I’d like to raise what I imagine may be a touchy subject but one worth the attention of those in the philosophy profession: We occasionally hear of efforts to shut down undergraduate philosophy degree programs, but rarely do we hear of efforts to shut down Ph.D. granting philosophy programs. In fact, my own perception is that one or two new philosophy doctoral programs open annually. My question is whether this growth in doctoral programs is healthy, or whether we might conclude that the profession would be healthier with fewer such programs.
I certainly won’t be as bold as Ralph Luker at History News Network, who goes so far as to make recommendations about which history Ph.D. programs should close their doors. But it can hardly be disputed that there are enough philosophy doctoral programs to replenish the profession’s teaching needs. Just consider the English-speaking philosophy community: There are Ph.D. programs at the great majority of flagship state university campuses, and in more populous states (California, New York, Florida, Michigan) there are multiple Ph.D. programs at state campuses. California, where I live and work, has at least eight. Add in what I would figure to be several dozen programs at private universities and we arrive at the 110 philosophy Ph.D programs in the U.S. reported by Brian Leiter in the Philosophical Gourmet Report. I don’t know the comparable numbers in Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, but I imagine that those nations would bring the total number close to 200 — and growing.
Given that the academic job market continues to be tepid — the APA reports about that there are at least 3 candidates for every 2 advertised positions, despite a steady increase in the number of positions advertised — it seems hard to justify that many Ph.D.-granting programs in philosophy on grounds of need. Doubtless Ph.D. programs provide benefits to their institutions and the faculty who teach in them. And perhaps some would find this abundance of programs benign, or even a sign of a healthy profession. But I’m less confident of this. Might there be ethical reasons to have fewer philosophy doctoral programs? And if so, is there anyway to go about shrinking the overall number?
CODA: I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those affiliated with Ph.D. programs (as faculty or students) your thoughts on the matter. Has anyone ever seriously discussed closing your program?