Feminist Philosophers

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Open letter regarding climate guide July 20, 2011

Filed under: women in philosophy — Jender @ 2:37 pm

A group of Rutgers women graduate students have written an open letter regarding the Pluralists’ Guide’s recommendations regarding climate for women in philosophy. You can read it over at Leiter. Here’s how it starts:

We, female graduate students at Rutgers, were surprised and disappointed to see Rutgers singled out in your assessment of department climates for women as one of only four philosophy departments initially classified as “Need Improvement”, and one of only three remaining on the list. While every department has room for improvement–for example we would love to see a higher percentage of female faculty–we think that this special treatment is unwarranted.

 

30 Responses to “Open letter regarding climate guide”

  1. non-Rutgers female grad student Says:

    I do worry a bit about letters like this… I can imagine feeling compelled to sign this letter, even if one does not agree with it. One might fear reprisals from faculty if one’s name is notably absent. (This point has absolutely nothing to do with the particular faculty of Rutgers; I have absolutely no reason to think they are any more likely than anyone else to act in such a way. The point is general to signed group letters drawn from very small populations.)

    That said, the letter seems extremely cogent and reasonable. Based on the points here, and methodological objections raised elsewhere, I hope the organizers of the Pluralist Guide completely remove the section on the status of women. It would be a great advance to be able to provide reliable data on that topic to prospective graduate students, but every available indication suggests that the current site is compiled from something quite other than reliable data.

  2. Katy Meadows (Rutgers grad student) Says:

    I think the point that women might feel pressure to sign a letter like this is a good one. But I hope that you’ll still take this letter seriously. Many of us reacted quite strongly to Rutgers’s inclusion on the “Needs improvement” list, as many of us have found it to be such a wonderful place to be a female graduate student, so we initiated an email discussion of the climate report and decided that we wanted to write a letter to express our view of the matter. We emailed back and forth to share ideas about points that could be made and language that could be used in the letter. It was really a group effort, and one that was sparked by a common reaction to Rutgers’s inclusion on the list and by a common desire to take what seemed to us to be the most effective action we could to make it known that many of us disagree. I can’t say with complete certainty that no woman felt any pressure to sign the letter. (I have no reason to think anyone did – I just don’t think that I’d ever have warrant to assert that sort of thing with complete certainty.) But I can say that very many of the women who did sign the letter contributed a great deal to its creation, and wanted to communicate precisely what’s in it.

    I think that a group letter or statement is clearly not the best means for collecting climate information for the purposes of a report, because of the sorts of pressure issues you raise and also because different women may have different experiences and perspectives that can’t easily be integrated into a single statement. But it did seem, to us, to be very much the right way to respond to Rutgers’s inclusion on the survey. We felt it was important to provide our perspective on the situation in a timely manner, to let potential female graduate students (and the philosophical community more generally) know that the survey didn’t contain the whole story about the climate for women at Rutgers (we who love it there feel strongly about that!); and this seemed like the best way to communicate, in a timely way, that a very large number of Rutgers women find and have found it to be an excellent place to be a female graduate student.

  3. jj Says:

    I’m getting uncomfortable with this whole discourse. I also don’t know how to describe the basis of the discomfort without insulting people I certainly don’t want to insult.

    In any case, surely loving a place and feeling listened to, while important, need to be placed along side of data about placement, mentoring,grading, etc. Are there differences between the fields that men and women are encouraged to go into? And to what extent are sexual relations between faculty and students normal?

  4. Jennifer Wang (Rutgers) Says:

    Hi jj. I think a lot of people, including me, agree that a good assessment of climate for women should include (though not be limited to) such data. I think that’s part of why there’s been such a strong reaction to the guide. Helen Yetter Chappell has publicly offered to help with data collection, and I’m sure if someone initiated such a project, more volunteers would come out of the woodwork!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    That’s an enigmatic comment, jj. Maybe you meant it to be that way.

    The open letter does give information about placement, plainly, and the department’s graduate placement page does too — and on that page you can see dissertation titles, which will give you a good idea of what subfields women are encouraged to go into. Needless to say, nobody has provided any information about sex between faculty and students at Rutgers.

    Just as you are beginning to be uncomfortable with this discussion, I am starting to find it offensive. The Pluralist Guide did (I think it is now pretty clear) a bad job with this Climate portion of their report. Some women at Rutgers (and one at Princeton) were upset about the small list of “Needs Improvement” programs so they went to some trouble and put their names on the line to reply. I think it’s very problematic for you to suggest that there are important untold parts of the story when you will not reveal what they are. Even if it’s true, and even if you have very good reasons not to reveal them, it’s unfair to the Rutgers women who have responded.

