Another problem with “we’ll just hire the best.”

So your department resists the idea of intentionally making a minority hire. They think the most just approach is to hire the best of the candidates. However, that recommendation assumes we can achieve a success that might be even more difficult than recent work on biases may make us aware.

One factor is that people in a particular ingroup tend to remember the excellencies achieved by members of that ingroup than those of members of an outgroup. (Gaertner, S. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2000). Reducing intergroup bias : the common ingroup identity model. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.) Supposing this is true, what will the effect be when a white male philosophers is asked to assess overall the quality of student contributions to a seminar he gave? He will have found the white male students, e.g., were sometimes particularly outstanding, while the white female students and minority members were often enough good, but not as outstanding as some of the others.

Perhaps much worse, when looking back over the job candidates, the white males will be more outstanding to the white males on the selection committee, other things being equal. A woman can end up arguing that a female candidate’s cv is as good as a male candidates. One unfortunate consequence is that the female candidate’s qualifications are clarified in an argumentative situation. It all can indeed turn quickly into who is in favor of which gender.

At the risk of making this seem to be more about me than I want to, let me recount what may be an instance of the bias I am describing. About 60 days after my tenure as faculty senate president ended, I discovered that a group of the faculty senate guys had gotten together to nominate our administrator for an award. I asked why I had not been included in the project. I was told that the group just included the present faculty senate president and past presidents. It may of course been that their association with “past faculty senate presidents’ were wholly male. Or it may have been that I was already forgotten. The hypothesis we have looked at here would make sense of the latter possibility.

Crenshaw on Lilla

Unsurprisingly, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw has some important things to say about Mark Lille’s criticism of “identity politics”.

AS THE LIBERAL MIND STRUGGLES to regain its bearings in the wake of the catastrophic election of Donald Trump, the racial apologia that has long rested at the heart of elite liberalism has re-emerged as a cautionary tale about the wages of too much racial justice. Far from calling for the mobilization of every resource to resist the breathtaking resurgence of white nationalism, some self-declared liberals have called for the retirement of racial equity discourse in favor of a universalism that denies the continuing salience of racial power in America.

The Rorschach diagnosis of liberalism’s psychosis comes through most strongly in liberals’ reflexive response to the monstrous resurrection of lynch-mob mentality and its enablement in the White House. While scenes of white supremacy’s galloping return strike terror in the very soul of America’s dispossessed, the analysis that’s gained greatest currency among conflicted white liberals calls to mind D.W. Griffith’s infamous portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan leaders as the heroic vindicators of a humiliated white identity.

Surprisingly, this terrifying resurgence of white anger is not the chief object of liberal outrage; rather, we are told that what’s really precipitated today’s white-supremacist putsch are the excesses of identity politics. By the lights of today’s soothsayers, the beast has been agitated by the telling of tales about its own bloody reign.

Read on.

Sexual harassment, and an inadequate response

A sadly all-too-familiar tale.

Seven current and former professors, including Kidd and Aslin, as well as another former graduate student, have submitted identical EEOC complaints claiming that Jaeger, the University of Rochester, and several administrators violated laws that ban discrimination in the workplace and in federally funded education, and stating their intent to sue if the EEOC does not take up their case. The charges, laid out in a detailed 111-page document, allege that over a span of 10 years Jaeger contributed to a “hostile environment” for some graduate students, postdocs, and professors in the department, causing at least 11 women to actively avoid him and lose out on educational opportunities.

When Aslin and a colleague, Jessica Cantlon, complained to the university about Jaeger’s behavior last year, UR investigated and ultimately cleared him of violations of its harassment and discrimination policy. Yet the EEOC complainants dispute the investigation’s conclusions and say the university has since retaliated against the professors involved.

Read the whole thing.

Interview with Anita Allen

Another great one from Clifford Sosis.

