Thursday, June 09, 2005

Professors getting up there in age, and place your bets on philosophy professors

Two more items from the June 3, 2005 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Since I read it in print, and links change or go behind the wall, I will settle for giving the details for those who want to venture to look.

Piper Fogg writes "Advancing in Age," which discusses the increasing numbers of old professors in campuses. Old here is defined as over 55, but mostly refers to professors who are 60 and up. The article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of this situation. For instance, it is a disadvantage to younger scholars seeking work if these people don't retire and open a position. Also, without new blood, there is no fostering of diversity in the faculty or in ideas. In addition, the lack of younger faculty can make it difficult to attract new faculty when a position does open. Let's be honest, if you are a 30-something scholar, you want people you have something in common with. Spending lunch listening to your peers talking about who had a colonoscopy is not exactly appealing. The article actually describes such a situation. Furthermore, older faculty tend to resist teaching introductory classes since faculty tend to specialize more with age, so this hinders the ability of departments to offer a full course load. On the advantages, older faculty have experience, but this seems applicable to those who have a stellar position. In other words, losing a senior prominent scholar can have significant impact on a department in terms of prestige as well as fundraising. The article struck a cord with me given all the recent discussions about the job market for librarians. One of the issues often discussed is asking when those old librarians will retire so we can get their jobs. Things are not that much different in other parts of academia; however, when it comes to deadwood, the term for tenured faculty who stopped producing scholarly work and barely teach, it's time for them to go. As someone who was in the scholarly maze for a while, I had my mixed feelings over tenure. I still do since I have potential to change jobs and end up someplace on a tenure line. On the one hand, it is some security once you run the gauntlet. On the other hand, it does seem to discourage productivity once you get it done. I am all for collective experience of my elders, and I am a believer in tapping that experience, but not at the expense of bringing in new ideas. A professor who teaches the same lecture since 1972 with the same notes cannot be efficient no matter how good he is with students. They would argue otherwise, and there is an example of that in the article, but pedagogically speaking, the act of teaching is something that needs renewal and reflection, and you can't do that if you don't at least review a lesson plan once in a while.

The second article is written by Robin Wilson. "Deep Thought, Quantified" discussed the Philosophical Gourmet Report that covers rankings of Philosophy Departments based on their professors' reputations and academic credentials. The site is put together by Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at University of Texas at Austin. He also has his own blog. The website features speculation on comings and goings of prominent philosophers and how they can affect a department. It does have its detractors, but the rankings are done every other year, and they have an advisory board. On the one hand, it is kind of like handicapping. On the other hand, graduate students are known to use it in deciding where to go pursue their work.

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