  6. mm Says:

    “Not a single female graduate student was contacted to provide her opinion about the climate for women graduate students at her department. As those who actually inhabit Rutgers’ climate, we believe we are valuable sources of information about it and do not understand why our perspective was not taken into consideration.”

    That seems to me to be the most troublesome thing about this part of the ‘pluralist guide’. The official goal of that part of the guide is laudable, but the methodology used to arrive at the recommendations is not.

  7. anonymous Says:

    To Jennifer Nado, and other Rutgers students, alumni, and faculty:

    It is refreshing to see, in print, an admission that Rutgers was an inhospitable environment for women 7-8 years ago, including a reference, however vague, to the possibility that the environment might have been affected by “a few instances of graduate students dating faculty”. This sort of honesty and candor is an important step in moving forward. Thank you.

    And I am happy to read (in the open letter on Leiter) that at least half of the women in the graduate program feel that the environment at Rutgers has improved. I infer from the number of women who received PhDs in 2011 that the gender ratio was reasonable for the women who were admitted in the 2004-7 time frame, and hope that the same is true of the subsequent years. And I applaud the women of Rutgers for working together, supporting each other, and creating a “vibrant community of women”.

    That said, I’m still not convinced that the environment for women in the department has genuinely improved. Let me try to explain.

    Although it is of course very important for women to work with other women in the department – and this is often something that can be achieved only when the numbers are such that women are no longer a significant minority – the primary responsibility for creating a hospitable, gender-balanced environment in a department does not rest on the shoulders of the female graduate students. Environment is an extremely complex, fragile thing, a factor that can shift easily from year to year and become imbalanced through the actions of a single individual. Short-term environmental health can be accomplished through happenstance, when the right mix of individuals are present; long term environmental health can only be accomplished and protected through policy and procedural changes.

    If one were trying to assess, say, the status of the environment for crustaceans in the Baltic, one would not take the fact that there was a bumper crop of a particular healthy amphipod in a particular year, or even in a particular 2-3 year time frame, as conclusive evidence that the environment had improved. One would, instead, want to know about the status of the toxins, the DDT and PCBs that had caused the earlier decline in the crustacean population, before asserting that the problem had been fixed.

    What do I think are the “toxins” that need to be checked? What would convince me that the environment in the department has genuinely changed?

    Well, an open letter from the Department Chair regarding specific policy and procedural changes would certainly be a step in the right direction. (The fact that the female graduate students at Rutgers have been following the blogs and care enough about the issue to write a letter — while there has been no similar concerted effort by the faculty at Rutgers — says something. It is also interesting that the comments, or at least those I’ve seen, from both Princeton and Rutgers have been posted by an all-female cast of concerned students and, in the case of Princeton, a lone female faculty member. Gender-based environmental problems affect everyone. Why would the status of these two departments in the Pluralist’s Guide not provoke a unilateral response? And what of NYU?)

    What sorts of policy and procedural changes do I think would be convincing? I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the issues that have troubled Rutgers in the recent past, but, as a start, here are the steps that Oklahoma took (as posted on the What We’re Doing About What It’s Like blog):

    • They created a committee on Recruiting and Diversity, which includes the DUS and DGS, and has been involved in many pro-diversity initiatives.

    • They overhauled their hiring procedures with the goal of minimizing the impact of implicit bias. (Wayne Riggs offers to email the details to those interested: wriggs@ou.edu.)

    • They adopted a formal parental leave policy, offering one semester of leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

    • They have significantly increased the number of female faculty members in the department.

    • They have made a concerted effort to identify and recruit qualified female students; over the past two years, 50% of the admitted PhD students were women.

    • They brought an outside expert to campus to offer a workshop for faculty members about creating a hospitable climate.

    • They have added sessions about department climate (with discussions of implicit bias, microaggressions, solo status, stereotype threat, and related concepts) to the proseminar all graduate students take in their first semester.

    • They have adopted a Statement on Department Professional Conduct that is sent out to each of their graduate students every year.

    • Many of their faculty, staff members, and graduate students have gone through their campus’s LGBTQ ally training program (known as Sooner Ally).

    • They have begun sending out official messages from the chair each semester to students who perform well in our undergraduate courses, encouraging them to consider majoring in philosophy. (Data in other environments suggest that such messages have a disproportionately encouraging effect on female students.)

