I have some comments about Brian Leiter’s Gourmet Report rankings of programs by specialties, in particular the newly added ranking of Chinese philosophy Ph.D. programs. I invite your responses and comments as well. The ranking is posted here; I have copied and pasted it here:
Group 1 (1) (rounded mean of 4.5) (median, mode)
University of Utah (4.5, 4.75)
Group 2 (2-5) (rounded mean of 4.0) (median, mode)
Duke University (4, 4)
University of California, Riverside (3.75, 3.75)
University of Connecticut, Storrs (4, 4)
*University of Hawaii, Manoa
Group 3 (6-7) (rounded mean of 3.5) (median, mode)
*National University of Singapore
University at Buffalo, State University of New York (3.25, 3.25)
Group 4 (8-10) (rounded mean of 3.0) (median, mode)
University of Oklahoma, Norman (3, 3)
*University of Oregon
University of Toronto (3, 3)
* inserted by Board
# based on 2004 results, in some cases with modest adjustments by the Advisory Board to reflect changes in staff in the interim
Evaluators: P.J. Ivanhoe, Bryan van Norden, David Wong.
Remember: evaluators were not permitted to evaluate either their own department or the department from which they received their highest degree (PhD, DPhil, sometimes the BPhil).
My own thoughts: There are a variety of reasons for which professional philosophers have dissented from participating in or giving credence to the Gourmet Report. I myself have been a supporter of the Report; by and large, I think it provides a real service to prospective professional philosophers. The most useful things that it provides, in my opinion, are (1) a good sense of how a large and relatively widespread group of people at Ph.D. granting degree programs view each other and (2) centralized updates on movements of scholars to and from programs. These are really quite important kinds of information for program applicants, being directly relevant, respectively, to issues such as hopes for successful job placement and expectations of program-applicant fit.
That said, I have a rather grave concern with this year’s specialty ranking of programs in Chinese philosophy (for the first time, if I am not mistaken) because it gives the clearly false impression that the program at Utah is a noticeable step above those at Connecticut, Duke, and Hawaii (not to mention some of the other programs ranked even lower, programs that seem in many respects equivalent in quality to Utah’s). There are other reasons why the impression is clearly false but, minimally, the placement success at the three latter institutions, specifically for Chinese philosophy candidates, has far exceeded Utah’s. It seems to me that the problem with this ranking is the result of two procedural, or formal, aspects of this ranking that are ill-suited for ranking programs in Chinese philosophy in the current state of the field.
First, this ranking is in the format of the Gourmet’s other specialty rankings and the overall ranking which, with some exceptions (e.g. M.A. programs), tends to give a sort of crowning boost by listing “the top” program or group of programs in a separate heading from those directly below it. This sort of “quantum” separation into discrete groupings lends itself to the sort of illusory perception of some programs being “steps” above others rather than being more contiguous in perceived quality with those ranked lower — especially with those ranked immediately lower on the Gourmet’s numerical scale. That seems particularly misleading in the case of Chinese philosophy programs because there is little evidence, of which I am aware, that in the current state of the field some places are routinely, widely, or generally perceived by those in the field to be much better than others in training good scholars of Chinese philosophy. Some of this lack of evidence right now is attributable to the relative youth of the scholars who are in some of the current Ph.D. granting programs. Much more of it, I think, has to do with the diversity of interests and interpretive programs that is expressed in successful publication in the top journals — which diversity is also expressed throughout the current Ph.D. programs. Because of this, I can’t agree that the ranking reflects a very coherent or uncontroversial evaluation of quality. My suggestion would be not to have a ranking at all, but to have an informative list of viable programs with links to the respective departments.
The second reason, it seems to me, that the ranking turned out as it did is because of both the small size and coincidental, substantive intellectual interests of the consultant pool. The pool is composed in such a way that someone knowledgeable about its members might have reasonably predicted the skew of the results. Shared intellectual lineage and its associated camaraderie of two of the three consultants, with the primary researcher at Utah, cannot be discounted as distorting factors in the ranking. Hutton, at Utah, is a former student of Ivanhoe; Van Norden is also a former student of Ivanhoe. The three share, broadly speaking, an interpretive paradigm of reading the ancient Confucian texts through the lens of Virtue Ethical concerns. There’s nothing morally wrong with that, but this kind of affinity among their research programs certainly suggests that the consultant pool should either have been bigger or more diversely composed than it was, in order to reflect a broader consensus–supposing for the sake of argument that it existed–of perceived quality among current programs. I take the latter to be a desideratum of the Gourmet Report rankings.
I don’t actually think a consensus exists, currently, of relative Ph.D. program quality among well-published, well-known scholars in the field. So, for the time being, I would be in favor of a non-ranked list. In the future it may be possible for a pool of specialists to be polled and produce a ranking result that reflects something close to a broad consensus.
There are other thoughts I had about the ranking, but I’ll let others bring them up for now. Comments are welcome. I would like civility and professionalism to guide your contributions. Don’t make me have to moderate; I haven’t had to yet. (One special request for this post, given the particular sensitivity of the topic: please identify yourself with your real first and last names; non-compliant comments may be deleted or temporarily held until you identify yourself to me.) Thanks!