Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Taking Aim at Student Evaluations’ ‘Air of Objectivity’ September 19, 2014

Filed under: academia,academic job market — annejjacobson @ 3:47 pm

We’re asked fairly often for publications discussing biases in course evaluations.  Now the Chronicle of Higher Ed links to an article which notes biases and other faults in course evaluations.  E.g.,

Some of what Mr. Stark and Mr. Freishtat write repeats critiques by other researchers: that evaluations often reflect snap judgments or biases about an instructor’s gender, ethnicity, or attractiveness; and that they fail to adequately capture teaching quality. While economists, education researchers, psychologists, and sociologists have weighed in on the use and misuse of these tools, it is relatively unusual for a statistician to do so.

and they have a number of other objections, ones that should appeal to administrators who don’t like claims about ‘identity issues’.

The bottom line? “We’re confusing consumer satisfaction with product value.”

The biblio for the research article looks wonderful.

 

A defense of a defense of emotion in philosophy September 16, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,emotion,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 7:28 pm

In an important post Magicalersatz assserts:

The idea that philosophers should start from first principles, construct premises, and ‘follow the argument where it leads’ without hindrance from emotion or personal perspective is a romantic one. It’s also an absurd one. We all come to the table with biases, presuppositions, and background assumptions – whether we admit it or not. And yes, these types of commitments are present even in ‘the core’.

The fact that her statement can seem just common sense may be a testimony to the way in which ideas from empirical research is permeating our perspectives. And if it doesn’t seem just common sense, you should know that there is a great deal of empirical support for the idea that reason alone isn’t going to get us far. We can and should try very hard to get rid of – or at least mitigate – morally problematic biases, but the idea of a good, substantive philosophy emerging from pure reason is a myth.

The thesis that human beings are not purely rational, even when we think we are being so, started to emerge with a number of researchers in the 1960’s-70’s. The first official attack on the Cartesian conception of reason that has many in Anglo-American philosophy in its grip comes with Damasio’s 1994 Descartes’ Error:

ALTHOUGH I CANNOT tell for certain what sparked my interest in the neural underpinnings of reason, I do know when I became convinced that the traditional views on the nature of rationality could not be correct. I had been advised early in life that sound decisions came from a cool head, that emotions and reason did not mix any more than oil and water. I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the brain behind that mind, I envisioned separate neural systems for reason and emotion. This was a widely held view of the relation between reason and emotion, in mental and neural terms.

In the Introduction of new editions, Damasio notes correctly the now entrenched nature of his views:

I advanced the hypothesis … that emotion was in the loop of reason, and that emotion could assist the reasoning process rather than necessarily disturb it, as was commonly assumed. Today this idea does not cause any raised eyebrows …

Of course, the details are not fully worked out, there are competing hypotheses (dual process pictures, for example) that do not incorporate all his ideas, and so on. BUT in general the demise of the ‘man of reason’ is pretty much a done deal.

 

Academic free speech and the academy: an informative approach

Filed under: academia,civility,free speech — annejjacobson @ 7:01 pm

Mary Margaret McCabe has a thoughtful post on free speech and civility. She argues that there is a pragmatic inconsistency in letting civility trump free speech in the academy.

If academic institutions exist for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, whether alone, or with colleagues, or with students, such inquiry does not say in advance what may or may not be thought, or considered or assumed or believed. Socrates’ injunction to follow the argument where it leads is surely the right one: inquiry is not constrained by canons of what can or cannot be said or thought. This is true, at whatever level the inquiry occurs. So an inquiry into inquiry is similarly unconstrained. Equally, an inquiry into how inquiry should be institutionalized is free in the same way. The context of inquiry, that is, is a suitable topic for inquiry too – the openness runs across fields and up the orders, to include, of course, the inquiry into academic freedom itself.

If that is right, then the basis of academic freedom is internal to the nature of academic business.