    • And, yes, they have hired a junior faculty member with an AOS in feminist ethics, organized a feminist philosophy reading group, and invited colloquium speakers who specialize in feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, gay & lesbian philosophy, and Native American philosophy. (But note that this is not the only or even the primary change. While I can’t imagine a shift in mindset towards an appreciation of the effects of implicit bias and microinequities that wouldn’t also involve an openness to feminist philosophy, I want to stress that there is much that departments who are closed to feminist philosophy can do.)

    I sincerely hope that the change in the Rutgers environment has been a long-term change, and look forward to an open message from the chair regarding the policy and procedural changes that brought about the improvement.

  8. anonymous Says:

    *the “admission in print” in the comment I just posted refers to a remark in one of Jenny Nado’s comments over on the Gender, Race, and Philosophy blog. (Again, thanks for the candor!)

  9. jennysaul Says:

    I have become increasingly uneasy at all attempts to measure climate for women, including those I’ve been involved with like SWIP UK’s women-friendly awards. This all comes at a rather strange time for SWIP UK, as we are currently considering abandoning the awards due to the epistemic problems. Which is to say: I don’t think the Rutgers grad students’ letter proves Rutgers to be OK (though it’s great to hear that they’ve found it good); I don’t think the Pluralists’ criticism is good reason to think Rutgers has a problem; I don’t think JJ’s and Anonymous’s suggestions would tell us how good Rutgers’s climate is; and I don’t even think the large-scale survey being suggested would do the trick. If this sounds like I’m pretty despairing about the possibilities of offering climate for women guidance, that’s exactly right. And that’s despite the fact that such guidance is incredibly important. Sigh.

  10. Jamie Dreier Says:

    Jenny, I’m sure that’s right, but ‘proves’ is a pretty high standard. I think the letter does give us pretty good reason to think that the climate for women at Rutgers is good — better than most. (Uh, that is, better than at most programs, not better than for most genders!) If I had an undergraduate woman philosophy student who asked me, I would tell her that Rutgers would be a very good choice, and a good bet climate-wise. Would you advise differently?

    Anonymous, I love your Baltic Sea analogy. I wonder if it would occur to anyone to ask the crustaceans.

  11. jennysaul Says:

    Jamie, you’re right– but with one caveat. The letter gives good reason to believe that the climate is good for women grad students, which is of course the subject of the Pluralists’ Guide. Amongst the things I’ve learned from doing the SWIP awards is that this is perfectly compatible with a bad environment for undergrads or staff (which did surprise me).

  12. Jamie Dreier Says:

    Jenny, I hadn’t thought of that at all. It surprises me somewhat too, but I’ll certainly take your word for it. (You’re no crustacean, I’m pretty sure.)

    By ‘staff’ you mean (to include) faculty members, right? (US vs. British dialectical difference.) I’d just note that we have heard from Susanna S. and Ruth C., in the comments at Leiter’s blog.

  13. mm Says:

    Prof. Saul,
    Can I follow up a bit? It seems to me that anonymous surveys could reveal that there are serious climate problems in departments with serious climate problems, in much the same way teaching evaluations can reveal serious problems. I think teaching evaluations are pretty lousy at judging the quality of teaching, and so one shouldn’t put a lot of stress on whether someone gets a 3, 4, or 5 (with 5 being the best) in determining quality of teaching. But if someone consistently gets horrible evaluations, that’s a good sign that he or she is doing something wrong. Do you have a reason to think that anonymous surveys of current graduate students or/and faculty couldn’t serve an analogous purpose? (that’s meant to be a genuine question, not a rhetorical one, and if for reasons of confidentiality, you can’t say more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I’ll ask no follow-ups) That is, couldn’t they still reveal whether there was something truly horrible about a department (such as wide-spread sexual harrassment by a prof for example) even if they aren’t capable of doing much more? if so, they would still be useful….

  14. jennysaul Says:

    MM– I have reason to believe that the method you describe would lead to false positives, by which I mean departments recommended as good places which are not. And when we consider the potential for that to be used in defenses against sexual harassment allegations, etc it’s pretty disturbing.

  15. mm Says:

    Hi Prof. Saul,

    I was more thinking that my method would be used to only detect negatives. That’s why I was thinking in terms of teaching evaluations; I don’t put much if any weight on whether someone scores a 5 (supposedly excellent) or a 3 (supposedly average), but do get concerned when there’s a lot of ones (very bad).

    So instead of having a ranking that said, e.g., great climate for women, ok climate for women, bad climate for women, I’d just have a list that said something like “scored poorly on these scales”. So there’d be no false positives, because there’d never be positive evaluations period… at most there’d be an absence of true negatives.