In this interview, Anita Allen, Vice Provost for Faculty, Chair of the Provost’s Arts Advisory Council, and Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, talks about growing up in Fort Benning, the Vietnam war, Christianity, Sinatra, being protected from harsh truths, the Cuban Missile Crisis, unique challenges being a first-generation college student, New College, working with Bryan Norton and Brian Loar, exploring Europe, ballet, University of Michigan, inappropriate advances, Richard Brandt, Carnegie-Mellon, being told she was an affirmative action hire, the philosophy smoker, learning to teach, being admitted to Harvard Law, being a TA forDworkin, Nozick, Sandel and Bok, turning down marriage proposals left and right, creating a field (the philosophy of privacy), struggling with medical issues, working for a law firm, advice to young scholars, her philosophical weaknesses, Sarah Silverman, Kevin Hart, and Steve Martin, election night 2008 versus election night 2016, what she would do if she were queen of the world, and black walnut ice cream…

Read it!

Concordia: Scholarship for international women students

Carol Lee Price Scholarships: funding for female international students pursing and MA in Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics or Ancient Philosophy.

Carol Lee Price Scholarships are intended to attract and support women pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Concordia University (Montreal). Applicants should work on ancient philosophy or logic and philosophy of mathematics. They must be international students. Each scholarship is worth $32,450 CAD; up to two are awarded each year.

The Carol Lee Price MA Scholarship in Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics:
Applicants shall have obtained a BA in Philosophy with high distinction and at least 21 credits (7 courses), or the equivalent in the country of origin, in Mathematics, or a BA in Mathematics with high distinction and at least 21 credits, or the equivalent in their country of origin, in Philosophy. Acceptable research area topics for the MA are Logic, History and Philosophy of Logic, or Philosophy of Mathematics.

The Carol Lee Price MA Scholarship in Ancient Philosophy:
Applicants shall have obtained a BA in Classics with high distinction and at least 21 credits (7 courses), or the equivalent in the country of origin, in Philosophy, or a BA in Philosophy with at least 21 credits, or the equivalent in the country of origin in Classics. Since study of texts in the original languages is required, applicants are expected to know ancient Greek or Latin. Preference will be given to those who know both languages.

Application Instructions:

Applications for the Carol Lee Price Scholarships should be emailed to philosophy.gpd@concordia.cainclude the following items:

(1) Writing Sample. 2,500-3,750 words.

(2) Three letters of reference.

(3) A research project where the applicant outlines a project for her MA.

(4) A letter of purpose, which should not duplicate the research project but rather add some information about the applicants academic background, language skills, etc.

(5) Transcripts. Unofficial transcripts suffice for the application. Official transcripts will be needed when entering the MA problem.

(6) Curriculum vitae.

(7) Proof of proficiency in English. Any of the following will do: TOEFL (minimum in iBT: 90 and no part under 20); IELTS (minimum: 6.5 and no part under 6.5); PTE (minimum: 61 and no part under 53); CAEL (minimum: 70); CAE (minimum: A or 190); CPE (minimum: C).

Deadline for Applications: February 1, together with the regular admissions application.

For additional information, please contact our Graduate Program Director, Department of Philosophy, Concordia University, Montreal, at

First female head of Oxford: It’s not my job to make students feel comfortable.

As reported very recently in the Oxford Times, Louise Richardson has said, “I have had many conversations with students who have come to me and say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in the classroom with somebody with those views.

“And I say ‘I’m sorry, but my job is not to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. In fact, I’m interested in making you uncomfortable. And if you don’t like his views, you challenge them and engage with them and figure out how a smart person like that can have views like that. And figure out how you can persuade him to change his mind’.

Interestingly, she expressed such views sometime ago, in Jan 2016, as you can see in the video below.

Her recent remarks were met with the sort of views one would think would have already led her to modify her speech at least. As the New Statesman said:

Richardson’s advice to “work out how you can persuade him to change his mind” relies on the false assumption that hatred can be overcome by a sophisticated line of argument. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think that a “smart person” can only hate others based on their sexuality (or race, or religion) because no one has debated them skilfully enough to change their minds…

It’s hardly surprising that, at a time when 20 homophobic hate crimes are reported every day, university students feel uncomfortable about tutors who disagree with homosexuality… Her comments also demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how power relationships work. There is, on occasion, some value in exposing bigoted views by preserving freedom of speech, but a tutor-student scenario is vastly different from usual contexts in which this could occur. How is a student meant to feel confident enough to debate their own identity with the professor who will mark their final exams?

