2017-18 PGR / Chinese Philosophy Rankings

The 2017-18 Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) has been released here. It includes “specialty rankings” for various areas, including Chinese philosophy. This year, for the first time, I was invited to be among the evaluators, and after wrestling with this a bit, decided to give it a try. As explained at the top of this page, evaluators see lists of faculty and then choose one of the following categories:

  • 0 – Inadequate for a PhD program
  • 1 – Marginal
  • 2 – Adequate
  • 3 – Good
  • 4 – Strong
  • 5 – Distinguished

Evaluators can do this for the program overall, and then for the various specialties. I chose to only rank the Chinese philosophy specialty (I did not select overall rankings). The vast majority I assigned a score of 0. I believe that the highest score I gave was a 3. Programs that have one or even two specialists can be — other things being equal — good places to study. But in my judgment there are no English-language programs that merit “strong” or “distinguished” rankings. In my view, that would take multiple specialists, and others with cognate interests, in the context of an overall strong and supportive department. We may get there one day, but we’re not there yet.

I have mixed views about this whole rankings thing, which has been discussed before on the blog. What we have tried to do here at Warp, Weft, and Way is provide as much objective information about graduate study as possible. But since PGR exists and I was invited to take part, I decided to give it a try.

One other thing. As Bryan Van Norden (another evaluator, and also someone on the Advisory Board) explains here, PGR policy is that programs need to have a certain minimum overall score in order to be ranked. Programs with significant “specialty” strengths but without the minimum overall score end up being listed as “Additional programs not evaluated this year but recommended for consideration by the Advisory Board.” I agree with Bryan’s sentiment that the programs listed under this rubric are as strong as the ones officially ranked, and thus disapprove of this policy, which I find to be highly misleading.

27 replies on “2017-18 PGR / Chinese Philosophy Rankings”

  1. Hi Steve– thanks for your work on this!

    Do you mean no “strong” departments (in the way you defined) among the departments in the PGR top 50, or among English-language programs overall (including among the “advisory board recommended” depts)? Because in the latter group there is Hawaii, Hong Kong, NUS, etc., which do seem “strong” in the sense you describe.

    One problem I have with this year’s Chinese Philosophy ranking is the makeup of evaluators. All of you are fantastic scholars of course and I have no problem with you 5 being among the evaluators, but if I’m not mistaken all of the evaluators work on Confucianism/ Confucian ethics. I would have liked to see a bit more diversity in this area given the breadth of the field.

    I also completely agree with you and Bryan about ranking the “additional programs”. I cannot think of any good reasons against doing this, and I’m surprised they have not changed the policy on this (it’s been something many of us have complained about for years).

  2. Hi Alexus, I agree with you about the lack of diversity in the list of evaluators (I didn’t know until today who the others were). And my comments about “strong” or “distinguished” apply to all programs. Details vary in each case, and I mean to avoid something like “grade inflation”; good is good. But think of what would make for a genuinely strong, world-class program in, say, philosophy of mind. 11 Rutgers faculty list this as a specialty.

    • Fair points! I guess in some sense ranking departments with one or few scholars in Chinese Philosophy highly may reinforce the idea that a department only needs one to two specialists in order to be “strong”, which could very well have negative effects down the road.

      Although there may some relevant differences between areas like Chinese Philosophy and those like Philosophy of Mind. Just based on institutional considerations, I would think it would be hard for departments to stack philosophers in one particular area of History of Philosophy like they often do in M&E, ethics, etc. There are exceptions, like Medieval Philosophy at Notre Dame, but that has a lot to do with its unique institutional status as an elite Catholic university (and even they only have 4 in the area). Most programs on the PGR lists for History of Philosophy areas have only one, two, or three people in the given area. For sure, Chinese Philosophy has little representation relative to other History subfields. But I think what we could reasonably aspire to would be closer to areas in History like Ancient Greek, Early Modern, Medieval, etc. At least in the US.