    My thought was that unless the method led to false negatives, then we’d be gaining something valuable.

  16. Ruth Chang Says:

    [This post has been edited by the author at the request of the moderator to remove a reference to a post by another blogger to which the author took exception].

    I am a bit perplexed by the skepticism that has greeted the open letter by women grads at Rutgers. I can assure you that the women grads at Rutgers — just as the impressive Helen from Princeton obviously is — are just about the last people to be self-deceived into thinking everything’s great when it’s not. They are brilliant, strong, sensible women who are reflective, sensitive, and perhaps most importantly leaders in our community. I think reading the letter makes all of those traits apparent, so you don’t have to take my word for it. This letter came from their hearts, and I for one found it moving. They felt strongly enough about the community at Rutgers to stick their necks out in this way. To think that the right conclusion to draw from their letter is that they might be somehow self-deceptive, deluded, or brain-washed strikes me as bizarre.

    Which brings us to a crucial point raised by the exchange b/t Jennifer Saul and mm. What disclosable evidence would meet the standard of giving a reasonable person good reason to think that Rutgers (dept X) was a good bet for women who wanted to do analytic philosophy? Statistics is one thing that has to be at least somewhat relevant though they can be misleading. Anonymous polling data has to be another, and in the way mm suggests – such polling data might be most useful in detecting negatives.

    Carefully devised self-studies by departments seem to me to be something else that could be helpful to the departments themselves, and I would encourage every department to undertake such self-studies. Unsubstantiated rumors shouldn’t, it seems to me, play a role, except as a very useful starting point for further inquiry (and they can sometimes be the only way to get to uncover something nasty). Still, I am aware that making a confident assessment of climate for women is a very difficult thing. I would have thought that the strongest evidence would come from the women in the graduate program. Why not do the best one can – by giving the relevant statistics and indicating the negatives uncovered by anonymous polling of the women grads in each program – and then urging women undergrads to apply widely and go visit to see for themselves?

    Has Rutgers always been so wonderful? No. When I first arrived 13 years ago, it was “very male”, and I’ll just leave it at that. (Don’t think I was blind to the problems just because I choose not to expound on them on a blog). I was one of 3 women on the faculty (and the only junior person in the dept – talk about a double-whammy! Oh yeah, and I’m Asian for the hat trick.). But I have the sense that some bad episodes in the past have tainted us in the minds of some people irrevocably, to the degree that evidence that things have dramatically changed is not respected at face value, and instead needs to be interpreted according to one’s old view. I really feel that this does a disservice to the women undergrads to whom this report is aimed and to the current women grads at Rutgers who have been a key – I’d say the key — to building an amazing graduate community at Rutgers. Do we have room for improvement? Yes. The most striking place we fall down in my view is in numbers of women faculty. There are only 5 of us and because we are so few, there is a lot of pressure on us to be here and there. Do we deserve to be singled out as a department especially in need of improvement – especially compared to the list of those who don’t? I sincerely doubt it. I really wish the authors of the Pluralist Report would take down Rutgers from the list of departments that “need improvement”.

    A PS about polling. I am posting a draft of the surveys we used at Rutgers on another sitehttp://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/ in case they are useful. Caveat: these are the only drafts I could find on my computer and I don’t know what we actually used.

  17. CrimLaw Says:

    I spoke with one senior woman philosopher, not a Rutgers philosopher, who says she has expressed “climate” worries about Rutgers in the recent past. Her worries were these:
    1. quite a lot of faculty/student dating over a pretty long period in the history of the department, including more than a few “blow-ups” that caused departmental problems. She did not claim to have current information about faculty/student dating at present.
    2. hiring of women faculty has for a long time been only spousal hiring or attempted spousal hiring. She said she has no information one way or the other about any possible failed efforts to hire women that were not part of a spousal-hire situation.

    I can see why these considerations might raise questions in the outside observer. I can also see why current students might not find their environment problematic even if these points correctly describe some of the history of at Rutgers.

    My own view is that, as some of the Rutgers and Princeton students have noted, many key aspects of overall climate can change in relatively short periods with both faculty and student turnover playing a a large and obvious role in this. But other key aspects don’t change mostly because of stability on the faculty.

  18. Ruth Chang Says:

    [This post has been edited by the author at the request of the moderator to remove a reference to a post by another blogger to which the author took exception].

