Helen De Cruz and Prestige Bias (in Canadian Philosophy Departments)

I greatly admire Helen De Cruz who, in my view, exhibits a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusivity in philosophy, something that is rarer than most philosophers want to acknowledge. I especially appreciate the empirical and analytical work on prestige bias in philosophy that Helen has initiated and developed. In particular, I want to commend Helen on her persistent reference to how prestige bias and ableism coalesce and are mutually reinforcing, although I hope that she will revise the ontology of disability that her claims assume, as well as the terminology that she uses to articulate them.

(In a future post, I will return to discussion of how disability is represented in discursive practice, drawing upon claims made in a rather uninformed conversation about disability and language that recently took place on social media in order to do so. To find out where that discussion will lead, go here.)

A recent post at the APA Blog in which Helen discusses prestige bias (among other biases) reminded me of a post which I wrote for Discrimination and Disadvantage that zeros in on how this particular bias manifests in the context of philosophy in Canada, citing and linking to an article in University Affairs by Christine Daigle.

I wrote the aforementioned post because I think it is imperative that philosophers, including feminist philosophers, critically attend to and evaluate how the homogeneity of the discipline and profession in general are variously reproduced (or not) in different geopolitical contexts; that is, when geopolitical discrepancies with respect to the composition of the profession are pointed out, they should, I submit, be subsequently acknowledged and addressed rather than ignored or obscured.

For example, I have pointed out that the percentage of women in Canadian philosophy departments (almost all of whom are nondisabled and white) hovers at about 35% of full-time faculty. Nevertheless, the claim that 20-25% of full-time philosophy faculty are women, a figure taken from the U.S. context, is repeatedly cited and generalized on social media, in philosophy journals, at philosophy conferences, and so on. As I argue below, this sort of obfuscation conceals factors that may uniquely produce the homogeneity of the philosophical communities in given geopolitical contexts elsewhere, that is, beyond the U.S.

The earlier post on prestige bias in Canadian philosophy departments is copied below in its original form.


Discussions about underrepresentation and diversity in philosophy tend to cover over how the factors that influence the demographics of the profession at large can vary, in some cases quite dramatically, from one geopolitical arena to another.

In previous posts (for example, here), I have drawn attention to how underrepresentation of certain constituencies is produced in Canadian philosophy departments, in part because many philosophers (including many Canadian philosophers) seem to take for granted that the situation of groups underrepresented in U.S. philosophy departments and the strategies developed to ameliorate this state of affairs in the American context can be straightforwardly implemented as a template for diversity work in the philosophical communities of other countries.  

In a provocative post, Helen De Cruz demonstrated that prestige bias largely determines hiring decisions in U.S. philosophy departments at present, pointing out (among other things) how this bias exacerbates the biases that members of certain underrepresented constituencies in philosophy already confront.

Prestige bias also significantly influences hiring decisions in Canadian philosophy departments: most of the philosophers hired in Canadian philosophy departments got their degrees from universities in the U.S. In other words, Canadian philosophy departments do not hire philosophers with degrees from most Canadian universities, an important determinant in the homogeneous composition of Canadian philosophy departments.

Philosophers employed full-time in philosophy departments in Canada do what they can to avoid discussion of this way in which prestige bias manifests and is reproduced in the context of Canadian philosophy departments. Understandably so: most of them took their degrees from American universities, Oxford, or Cambridge.

Nevertheless, one Canadian feminist philosopher, Christine Daigle, has repeatedly drawn attention to the ways in which this production and reproduction of prestige bias disadvantages Canadian graduates. In a recent University Affairs article entitled “The Value of Where You Earned Your PhD,” Daigle writes:

In my experience in the humanities, hiring committees are consistently wowed by American degrees, degrees from our own Canadian big-league universities or from some prestigious European universities. I assume that this is how applicants with extremely strong CVs, but from institutions that don’t count as big league, get passed over in favour of candidates from prestigious schools who have much less to boast of in terms of publications or teaching experience.

The assumption that someone with a PhD from a big-name university is a better candidate regardless of their accomplishments begs the question of how we value the PhDs we award at other Canadian universities. I understand how members of hiring committees who have degrees from big-name schools would tend to favour such degrees. They may be attached to their alma mater and overvalue its worth. However, that hiring committees composed of folks with PhDs mostly from non-big-league schools would consistently favour candidates from the big-league schools is mind-boggling to me. Why would they discriminate against their own graduates or graduates from similar schools? What does this say about what they think of their own degrees?

Listen to/read the entire article by Daigle here.

The original post at Discrimination and Disadvantage is here.

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