      In my ideal world, we would have specialists in multiple areas of Chinese Philosophy within single departments, such as Early Confucianism, Early Daoism, “Medieval”, etc. But it wouldn’t take too many scholars before you run out of space–because in that ideal world we’d also have scholars working on the history of other traditions as well (India, Africa, the Americas, etc.), and you’d have to have a department of 100 people to adequately cover it all. The only way to avoid this would be to have specialist departments in these different historical areas–so we’d have certain departments focusing on Chinese Philosophy, others on Indian, etc. (which to *some* extent we have on a small scale today). But this would run into the institutional problem mentioned above. This is likely the reason the only places we see departments even approaching my “ideal” distribution is in the Chinese-speaking world.

    • These are all good points, Alexus, although it’s also true that the time period, geographical area, and philosophical richness of, say, “Greek philosophy” corresponds not to “Chinese philosophy,” but to “Warring States / Classical Chinese philosophy.” What you say about the value of having other traditions’ histories represented is also true. What I’d hope for involves two things: (1) some degree of division of labor, with some departments emphasizing some traditions more than others, and (2) bringing people working in contemporary, more topic-based philosophy into the mix. Chinese philosophy isn’t only about its history. So if one of a department’s philosophers of mind draws significantly on Chinese traditions (though not really being a historian of the tradition, and probably also drawing on other [Western or not] traditions as well), and so does one of its ethicists, etc., in addition to the folks who work more centrally in history of philosophy, then we’re getting somewhere.

  3. I have great reservations about how these rankings operate in the field, but apart from all of that, it is again disappointing to see that no women are included among the evaluators for Chinese philosophy. If memory serves, Erin Cline was included as an evaluator in one iteration, but otherwise, there have never been women evaluating the specialty. This makes the field look more hidebound and homogenous than I think it is, as if there just are no women possessed of whatever magical qualities equip someone to evaluate programs. To be clear, I would not serve as an evaluator for my own principled reasons, but unless the many women in field all feel that way and thus declined to participate when invited, their absence here is just a new iteration of perennial disappointment.

  4. Steve,
    I appreciate all you’ve said here but I want to register frustration with how these evaluations operate in the field. I should admit up front that I don’t think rankings of faculty reputation to be so singularly important to prospective graduate students to warrant this being the focal point of such a ranking. There is so much more that matters for graduate study that making faculty reputation the hub of the wheel can be misleading. But apart from that, rankings in our sub-field in particular strike me as undermining exactly the solidarity needed when one’s field is marginalized and struggling for legitimacy. The rankings are premised on their utility to prospective graduate students but that is of course not the only effect they have. They may also influence placement and may influence outsiders’ views of the sub-field. I.e., since so few in the profession at large know much about Chinese philosophy, this ranking can serve as an entry point to understanding the lay of the land. On that score, I think it offers a poor map. This is in part because of how the evaluator pool appears.

    The evaluator pool for the PGR is not representative of the profession in our area, nor is it consonant with what I take evaluator pools in other areas to look like. The only criterion I find for evaluators is that they be “research-active,” and all of the evaluators used of course are that. However, of the “research-active” people in the field, there are striking omissions. For example,

    1. Of the 16 philosophy PhD programs referenced, not a single one is represented in the evaluator pool. How can it be the case that no PhD-granting philosophy faculty are considered sufficiently “research-active” to serve as evaluators? (One of the current evaluators, Aaron Stalnaker, is an exception but he is not primarily appointed in a philosophy department.) Is there any other field ranked by the PGR in which no philosophy PhD program faculty are employed as evaluators?

    2. We have multiple journals devoted to the speciality, yet no editors of these journals, past or present, are included as evaluators. Journal editors, I would think, are specially positioned to have a comprehensive view of the field and are “research-active,” so their absence is striking.

    3. No women in the field are included as evaluators. Again, this can suggest, misleadingly, that there are no “research-active” women in the field.

