An Oxford student has committed suicide. Among other things, she had secured a harassment order from the police for stalking by a philosophy lecturer.
Now Oxford February 27, 2014
A few thoughts on avoiding avoidance February 26, 2014
“Ostriches. All of them.”
This was the explanation offered by an irritated colleague at another university last week, after complaining bitterly about collective departmental avoidance in response to the offenses of a male philosopher whose office is across the hall from his.
I have had more than one ostrich-like urge to bury my head in the past few weeks. And I think I’ve even succumbed to a few such urges. (Who wouldn’t rather go out for a run, or read that tempting new book on quantum gravity, instead of thinking about the problem of sexual misconduct in philosophy?)
So I get it. I understand why the philosopher’s colleagues are practicing the art of avoidance.
But I’ve also been irked by ostrich-y behavior, and have mentored others who have been deeply wounded by silence—so I understand and share the philosopher’s irritation, and am renewing my efforts to avoid avoidance.
For those who are looking for tips on how to de-ostrichify a department, the recent post on Philosophical Spaces is a good place to start. I invite anyone who has additional thoughts on how to cope with a departmental culture of avoidance to comment here.
What I want to focus on in this post, though, is not how to de-ostrichify, but rather a question that I have found myself returning to as the problem of sexual misconduct in philosophy starts to become more public:
What is it like to be the person in that office across the hall, whose behavior has prompted the rest of the department to run to the nearest sandbank? What is it like to be a philosopher quietly wondering if your own past or present offenses will be revealed?
It must, I think, be a lonely place to be.
A remark on Facebook a couple of days ago claiming that philosophers are suddenly refraining from comments and likes on Peter Ludlow’s posts prompted me to go out to his page, out of curiosity, to see if it was true. It does seem to be the case. But then I reflected on the fact that the same is true of my own Facebook page. Like Ludlow, I’m a political hot potato. In the wake of choosing to post openly under my real name about sexual misconduct problems in philosophy, friends in philosophy are suddenly refraining from likes and supportive comments in public arenas. Privately, though, they’re eager to connect; I have received almost two hundred private emails and messages of support. As, no doubt, has Ludlow.
So perhaps “lonely” isn’t quite the right word.
I’m not drawing a parallel between Ludlow’s recent online experiences and my own because there’s any connection between Ludlow and myself. There’s not, of course. What I’m trying to do is to use the example to show that we philosophers are oddly social and political animals, despite all the accusations of ineptitude. And right now many if not most philosophers are behaving like ostriches because it seems like the socially acceptable and politically prudent thing to do. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
About four months ago I had a long and difficult conversation with a philosopher who was accused of egregious sexual misconduct, and perceives himself as an offender. He has not come forward about what happened—to his colleagues, or even to many members of his immediate family—and the news about public instances of misconduct in philosophy has affected him, as an offender, just as profoundly as it has affected me, as a survivor and mentor to victims and survivors.
I have also had conversations with two other philosophers in the past month who have admitted to both engaging in sexual misconduct—and to feeling ashamed about it.
I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. But I can report what they’ve told me. In no particular order, here’s what I heard:
- They want to reconcile. The three philosophers I spoke with (all male) are apologetic, but have no idea how to express the apology. Two of the three are consumed with guilt, and with trying to understand things from a victim’s point of view. One has read every single entry on the “What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?” site… more than once.
- They’re afraid. Some of their fears are the obvious ones: fear of disgrace or public humiliation, fear of hurting family members, fear of losing a position or an opportunity, fear of being ostracized. Some of the fears are non-obvious: fear of being misunderstood, fear of their philosophical work being read differently or being analyzed for signs of psychoses they don’t feel they have, fear of the emotional response that public disclosure might release within them.
- They feel isolated. Talking about your recent or past sexual misconduct isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can casually chat about in the department seminar room.
- They’re introspective. One of the three I spoke with talked about a lifelong fear of being perceived as un-masculine, which he attributes to being bullied by male peers when he was younger. Another talked about about the challenges of a strict Catholic upbringing. The third described a dysfunctional relationship with an abusive father.
In all three cases, it was extremely clear that the offenders are suffering, too. And while the mere fact that they’re suffering doesn’t excuse egregious behavior, it does seem good reason to overcome our social insecurities and talk to the offender about the problem. Yes, we need to be thinking about victims—but one way to help victims is to deal with the problem and find ways to promote dialogue and, where appropriate, reconciliation.
In other words: avoid the ostrich behavior.
Petition to Northwestern Regarding Handling of Title IX Complaints February 24, 2014
is here. Its originators are actively seeking signatories from outside Northwestern University. (Thanks, S!)
