Is the PGR sexist?

Just to round out my current round of complaints about the rankings of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (and then I really will finish those article revisions!), I want to point out another way in which bias shows up. The “top” 25 programs overall have smaller percentages of tenure-stream women faculty than even the already-dismal percentage in doctoral programs throughout the profession. Only eight of those 25 do better than average.

Julie Van Camp estimates that the national average is 22.7 percent. I’m rounding up, so let’s say that anything above 23% is better than average.

Below is the list. For all the programs listed in the APA’s guide to graduate programs, I’ve used their self-reported numbers.  For those who did not submit their data to the APA (shame, shame, shame), I’ve used Julie Van Camp’s numbers.  The latter I list here with an asterisk. I’ll  italicize those better than average.

  1. NYU 21%
  2. Rutgers 21%
  3. Princeton 17%
  4. Michigan 26%
  5. *Harvard 21%
  6. Pittsburgh 22%
  7. MIT 18%
  8. *Yale 16%
  9. *Stanford 25%
  10. *UNC 17%
  11. *Columbia 35%
  12. UCLA 25%
  13. USC 20%
  14. CUNY 18%
  15. Cornell 33%
  16. Arizona 23%
  17. UC-Berkeley 27%
  18. Notre Dame 16%
  19. *Brown 27%
  20. *Chicage 20%
  21. UT-Austin 17%
  22. UCSD 17%
  23. UW-Madison 22%
  24. Duke 20%
  25. Indiana 22%

Of the next 26 that made the top 51, 16 are better than average.

So, what to make of this?  Is the problem that these “top” schools are not that interested in hiring more women?  Or is it that they are deemed “top” because they are not hiring more women—and hence not doing the kind of “non-philosophical” work those women tend to do? Linda Alcoff writes that the PGR “works to reward convention and punish departments that take the risk of supporting an area of scholarship that is not (yet) widely accepted or respected in the profession. Hiring in the areas of critical race philosophy or feminist philosophy is not going to improve a department’s ranking. As a result, philosophy departments are trying to outdo themselves in conformism and ‘tailism’—tailing the mediocre mainstream rather than leading.”

Additionally, could the fact that 85% of the evaluators were men have anything to do with the problem? There’s not a lot of use in speculating, since the report never pretends to be objective. It is a reputational ranking based on views of those who have, in certain circles, a good reputation.  So it is all circular.

And now I worry that it is also sexist. I am not saying that the group of evaluators are themselves sexist but rather that unconscious biases are bound to slip in to a survey that is shoddily constructed.

Can this survey be saved?  No, dear colleagues, it is time we walked away. I urge anyone who has been involved in this exercise, whether by turning over your list of faculties or serving on the board or as an evaluator, to stop.

2 thoughts on “Is the PGR sexist?

  1. Thank you, Noelle, for these recent posts. Though the news remains bad, we all need to have it laid out clearly, This is very important, useful work. Again, thank you. Joan

  2. Several years ago, I did a linear regression (statistical) analysis of the 2009 PGR. You can read my results here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6oYmzobonqobV9raXRINkxUa0U/edit

    The methods I used then aren’t the ones I would use now, but they’re more-or-less standard in quantitative social science. By those methods, I found that programs aren’t penalized for having more (or fewer) women on their faculty; and being highly ranked in feminist philosophy improved a program’s ranking about as much as being highly ranked in metaphysics, ethics, or epistemology.

    But this doesn’t let the PGR avoid your criticisms. First, I think that, if we’re going to have rankings at all, programs should be penalized for having fewer women on their faculty. Given my analysis, the PGR isn’t committing a sin of commission (penalizing for more women); but it is committing a sin of omission (not penalizing for fewer women). Second, the opaque methodology and lack of reflection do nothing to dispel the false beliefs about the relative impact of M&E and feminist philosophy. So, while conformism and tailism aren’t a direct effect of the rankings, they are still an indirect effect.

Comments are closed.