This is Bill Blattner's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Bill Blattner's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Bill Blattner
Washington, DC & Silver Spring, MD
Recent Activity
David Bronstein (Toronto) hired by Georgetown University. AOS: Ancient Philosophy. Previously Assistant Professor at Boston University; Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Faculty of Philosophy, Univ. of Oxford; and Lecturer in Philosophy at Balliol College, Univ. of Oxford
I suspect the graduate student's fears are well-founded, though really in an ideal world they wouldn't be. A cover letter with an explanation, as well as willingness to talk about it in an interview ought to suffice. As someone who does and has sat on search cmtes., it wouldn't influence me personally, but I cannot with confidence suggest that it's not a risky plan.
Having served on a fair number of hiring committees over the years, I think Doris, above, hits the nail on the head. Cases that call for specially sculpted cover letters are places with an unusual or narrow job description, places with an announced special mission, or places that ask in their ad for a rationale for applying for a job in this location (say, and overseas branch of a university) or with this AOS/AOC combination. Whatever you do, don't overdo it. Doris's example of St. Louis was a joke, but be aware that if a Dept. gets a whiff of condescension or a low opinion of their geographical location, they will likely dispense with your file on the spot.
anonymous job-seaker at September 15, 07:33 PM raised the issue of some members of a dept. undermining or sabotaging candidates. To all the job-seekers out there: it happens, but it's rare. There really aren't any procedures that can be put in place to prevent it. You have to hope that the hiring dept. will rein in or discipline such folks, but that's also hard to do.
Eric, yes, I agree with that. It depends on how a paper is organized. If the textual-lingustic material is deeply interwoven sentence to sentence – which is, I assume, what you're describing – then it's hard to skim. Such is life. I didn't meant to criticize that. My main goals in my post were: 1. To explain something to Mohan that, I subsequently discovered, he wasn't requesting an explanation for. (I still have a hard time detecting ribbing on blogs. No faces. No emotions apparent.) 2. To defend Vanity's thought that it might be hard to condense a 40-page paper in the history of philosophy. Finally, as for "Blattner having the jobs," we have only a job, alas.
Mohan, No, I didn't get that. Sorry! You might well be right. I wouldn't know. I'm an historian!
Thanks Jon for the kind comments about my book. (Note that some of my views changed between the two books, and some have changed since! But such is the life of scholarship.) What I did this last time for my explanation to Mohan was write it out in TextEdit (Apple's simple text-editor; I forget the name of the equivalent on Windows), and then copied into the TypePad window.
Here's a condensed version of the long thing I tried to post. A 40 page paper on Leibniz and Suarez, as Vanity hypothesized, might have 12–15 pages of text-wrangling, establishing connections between texts, considering translational issues, arguing for lines of influence via intermediaries, etc. In fact, it could well have 25 pages of that. On my first read, in order to decide whether the paper in particular and file more generally needs a really close look, I'd skim that stuff or even skip it, if possible, and focus on the philosophical moves. In other words, given my predilections and the sorts of hiring we do here at GU, we won't hire someone who only provides evidence of an ability to wrangle texts. We hire folks who do so in order to make a philosophical point. So, if the philosophical bits do not seem novel or interesting on that first read, we'll eliminate the file. If they do seem interesting, we'll pass the file on to the next stage and turn the paper over to the area-experts who can assess the textual, linguistic, and doxographical claims that are made in the paper. Now, you might ask, Why not just submit a truncated paper with just the more purely philosophical bits, without the extensive text-wrangling, linguistic stuff, etc.? The answer is because as a whole historical argument, the attribution of the philosophical upshot to the historical authors, their texts, their era, etc., will depend on the text-wrangling, etc. This is the nature of much scholarship in the history of philosophy. We are all aware of scholars who attribute cool ideas to historical figures, but can't make those ideas stick to the texts. They're creative to the point of abusing history. (If this gets packaged with a comprehensive and novel philosophical vision, say in the case of Wilfrid Sellars or Martin Heidegger, you might want to hire such a person, but not for a job specifically conceived as in history of philosophy.) What's more, many young historical scholars are trained by older scholars who will not countenance not establishing one's textual and historical bonafides by means of text-wrangling, etc. So, many young scholars will not have learned how to write a more purely conceptual or philosophical paper that departs from the texts and examines the development of an idea in an era, for instance. This is usually an ability that scholars acquire after many years of work in an area. We don't want to nip the careers of scholars in the bud just because they cannot yet do what someone like Robert Pippin or Henry Allison can do. That would be insane. But we do want to see some promise of being able to get there someday.
OMG! I wrote this really, really long response to Mohan, clicked "preview," and it's gone. Argh!