    4. Historically and now, there are notable programs that have never been represented in the evaluator pool. Among these are Hawai’i and Singapore. By this I mean not simply that faculty from these programs are never included, but that no one earning a PhD from these programs has ever served as evaluator. At least in the case of Hawai’i, none have ever, to my knowledge, been invited to serve and this is especially striking given how very many active scholars in the field trained at Hawai’i.

    5. Unlike other fields, in which a focus on American institutions might suffice, our field is far more global. Yet both historically and now, scholars working in East Asian institutions are underrepresented, even as these
    institutions are increasingly included among those considered in the evaluations.

    It is of course possible that all or some of these omissions are explained by people having been invited to evaluate only to decline. Because the process is not transparent, we cannot know. However, if it is the case that declined invitations explain these odd omissions, one must ask why, and one must also wonder whether a ranking devised where so many relevant people decline to participate is as useful as it purports to be.

    Equally important, unlike other fields, several of the PhD granting programs under consideration do not qualify for consideration in the PGR “overall” rankings. Because of this, the end result of our speciality rankings offers a distorting picture. Philosophy departments that have never seen fit to hire *anyone* in Chinese philosophy but rely on faculty in other departments as “affiliates” are ranked, while philosophy departments that have a definite commitment to Chinese philosophy – evidenced in their actually hiring specialists – are relegated to “programs to consider,” the catch-all category for those departments not included in the “overall” rankings. Evaluators can of course here plead that they have no role in identifying which programs get ranked “overall,” but when so many of the programs that include our speciality are not ranked, the ranking system seems simply unsuited to the work at hand. I.e., if you want to actually rank Chinese philosophy, you will need a different system than one that ties your hands against actually including many of the programs. Is there any other category in the PGR comparable to this? One in which programs with no dedicated faculty rank above those that do have dedicated faculty? Because of course, one thing a prospective graduate student needs to know is whether the home department, philosophy, is actually committed to fostering PhD work in Chinese philosophy. The clearest evidence of such a commitment is a department’s willingness to hire an actual specialist. Programs that don’t do this should not enjoy priority over those that do.

    I am prompted to write all of this because I find these rankings damaging to the field. The front-end organization of them – the selection of evaluator pools – is divisive. The selection itself sends a message and what it says is disturbing. It can make our field appear bereft of qualified women, of qualified colleagues in East Asian departments, and, oddest of all, bereft of anyone actively working in a philosophy PhD program judged suitable for this task. Of course none of that is in fact the case and this is exactly why the ranking is so dispiriting. I know you said that you (and I guess no other evaluators?) knew the composition of the evaluator pool going in, but that seems a real problem with the methodology here. So too, the front-end exclusion of so many programs from the ranking yields a list that looks decidedly weird, one in which programs with no Chinese philosophy dedicated faculty at all are seated above those that do. In short, if what you and the other evaluators set out to do was to contribute to a sound, comprehensive ranking of programs adequately representative of the field writ large, that is not in fact what you participated in. The list of programs maintained on this website is far more useful to students. It also has the bonus of not sending a very alienating and divisive message to your colleagues in the field, colleagues who share some of the concerns I outline above.

    Since you were an evaluator and in the interest of transparency, I’d really like to know your (or other evaluators’ ) views about any of the above, especially if you think there are goods achieved by this ranking and methodology that I am simply missing. I’d like to think better of this than I currently do.

  5. I have put my thoughts on the PGR in print and refer any interested readers to the following discussions:

    Appearance and Reality in the Philosophical Gourmet Report: Why the Discrepancy Matters to the Profession of Philosophy https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/meta.12161

    The Tacit Rejection of Multiculturalism in American Philosophy Ph.D. Programs

    Ethnocentrism and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Philosophy

  6. Hi Amy and all — I’m back on-line after spending a couple days in DC with my daughter and attending the March For Our Lives, which was inspirational.

    I agree with all the concerns that you and others have expressed about the representativeness of the evaluator pool. I think you may have misread me: I did not know the identities of the other evaluators until the results of the thing went public a couple days ago. My view right now is that I will not take part in this next time around (if I’m asked) unless I feel that the evaluator pool better reflects our field, and the misleading practice of not giving specialty rankings to certain programs is changed.

