps with undergraduate school choices and masters programs as well.

  9. Concerning the worry about the evaluators being from a select number of depts, I seem to remember a paper statistically analysing the feedback and showing near total consensus amongst faculty from the entire range of depts assessed as to who was top and who bottom (I actually think those from lower ranked depts tended to be harsher in their evaluations).

    Of course, I’m sure people will say that this is because everyone has been brainwashed by the PGR into thinking the rankings are gospel and so rank accordingly.

    But there have always been rankings of depts; at least Leiter’s methodology is explicit and based on up-to-date information. Thanks to the statistical analyses it’s possible for people to be fully informed of the fact that having metaphysicians will count for more than having historians of philosophy (and know exactly how much that counts). Whatever else you think of the PGR, it at least allows people to think clearly about these matters.

  10. To be totally honest, as an MA student in philosophy with aspirations to continue on to a Ph.D, I’d like to see a site that ranked philosophy departments by their job placement record. This information is often hard to find on department websites, and it doesn’t seem that either of these ranking systems takes that into consideration. Just a thought. Obviously placement isn’t all that matters, but lets be honest, it matters a little bit.

  11. This post of mine, which is over 2 1/2 years old, still gets a lot of traffic. To those of you visiting this post, I’d like to ask, what are your interests and concerns? Is this discussion at all helpful? What kind of ranking system (or other system) would you like to see? And do you think this matter is of importance to just potential graduate students or also to faculty and administrators?

  12. Hello, Dr. McAfee! I’ve followed and enjoyed your blog for some time now, and I’m extremely excited about your move to Emory, which makes their graduate program significantly more appealing! Perhaps I can add something to this conversation, though, despite being a bit late to the party.

    I’m in a unique position, I suspect, as I’ve been taught by a number of philosophy professors from three different universities – a result of having to work and relocate, attending school mostly part-time. Perhaps you can help me make sense of my undergraduate experience and its relevance to choosing a graduate philosophy program, which may also be of use to other potential applicants.

    To start, I haven’t been able to discern any meaningful correlation between professor prestige (influence, number of publications, etc.), and teaching ability. A quick anecdote: In response to a student complaint about an instructor’s disorganization and obscurity, a particularly influential and widely published professor flatly declared that s/he had a PhD in philosophy, and not a degree in teaching. I’m curious, then, how a faculty’s professional reputation (i.e. among fellow PhDs) came to dominate a faculty’s teaching reputation – for it’s not at all clear to me that a brilliant philosopher is also, necessarily, a brilliant teacher.

    My favorite instructor, in fact, was sparsely published and largely unknown among professional philosophers. Still, this professor was truly inspirational and an amazing teacher by all accounts; s/he would literally type up papers longer than the assignment submitted for each and every student, detailing ways to improve writing, clarity, and deepening or correcting flawed and incomplete understandings of the author, text, or issue in question. This particular professor, in short, was focused on maximizing student potential; s/he was supportive and his/her enthusiasm was contagious and motivating.

    As an undergraduate, then, I’ve learned far more from dedicated teachers than from influential philosophers, for whom teaching seemed to be only a peripheral focus. How might this observation apply to graduate school rankings, if at all? It seems to me that rankings (Leiter’s in particular) are founded upon an almost capitalistic logic – rankings seem more to demarcate legitimate hiring pools from illegitimate ones. As one professor advised me, “arguably the purpose of going to grad school is to eventually get a job. In that regard, it’s a good idea to take Leiter’s rankings seriously.” S/he was right to include “arguably” – s/he and I did argue about it at length.

    Even setting aside my concerns about the potential conflation of good teaching with faculty influence and productivity, Leiter’s rankings aren’t at all useful to me since they scarcely include departments with course offerings including figures I’ve come to appreciate and wish to further explore in grad school (for instance, Kristeva, Irigaray, and Deleuze). This particular fact just seems to reinforce the idea, as others have mentioned, that Leiter is especially biased against certain strands of philosophy.

    What I’d most like to see, then, Dr. McAfee, is a ranking system genuinely centered around the quality of graduate program *teaching* – not faculty reputations, which, again, I don’t think the two are readily interchangeable. Perhaps I’m mistaken, though.

    1. Hi Jeff C,
      I’d like to know which university this wonderful professor you speak about teaches at. Does s/he teach at undergraduate level?
      Thanks a lot.

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