Do universities overreact to sexual harassment claims? February 23, 2014
The popular perception that they do remains, despite regular debunking. (See here for one example of such debunking.) But now the philosophical world has before it a case in which a university actually made a ruling that:
Ludlow drank with the underage student in Chicago in February 2012, and “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” by rubbing her back and kissing her.
Northwestern found that the student had been drunk and woke up the next morning in Ludlow’s bed with the professor’s arms wrapped around her.
That’s pretty serious stuff– the kissing was, according to the finding, unwelcome. And, according to the finding, she then woke up in his bed with his arms around her. This isn’t an inappropriate comment, or possibly-accidental touch. Nor is it, according to the finding, mutually-entered-into but worrying due to the power dynamics. Unwelcome kissing is serious, and waking up in bed with someone after unwelcome kissing is also serious. (It’s also not a case where the student alleged unwelcome kissing and the university did not make a finding of unwelcome kissing. The university takes this to have happened.)
So what did the university do after it decided this rather serious behaviour had occurred?
Besides freezing his pay for one year and revoking [an] endowed position, court records show the university told Ludlow to avoid one-on-one social contact with undergraduates, directed him not to have romantic relationships with “any Northwestern student in the future,” told him not to give alcohol to underage students and required him to complete an individualized “sensitivity/harassment-prevention training” program.
It’s really pretty hard to imagine a milder punishment.
This is, of course, just one example to count against the myth of overreacting to sexual harassment claims. But it’s a vivid one.
Statement from CU Women Faculty February 18, 2014
I have been asked to post this on behalf of the CU Women Faculty.
All of us in the Philosophy Department at CU-Boulder are naturally upset by the fallout following publication of the Site Visit Report authored by a team from the APA-CSW Site Visit Program. Inevitably, we have different takes on the content of the Report. One reason for the differences among us is that we each have access to different evidence, not only because we have different personal histories in the department but also because much of the evidence on which the Report is based is secret by its nature or confidential by law. Despite differing perceptions regarding both the Report’s details and the overall impression it gives, all of us are united on a few things. First, we are all distressed that the Report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct. It could also harm the prospects of our male graduate students currently on the market. We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues). We believe that many have heard about the problems, if at all, only through the rumor mill. The second thing that unites us all is our determination to rebuild the department and its reputation. Receiving the Report has been and continues to be very difficult but it has galvanized us into working extremely hard to make our department once again a place where we can be confident about inviting people from all demographic groups to be colleagues, graduate, and undergraduate students.
Sheralee Brindell, Senior Instructor in Philosophy and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies
Carol Cleland, Professor of Philosophy.
Alison Jaggar, College Professor of Distinction, Philosophy and Women and Gender Studies
Mitzi Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Diane Mayer, Senior Instructor Emerita in Philosophy
Claudia Mills, Associate Professor of Philosophy
So you want to help February 17, 2014
The messages that have been flowing in over the past few days, in the wake of Brian Leiter’s unexpected link to the Yale Daily News article about my involvement in a protest at President Salovey’s inauguration last fall, are not what I expected.
Sure, there are some of the expected: the “me too” from survivors who have been re-traumatized by the recent news of yet more problems in the discipline; the “are there any safe programs?” from advisers of graduate students; and the “am I walking into a nest of badness?” from junior colleagues with likely job offers who don’t want to be complicit in permitting a bad climate. (I can’t answer either of these last two questions, by the way.)
But the single most common message – and one I didn’t expect – has been this: “Philosopher X routinely engages in sexual misconduct. I want to stop it but I don’t know what to do about it.”
I’m beginning to feel like a cut ‘n paste machine responding to these messages, so I thought I’d pause and put together a quick post with suggestions directed at those who are teaching or studying at universities in the U.S.
First, before I get to the suggestions for action: dear reader, if you know a philosopher who was the victim of sexual misconduct and have not yet reached out to him or her with a simple message to say “hi, I’m thinking about you in the wake of the craziness,” stop reading this right now. Send a message. There are a lot of survivors out there who are feeling more alone and isolated than ever, and wondering whether anyone cares about the individuals who have been hurt, as opposed to esoteric debates about abstract issues and policies. Silence can do significant harm.
So, what can be done about a known case of sexual misconduct?
The immediate, first-step answer to this is of course going to depend on both the nature of the problem and the nature of your knowledge of the problem. The best resource I know of for general information about reporting a problem is the guide to reporting on Know Your IX.
