Jeremie Jenkins asks whether I have any information on the admit/reject statistics for the doctoral program in Philosophy at Harvard during the time [now long past!] when I earned my doctorate there. The simple answer is, No. There are several members of the Department who nod in at my blog from time to time, and perhaps one of them has actual knowledge that he is willing to share with us. While we wait, let me offer my impressions and recollections.
I had no sense whatsoever in those days that the Department paid any attention collectively to the relationship between the number of applicants they admitted and the number of jobs available in the profession. During the brief time that I was a member of the Department and took part in the meetings at which admissions decisions were made [i.e., 1958-1961], I heard no such concern expressed. The debates were over which applicants deserved admissions and which would receive the rather scarce financial aid, all of which was allocated purely on the basis of merit rather than need. And not all that rationally either, I might add. One year, a student who had earned a summa in the Harvard Department applied. He was ranked rather lower than an applicant from a small mid-Western college who had stellar grades and recommendations from professors who said he was the best student they had ever seen. I protested. Summas in those days were exceedingly rare -- I had only earned a "Magna cum laude with highest honors," the next rank down. "Surely," I said, "someone to whom you yourselves gave a summa must be better than someone none of whose teachers we have ever heard of." "Ah," my colleagues and former professors replied, "but it was not a strong summa." Sure enough, this wunderkind dropped out after one semester, while his unfortunate competitor went on to earn a fine degree [but not to become the next van Quine, to be sure.]
I think, but I can not be sure, that the Department concerned itself solely with the promise of the student . When I applied, I made a careful calculation and wrote on my application that I needed an absolute minimum of $1500 as a scholarship in order to make ends meet [this included tuition, by the way -- things were a tad different in those days.] The Department offered me admission and a scholarship of $1475. I took this to be a not so subtle way of saying that they did not want me, but I foxed them and accepted.
The year that I was awarded the degree [and went into the Army -- 1957] twelve of us in all got doctorates from the Department, an unusually large number. I think we all got jobs [though, to be sure, mine was courtesy of the President of the United States. One really did receive a letter from the President that began, "Greeting. You have been ordered to report for induction ..." Not "Greetings." I imagine there had been a budget cut.]
Then the expansion of higher education took place, resulting in the multiplication of university campuses, and the Viet Nam War, resulting in a flood of men into higher ed avoiding the draft. At first, the number of teaching jobs exploded, and graduate students were being offered tenure-track positions before they were ABD. Then the expansion stopped, the Army went professional, and departments began to worry about how many of their students they could place in jobs. By then, I had tenure [first at Columbia, then at UMass], and the issue was, for me, as they saying went, academic."