Snares Two Rising Stars
August 25, 2000
Members of the Philosophy Department committee
that hired two new faculty for this year can only be described as
exuberant about the results of their search. And they are hoping
for a similar success this year to help them toward greater national
"I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would do this well,"
said John Robison, head of the department and a member of the
search committee. "I thought we'd go through 20 to 25 people.
We're talking about people who are in demand at the premier departments
in the country. Instead, we made offers to our top three choices
and the top two accepted."
The "top two," who begin as assistant professors this fall, are
Kevin Klement and Jonathan Schaffer. A third position will be
readvertised this year.
"By the time this was finally done - mid-March - we felt that
we would be better off starting over this fall with a search for
the third position," Robison said. "We wanted to fill the three
positions with the closest we could come to the very best. The
dean [Lee Edwards] deserves credit and appreciation for this because
she had said she wanted us to get the very best people that we
can. We could have gotten some very good people still, but as
much work as this search was, we would rather do it again next
year and fill this spot with the best."
As a group, the 477 applicants had doctoral degrees from schools
in 15 countries. More than 25 percent were from universities with
the equivalent of "top 10" rankings in the 1998-2000 Philosophical
Gourmet Report, a barometer of the state of graduate education
in philosophy. Robison said the level of interest from high-profile
applicants is a good sign.
"We really do have a nationally recognized department that is
competitive with the best departments in the land," he said.
Although the department has hovered around the No. 20 spot in
various national rankings over the past 20 years, the Philosophical
Gourmet Report says the department now "suffers from a greying
faculty, with many well-known faculty over 70 by 1999-2000 (Vere
Chappell, Edmund Gettier, Gareth Matthews, among others), while
others, like the eminent ... Robert Sleigh, are in their late
60s. The Department's position in this peer groups is, as a result,
Sleigh retired this summer, and Robison predicts that five or
six other faculty will retire in the next five years.
"I know the department has a noble past," Edwards said. "I look
forward to working with the faculty - current and future - to
secure an equally glorious future. I think it is realistic to
aspire to being one of the 10 best philosophy departments in the
"UMass has a world-renowned philosophy program," Schaffer said.
"It has historically been one of the top graduate programs in
the country. It's a real honor for me to be part of such an important
and influential department. I look at this as an opportunity to
interact with some of the finest minds in philosophy.
"I had some very interesting other offers, but it was pretty
clear to me that this was the place I wanted to be. The caliber
of the graduate students was a draw for me, as well."
Schaffer, who was in a tenure-track job at the University of
Houston last year, expects to teach metaphysics, philosophy of
science, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.
A measure of the success of his young career is that he had the
lead article in a recent journal of modern writing on causation,
"He's definitely a big star," said doctoral alumnus Ned Markosian
('90), assistant professor of philosophy at Western Washington
University. "He's that good."
Klement said he was attracted to the department because of its
friendly, comfortable atmosphere, as well as the caliber of his
colleagues and the Amherst environment.
"I had one other school I was considering, but this was by far
my preference because of the people and the resources for doing
research," he said. "It's a really well-known school in philosophy;
it's got a great reputation. I'd seen some of the faculty at conferences.
Everyone seemed very friendly. It seems like everyone talks to
each other - the kind of environment where everyone works together
Klement plans to teach philosophy of language, logic, history
of analytic philosophy, philosophy of science, ethics, and philosophy
of mind. Gettier said that some of the work Klement has done in
logic has only been done by three or four other philosophers.
"He is amazingly knowledgeable about Frege and Bertrand Russell,"
Gettier said. "He knew even the minor details of the correspondence.
When he came to campus, he gave one of the most phenomenally good
talks you could imagine. It was obvious that he is extremely intelligent
"They are very good judges of talent, and they can use that to
their advantage in hiring," Markosian said of the faculty.
Faculty and doctoral alumni point out that the strength of the
department's reputation is partly the result of 30 years of focusing
on providing the finest graduate education.
"The distinctive strength of the UMass philosophy department
has consisted in a combination of an uncommon extent of shared
methodology and devotion to graduate education among the faculty,"
said Earl Conee ('80), associate professor of philosophy at the
University of Rochester. He said the department is highly regarded
for having a tradition of "both junior and senior faculty who
are genuinely interested in graduate education - even at some
expense to their time for original research. This is quite rare."
"One of my best memories is the great interest that the faculty
took in the philosophical development of graduate students," said
Peter Markie ('77), deputy provost and professor of philosophy
at the University of Missouri. "I recall that Ed Gettier was working
on Hintikka's epistemic logic and some of Hintikka's discussions
referenced Kant's views on mathematical knowledge. I was in Bob
Wolff's Kant seminar. The next thing I knew, Gettier was handing
me articles by Hintikka and arranging for us to meet to discuss
them. I didn't for a minute think he needed my help in understanding
them; what he wanted was that I learn about them and develop my
philosophical skills. For the faculty - and so for the graduate
students - that's what life in the department was about."
"It was advanced mentoring at its best and most pleasant!" Conee
said. "I recommend UMass to the University of Rochester's best
undergrads in philosophy who show inclinations toward the emphases
of the ... department."
Professor Gary Matthews said that the importance graduate students
play in the department was reflected in the search.
"The graduate students were invited not only to attend all the
lectures and meet the candidates but also to give a reaction to
the candidates on a form John Robison designed. They were good
about attending the lectures and very conscientious about filling
out the forms. Their reactions played a significant role in the
process. The people we hired got high marks for the ability to
explain difficult things clearly. Graduate students are going
to have a somewhat different perspective than the faculty, so
it's good that we can take that into account.
"One of the nice things about this department is our relationship
with our former students. I organize a reunion every other year
"People come from all over the country for that, which just goes
to show you how strong the ties are," Markosian said. "It's the
most fun conference I go to."
"And when we go to APA [the American Philosophical Association],
the UMies all get together," Matthews said.
"My impression is that we do it more than anybody," professor
Fred Feldman said of maintaining relationships with former graduate
students. "I've always thought that when you take somebody on
as a dissertation student, it's a life-long commitment to their
careerplacement, getting published, tenure, changing jobs."
"And our former students send us some of our best graduate students,"
Matthews said. "It's a kind of ongoing process that is important
to the health of our program, as well as to the well-being of
our present and past students."