PSA: women’s caucus/inaugural prize

Philosophy of Science Association

PSA Women’s Caucus Prize: Call for Nominations

The Philosophy of Science Association Women’s Caucus plans to offer a prize biennially for the best book, article, or book chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The first Prize will be awarded in November 2010 at the Association’s meeting in Montreal. The deadline for nominations is May 1, 2010.Nominations, including self-nominations, are strongly encouraged (though not required). The winner will receive a cash award of $500. Nominations should be submitted to both Co-Chairs of the PSA Women’s Caucus:

Kristen Intemann
Kathleen Okruhlik

Assessing Health Care Reform: the post mortems are starting

Frontline tonight is doing what looks to be a highly critical analysis of how the  bill took shape and passed.  It promises an inside look at American politics, so be warned.  People outside North American ought to be able to  watch a  video of the program, but it isn’t clear when it will be up; you can  check the site here.

(h/t to nyeve’s important analysis.)

The National Catholic Reporter, which supported  the HCR bill, has an interesting and detailed report of what it means for access to abortion.  My skimming  through suggested a more positive picture than I had expected – that is, positive from the position of a feminist philosopher, as opposed  to  the NCR.   If you read it more carefully, please let us know what you think.

Quebec says no face veil or no public service

According to Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail, see story here, a young Muslim woman whose face was hidden by a religious covering was pulled out of her government French class near Montreal and told to unveil or leave the course. This is the second such case to come to light in Quebec. The first case led to landmark provincial legislation against religious face veils. Whatever egalitarian sentiments there might be behind the Quebec legislation, it’s clear that those who are hurt by the legislation are women. The law would deny veiled women government services including consulting a doctor in a hospital and having access to education. Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his cabinet introduced the sweeping legislation that effectively bars Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab.

Update on NEH seminar

You may remember our post from a few days ago about a single mother who was accepted to an NEH summer seminar then given 12 hours to arrange childcare on another continent to the satisfaction of the seminar director– or be withdrawn. There was a giant outpouring of outrage round the blogosphere, and an article on Inside Higher Ed, in which an NEH spokesperson made clear that this was against their policies. You’ll be pleased to know that the philosopher/mother in question has been in touch with an NEH lawyer. E writes that “he asked for her patience while the matter is being investigated but made clear that the NEH does not support the kind of demands that were being made of her.”

This is looking likely to be a big, and remarkably rapid win for the Femisphere– hurrah! And many thanks to all of you for helping to spread the word and also to offer support and advice when it was much needed.

And it’s also a lovely teachable moment. The woman who had all this happen to her writes: “Ironically, I’m teaching the chapter on Woman’s Situation in _The Second Sex_ … tonight and we were scheduled to discuss the extent to which things have (and haven’t) changed since then. Now I’ve got the perfect example! It illustrates both the sameness (co-director response) and the change (huge mobilization against that response).”

I do love happy endings. Hope this really does turn out to be one.

A philosophical inquiry into the fairness of impersonal, imperfect procedures.

Or something like that.  

I take it that there are impersonal and imperfect procedures all around us, including all sorts of stuff going on now: hiring, admissions and so on.  But to take it away from any immediate concerns for most of us, let’s suppose you have responsibility for distributing the ballots in a very important faculty election and adding up the results as they come in.  And let’s focus on cases where the alleged mistakes are really fairly egregious. 

So suppose you put the ballots  in the university mail and, lo and behold, the day after the results are finally added up, a small group of faculty come to you and say that they didn’t receive the ballots and they think it was due to the incompetence of a staff person, who has failed to distribute mail correctly  in their department before.  And let’s suppose that  indeed not all the ballots that were put in the mail have  come back. 

What should you say and do?  Take them at their word  and add in the ballots?  Initiate an investigation?  Or tell them that the institution followed proper  procedure  and that’s what you are responsible for.

You can probably easily see how very different situations can have the same structure.  TA grading, journal refereeing, committee decisions about hiring and on and on are all fallible.  And some can have instances of engregious mistakes – ballots not distributed, a TA who just screwed up on some of the grading.  Or it might be the lab processing results from yearly physical exams or looking at potentially important evidence in a crime. 

Let’s suppose the alleged errors  are not really massive enough to invalidate the  whole procedure.  The labs  mess  up in only a few instances, the TAs are generally quite reliable, etc.  The question, then, is:  in such cases,  do the people in charge have any obligation to pay attention to alleged cases of egregious errors?

Why ask this question?  Well, one reason is that  answers to such questions might separate those  of us  attracted to a “care ethics” from others.  And another reason is that there may be political dimensions to such situations that are worth noting. 

One is that very often those pointing out egregious errors may be the supposed victims.  Does their first  person perspective lessen the  value of their claims?  Are they to be thought suspiciously self-serving? 

Futher, are there groups more apt to be victims of egregious errors?  Is a student’s ethnic background revealed in a choice of unfamiliar examples more likely to trigger a “kiss this off” reaction?  Might the fact  that  a sample is supposed to come from an alleged rape case mean the evidence is more or less likely to be treated in the best professional fashion?

So I’m not a moral philosopher, and perhaps I should start off by re-reading Rawls, whom I haven’t thought of for decades.  But maybe enough has been said to ask this question:  Are those implementing an impersonal but imperfect procedure under any obligation to consider reasonable allegations of egregious errors? 

If you can, please do give us some indication of why you have selected the answer you have.

And, to be perfectly up front:  I’m concerned that pleas on behalf of women in academia may be floundering in part because of the stress put at times on impersonal procedures.  Some procedures, of course, may be revealed as discriminatory at their foundation.  But others might be so only in their execution.  If we think impersonal procedures are fair and that claims about alleged abuses are inclined to be self-serving, then we may be perpectuating inequalities  despite what we intend.

An implication might be that those implementing such procedures should check to make sure that the disadvantaged  are in fact not subject to egregious errors.  I suspect this will look like suspicious “special pleading.”

Enough!  What do you think?