The Philosophy Profession, Mid-20th Century

Note, too, the “fairly often” requests for breadth of interests “rather than narrowly specialized or technical interests” and the importance of “the social significance” of philosophy over “a high degree of technical proficiency.”

That’s an excerpt from a letter from University of Michigan philosophy professors William Frankena and Paul Henle, dated May 20, 1952, to the Ford Foundation, seeking last-minute funding to create 12 post-docs for some of the philosophy Ph.D.’s who weren’t going to be hired by any school that year. They continue:

Then we actually saw how many Ph.D.’s were looking for positions, and how few schools had positions to fill. One item will give you the picture: the University of Iowa is looking for an instructor for one year only, without prospect of permanence, and has 65 applicants.
Note the question, “Man or Woman?” Dr. Ballantyne found the text of a 1953 talk by Lewis Hahn, chair of the APA’s placement committee, apparently summarizing information gathered over recent years through this form. Most departments, he says, “prefer that the candidate be a man”:
Another recent find was a form produced by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on Information Service around that time by which philosophy departments could make their hiring needs known to the association:
This is just one document among several that Dr. Ballantyne has been collecting for a project of his.
It has been known for some time that there would be few openings for people receiving their Ph.D. degree in philosophy this spring. But how dire their prospects are was not really brought home to us until last week when the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association met in Ann Arbor.
Each fellow would earn ,500:

In the funding proposal, Frankena and Henle write of the unemployed philosophers that “it would be a waste of natural resources to let them go into other fields and later have to replace them inadequately.” So they suggest post-doctoral fellowships on the subject of “The Ethics of Democracy”:

In today’s dollars that’s just under ,000.
The letter was unearthed by Nathan Ballantyne (Fordham), who posted it on Twitter over the weekend:

Now, perhaps not all of these newly trained philosophers are top-quality people, but may of them are, and it seems to us of the greatest importance that they should not be forced or even allowed to leave the field of philosophy in order to make a living, as they must do if they do not find openings for the fall. For these abler young men the field is not permanently over-crowded; they will be needed when college enrollments begin to go up again in the next few years. It seems imperative, then, that some way be found by which they may at once be kept alive and philosophically active during the coming year, which may be the crucial one.