One of the points that Vanity makes is really important, and those who aren't text scholars or historians might be less sensitive to it than others. Papers in the history of philosophy – I mean scholarly papers – tend to be long. There's often a lot of text-wrangling that has to go on, sometimes discussions of translational or manuscript issues, etc. It's much harder just to cut to the chase. One of my colleagues in Medieval philosophy typically writes 40–60 papers. Let me expand upon this a little in a best-case scenario and in a not-so-great-case scenario. In a best-case scenario your paper is read by an historian who knows how to read a long paper quickly, skipping over the technical linguistic bits, e.g., in the first-cut stage of the process. In the second-cut stage an historian or two with familiarity with the author about whom you're writing will read the paper and will be able to digest efficiently the technical parts of the paper. Also, all of these readers will understand why the paper is so long. (Of course, if it's long because it's repetitive or badly written, that's another matter. We're assuming that's not the case.) In a not-so-great scenario, your paper is read by someone with more than casual exposure to the author about whom you're writing, but who isn't a text scholar. This person may well get irritated by the length, and in that case it hurts you. So, what to do? For one thing, in a dossier that goes to a dept. with a fair number of historians, you can take the risk of the longer paper. That's my judgment. If the dept. is smaller or doesn't have many historians, that's a much riskier strategy. Ideally, you'd find a way to condense the philosophical juice of the longer paper into a short paper, but you could provide access to the full-length paper to those who want to read it. That way, the more casual reader can say to him- or herself, "Hey, this candidate has some really interesting reflections on Leibniz's nth proof of the existence of God," and the more serious reader can read the longer paper and not be left asking, "Where's the beef?" Mark Lance mentioned that we're advertising in Early Modern here at GU (I'm a colleague of Mark's, and I'm the chair of the Search Cmte). I can tell you that I want to have access to that longer paper, and I won't hold it against you that it's so long. I'll know why it is. Of course, I know nothing else about you other than that your alias is "Vanity" and you write on Early Modern (perhaps Leibniz) and Medieval (Boethius and perhaps Suarez). All this being said, as a general matter, without special considerations, 40-page papers are not a great idea.
Another thought about this thread, this one concerning the equity issues that have been raised. Suppose a dept. moves entirely to video conference interviews or forgoes interviews altogether. Some candidates for the job will likely be at the APA anyhow, and some members of the search cmte. might be too. A candidate might go to a dept.'s table at the Smoker and talk to a member of the search cmte. and get a leg up that way. How could this worry be alleviated? Options: 1. No one from the search cmte goes to the APA. (This might not be possible, and it's an odd result.) 2. No one from the search cmte talk to job candidates at the APA. (This can end up creating some really awkward situations.) 3. All the interviews and the decisions about whom to bring to campus be made before the APA. This is perhaps the best solution, but it might not always be so easy to do, depending on a lot of scheduling factors.
We at Georgetown are searching this year – yes, Rebecca Kukla and I are on the same search cmte, and I am finding this conversation fascinating and informative. Thank you all! A few comments: 1) We have posted our ad with, which an Australian member of our dept. says is checked by overseas job-seekers. When we put the ad up in, the APA wasn't even responding to our office's inquiries about the status of JFP, etc., and so for a while I feared that the month of October would pass us by before an ad were published. Anyone on the job market should be checking that site in addition to the JFP, and in the interim can begin to identify depts. he or she would want to apply to without the filter of the APA. 2) One consideration that comes into play in some searches, such as the one we're conducting this year, is that one is sometimes forced to search simultaneously in several areas of expertise, but is only authorized in advance to hire one person. So, if one is searching in three areas, A, B, and C, one might well be able to narrow the applicant pool down to four or five people in each area. One cannot likely bring 12–15 folks to campus, and so some sort of first-round interview is almost essential in order to decide whom to bring to campus. This does not tell between the Skype and APA interview options, but it does offer a consideration in favor of doing some kind of interview. 3) It is natural for any job-applicant to be nervous about any interview at any stage of the process. Seeking a job, esp. if one is currently without a secure job, is a high-stakes business for the applicant, and hiring is a high-stakes business for most depts. Hiring someone into one's dept. is a major commitment, and in most cases involves laying out a lot of money, putting one's dept.'s reputation into play internally with deans and the like, and in all cases but at the most highly ranked depts. involves a prima facie commitment to nurture the new hire toward tenure. (I'm not suggesting the most highly ranked depts. do not nurture their new hires, but only that there's more of a sink-or-swim, prove-to-us-that-you're-worthy-of-staying-here ethos in the most highly regarded depts. Whether that's a good thing is another matter altogether.) All of this high-stakes stuff means that applicants will be nervous, and search cmtes. will be under stress. I do believe that interviews can be shaped, with the proper leadership and values, towards reducing that stress as much as possible and bringing out the best in the candidates. I hope I'm not just naive.
Well, one function certainly is to take positions on national educational policy. Perhaps that's not what you had in mind, however. Another is to conduct hiring in compliance with national employment regulations. I don't think there's any specifically philosophical function to such organizations, however.