    As for larger questions about the PGR, ranking, and guidance to prospective grad students, a couple quick thoughts. First, I think the information provided here at Warp, Weft, and Way is much superior in content and form to that provided by the PGR. In my own judgment, at least, the rankings provided by the PGR for Chinese philosophy are meaningless. However, that does not mean that there is no reason to participate in PGR, nor that the PGR listing is entirely without value. The *rankings* are meaningless (I attach no significance to the 1 vs 2 vs “not ranked this year” distinctions), but the *listing* of programs there has some value. It signals to prospective students and to colleagues in other subfields that a given university has some level of commitment to Chinese philosophy.

    And that signaling is worthwhile, because the underlying story here is that our subfield is growing and getting increasingly diverse and healthy. At the moment, it is probably growing faster than any other area of philosophy in the English-speaking world. One of the goals that many of us have is that the broader profession change in various ways to recognize and value our subfield. One impetus to such change is to foster a broader recognition of the departments where one can study it, and I think that the PGR helps to do that. It will do this still better if the list is accompanied by a list of evaluators that is much less narrow, as you have emphasized. But at least for now, my view is that taking part in the PGR, and pushing it to be better, produces more good than harm.

  7. But, Steve, you’ve given your name and reputation to ranking the reputations of your colleagues, a process that in turn enables the PGR publicity organ to deride people like Brian Bruya and me. Brian is subject to schoolyard taunts based on his surname, while I am at least but the unnamed, aggrieved “unranked.” (See, e.g., here, from December: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2017/12/blast-from-the-past-brian-bruya-makes-things-up.html or here, from just today: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/03/breaking-news-philosophers-from-unranked-programs-in-their-specialties-think-the-pgr-is.html)

    The rankings you help create but also call “meaningless” mean in part that critics can be immediately rebutted and scorned by simply noting their unranked status. Of course Brian and I could escape such scorn by simply ceasing to criticize, and this is of course one of the dubious perks of having rankings – it enables one to quiet any unwashed plebes.

    I assume you would count the rankings being used as a cudgel against your colleagues among the “harms” of PGR, but I’m wondering what kind of working within the process you have in mind to address it?

    • Prof. Olberding, your department is ranked in Chinese philosophy, why would you think that comment was directed at you? Obviously sour grapes plays a large role in explaining irrational criticisms of the PGR, including Bruya’s, which were exposed as a fraud by me and by David Wallace. And recall that on the basis of that fraud, he defamed me and the others involved with the PGR as racists. I’m sure with your “Prof. Manners” hat on, you advised him that wasn’t good manners, right?

    • Thanks, I guess, for calling my attention to these comments by Brian. I hadn’t seen them. Yes, I agree that this kind of “cudgeling” is wholly inappropriate and I’ll keep it in mind if there comes a time that I have to decide whether to participate in a future iteration of the PGR.

    • I take it as a badge of honor to be cudgeled by the aforementioned. It means that one has succeeded in speaking truth to power. He goes after the ones who have succeeded in showing the folly of his enterprise. The more trenchant the critique, the more vehement his response is.

    • A “badge of honor” to be exposed as a fraudulent hack before the entire profession!?!? Now that’s impressive self-deception, I salute you!

  8. Dear all — in response to the direction comments have taken, I have turned on comment moderation. I am happy to approve any substantive and civil remarks on the current subject.

  9. I’d like to offer my two cents as someone finishing up his PhD at one of the unranked programs suggested for consideration by the evaluators.

    My view is that the PGR offers information on the topic of which strong overall philosophy departments also have a few specialists on Chinese philosophy who could supervise a dissertation on a topic in Chinese philosophy (and, of course, from whom a student could learn much). Presumably, most students would find that information useful, and some faculty advising students on where to apply for graduate study would think that this kind of information would be valuable in making one’s decision. I don’t see any problem with that.

