Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 28, 1995

Pitt's philosophy department passes Harvard for No. 2 spot in latest research council study

Pitt's Department of Philosophy has been ranked second in the nation, behind only Princeton and ahead of Harvard, in the latest study by the National Research Council (NRC) of research-doctorate programs in the U.S.

The four-year study, which examined 3,634 academic programs at 274 institutions, also ranked Pitt's Department of History and Philosophy of Science as fifth in the nation, ahead of the University of California Los Angeles and just behind the University of California Berkeley.

"What's new about the rankings is a decade ago we were ranked third, with Harvard ahead of us," said Robert Brandom, chair of the philosophy department. "Now we've passed them, which is no mean feat." Along with philosophy, and the history and philosophy of science, the study placed eight other Pitt research-doctorate programs in the top third nationally. They include chemistry, economics, English, history, physics, physiology, psychology and political science.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said that the rankings confirm that the University is home to centers of excellence and also has more broadly based strengths.

"We remain totally committed to academic quality," Nordenberg said. "These rankings show that we have made real progress since the last National Research Council study was released in 1982, and I am confident that there will be continued progress in the years ahead." In total, Pitt had 23 programs ranked in the top 50 percent in their field in the new study, compared to 16 in the NRC's last study in 1982. Of those 23 programs, 10 are ranked in the top third nationally, compared to seven in 1982. The most dramatic change occurred in English, which rose from 71 in 1982 to 26 in the present study. Chair David Bartholomae attributed the rise mainly to the arrival of new faculty members and a shift in the department's focus.

"The hiring that we've done in the last 10 years has put us quite significantly on the map in English studies," Bartholomae said. "And we've focused our attention more particularly in an area, critical and cultural studies. We have really become one the places to go in the country to do work in that area. So we're both more visible because of the focus of our work and the quality of the faculty we have been able to hire and promote." The NRC study marks the second time this year that Pitt's Department of Philosophy has been ranked among the best in the nation. The Philosophy Gourmet Report, prepared by the University of San Diego and released earlier this year, rated Pitt's overall programs in philosophy as No. 2 in the nation and its philosophy of science program as the best in the nation.

Philosophy chair Brandom said the department has been "creeping up in the rankings" since the early 1960s when a group of "stellar people moved here within a couple of years." According to Gerald Massey, director of the Center for Philosophy of Science with a joint appointment in philosophy and history and philosophy of science, that group included Adolf Grunbaum, Nicholas Rescher, Wilfred Sellars, Allan Ross Anderson, Nuel Belnap and Kurt Baier.

"Pitt's fortunes turned when they were brought in," Massey said.

According to Brandom, philosophy has managed to become second in the nation by "being absolutely uncompromising about the quality of the faculty and the students, and then creating a community that keeps people here once they come here, whether as faculty or students." Though the University administration has been very supportive of the philosophy department over the years, Brandom said, support for graduate students is the department's major problem today. "Where Princeton and Harvard, our competition, can offer multi-year non-teaching fellowships to people, we can't," Brandom pointed out. "It is particularly tough that we can't offer the same kind of support packages to the students as they do, because we do get as good graduate students as those places. That's part of what the rankings show and that speaks to our teaching." In one teaching ranking, effectiveness of teaching, Pitt's philosophy department actually ranked first ahead of Princeton. In general teaching effectiveness, it also was very close to Princeton "and miles ahead of Harvard and Berkeley," Brandom noted.

Although Pitt's philosophy department is not nearly as well endowed as either Princeton or Harvard, Brandom said it has been able to compete with those schools because the faculty is so good and former students have spread the word about the department.

"The faculty really spends a lot of time with the graduate students," Brandom said. "It is night and day compared to Princeton and Harvard. Our greatest recruiting tool is having prospective students talk to the students who are already here." According to Brandom, graduate students in every discipline at universities throughout the nation are generally neglected and overworked. In Pitt's philosophy department, however, Brandom said, graduate students have time and attention lavished on them and actually get to work with the faculty.

"They tell prospective students that, so we are able to compete," said Brandom. "But it is getting harder every year. That is the one thing we have to do something about. We have to get some non-teaching fellowships, so we can stay where this ranking says we are in the eyes of the profession." Other Pitt programs ranked among the top third in the country by the NRC were: * English, 26.5, tied with the University of New York Buffalo, and just behind the University of Southern California and ahead of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign. Yale, the University of California/Berkeley and Harvard were tied for the lead.

* Chemistry, 34, behind the University of California Santa Barbara and ahead of the University of Michigan. The program at the University of California/Berkeley held the top ranking.

* Economics, 34, ahead of Ohio State University and behind Texas A&M University. The University of Chicago and Harvard tied for the top spot.

* History, 37.5, tied with Ohio State University, behind Vanderbilt and ahead of the University of Kansas. Yale's program was ranked No. 1.

* Physics, 40, ahead of Duke University and behind Boston University. Harvard was given top honors.

* Physiology, 47, which has been realigned since the study into the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, tied with Michigan State University and the University of Tennessee/Memphis, ahead of the State University of New York/Stony Brook and behind the University of Maryland/Baltimore. * Psychology, 48, behind the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign and ahead of Arizona State University. The top ranking went to Stanford.

* Political Science, 31, ahead of the University of California/Irvine and behind University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign. Harvard's program was rated tops in the nation.

Research-doctorate programs at Pitt ranked in the top half of their discipline included: Hispanic languages and literatures, biochemistry and molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, neuroscience, computer science, mathematics, anthropology, biochemical and molecular biology, molecular and general genetics, pharmacology, electrical engineering and chemical engineering.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 3

Leave a Reply