Philosophers in Administration

One of my concerns about the Academy is the state of its administration. I’ve got no hard data on this score, but there don’t seem to be that many Foleys around (some though: Holly Smith, Myles Brand, and Marshall Swain come to mind, but that seems like a quite small number of elite philosophers in such positions). One explanation would be that there aren’t that many good philosophers interested in such positions, but I think that’s not quite right. I’ve been talking with friends at some recent conferences about this issue, and have learned of superbly qualified and very impressive individuals who, at least in principle, are open to considering such positions.

There is no Platonic vision of the philosopher-king behind these remarks, but there are two points worth mentioning. First, if we control for other factors, smarter is better when it comes to administrators. Anyway, I’ll leave as suppressed premises the rest of this argument! Second, and this is most relevant here, the future of philosophy in the Academy is not enough of a given that we don’t need people in such positions. We need people who understand the importance of philosophy to the Academy, and there is no better way to achieve that than to find ways to get the Foleys of our discipline in such positions.

These points, I expect, are commonly appreciated among philosophers, but if they are, I wonder about the lack of representation here. Maybe it’s that we are a small discipline and lose out to more powerful departments. Maybe it’s that there aren’t that many philosophers willing to take on such positions (though the discussions referred to above make me suspicious of this explanation). Maybe it’s that philosophers as a group are not gifted at the kind of political calculations necessary to make such appointments happen. Any other explanations? In any case, it’s worth seeing what we can do about this, and I’d be happy to recommend some of the people I’ve heard about if your university will be doing a search next year. It is probably best done by email, and I would need to get permission before passing any names along, but this is certainly worth looking into.


Comments

Philosophers in Administration — 9 Comments

  1. I fully agree with your comments. Additionally, I do think there is something to be said for the metaphilosophical views of Plato and Aristotle (among others), which conceived of the role of the philosopher as noble. Although I wouldn’t equate this philosophic nobility with some aristocratic, I would say that it is a higher pursuit–that it takes a special insight and approach to the world to appreciate.

    That being said, I think this conception of philosophy combined with the image of philosopher [and philosophers] outside of the philosophy departments make a persuasive case that philosophers in academia need to become adminstrators. There seems to be a question remaining, however: who would be willing to give up teaching, and to some extent philosophizing to become and adminstrator. It seems almost in one sense that a philosopher must [in part] give up his/her philosophizing in order to adminstrate. I personally would not want the job, although I would acknowledge the job needs to be done.

  2. I fully agree with your comments. Additionally, I do think there is something to be said for the metaphilosophical views of Plato and Aristotle (among others), which conceived of the role of the philosopher as noble. Although I wouldn’t equate this philosophic nobility with something aristocratic. I would say that it is a higher pursuit–that it takes a special insight and approach to the world to appreciate what is is to be a philosopher philosophizing.

    That being said, I think this conception of philosophy combined with the image of philosophy [and philosophers] outside of the philosophy departments make a persuasive case that philosophers in academia need to become adminstrators. There seems to be a question remaining, however: who would be willing to give up teaching, and to some extent philosophizing to become and adminstrator (aside from those you mentioned). It seems almost in one sense that a philosopher must [in part] give up his/her philosophizing in order to adminstrate. I personally would not want the job, although I would acknowledge the job needs to be done.

  3. Hi, Jimmy, you’re certainly right that curtailment of philosophical activity results from taking on administrative duties, but there’s always the Foley counterexample to the idea that you can’t do both. Depends on the person how much of it is abandoned.

  4. Some other philosophers in adminstrations.

    Amy Gutman, President of the University of Pennsylvania.
    Previously Provost at Princeton University
    Before that: Dean of the Faculty, Princeton University

    Paul Benacerraf, ex Provost at Princeton University

    John Etchemendy, Provost, Stanford University

    John Silber, ex President and ex Chancellor of Boston University
    Previously Dean at University of Texas
    Alasdair MacIntyre, ex Dean at Boston University

    Jerry Schneewind, ex Provost at Hunter College, CUNY

  5. Thanks for the reminder, Gil. In light of the additions, I wonder if my claim of underrepresentation is questionable. I guess I still think we are underrepresented, but I wonder if you were perhaps thinking not?

  6. I think that more philosophers are or have been administrators than it may seem at first.
    Some other cases that come to mind:
    Donald Crawford was a dean, UC-Santa Barbara
    David Kaplan was head of the Faculty Senate, UCLA
    Burton Dreben was Dean of the Graduate School, Harvard
    John Wallace was in the Administration, U. of Minnesota
    John Searle was in the Administration (in the 1960s) at UC Berkeley

    I’m sure these are just a few of a great many.

    Gil

  7. Part of what we’d need, if we’re trying to estimate how well represented we are as a profession, is how large a fraction of academe we comprise. Here at IU, for example, my back-of-the-envelope calculation puts philosophy somewhere between 4 and 5% of the total full time faculty on campus. I would imagine that you won’t find very many universities (except perhaps Catholic schools)where that number is much bigger, and probably many where it’s somewhat smaller (places without graduate philosophy degrees, for example).

    So maybe there don’t seem to be that many philosophers in admin because there just aren’t really that many philosophers, period?

  8. (1) If, indeed, philosophers are underrepresented at higher levels of administration, one explanation might be that because a very high percentage of university revenue is derived from overhead charges on very-high-dollar contracts and grants, one strong requirement for high-level authority is the ability to attract and administer such grants. Since most of these grants are given in science, engineering, and the health sciences, and very few are even available to philosophers, faculty in other disciplines will have an important qualification that many philosophers will lack. (I am not claiming that philosophers can’t administer that aspect of the finances of a university, only that they won’t be able to prove their competence by having lots of big grants on their CVs).

    (2) Even if it could be shown that philosophers, on average, have comparatively high “intelligence” (whatever that turns out to be), I’m not convinced that this translates into the kind of practical understanding that is required of a successful administrator. I’m reminded of the time I was riding in an elevator at an APA convention with a very distinguished philosopher who …. Well, prudence counsels that I not finish that story. Suffice it to say that theoretical understanding is not strongly correlated with practical wisdom, at least in my experience.

    (3) It has not, fortunately, been my experience that non-philosophers in academics do not understand the importance of philosophy in particular or the liberal arts and sciences in general. Of course some do not, but they have been in the minority. Many faculty in “vocational” “disciplines” lack an appreciation of the value of a liberal education but–again in my experience–they tend not to rise to positions of significant authority.

    (4) Part of the reason for the twin tracks available to academics–administrator versus teacher/scholar–is that university professors have delegated increasingly more administrative duties to professionals to free themselves up to devote more of their time to other activities. If we want to have genuine faculty governance, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and spend a big chunk of our time filling out the forms and sitting through the meetings.

  9. It should also be mentioned that Michael Hooker had a long and fairly distinguished career in admistration. At the time of his death in 1999, he was the chancellor of UNC, but before that he had been president of Bennington College (at age 36), of University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and of the UMass system.

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