Philosophy Comes a Long Way in a Short Time

Nov. 18, 2010

Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMediaCom

Baylor University's philosophy department has come a long way since it admitted its first Ph.D. student in 2003. While the program is considered too new to be included in the most recent rankings from the National Research Council, data from Academic Analytics, a private firm that assesses all Ph.D. programs in the nation, demonstrates Baylor philosophy's remarkable climb.

Academic Analytics data from 2008 places Baylor philosophy eighth nationally in the percent of faculty with a scholarly publication. Equally impressive, the firm's ranking of total faculty scholarly productivity (publications, citations and awards) places Baylor's philosophy program in the top 20 nationally, along with much older and more established programs such as Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago.

A key to such a rapid climb in the ratings, says Dr. Michael Beaty, chair of the department of philosophy at Baylor, is building a very productive faculty. Beaty pointed to the recent hires of distinguished scholars Stephen Evans, Jonathan Kvanvig, Alexander Pruss and Robert Roberts who complemented an already strong existing faculty.

Excellent scholarship, teaching contribute to rise

However, another explanation lies in the goals of the Ph.D. program. From the beginning, Baylor aspired to produce philosophers who are both excellent teachers and professionals. In fact, every Ph.D. student is required to take a course in teaching philosophy.

"We are seeing the fruits of our emphasis on teaching preparation in the fact our graduate student instructors receive high marks on the more substantive parts of teaching evaluations," said Roberts, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and director of the graduate program in philosophy. "By the time they graduate, Baylor Ph.D. graduates have a lot of teaching experience."

Beaty pointed out that all students are also required to take a course in professional philosophical writing.

"As a result, we have seen a steady increase in the number of students whose papers are accepted for presentation on the main program of meetings of the American Philosophical Association," Beaty said.

In 2008, only two papers were presented by Baylor's philosophy students. This coming year, 2011, the number will be eight.

"Very few, if any graduate programs in the country can top the recent numbers," he added.

In the last three to four years, Baylor students have dominated Christian philosophy conferences, such as those of the Society of Christian Philosophers and of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Roberts said. In addition, Baylor students have recently had papers accepted by respected professional journals, including Faith and Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Synthèse, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy East and West and Religious Studies.

Christian emphasis key factor

Still, these measures of progress raise a deeper question: how can a start-up program at a university like Baylor attract these high-powered, highly respected philosophers? The answer, said Roberts and Beaty, lies in the Christian distinctiveness of Baylor's Vision 2012, which calls for Baylor to become a university of high-level research, while retaining and deepening its commitment to the Christian tradition, understood in a broadly orthodox and ecumenical way.

Baylor's philosophy department found that many outstanding philosophers desired to work in such a context, with many top philosophy students aspiring to study with such scholars. Without the Christian emphasis, they argue, Baylor never could have assembled so quickly such an exceptional group of faculty and students.

In a similar vein, Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of the Graduate School at Baylor, noted that while he was not surprised by the high ratings earned by the program, he was especially gratified to see such success occur in philosophy.

"A strong philosophy department is important to any university seeking to maintain its Christian identity. And in many respects, philosophy is leading the way for us in demonstrating that rigorous scholarship can be integrated with a serious commitment of faith," Lyon said.

Here are comments from students about Baylor's Ph.D. program in philosophy:

Ryan Byerly, MA '09, currently finishing his dissertation at Baylor:

"Though it's time for me to hit the job market, I don't much like the thought of leaving Baylor. I fear that the community here is irreplaceable. Time spent in this community of professors and graduate students has been invaluable preparation for me both as a teacher and as an aspiring scholar. Without the encouragement of faculty and peers at Baylor I never would have submitted my work for publication and presentation at national conferences like the American Philosophical Association. But, because of their encouragement and advice, I have enjoyed success in both of these venues and I feel that I am as well prepared as any graduate student to enter academia full-time as a teacher and researcher. Over the past year, when I have participated at conferences involving graduate students from top-tier universities, I have often taken the opportunity to brag about Baylor's Ph.D. program in Philosophy -- specifically, I brag about the success of our graduate students in publishing and presenting at APA meetings and about the support these students receive both from the department and from the graduate school. Consistently, the response I hear is either 'Stop! Stop! You're making me jealous,' or 'Wow, maybe I should have gone to Baylor.' Baylor is a truly tremendous place to study philosophy. We have some of the best and we are producing some of the best. It is high time for Baylor's reputation to catch up with its achievements."

Jonathan Sands-Wise, MA '06, PhD '09, assistant professor of philosophy (tenure track) at Georgetown College (Kentucky): "There are many ways to measure the effectiveness and value of a graduate program, but certainly one of the best signs of excellence in a graduate education would be preparation for becoming a productive, engaged, skilled and effective professor at another institution; on this mark, Baylor's philosophy program is superb. As I have begun teaching at a small liberal arts college, I have found that I have a firm grasp of what Christian scholarship and Christian education in philosophy looks like, and the ability to apply both to my current context. Having been mentored by gifted professors and explicitly taught how to teach, I am far ahead of many of my peers and prepared to demand and receive the best work from my students. Likewise, I was given the tools to recognize and participate in professional philosophy as a scholar, as well as a good perspective on the importance of such activity for a Christian academic. Finally, Baylor nurtured me in a vibrant and caring Christian community in which my professors were both my friends and my mentors, both fellow philosophers searching for the truth and experts in their fields, and so I now have a vision of what such a community of inquiry can and should look like, and the desire to realize this vision with my own students."

For further information about the Ph.D. program in Philosophy, see the department's website.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

Looking for more news from Baylor University?