    I do however see a problem with the idea that the list should be seen as an authoritative guide to the *best* places to study Chinese philosophy at the graduate level. I worry primarily because of the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese philosophy subfield itself. Prof. Olberding mentions a number of these above, such as strong programs that don’t make the general rankings, as well as the subfield’s international nature. However, I am not sure if the best course of action is that the PGR reform itself to correct all of these oversights (except for the lack of women in the assessment committee. That should really be fixed). If we only see the rankings as information on “the strongest philosophy departments you could go to and end up writing a dissertation on Chinese philosophy”, I think they still have some utility. What I think Prof. Olberding’s comments demonstrate most readily are the limitations of the utility of that kind of information.

    In this way, I would suggest taking at least these three other factors into account which, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t reflected in the PGR. I consider these things valuable anyway, and perhaps others do as well.

    1) Other training you might want: It’s my view that doing strong work in Chinese philosophy demands some kind of sinological competence, strong linguistic abilities in ancient Chinese (and, if possible, modern Chinese), and an understanding of Chinese history. Maybe some disagree, but at least it’s a reasonable consideration, and on this issue I think that some of the unranked programs might want to be given more consideration than they otherwise would be.

    2) Notable faculty in Chinese philosophy are not just limited to philosophy departments. Strong scholars with the respect of experts in the field may also be working in, say, politics or political science departments, history departments or more general Chinese departments. The list here on WW&W offers this kind of information, while the PGR does not. Perhaps these were considerations of the evaluators, but one cannot be sure from only looking at the list.

    3) Geography: There’s a strong argument to be made that going to a place like Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, or even mainland China would inundate a student in a general philosophical culture that takes Chinese philosophy seriously. There are seminars, conferences, and collaboration at many of the universities here, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to keep up with what’s going on in the Chinese philosophy community in my own backyard. Some of the more geographically isolated schools ranked in Chinese philosophy by the PGR might not give students this experience.

    • I agree, and I’d add that it could be extremely helpful too to have faculty in other depts who work on Chinese materials other than philosophy.

    • All good points. I remember we had a discussion years ago, back when this blog was “Manyul Im’s Chinese Philosophy Blog”, in which a number of these points were raised. For some reason I’m unable to find the discussion online (it must have been in ’07 or ’08), but I remember Manyul mentioned a number of possibilities for PhD study in Chinese Philosophy given the state of the field (still similar today to what it was then), including getting an MA in Chinese, East Asian Studies, or a similar area before pursuing a PhD at a department with only one or two specialists in Chinese Philosophy (like my own). I think it would be really useful to link that discussion, if anyone remembers what I’m talking about and can find it.

      This is what I usually tell prospective UConn PhD students. It would be a terrible idea to come here without any background in Chinese language and history, simply because our offerings in those areas are not very robust, and I have neither the time nor the ability to teach students “from the ground up” in sinology (though I can and have taught Classical Chinese). But for those coming in already having a background in the area (as in my case when I was a grad student here), a program like ours can be a great option, as one will gain a broad training outside of their area that can be very useful when it comes to both landing philosophy positions and engaging in comparative research.

    • Alexus, some of that older discussion was shelved when I did some blog house cleaning. I can dust it off and link it here. I’ll do that sometime later today or tomorrow.

    • I found two discussions from 2008 that fit Alexus’s remembrance; they were originally on my previous, eponymous blog but carried over with everything else onto this one and are a spinoff discussion of the Newsletter that Amy Olberding edited regarding the state of the field.

      Here are the links, in chronological order — these will keep you in this website, but take you to 2008 discussions, which are still open to comments. Please be reminded that some of the discussion is dated — though some still seems relevant and useful for prospective graduate students! (Has it really been 10 years?!)


      http://warpweftandway.com/apa-newsletter-on-the-state-of-the-field/ (I have added this link to our Graduate Programs page.)

  10. Presumably in general, one’s career prospects are influenced significantly by both (a) the overall reputation of one’s graduate program and (b) the strength of one’s program in one’s particular field, among other things. If (a) plays a big role, then something like the PGR perspective would be useful information, though of course it is nowhere close to the whole story.

