The end of my first semester as a philosophy graduate student at Marquette is approaching, though its sight is still obscured by the many papers I have yet to complete. Dedicated to our work but also to our social well-being, fellow students and I have been trying to mix our work with our weekend activities. This works out better than you might think, if only because at the very minimum it preserves our sanity.
This past weekend–during reading reflections, wine, paper discussions, hot chocolate–we took up the subject of department rankings, taking turns railing on Brian Lieter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report. His rankings focus on faculty reputation more than student satisfaction. He seems to be biased toward analytic philosophy. Marquette didn’t even choose to participate in his project. And so on. Main point: we don’t think he has the best approach or point of view to tell people where to go study philosophy.
There is another online guide to philosophy programs, compiled by an advisory board of eclectic philosophers as opposed to just almighty Brian Leiter: The Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy Programs. Their methodology is honest, their questions relevant and investigative of specific aspects of departments that make them suitable to specific student interests. Also, they don’t give you a hierarchical, top-10 ranking of departments, but instead make two lists for each philosophical category: strongly recommended and recommended. Therein, the schools are listed alphabetically so that no one department is stomping on the one below it.
Here is how the Pluralist’s Guide decides which department makes the “Strongly Recommended” and the “Recommended” list (in this case, for continental philosophy):
“Strongly Recommended departments have indications that graduate students will be encouraged and supported to pursue work in this area, will find a supportive community of scholars and mentors, and will be able to write a state of the art dissertation in continental philosophy.
Recommended departments have indications that graduate students will be encouraged and supported to pursue work in continental philosophy.”
So, though we talked a bit of smack about the ranking of departments, we were supportive of the classifying of departments as conducted by the Pluralist’s Guide. And we were all plenty pleased to see our very own Marquette on the “Strongly Recommended” list, along with Emory, BC, Vanderbilt, Duquesne, and a few others! Not to get competitive, but schools like U Chicago, Northwestern, and Georgetown were merely “recommended.” This of course does not mean that these schools are not great schools; the point, which the Pluralist’s Guide recognizes and we ought not to miss, is that different schools have different strengths, and students should focus on the matching of their strengths with that of the department they apply to, not just blindly reach for the most famous and celebrated of scholars.
It will be years until I get there but it pleases me to be in a philosophy department which, given my interests and its strengths, will give me the resources to be able to write a “state of the art” dissertation.