    These are perfectly valid concerns. As a Rutgers faculty member, I can say 1) The dating thing as far as I know is a non-issue and in the past. It’s a complicated issue, but on the face of it, I agree, it’s not a practice one wants to encourage. The case alluded to involves a now-happily married couple with child at a different department – sometimes, it seems, people can fall in love without manipulation and exploitation. 2) Most definitely we have tried to hire women faculty and not as such – which I think under current conditions is offensive, stigmatizing, and counterproductive — but as the best person for the job (where ‘best’ includes all sorts of criteria). We have pursued women over the years – there are four I am thinking of right now that have been recentish, but for one reason or another, they didn’t end up coming. But it is not for our lack of trying. None of the four I’m thinking of had philosopher spouses whom we were also trying to hire. It’s not surprising that people don’t know about these attempts since they are private, and they didn’t bear fruit. What people are aware of are the ‘spousal’ cases since they garner more press and happen to have gone further. But in these cases, I can say that we don’t hire a spouse unless we decide we want him or her on his or her own merits. What I want to emphasize is that we — and this is not just the women faculty at Rutgers but very much a dedicated group of male faculty too including our past two chairs — have been trying hard to hire the best person for the job, and in many cases these have been women.

    I can’t help but have the following reaction. Why is it that people seem to want to believe the worst about Rutgers – and perhaps Princeton — even though good evidence has come out to the contrary, evidence which probably undermines whatever basis was used to put Rutgers on the ‘needs improvement’ list in the first place? I suspect that the people on this blog are all after the same thing — we want to create a profession where women — and members of underrepresented classes in general — feel equally valued and are able to contribute meaningfully to the discipline we love by realizing their full potential. Why is it so hard to believe that some departments are making some strides in this direction? I’m not saying that everything at Rutgers is hunky-dory – like every department on the planet we have a long way to go. But why is there so much suspicion — to the point that a cri de coeur from Rutgers women grad students protesting the treatment of the program by the Pluralists’ Report is greeted with skepticism? Agreed – climate can change over a few years’ time, and everyone who is making good progress should be aware of this and take steps to ensure that things are on track. There are different ways to do this. But this point should be recognized along with celebration that we – we women — are making progress. Let’s not rest, but let’s not rush to denigrate or undermine, either, our successes.

  19. Elizabeth Barnes Says:

    I just want to make a quick interjection. Some concern has been expressed over the maleness of the Rutgers faculty: and I definitely think that’s a concern, and that it would be a good thing if Rutgers hired more women. But hiring more women wouldn’t automatically make the climate at Rutgers better for women. It depends on the women hired; sometimes, women can make it worse for other women. And not all male-dominated – in the numerical sense – faculties are created equal. The male faculty at Rutgers that I know personally number among the kindest, most encouraging, and most gender-aware philosophers I’ve met. I’d strongly encourage any female prospective graduate student to work with the likes of Andy Egan, Brian Weatherson, Jeff King, Jason Stanley, Jonathan Schaffer, or Dean Zimmerman (and I’m sure there are other wonderful men at Rutgers as well – these are just the ones I know personally). They’re great guys and great teachers – for students of any gender.

  20. Mark Lance Says:

    What scares me most about the potential harm of the PG climate survey is not that a department that provides a good climate for women will be unfairly criticized. The balance of evidence at the moment suggests that has happened, and it is a bad thing. But such things as widespread direct testimony from women at the department will address these concerns for most potential students, and end of the day the worst that will result is that some potential students will go somewhere else. Again, that’s a bad thing, but it seems to me to pale in comparison to the reverse case: the department with a bad, or dangerous climate for women that is listed as highly recommended.

    We don’t know how many of the experts on feminism who were also asked to comment on things like whether students get equal time in seminars, or whether “In this department, sexual harassment of female students is not a present day or ongoing concern.” etc. actually commented. But we do know that it is virtually impossible for an outsider to know anything useful about the former, or to know that the answer is “yes” to the latter. Assuming that an ongoing problem of harassment would rule out a department as strongly recommended, it follows that departments are listed here as strongly recommended, because some number of feminist philosophers not at the department don’t happen to know of any harassment by anyone at that department.

    As someone who has seen numerous serious cases of sexual harassment that were not known outside a small group in the department for years, this scares me. Given the number of departments on the list and the guesswork methodology, there is a substantial risk that some of these strongly recommended departments are in fact ones with genuine problems, and that therefore women are being advised to go to a department in which they will encounter a seriously bad climate.

    I really just cannot get my head around how anyone could think this was a responsible grounds on which to base such recommendations.