I have served on the Graduate Admissions Cmte at Georgetown on and off for a decade. I think that Brian pretty much hits the nail on the head. You want to send the paper that puts your best foot forward. You're not expected to be already engaged in cutting edge debates when entering grad school; you get drawn in in gad school, as Aaron notes above. I would, however, not strongly recommend sending two papers. Admissions cmte members have A LOT of papers to read, and they don't want to read two from a single candidate — esp. if they're moderate length to long — unless there's an exceptional reason for doing so. E.g., if you're interested in both European and Anglophone philosophy, it might be wise to send a paper on both, say, Husserl and mind-body eliminativism, in order to appeal to diverse sides of a dept. or cmte. And there's nothing wrong with having two papers in your quiver, to send to depts. with varying interests, as long as they're both strong.
I'd much prefer to see this coming at the expense of the defense budget, for example, but IF I understand the numbers right, < $207 per annum per capita from grad students so that Pell Grants get a needed increase, that strikes me as a not unreasonable choice between two unfortunate options. Surely basic tertiary education for the underprivileged is more important than additional grad students.
Grijalva (whom I respect) writes: "Progressives have been organizing for months to oppose any scheme that cuts Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and it now seems clear that even these bedrock pillars of the American success story are on the chopping block." From my read that's not right. Soc Sec and Medicaid are untouched. Medicare payments to providers (but not benefits per se) are cut. Of course, during the Nov. negotiations anything could in principle happen, but Obama has veto power. If no deal is reached in November, defense spending is slashed. IMHO that's better than raising taxes. And if nothing happens in Nov., the Bush Tax Cuts expire at the end of 2012 automatically.
Michael, I hadn't thought about the terms that carefully, but on reflection I think that you're right (as Mark acknowledges and embraces). I am somewhat less confrontational than some others — I mean "confrontational" descriptively — and so I think I'll stick with my preferred phrasing, "those scholars/departments who self-identify as Continentalist/analytic." It's clumsy, but accurate and not, I hope, nasty.
I think that Rebecca is right that the PGR has made great strides in trying to broaden its scope and reach, but that Mark is also right that it still excludes "party-line" Continentalists and most of the sociological circle of those trained in departments that self-identify as Continentalist. I suspect — but Brian should speak for himself — that this reflects the judgment of the impresario of the PGR that "party-line" Continental philosophy is not very good. Now, Mark has made some vague suggestions about how one might try to conduct a more inclusive survey and ranking. It is here where I have a problem, and not with Mark's suggestions so much as with the goal. It is why I also recommend to those who ask me that they should treat the PGR as a source of information, but not pay too much mind to the rankings: I don't think rankings are all that useful. What I'd much prefer to see is some sort of "information clearinghouse" that would be pluralist in Mark's sense. I've never thought very hard about information theory, and so I have no concrete ideas about what that could mean. But the basic idea is, a database where students could go to look at lists of departments sorted by any number of more or less factual criteria: placement rate, number of faculty listing X as an AOS, etc., with links to the departments' faculty lists. That would be really useful. I don't think that rankings are all that useful. I don't think there very often is "the best overall department in the country," and I think it does real damage to the profession to think in those terms.
Don't forget that George W. Bush made his fortune by getting Arlington to build a new stadium for his Rangers, which then vastly increased the value of the team not by winning, but by transferring funds from the people to his own investment.
More corrections for Georgetown, this time for the affiliated faculty list. Delete the following names: Alo[n]so (was visitor) Farre (long retired) Houck (was visitor) Marder (was visitor) Riley (was visitor) Soyarslan (was visitor)
It's important to disentangle several issues here: 1. What the criteria should be for creating or closing departments as semi-autonomous units within a university. 2. What the criteria should be for allocating university resources to various disciplines of study. 3. The professional ethics of laying off tenured faculty after a university's central administration decides to close a department. (That is, as opposed to merging departments into a larger unit or redistributing tenured faculty into other units.) I use the term "professional ethics" since the legality of all this is a technical matter that likely does not enjoy the same analysis at different institutions and in different jurisdictions.
I'm not well versed in which economists say what, but I do think that John's post captures a more or less explicit line of thought driving some of the resistance to financing a robust public higher education system. Indeed, some of the logic of this way of thinking infects attitudes towards primary and secondary education. If one does not view education as a public good, then one starts to ask whether one's tax dollars are disproportionately helping others with whom one does not identify.
Just a niggling point: the balance sheet on the the games at the Verizon Center is not just rental costs and ticket sales, but also Big East payments and TV rights. Still, your basic point is right, that few if any of us have any clear idea about the monetary loss or gain on such a program, much less a very clear sense of the educational purpose of having big-time sports teams.
Just for the record, the Cato Institute devotes a good deal of attention to the economics of illegal immigration. That doesn't contradict Lance's observation, since they aren't either mainstream or left, but it is worth noting.
It would be interesting to know more about this. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that better outcomes are associated with certain sorts of on-campus life. For one thing, it is easier to keep track of students, "catch them before they fall," etc. when they live on campus. I'm very doubtful about the outcome-efficacy of much of the frills that are provided nowadays by high-end universities.