Mon Jan 16, 2006

University Wealth and Philosophical Reputation

I’ve been looking again at data from the Philosophical Gourmet Report, Brian Leiter’s reputational survey of philosophers. Here are a couple of scatterplots showing the relationship between the size of a University’s endowment and the reputation of its philosophy department, as measured by the PGR, broken out by Private and Public universities. The red regression line in each panel shows the general association between the two variables. Only data for the U.S. are shown, and not all departments in the PGR are included. (Also available as a PDF file.)

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The relationship is pretty strong for Private schools, and weaker for public ones. I believe this is because endowments better index the overall wealth of private than public schools, given that the latter get more money from the state. Of course, much as they would like to, philosophy departments don’t get to spend the whole endowment. But in a way this makes the strong tie between the two more interesting, both when it does obtain and when it doesn’t. NYU stands out. It’s a pretty rich university, but not spectacularly so. Yet it has the top-ranked philosophy department , which we would not expect at all based simply on its endowment. (Rutgers, the top-ranked public school and #2 overall, is also a very interesting case.) When it comes to investing in prestige, philosophers may be a good bet for an urban university. Occasional foodies notwithstanding, they do not take up much space compared to, say, particle accelerators or engineering labs. Also unlike particle accelerators, philosophers are fueled mainly by coffee, beer and small pastries. Rather than reflecting some conscious strategy at the university level, the strong performers might represent the existence either of substantial department-level resources accumulated over time, or the presence of entrepreneurial chairs or administrators who have managed to get their hands on extra money. Conversely, schools like Texas A&M and Yale do not do as well as we would expect on the basis of the overall wealth of the university.

Update: Here’s a plot of reputation against per capita endowment (per FTE student). I’ve only shown the private universities because I don’t think the endowment numbers for public schools are that informative. Once again, you can see NYU is a big outlier. Rice also appears as a distinctive observation with this measure. (A PDF version is available as before.)

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