  21. Jender Says:

    I’m trying to juggle blogging, care for sick child, and getting other work done. So I’ve now taken the easy way out. JJ’s comment and all that flowed from it are now gone (if I missed something it was an oversight). Probably not the best solution, but the only one I can manage right now.

  22. magicalersatz Says:

    Hi all,

    I’m stepping in for Jender at the moment because she really could use a break. As she’s said, we’ve taken down JJ’s comment and all replies to it. That decision may stick, or we may decide on a different way of handling the situation. But for now, it’s the easiest and most effective stop-gap measure. You can keep making comments that allude to JJ’s comment, but – at least for now – we’ll keep taking them down.

    We apologize – sincerely, and from the heart – for any offence (to any and all parties involved) caused by what’s been said on this thread. I’m confident that everyone who’s commented on this thread has done so with good intentions and goodwill. But communicating on the internet is *hard* sometimes, and it’s not always easy to get across the substance or the tone of what you’re trying to convey. That being said, I hope we can redirect our attention – and comments – to the interesting, substantive issues raised by the open letter, rather than focusing on previous (now absent) comments.

    And I’d like to add a personal note the the Rutgers grad students. I hope that nothing that’s been said here has given you the impression that we don’t value your insights, your opinions, or your contributions. Because we really, really do. Please come back soon and often.

  23. jj Says:

    Jender, I think that that was a good idea. I think we could have had at some point a reasonable discussion on recent research on the epistemic merit of avowals in certain kinds of cases. I am very sorry that my rhetoric made that so dificult.

  24. CrimLaw Says:

    About this:
    “1) The dating thing as far as I know is a non-issue and in the past. It’s a complicated issue, but on the face of it, I agree, it’s not a practice one wants to encourage. The case alluded to involves a now-happily married couple with child at a different department – sometimes, it seems, people can fall in love without manipulation and exploitation.”

    Though it’s true that the case that apparently caused the most difficulty at Rutgers involves the “now-happily married couple” that Ruth Chang references in her comment, I’m sure that many know that others were involved in the unpleasantness to varying degrees and not everyone lived happily ever after. I also doubt that Ruth Chang would disagree with the point that even a faculty/student relationship that results in a happy marriage can at times be a part of a problematic climate for women (as it was, after all, in this case at Rutgers). I’m sure that Rutgers has had more than a few faculty/student affairs that led to marriage and, naturally enough, more than a few that did not. These observations about the past have surely led some to question the climate for women at Rutgers, especially since not all of the relevant faculty have moved. But the information I have suggests that Ruth Chang is correct in saying that “The dating thing…is…in the past.”

    The same point about known faculty/student affairs likely explains some of the negative impression that some have about Princeton’s climate for women. And if it’s all in the past at Princeton, I know that it’s fair to say that it’s in the more recent past at Princeton compared with Rutgers.

    I also want to agree with the following remark from Ruth Chang about faculty/student dating: “It’s a complicated issue, but on the face of it, I agree, it’s not a practice one wants to encourage.” Some department forbid such dating. Some departments permit it but require disclosure and abstention from supervision of the student by the faculty member. Whether faculty follow such policies and whether departments enforce them is a separate matter. In my experience, I know that I’ve received letters of recommendation more than once on behalf of job candidates from faculty members who were dating the job candidate and who did not disclose the relationship in the letter.

  25. magicalersatz Says:

    Okay everyone. Let’s talk about the excellent letter written by the Rutgers grad students. Let’s talk about ways we can work toward making philosophy departments better for women. Let’s talk about challenges to figuring out which departments are good for women, and what it takes for a department to be good for women. Let’s talk about all this.

    But let *not* gossip about particular individuals, even if we don’t name them. That’s not what this thread is for, and it doesn’t help. At all.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks so much magicalersatz for your kind note thanking the Rutgers women grad students. They are true heroines in my book, and I would have thought that all women philosophers could take huge comfort in the fact that we have such brilliant, sensitive, and courageous women in our profession. I certainly do.

    A few of things I wanted to add before signing off (to deal with 2 deadlines!).

