In consultation with a few other faculty at U.C. Riverside, I worked up a draft proposal, which I will present to my colleagues at tomorrow's faculty meeting, in hopes that the department will adopt it, perhaps with revisions.
I thought I'd share it here. Suggestions for revision welcome. I have crafted the proposal specifically for the situation at UCR, and I expect not all features of it will translate well to other departments. However, please feel free to adapt any portion of it you find useful.
Please note: This proposal is not yet adopted and might never be. Myisha Cherry, John Fischer, Kim Frost, and Howard Wettstein also contributed to this document. As such documents ordinarily must, it represents a compromise among competing views.
Public Philosophy in
Merit and Promotion Files
Public philosophy advances the university’s mission and can play an important role in Philosophy Department members’ cases for merit advances and promotions.
No philosophy department member is expected to have public philosophy contributions in their file. However, department members with substantial contributions to public philosophy should earn appropriate recognition for those contributions.
Characterization of Public Philosophy
Public philosophy can include:
- philosophical writings, oral presentations, and other communications of philosophical ideas aimed at non-academic audiences (e.g., an op-ed in the New York Times, a public talk at UCR Palm Desert, a blog or podcast with a broad audience, a presentation in a high school classroom or at a public “Night of Philosophy”, or a white paper shared with a regulatory body);
- study of how the public engages with philosophy (e.g., examination of the role of Twitter in the uptake a philosophical ideas, discussion of how and why certain historical figures are or are not conceived of by the public as great philosophers);
- application of philosophical ideas or approaches to issues of public interest (e.g., philosophical analysis of near-death experiences, Black Lives Matter, or the regulation of toxic substances).
Public philosophy need not be, and typically will not be, published in academic journals.
We note that historically influential philosophers, from Socrates through Dewey, have often directed much of their work toward a broad public.
Research, Service, and Teaching
Public philosophy can count as research or service, or occasionally as teaching. Ideally, this should be by agreement between the faculty member and the department.
To count as research, public philosophy must constitute substantial knowledge creation and not just, for example, a summary of the work of others. However, summaries of the work of others can count as public philosophy under the heading of service or teaching.
Given the nature of U.C. and faculty members’ expected roles in our PhD program, faculty members who contribute to public philosophy must also continue to regularly publish “technical/scholarly” work for academic audiences, advancing specialized knowledge in their subdiscipline. For this reason, no more than half of the research expectations in a merit or promotion file can be satisfied by public philosophy aimed at non-academic rather than academic audiences. For example, if the expectation for a two-year cycle is at least two substantial research articles, a faculty member with a strong public philosophy profile would still be expected to publish at least one substantial research article in addition to their public philosophy.
Some work aimed at policy makers or the general public can also constitute a substantial contribution to an academic subfield (for example Carl Cranor’s Legally Poisoned and Kate Manne’s Down Girl). Such work (including some “trade” books and all “crossover” books) is not subject to the no-more-than-half rule.
If a faculty member’s specialized research for academic audiences already meets research expectations, the addition of a strong profile in public philosophy could potentially justify a claim of exceptional research accomplishment.
Evaluating Public Philosophy
Public philosophy contributions can vary enormously in quality, impact, form, substantial content, and time investment, and they are typically not peer reviewed. Thus, they cannot be counted up in a simple way. Department members’ contributions to public philosophy should normally be evaluated as an overall package.
For public philosophy counted as research, the following dimensions of the department member’s public philosophy profile should be considered:
- quality of work (as evaluated by the department, possibly with reference to evaluations by others),
- venue quality,
- contribution to the advancement of knowledge,
- reach (e.g., views, likes, engagement, citation),
- impact (e.g., influence on policy, influence on the audience)
For public philosophy counted as service, it is sufficient to establish only that the contribution reflects substantial labor toward valuable service goals, such as communication and outreach.