    For those pursuing careers in Chinese philosophy, how does the relative importance of these seem to shake out? I could see the balance being pretty different than in other fields, since it is still a niche market.

    Oklahoma, for instance, has a pretty nice page on student placement, but the number of data points is small on graduates specifically in Chinese philosophy. If there were a student placement page for the field as a whole . . . that would be really interesting to see.

  11. For the record, we have a doctoral program here at Penn, and several graduates have produced dissertations on Chinese philosophy. Some of them even get jobs and tenure! (Correction: virtually all of them get jobs and tenure.) Year in and year out, this “report” seems to forget that it’s possible to study philosophy in a department other than Philosophy.

  12. Thanks for the positive report, Paul! I have been quite impressed with how much good philosophy some folks who work on China are doing in other departments. Still, it matters a lot what the prospects are in philosophy departments both because (1) students need to know what the wise paths are if they want to get jobs working on Chinese philosophy . . . is it wiser to avoid philosophy departments and chart a course elsewhere? and (2) those of us in philosophy departments who care about the health of our discipline are not satisfied to just write the philosophy world off . . .

    It does look for the moment as though students interested in working on Chinese philosophy should give serious consideration to doing so under a different disciplinary banner.

  13. I think another relevant consideration in determining whether we should focus specifically on philosophy departments (at least sometimes) turns on projects and methodology. While I certainly agree with Paul that it is possible to study Chinese Philosophy outside of philosophy departments, and that these departments have excellent scholars working in the area, it would be pretty much impossible to work on the kinds of projects I (and other philosophers) often work on in a department like Paul’s. “Comparative Philosophy” as many of us do it in philosophy departments would never fly in more sinologically oriented departments. Those more inclined to those projects would probably do better in a philosophy department.

    That said, I’m all for being inclusive about what we count as philosophy. I take it that the PGR is about philosophy departments specifically though (and in the “English speaking world”, which further limits the scope), so it would diverge from its mission to include non-philosophy departments. The WW&W list of graduate programs, on the other hand, need not be limited to philosophy departments. I can see some reason for including the “cognate programs” list, for example (which are on the WW&W list) as part of the main list, instead of in its own distinct category, and offering more information on them as we do for the philosophy programs.

    • I agree with Alexus’s sense that we should both keep distinctions in mind where they may make a difference, and be inclusive and as helpful to different potential users of the information as possible.

      One thing that seems obvious is that we should include the same level of information on cognate programs as we do on philosophy programs. If anyone would like to help out — either by sending me the relevant information for your school, or by doing it for several of those I have listed — that would be fabulous. Otherwise I’ll try to get to it sometime after April.

      Also, if there are other schools that should be listed in the cognate category, speak up! Finally, note that because of Bob Neville’s impending retirement, I have removed Boston University from that list.

    • I don’t see why Alexus says that his work wouldn’t fly in my department. I certainly think it would (and I do have some input). Also, it’s not just East Asian Studies departments that the report doesn’t consider. There’s also Religious Studies. Really, let’s not pretend that nobody in Religious Studies works on Chinese philosophy.

      Disciplines thrive when they become LESS insular.

  14. I certainly didn’t mean that as a knock on you or your department, Paul (which I think highly of). I was thinking more in general– some of the projects philosophers tend to engage in would be harder to pursue in more sinologically oriented departments, but there are of course exceptions. Also–I completely agree about Religious Studies, and it does get *some* attention even in the PGR. Both Indiana and Georgetown are included on the PGR, even though the Chinese Philosophy specialists at there are in Religious Studies and Theology respectively- though I think both are affiliated with Philosophy, which is, I think, why they were included. As far as less insularity–I’m with you 100% on that. One of my main goals in recent years has been to figure out methods to make it easier for those of us in different fields to appreciate and build upon each others’ insights rather than squabble with each other about which projects we should be engaged in.

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