What about civility? Aside from cases of the impossible interlocutor, one who will not listen, civility is something to which we academics should aspire:

Civility is an important aspiration in the context of inquiry that is free in the sense I outlined. For free inquiry occurs between and among people; and people are over and over affected not only by the content of what is said, or even the general import of what is said, but also by its manner and its tone. Loud and fierce declarations of opinion often force an interlocutor to be silent, or to be afraid; in such cases civility is clearly conducive to an effective and productive exchange of ideas.

 

COACHE: Faculty assessing their university September 14, 2014

Or: Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.

COACHE is a product of Harvard’s School of Education. One of its main outputs is a survey that is taken by faculty and then analyzed by COACHE. As I remember, the survey gives one standard assertions such as “The administration of this university strongly supports interdisciplinary research” and then gives one an option of five answers from “agree very strongly” to “disagree very strongly”. (Or at least something much like that.) One great thing is that the score the university gets is a comparison with what are counted as peer institutions. So if your university is ranked in the bottom third in interdisciplinarity, for example, that is not simply because you have a lot of malcontents. Rather, it is because your faculty are much more negative about that feature than most of the faculty in your peers. And that becomes a problem for the university.

If you are on the job market or if the tenure decision is coming near, do think of asking if your (prospective) university has a COACHE report, and ask to see it. (Those applying to grad school may also benefit; see the next para.) At least the one for my now former university reveals two things: (1) major weaknesses and (2) differences between tenured and non-tenured (tt) points of view; see below for a remark about this. If you want to dig a bit deeper, it may also show you more general facts about the university that are holding the problems in place. In my experience the report is stunningly accurate. That is, the university ranks low on features that, to be perfectly frank, drove me crazy. The faculty, however, love the upper administration, a fact that shows a very important disconnect.

TENURED VS. NON-TENURED points of view. In my former university the tt are generally more positive than the tenured profs. It would seem easy for the tt also to be much more negative, as I would guess they are in some other places. In any case, there are contexts in which this won’t matter, and ones in which it will. If a set of discontented tt faculty have been bullied into being enthusiastic for prospective grad students, those who believe them may be in for a shock. Equally, if the tt folk are much happier than those with tenure, they may not be a good source of information about whether you should join the department as a faculty member. Now the COACHE report does not mention specific departments, so differences in these respects are really just warning signs.

The differences between tenured and tt points of view are interesting, and I don’t really know what explains them. When I was following the literature on sexism in STEM quite closely about ten years ago, it appeared that STEM women did not perceive the sexism until the tenuring process started. One can think of a number of possible reasons for this, and some of them would spread across genders and disciplines. Perhaps, for example, some senior faculty feel protective about the younger ones, and smooth things out for them a bit. Another might be that the tenured faculty may try to draw on more resources, and so discover what the weaknesses are. On the other hand, it would seem most unfortunately easy to make the tt faculty miserable, so differences in directions different from those at my university would seem to be more understandable.

 

On reasons for diversifying the profession September 12, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias — jennysaul @ 8:31 am

In response to Eugene Sun Park’s article on why he left philosophy, Brian Leiter writes:

“What I still do not believe is that we should add Asian philosophers, or African-American philosophers, to the curriculum in order to “encourage” (on some misguided theory) minorities to enroll in philosophy courses.”

I agree. We certainly should not add anyone to the curriculum on the basis of a misguided theory. But knowing all that we know about stereotype and implicit bias, we have very well-supported theories in favour of adding demographic diversity to our syllabi. Knowledge of these theories tells us that our selections for syllabi are very likely influenced by implicit biases which it make it more likely that we will select white men. It also tells us that demographically diversifying our syllabi is no mere marketing ploy, but rather something which is likely to have real effects on the attitudes not just of students from underrepresented groups, but also on those of other students.* Those who are making such suggestions are not acting as “identity politics police”, as Leiter would have it. We are carefully examining the evidence, and working to improve our profession. Eugene Park’s testimony is a further piece of evidence (albeit anecdotal) that these suggestions are on the right track.

*For a summary of some of this, see my “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy”, downloadable at the lower right, here.

