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02/13/2015

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Mark Lance

I'm not disinclined to believe any of these conclusions. In fact, I think there is fairly broad evidence for them. But to make an argument on the basis of this sort of statistical evidence, you have to take into account not merely differences in faculty quality - I assume that's what they are trying to do with the "observed inequalities in faculty production rates" - but differences in what students go there in the first place. We all have admissions. The best students - well, let's say the students deemed best at admission by a huge number of programs, including those of us who are not in the top tier - overwhelmingly choose these top places for grad school. If there is anything substantive to our admissions procedures, they are getting better grad students. And that would be an explanation for those students getting the best jobs even if the training at the higher ranked school were not better.

Again, not saying that there aren't networks, in-groups, all that. But inferring from "most of the top jobs go to students at the top schools" to such conclusions seems to me to be questionable.

Gregory B. Sadler

"The best students - well, let's say the students deemed best at admission by a huge number of programs, including those of us who are not in the top tier - overwhelmingly choose these top places for grad school."

I'd say that holds for some students, but not for all. If you're first generation college, or attend an undergrad institution where very few people go on to grad school, you might have no idea about how the game works -- you just apply to places that seem reasonable to you, and that might not include the "top-tier".

My GRE scores were high enough (I maxed what was back then the "Analytic" section) that, along with my GPA, writing sample, etc. I could have been admitted pretty much anywhere I might apply (and I was admitted to every place I did, some with fellowships, others not).

I ended up picking Southern Illinois University Carbondale - where I actually ended up getting a great, but not prestige-conferring graduate education - because they offered me the best fellowship, and their office staff seemed like they knew what they were doing (which was decidedly not the case with some of the other schools). I passed on considerably more prestigious schools on the basis of criteria that, at the time, seemed reasonable enough to me.

I suspect I'm not the only person who took such a path into graduate school

Eric Schliesser

Marc, I think your objection is met in this line: "Under a meritocracy, the observed placement rates would imply that faculty with doctorates from the top 10 units are inherently two to six times more productive than faculty with doctorates from the third 10 units. The magnitude of these differences makes a pure meritocracy seem implausible, suggesting the influence of nonmeritocratic factors like social status."

I do think there is an interesting question about to what degree grad admissions is based on the right sort of criteria.But I am not familiar with good studies of this.

Mitchell Aboulafia

Mark, where is the statistical evidence that the best students overwhelmingly choose "top" tier schools? George raised a good point about this, but in addition, there is just a lot of misinformation around. For example, I believe that you will find test scores and GPAs of students at Stony Brook comparable to those at the so-called top tier schools. And when I was at Penn State--things may have changed since then--the GREs of our students were comparable to those at top tier schools. It was not unusual for us to have students with perfect scores. These students chose these schools becuase they offered an alternative to the kind of education found at "top" tier schools, not because their grades or test scores were lower. And now they will be stigmatized as not as good. There is more than one reason for this, of course, but no doubt the rankings have helped reinforce this and other points that Eric makes. (To back Gregory up here: I was a first generation college grad in my family. I knew that there was a difference between so-called analytic schools and continental ones, but as 22 year old I had no idea of how my decision to go to Boston College--a place that regularly had important European figures like Gadamer, and excellent scholars like Jacques Taminuax, on the faculty, and after I left Habermas--would mark me for life. What I knew was that Boston College was in Boston and so was my girlfriend, with whom I wanted to live. They offered me a sweet deal, and there was a consortium so I could take courses and meet philosophers at schools all around Boston. So what was not to like at the time......at 22.)

Mitchell Aboulafia

P.S. I should note that I believe that GREs have limited predictive value regarding who succeeds in graduate school. Once students have a certain set of skills, other factors are going to kick in. I prefer to rely more on grades, course work, writing samples, and letters. I mentioned the GREs because they are so often offered as evidence for a department having "top" students.

Gordon Hull

Hi Eric,

Interesting, and probably (depressingly) right. I haven't read beyond the abstract, but this new study looks at communications and claims that faculty hiring has less to do with quality of doctoral education than networking between individual faculty.

hmm - can't get typepad to embed the link. It's here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2549456

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