Thursday, January 22, 2009

What does 'pluralistic department' actually mean?

Are there departments billed as 'pluralistic' in which the faculty members' differing perspectives actually lead to improvements in teaching or research, or does 'pluralistic department' just mean that the department is in a perpetual low-grade civil war whose battles are fought in faculty meetings? Or do the members of the different factions just ignore each other and get on with whatever it is they're doing?


Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that it's one of the latter two. I've always read it as, "There's a range philosophical methodologies and traditions practiced here, so you're likely to find someone you think is flat-out weird. Or maybe than one. Maybe half the department. You better be okay with that. You've been forewarned."

Anonymous said...

When I interviewed with my current department I was told that it was pluralistic on the phone. I took this to mean that it wasn't predominantly analytic, and that there were diverse interests in the department. But I have frankly found this not to be much of an issue. While there is one member whose interests are clearly out of line with everybody else's, and which causes some grief, for the most part everybody is just trying to do good work. Nobody seems to be especially ideological which is the real concern.

actual_name said...

I'm a Ph.D student in a 'pluralistic department' (in the sense that the faculty and graduate students share a relatively broad and diverse range of research interests compared to other, similarly ranked programs). It's one of the best in the U.S., I'd say, and certainly one the largest. For these reason it's unlike the vast majority of 'pluralistic departments' in the U.S., which tend to be quite small and (let's face it) further down the Leiter food chain.

That said, I've found that the hiring process moves much more slowly here than at other departments. (I say this has one who has participated in this process here for several years.) More than a couple incredible hiring opportunities have slipped past us as a result. But not because of any "low-grade civil war whose battles are fought in faculty meetings". It's just that there are more moving parts, more factions to please, and more goals to pursue--not to mention a reputation to protect. We're methodical to a fault.

There is plenty more I could say about being a graduate student at a 'pluralistic department'--and probably should say, since admissions season is almost upon us--but I suspect that's not what the original post was after. (But please correct me if I'm wrong, and I'd be happy to share.)

an ominous moderator said...

Yeah, what's it like being a graduate student in a pluralistic department?

junior tt said...

One thing that 'pluralistic department' can mean is "prepare for a knock-down, drag-out fight when it comes to future hires." I think that it was David Lewis who once said, "every hire is a fight for the soul of the department."

When your department is (a) fairly evenly split between, say, faculty who are largely analytically oriented and those who are continentally oriented and (b) the hire could result in a majority for one of these groups and (c) departmental policies, including areas for future hirings, are decided by departmental majority, then get out your slaughter-house gear.

Lewis was right.

NCSF said...

I did my graduate work at two different 'pluralist' departments. The first (where I did my MA) was one that was split in two. One side was all for Ancient/Medieval, the other side was Applied. It was beneficial for an MA because of the breadth it offered, but it would have been horrendous for a PhD. The second (where I did my PhD) was pluralistic in an individual sense. There were some common themes, but for the most part the faculty all did their own work in separate, highly specialized areas. This was beneficial in being able to work on whatever one (meaning the graduate student) wanted to work on, but the downside was not having a strong collection of scholars who could advise concerning the same subject matter. I found both departments to be a bit rebellious when it came to 'mainstream' philosophy: both were collectively suspicious of the APA; both were disparaging regarding the PGR; both advocated involvement in small, specialized organizations and associations.

Anonymous said...

I think it means many things, it really depends on the particular departmental culture. So I'd be very wary of using it as a way of deciding things about self-proclaimed pluralistic depts as a whole, positive or negative. ie: thinking it's just a mask for bad philosophy, for a screwed up departmental culture, or that it marks a wonderful richness in philosophical perspectives and so on. Yes, it will mean its a dept with people working in more than one approach/tradition, but I think that's about all. I say this as someone who went to grad school and then got a job in self-proclaimed pluralistic depts - even different faculty within the depts will have different approaches to it. So if you're wondering about grad school at such a place, find out much more at the local level.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:19 says, "Yes, it will mean its a dept with people working in more than one approach/tradition, but I think that's about all."

I think that is absolutely correct.
And, note that 'pluralist' depts. are not simply divided into 'analytic' and 'continental' approaches. There is really a LOT more going on out here than those categories suggest.

The real question is, is this program 'pluralist' because the members believe it is best for their students [undergrads and grad students], or because of some history which might lead to in-fighting?

There really is something to be said, for us philosophers, to not becoming too narrow - especially early on in our careers. We are supposed to be people who seek wisdom. Why assume it comes from only one methodological approach or perspective?