 

Can one be hugely disappointed but not at all surprised? September 11, 2014

Filed under: academia,academic job market,ageing,aging — annejjacobson @ 7:24 pm

If so, here’s a good case, from CHE

U. of Illinois Board Votes Down Salaita Appointment
The University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to deny the appointment of Steven G. Salaita to a professorship on the Urbana-Champaign campus, in the latest chapter of a month-old saga that has inflamed academe.

That Mr. Salaita’s appointment appeared on the list of proposed faculty hires to be voted on by the board came as a surprise. The campus’s chancellor, Phyllis M. Wise, who has been the subject of several no-confidence votes at the college, maintained in recent weeks that she would not send the appointment to the board. Trustees have expressed support for her leadership.

H/t also to Dailynous

 

Who Really Has Academic Freedom? September 9, 2014

Filed under: academia,free speech,Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 9:49 pm

The concept of free speech is an abstraction worth defending, certainly. But what does free speech mean when nearly everyone who has actually gained any kind of a degree understands fully that the freedom to academic expression is contingent upon any number of factors, including race, class origins, gender, and ethnicity, to name just a few? …

Perspective from Yasmin Nair.

 

 

Guidelines for respectful discussion September 8, 2014

Filed under: academia — jennysaul @ 3:09 pm

David Chalmers has put together a wonderful list of guidelines for respectful philosophical discussion. It’s focussed on in-person discussion, e.g. in seminars. But a lot of it carries over very well to the internet– and, I think, would vastly improve the blogosphere if widely followed. For example…

Don’t present objections as flat dismissals (leave open the possibility that there’s a response).

If you find yourself thinking that the project is worthless, think twice before asking your question.

Object to theses, don’t object to people.

I would add, thinking especially but not exclusively of the internet:

Don’t be dismissive of entire sub disciplines or approaches.

Do not insult people or approaches.

Be mindful of power imbalances, including informal ones.

 

F*** Safe Space September 7, 2014

Filed under: academia,glbt — Lady Day @ 11:30 pm

On Canadian university campuses, Frosh Week (orientation week for freshmen) has just ended. Frosh Week typically involves a mixture of official and unofficial activities, and the donning of various types of matching apparel. Alas, the apparel at Carleton University in Ottawa included t-shirts reading “Fuck Safe Space.” According to this story from Carleton’s student newspaper, The Charlatan, a handful of people were wearing the shirts, in apparent defiance of Carleton’s safe space program, which seeks to “reduce the impact of homophobia and heterosexism on campus.” Apparently, the t-shirts, which were not official Frosh Week garb, were donned by upper year students at the close of Frosh Week to protest aspects of the Frosh Week contract to which Frosh leaders were signatory.

 

ED: As anonymous and Rachel rightly point out, the Charlatan story I linked here describes a handful, not hundreds, of frosh leaders wearing the offending shirts. I misread the sentence in the original and have now corrected the post above.

 

 

Mattress Performance September 5, 2014

Filed under: academia,gender stereotypes,miosgyny,rape,sexual assault — annejjacobson @ 8:24 pm

See the NY Magazine:

23 students have complained that Columbia University fails to take proper action when students file complaint about sexual assault. They include the senior art student, who says she was raped in her sophomore year. She has created a performance art work, which consists in her carrying around the mattress on which she was raped.

Readers may well have seen posts about this situation on Facebook. But there are features of the story that are worth highlighting. Because I want to get this up reasonably soon, I am making really pretty obvious observations. Please add in if you want.

One thing to notice is that the situation offers the victim no good resolution. Emma Sulkowicz experiences a conflict between self-care and persistence in prosecuting her rapist, and she has dropped the latter. Such a reaction is very common. It has long seemed to me a mark of abuse that it leaves one with no good alternatives, but in saying this I am envisaging having to act pretty much alone, as is so often the case. And is the case here. Maybe close friends believe a victim, but a lot of people don’t. And who wants to go up against such an institution on a friend’s say-so? Because we still can’t count on institutions to act on the preponderance of evidence.

The preponderance of evidence seems clear here. Two other young women have accused the same man.

Another pretty awful feature is how some people react. If you can bear it, read the comments to see what you can expect.

 

 
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