Some of the colleagues I’ve spoken with this week, however, have already tried the reporting route, with no result. For those of you who have specific knowledge of a problem, either at your own university or another university, and who have reported without any resolution to the problem, here’s some good news: we are currently at a unique juncture in the history of responding to campus sexual misconduct in the U.S. You can make a difference. Here’s why and how:
March 7, 2014: Campus SaVE Act goes into effect
The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE), included in Sec. 304 in the Senate version of the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, is the most significant reform of policy on how college sexual assaults are handled since the Jeanne Clery Act of 1990 and the Campus Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights of 1992.
The SaVE Act takes effect on March 7, 2014, and requires, among other things, that: (1) universities include reports of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their annual crime statistics (the first SaVE-Act-compliant reports are due in October 2014); (2) universities provide prevention and awareness programs, including bystander training, for all new students, faculty, and employees; (3) universities offer students or employees who are victims of misconduct a change in housing or work environment, including the option of a restraining order; and (4) universities permit both the accused and accuser to have an advocate of their choice – including, if desired, legal counsel – at institutional hearings.
Many universities are going beyond the Campus SaVE Act minimum requirement that all faculty be provided with prevention, awareness, and bystander training, and providing all faculty members with “mandated reporter” training.
If you work or study at a university in the U.S. and have not yet heard anything about the Campus SaVE Act, it’s time to contact your university administrators to request training and find out what the plans are to bring your university into compliance.
January 22, 2014: White House’s Presidential Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
On January 22, 2014, President Obama met with cabinet members and senior advisers on his White House Council on Women and Girls , and then signed a Memorandum to establish a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Section 3 of the Memorandum reads as follows:
(a) Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop and submit proposals and recommendations to the President for:
(i) providing examples of instructions, policies, and protocols for institutions, including: rape and sexual assault policies; prevention programs; crisis intervention and advocacy services; complaint and grievance procedures; investigation protocols; adjudicatory procedures; disciplinary sanctions; and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty;
(ii) measuring the success of prevention and response efforts at institutions, whether through compliance with individual policies or through broader assessments of campus climate, attitudes and safety, and providing the public with this information;
(iii) maximizing the Federal Government’s effectiveness in combatting campus rape and sexual assault by, among other measures, making its enforcement activities transparent and accessible to students and prospective students nationwide; and
(iv) promoting greater coordination and consistency among the agencies and offices that enforce the Federal laws addressing campus rape and sexual assault and support improved campus responses to sexual violence.
(b) Within 1 year of the date of this memorandum, and then on an annual basis, the Task Force shall provide a report to the President on implementation efforts with respect to this memorandum.
Members of the Task Force are listed in the President’s Memorandum. All of the members of the Task Force are actively seeking recommendations. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Office in the Department of Justice is particularly receptive to concerns and suggestions. Recommendations are due back to the President in 90 days.
Much of the Task Force’s focus is currently on student-on-student sexual assault. If you are concerned about faculty-on-student sexual misconduct, please take a moment to let a member of the task force know that it is also important to provide the White House with recommendations for preventing and responding to faculty misconduct.
January 29, 2014: House of Representatives Letter to the Office of Civil Rights
On January 29, 2014, 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), with content advice from members of ED Act Now, urging the OCR to issue a new Dear Colleague Letter of guidance (see, e.g., the April 2011 and April 2013 Dear Colleague Letters) to improve transparency of campus data, investigations, and enforcement data by, among other things, creating a centralized database, and also to provide additional guidance for responding to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.
You can help create the momentum required to keep Congress focused on this issue by contacting the representatives and/or senators for your state. Again, please let them know that your concerns are related to how best to prevent and respond to faculty sexual misconduct.
Because many offices receive 500 or more emails per day, it is often best to call first, and then send a follow-up email to a specific staff member.
Here’s the site with links to the list of contact information for the House of Representatives and the Senate: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml Clicking on a name in the list will bring you out to individual web sites, which often have more complete contact information.
(Many Senators and Representatives, by the way, have already been touring universities in their districts, looking for input. If you happen to live in Connecticut, please contact both Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Richard Blumenthal.)
