Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hysterical Nationalism on Canadian Campuses

A while ago, Canada’s University Affairs (the official organ of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) published an article by two philosophers, Louis Groarke and Wayne Fenske, about an alleged bias in Canadian universities against PhDs from Canadian universities. It’s a bit late to notice a piece of this sort, but I found it a deeply depressing manifestation of aggressive Canadian nationalism, a nationalism that tries to exclude anything or anybody that originates outside the country’s boundaries.
Here is the authors’ summary of data from 15 major Canadian philosophy departments:
No of positions Foreign PhD Canadian PhD Toronto PhD Other Can. PhD
331 229 102 50 52

69.2% 30.8% 15.1% 15.7%

They conclude: “Either major programs in Canada are discriminating, at least in some cases, against equally qualified candidates with Canadian PhDs; or, graduate programs in Canada are turning out inferior students who cannot compete with their counterparts with non-Canadian PhDs.” (The Toronto figures are disaggregated in order to show that this university does much better than others--or, as the authors say, "slightly better".)


It’s very hard to figure out how they arrived at this conclusion. Canada produces (far) fewer than 10% of the philosophy PhDs granted in North America; and God only knows what tiny proportion of PhDs in the world. How can 30% representation justify the conclusion that Canadian philosophy departments discriminate against Canadian PhDs? Moreover, as Eric Lewis, then placement officer in the McGill philosophy department, points out in a comment on Groarke and Fenske: “Their data is consistent with every single Canadian-produced PhD in philosophy finding a tenure track job in philosophy.” (“Has the elementary notion of a base-rate fallacy really been kept that close a secret?” asks Tim Kenyon.)


Of course, G&F evoked some wild-eyed paranoia in response. This is Canada, after all. One Maria Torres writes: “My field is mathematics. I can say that similar to the PhD in philosophy, the composition of most mathematics departments of Canadian universities consists of professors who obtained at least one degree (B Sc, M Sc or Ph D) from a non Canadian university. Some Canadian students are advised to obtain their Ph D in USA if they ever hope to get a tenure track position.” Wow! And hers is one of the milder comments on G&F.

The North American academic job market is a more or less open one. Canadian PhDs apply for jobs all over Canada and the US, not to mention the rest of the world. The authors make no effort to show that PhDs from Canadian universities are less successful at getting jobs than their counterparts in philosophy departments of comparable quality. As Robert Stainton wrote: “Placing Canadian doctoral programs alongside not Princeton or Harvard, but, say, Arizona State, University of Kansas or University of Nebraska, it is evident that graduates from analogous Canadian programs fare rather better.”


Remember this is not a complaint about non-Canadians being hired by Canadian universities. It is a complaint about Canadian PhDs not being hired. (To labour the point: some Canadians get their PhDs in other countries; some non-Canadians get their PhDs in Canada.) There is NO LAW that mandates any preference on this score. It is therefore illegal to prefer Canadian PhDs. (I assume that the only legal ground for discrimination is a legally mandated ground.)


Groarke and Fenske conclude this way:

Morality requires at the very least full disclosure. Potential students applying to Canadian PhD programs should be informed about the trends reported in this article. Students hoping for academic distinction or high-level employment should, it seems, be dissuaded from enrolling in Canadian programs. Any other approach would be intellectually dishonest.


I have no words. These are two philosophers. And this is the way they talk about morality.

(Cross-posted at NewAPPS: http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/08/letter-from-canada-hysterical-nationalism-unabated-on-campuses.html)

1 comment:

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