    1. Thanks to CrimLaw for the really great questions about Rutgers. Yes, the dating case caused a lot of problems. It did create a climate problem. One thing to say is that the whole thing was totally above board – the parties concerned came forth immediately to the Chair, and all the correct procedures were followed in terms of separation of grading, supervision, etc. The Chair I thought was really excellent here and worried endlessly about the problems this might cause, bringing in an outsider to talk to us generally about climate and gender, having a big all –dept meeting to discuss gender and climate, writing endless emails back and forth with particular grad students, instituting the first climate survey (I know b/c I was involved in some of this, though I was a junior member of the dept at the time and pretty perplexed by the whole thing). But however sensitive and proactive, he – and the rest of us — couldn’t predict the kind of issues that did arise. It wasn’t a great situation and some grad students were unhappy that this had happened. In retrospect, I feel there was probably more we could have done to talk and reach out to the grad students. Or, perhaps more accurately, the things we did do were a bit clumsy, though intentions were good. I think just about all of us were in uncharted waters. Some of what happened was just pure human drama that occurred in the context of a philosophy department. It was hard and not great. I don’t wish it on any department. But we decided as a dept not to forbid relationships.

    2. I also wanted to echo Elizabeth Barnes’ important point. Here at Rutgers, and I suspect the same point would hold elsewhere in our male-dominated profession, the male faculty have been (would be) absolutely essential to the change in culture. Just off the top of my head, I can tick off 10 male faculty members who are caring, dedicated, and genuinely concerned about gender and climate at Rutgers, 7 of whom were hired in the last 10 years or so. They are extremely supportive, proactive, and really care about improving the lot of women and minorities in the profession. I am not exaggerating when I say that were it not for the fact that the faculty as a whole strongly supports improving the climate for women and minorities at Rutgers, our culture could not and would not have changed.

    3. If I were to take a stab at diagnosing how our culture changed I’d say that it wasn’t the result of any institutionalized gender-specific policies but rather an underlying change in attitude. This change in attitude seems to me to have come from two sources: the efforts of the department in thinking and talking about in an open way these issues, and a strong cohort of new faculty who brought with them enlightened attitudes. As to how our culture maintains itself:

    a. There is an unspoken message from the faculty that we are an open, egalitarian, and democratic culture where all members are treated with equal respect. This message comes from faculty in administrative leadership positions in the department (mostly but not entirely male) and from the faculty more generally. This is how we conceive of ourselves, even if we sometimes fall short, but the self-conception is a sine qua non.
    b. There is a strong culture among the grad students according to which the game is not ‘let me show you that I’m smarter than you’ but ‘let’s support each other and make each other into great philosophers’. One of the reasons our graduate students are really, really good is that they aren’t atomized individuals – they stick their necks out and help each other hone their ideas. They are always talking philosophy with one another, and since each of them eventually becomes an expert in something, they share their expertise and make one another really broad and thoughtful about a wide range of philosophical issues. Our excellent DGSs along with the grad students made this happen.
    c. These two feed off one another and are mutually supporting. We have achieved something pretty good, I think.

    4. That’s why it really, really hurts to see our department singled out in the PG as a department that ‘needs improvement’ in regard to climate for women. It just isn’t true that we are among the worst places. How can we convince the authors of the PG that we aren’t such a place? We’ve provided some good evidence. The women grads have provided really strong evidence. We have some but not a large number of gender-specific initiatives and policies. (I’ve listed some elsewhere – the ones that come to mind as things we’ve done include a women’s hiring committee whose remit is to make sure no great woman philosopher is overlooked; women’s social events to gather and talk about progress and points of common interest; women grad + undergrad meetings to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy; women’s meetings to talk about being a woman teacher). But we have chosen, with reflection, to fold some of the oversight of gender and climate issues into regular, institutionalized jobs. For instance, the university now requires TA training which includes a sexual harassment course so all our grad students take that and there didn’t seem to be any need for further Women as Teachers meetings so those have stopped. We may start then again, I’m not sure. We consciously decided to make the DGS in charge of monitoring climate and bringing gender issues for discussion to the relevant people. We made this decision b/c of the facts on the ground at the time, and we may change this. We also decided to give each student the option of having a ‘moral advisor’, someone who keeps tabs on them and their progress and to go to for any problems including gender, climate, or personal problems. (We made this optional because a number of students told us they didn’t want a moral advisor since they had really strong mentoring relationships with faculty.) We deliberately thought about whether it made sense to have a separate woman’s dinner during graduate recruiting, and in the end we decided against it though we think in general that it is a great idea for some departments. We have a climate in which we can talk and think about gender openly, respectfully. I would have thought that this is one of the signs of being a healthy department and a good place for women students.

    5. Given this diagnosis of how our culture has changed, I do think that it is probably a good idea to have some institutionalized structures in place. For our particular model to work, there has to be a large core of faculty who care enough about such things to be aware when things need to be changed. And that in some ways is a matter of luck. So structures are a nice safety measure. I’ve just come round to that view after thinking about how Rutgers might have gotten where we are.