Know your Title IX (reposted) February 16, 2014
Interesting information in the comments makes this material worth reposting:
Here’s a resource that looks useful for understanding Title IX issues. It’s geared primarily to students who may have needs and need assistance, but don’t know where to turn or what to do. http://knowyourix.org
Some thoughts on epistemic responsibility February 15, 2014
[Trigger warning for discussion of assault]
Throughout my time as a philosopher, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk regarding ‘epistemic responsibility’ when it comes to discrimination, harassment, and assault. I’ve heard it much more frequently over the last few weeks, and so I feel compelled to say a few words about it. As it happens, I think I have a very different view of the nature of epistemic justification and the conditions under which agents can be said to have it than those who bring up epistemic responsibility in these sorts of conversations, but I want to address a slightly different question: What does moral responsibility require of us when allegations of discrimination, harassment, or assault are made? To be clear, what follows is not an endorsement of a presumption of guilt—rather, it’s an endorsement of action, sympathy, and compassion in the absence of certainty. It seems to me that too often appeals to ‘epistemic responsibility’ justify inaction, undermine progress, and enable serious wrongs.
When discrimination, inequity, and violence are carried out by intentional agents and effectively enabled by the communities in which they occur, withholding all judgment for the sake of epistemic responsibility and withholding all action on account of epistemic reasons will very often quite rightly lead to feelings of further alienation in the victim. If, for example, upon becoming familiar with a report of sexual assault, racial discrimination, or a violent hate-crime, you are not passionately moved, that unaffected reaction cannot help but communicate that there is real sense in which you either do not understand the plight before you, or you do not care. In some circumstances (note: I do mean some), this can be more harmful to a victim than the original offense. A certain amount of stupidity and evil in the world are to be expected. What is generally not expected is for good people to stand witness to severe injury and fail to be demonstrably aggrieved by it (note, here, the aptness of ‘injury’ need not entail that the content of any particular allegation is certainly true, or even true). The unexpected nature of this response often makes the hurt which follows more difficult to deal with. It can communicate indifference, it can normalize suffering, and it can steal away hope.
I do not deny that epistemic responsibility is a great good; but when our epistemic practices prevent us from responding to injury altogether, we are in the neighborhood of vice rather than virtue.
I have experienced attempted rape. Surely I would feel differently had my attacker been successful, but for me, what was most traumatizing was not the assault but rather what happened next. It was in a public park. I was able to get away. I ran to a man reading on a bench and told him what happened. He saw I was being followed. He offered to sit with me until it looked like it would be safe to walk home. But that was all he did (and I do mean that was all: he did not offer to take me to the police, to call any one, etc., and it didn’t occur to me to ask for those things). I sat with him for two hours on that bench in silence. In retrospect, I’m sure he just didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what to say—but in those two hours, and in some months that followed, I felt like what happened must not really matter because it didn’t seem to matter much to him. I thought that I was being silly for feeling angry, violated, and scared. In those later moments where I didn’t doubt myself, I doubted the world at large—the capacity of my fellow humans to do right, to be even minimally decent.
I don’t ever want to be the man on that bench to someone else, whether I think I know what happened or not.
The discussion here suggests that there are particular issues raised by the fact that the behaviour cited took place
off-campus. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into much detail about the issues raised, or how the university could make a finding of such misconduct despite the behaviour being “outside its jurisdiction”. So I find the reporting on the legal issues very confusing.
The lawsuit says NU’s sexual harassment and prevention director emailed the university’s findings to the plaintiff on or about April 11, 2012: “In particular, Ms. Slavin found that Ludlow initiated kissing, French kissing, rubbing Plaintiff’s back, and sleeping with his arms on and around Plaintiff on the night of February 10-11, 2012.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, plus interest, attorney fees, punitive damages, costs associated with litigation, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
The 2012 alleged incident occurred at a series of bars, art exhibitions and Ludlow’s apartment, according to the lawsuit, where the student, then under-aged, says she was forced to drink alcohol. She also says Ludlow acted inappropriately.
All the locations were off-campus and outside university jurisdiction, however.
Raphael said this case represents a national issue.
“This is a problem in many schools and universities in the country; this not just Northwestern,” Raphael said. Title IX “is trying to train schools to follow the complaints, but they move slowly … It’s a cultural issue; you see it in the Catholic Church, see it as closing of the doors, protecting itself, dragging its feet in terms of dealing with sexual assaulters.”
(Many thanks to Jackie Taylor both for supplying the link, and for noticing that I forgot to include it.)
A problem among students? February 11, 2014
Let’s hope they know it isn’t just among students:
The U.S. Education Department’s chief enforcer of civil-rights laws said on Monday that her office would be working “faster and better” to make sure colleges abide by federal law in their handling of campus sexual assaults.
Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary of education who heads the department’s Office for Civil Rights, delivered that message to college officials attending a conference here at the University of Virginia called “Dialogue at UVa: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students.” Her statement came just weeks after President Obama promised governmentwide scrutiny of campus sexual assault and singled out college presidents, in particular, for their obligation to do more to keep students safe.
From the CHE.