Richardson is a representative of a university known to be a reserve of the straight, white, male elite. Her comments are symptomatic of an institution which encourages marginalised groups to see no structural problems, but only problems with themselves. They reinforce the idea that students who are members of minority groups are only welcome in academic spaces if they conceal their identities, or offer them up for debate.

As of now, however, there seems a standoff of sorts, one that leaves on unclear about how she sees the relationship between speech and action.

From the Telegraph:

Meanwhile an open letter to the vice-Chancellor, which gained over 2,000 signatures from students, staff and alumni, warned that her remarks could make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel “unsafe” at university.

Now Prof Richardson has now issued a statement on the university website saying it is a “matter of great regret” that her comments are “being used to call into question this impressive, sustained endeavour to make Oxford a diverse and inclusive university”.

On SOAS students’ demand to diversity curriculum

Stella Sandford.


Philosophy and philosophers rarely make it into the mainstream news in the UK. But in January 2017 Plato and Kant hit the headlines. “They Kant be Serious! PC students demand white philosophers including Plato and Descartes be dropped from university syllabus”, shouted the MailOnline; “Newsnight guest DEFENDS calls to ban Plato and Kant because the Enlightenment is ‘racist’”, spluttered The Sunday Express. The Sun upped the ante by adding a few more names to the list: “Barmy SOAS students try to ban classical philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Voltaire from their courses … because they are white”. These figures, along with the likes of Bertrand Russell are, according to The Mail (which The Telegraph’s Education Editor then apparently copied), among the “titans of philosophy” whose names “underpin civilisation”. On the day on which I looked at this The Sunday Express online article appears under a banner of sex videos including “Mila Kunis stripped bare …”, “Katherine Heigl stripped bare …” It isn’t stated whether this is the kind of “civilisation” which Kant et al underpin.

Read on…

A bad experience, and some really useful reflections

I’ll let you go read about the bad experience yourself.  But here’s a taster of the useful reflections.

I think it might help if instructors/ and institutions in general (!) reflected (along with the students) on what to do when a student conveys that something is offensive. Offensiveness is something that should be taken seriously, and one should presume the feelings are legitimate, and try to identify and correct their source. Here it would have been effortless to change examples, or apologize for the literature. There may be cases where just one student is offended. There may even be cases where the instructor can[‘t] imagine why someone is offended or thinks they shouldn’t be. Even here, it is important to respond with an effort to take the student’s perspective seriously. A white heterosexual male teacher is not necessarily in the best position to see why the example of Sultans choosing women can make people feel uncomfortable. The teacher can, at that point, engage with the student to come up with a better example.

People who are charged with offensiveness get angry sometimes, and try to turn the tables and attack their accusers or claim they have been persecuted by “thought police.” It is helpful to anticipate that reply, and to make it explicitly clear that this is not about censorship; it is about effective and inclusive instruction. An islamic student hearing the sultan example will not be any more motivated to learn than a Jewish student hearing an example about a Jewish moneylender. This is not a matter of people being delicate, sensitive, or overly emotional. It is about creating a classroom that doesn’t promote bigotry and where people who ask for respect are heard. The examples are an unfortunate residue of a very sexist period in a field that remains male dominated. Efforts to remove sexist examples are no less important than efforts to diversify the university population. They are part of the same process. To speak out about this is not delicacy or weakness.

Adding a fake man

The sexism they faced was subtle, Gazin notes. It wasn’t as if anyone said, “Hey, toots, let me speak to Keith.” But when she reached out, Dwyer also told Fast Company, “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.” Of course, Keith always had to cancel on conference calls at the last minute.

For the full story of the invention of Keith (that’s Keith Mann!), go here.