    6. One way departments can make a very visible commitment to gender and climate issues is to set aside a *compensated* post for someone to be in charge of these monitoring these issues. The compensation could be no other administrative work, avoidance of being chair for a decade, say, or something else suitable given the circumstances of the department. Many of my women peers have complained about how much time and energy it takes away from the business of being a philosopher dealing with these issues. (I’ve been answering emails which have come from different sources about these gender issues and blogging about this for 4 days, and that’s why this is my last missive – sorry it’s so long-winded but I haven’t got time to edit it… )

    If the work of working towards an egalitarian climate in this profession is important, and I doubt any reasonable member of the profession could take issue with that, then why don’t we support people who take out time from their busy schedules to try to improve things for women and minorities? Someone like Sally Haslanger devotes her time to this in a way that needs to be recognized by the profession – and I hope already is by her department. You may be surprised to hear this, but I’m also thinking of recognition due to the people who put together the PG report. What they need is greater support from their home institutions in allowing them the time and resources to gather the relevant and sufficient data so that their conclusions are genuinely helpful to the profession rather than irresponsible and damaging, which I doubt was their intention.

    7. If I may end by going back to the beginning: the issue of numbers of women. Numbers do make a difference. I like a study discussed by Cordelia Fine on pg 42 of her superb book, Delusions of Gender. (Full disclosure – she is the daughter of my partner). There she discusses a study involving advanced Stanford undergrad majors in math and engineering, both male and female. The undergrads are shown a video about a ‘leadership conference’ some people are planning to hold, and the video shows snippets from a prior such conference. The undergrads are asked to give their opinions about the conference on the basis of the video presentation. In one trial, the snippets of the participants of the conference are predominantly male. In that trial, the male undergraduates answered in high numbers that they thought they “belonged” at such a conference and had a good deal of interest in it. The female undergrads showed less interest and indicated that they felt that they wouldn’t “belong” at such a conference. In another trial, the video of the prior conference showed an equal number of male and female participants. Here, the women undergrads showed the same high interest and sense of “belonging” at such a conference as the male undergrads.

  27. Ruth Chang Says:

    I forgot to sign my name. The tome is from me, Ruth Chang.

  28. Matt Says:

    I also doubt that Ruth Chang would disagree with the point that even a faculty/student relationship that results in a happy marriage can at times be a part of a problematic climate for women

    I’m curious about this claim, in part because I can think of three cases that I knew of off-hand where faculty dating students lead to marriage in recent years at top departments, but in all three cases that I knew of, it was a woman faculty member dating (and then marrying) a male student. For all sorts of obvious reasons (like numbers) this is less common than the other way around, but it makes me wonder if people think that this sort of case is just as problematic and bad for women as the more stereotypical one or not. If not, we should probably be more specific and careful about exactly what sorts of cases we think can cause problems and why. (I don’t mean this as any sort of “Ha-ha!” type remark at all, but as a real reason to wonder if perhaps we’re not being careful enough about what we care about and why. That “perhaps” is real, too, not rhetorical.)

  29. Anonymous Says:

    As a female graduate student at one of the “needs improvement” schools, I want to say something I obviously must say anonymously. I am sympathetic towards the view taken in the posts like #7. I disagree with post #1 that ‘the organizers of the Pluralist Guide [should] completely remove the section on the status of women.’

    In the past five years, I have had experiences that made me very uncomfortable with the gender climate at each department listed. Some experiences last year at 2 of these departments have convinced me that, unless clear policy and administrative practices are changed along the lines of post #7, then I would not recommend any female at all sensitive to gender issues go to any of these departments. That is, unless the female is one who enjoys uphill battles.

    As evidenced by the letter from some Rutgers’ women, the climate there is better than in past years. That said, I see no evidence that this is more than a happy coincidence; and not something that has come about through positive acts of the administrators, chairs, etc.

  30. anon12 Says:

    Regarding faculty dating students, I think it’s also worth noting that it can have a strongly negative impact on the climate for all graduate students–both male and female. Students cannot help but wonder whether the faculty will push as hard for everyone on the job market or whether they will put extra effort behind helping the partner of their friend on the faculty. And any student dating a faculty member has to face suspicion that she (or he) is only doing so well because of the relationship. All in all, it’s a pretty terrible situation for every grad student.

    I’m inclined to agree that banning relationships isn’t the best policy – but I do hope that faculty have to good sense not to date their students.


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