Pluralists’ Guide recommends department with ongoing harassment scandal

As a member of one of the “SPEP departments” which is valorized for its “women-friendly climate”, I feel compelled to relate a little detail of how considerations such as this work out locally.

Our department was recently involved in a major scandal concerning a male professor who repeatedly made sexual advances towards undergraduate students and even groped a young freshman in his office during his office hours. The department response to these offenses came not from the departmental faculty, or Affirmative Action, but from the graduate students (including myself), who were appalled by such conduct as well as the seeming lack of concern from the departmental and university administration. This disconnect prompted us to compose an open letter effectively forcing the issue and listing our remedial demands.

For more, go here.

89 thoughts on “Pluralists’ Guide recommends department with ongoing harassment scandal

  1. I very much hope that the makers of the PG and/or members of its advisory board will say something about this post. Brian L has not opened comments on it so this would be the place to do it. Up until now, Linda A has been the sole voice of the PG in blogspace, bit I know that lots of people who were involved read this blog and it is time for people to step up and speak to this. It is now completely clear that the publication of the climate rankings was recklessly, scandalously irresponsible.

  2. I have just read Linda’s ongoing defense of the list, even in light of this new revelation, over on the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog. I encourage people to go look at her response, which I find deeply upsetting. Here is part of what I commented over there:

    Let’s be perfectly clear about the current situation: there is an official-looking guide up RIGHT NOW that says (de re) that female students are strongly recommended to go to a department that has a well-documented, major sexual harassment problem, and at which many of the grad students have signed a letter complaining about a poor climate for women. And [Alcoff is] defending this and refusing to take it down.

    Once again, let me add that it’s not fair that Linda is the only voice here. Why is no one else who helped make the guide saying anything about this? Someone please talk me down off the ledge because at the moment I am feeling really despairing about the culture of feminist philosophy and its epistemic and moral integrity. We are supposed to be protecting *women*, and not our professional reputations even at the cost of putting them in harm’s way.

  3. I don’t understand why people won’t publish the name of the school. If the suit is the kind of information that affects a school’s “climate towards women”, isn’t that the kind of information that should be made public when it becomes available? And if it’s not information that needs to be made public, should it really count against the guide?

    It’s hard to take criticism against the pluralist guide seriously if the criticizer (esp. if tenured) seems fine with keeping this weird gag rule in place. I get that openly making a critical judgment of a department is not a trivial matter. Is the climate in all of philosophy really such that openly remarking on depts with harassment suits is just not an option?

    Maybe the guide is irresponsible. I have a hard time though thinking it’s more irresponsible than a culture in general that makes it taboo to point out an institution or professional that has serious allegations against them, as if the spread of that knowledge will do irreparable harm that outweighs the good coming from people knowing what goes on with institutions and professionals (this is regardless of whether the allegations are true or not).

  4. Logoskaieros:

    I don’t really think it is surprising that students are scared of the legal ramifications and the impacts on their careers that could come from open whistle-blowing. I am not personally happy about hiding the school or the professors involved, which I happen to know. In fact I am itching to expose not only the harasser but also the ‘feminist’ philosopher who encouraged the students to keep quiet to preserve their ranking. But it is not my school and it is clearly not my place to whistle-blow on the students’ behalf.

    I agree with you that this information really should be made public as quickly and widely as possible. But that seems quite beside the point when it comes to whether the ‘guide’ should be retracted and removed, unless the makers of the guide are actually claiming that the students are not only keeping the name of the school quiet but actually lying, which would be quite something to claim. If you aren’t accusing them of lying, then I honestly don’t know why not knowing the school makes it ‘hard to take criticism against the pluralist guide seriously’.

  5. It should definitely count against the guide if It recommends programs as good that aren’t good. And it is a bad feature of the guide if it counts as bad programs that aren’t bad. I don’t see how there is any room for “maybes” here.

    There is sufficient evidence to judge that this part of the guide was irresponsibly produced.

    But prof. Alcoff is definitely right that there is a real need for something like the climate guide, and we should at least be thankful that she stuck her neck out for something like this. Even though her performance in defending the product is embarrassing, hasn’t the what it is like blog shown that there is a need for something like what she’s done?

    So I hope that those of us who are criticizing the Climate guide will work to put something in it’s place. Prof Alcoff stepped up because no one else did. The climate guide in its current manifestation I defective, but something needs to go In its place.

    How feasible woul it be for the apa to take something like the rutgers survey prof. Chang posted in another thread, and distribute it to, e.g., current and recently departed graduate students at phd granting institutions in north America?

  6. Rebecca, fear is a powerful thing. It’s a shame when it’s full-time faculty with tenure who are nervous because of something or someone.

  7. Leiter has led the charge against the Pluralist’s Guide and uses the current information as evidence that the Guide is deeply flawed and irresponsible. What Leiter doesn’t consider is that sexual harassment and related problems for women are so ubiquitous at so many departments that the current scandal represents more the norm than the exception. Thus, the current revelations do not so much undermine the credibility of the SPEP — other factors may be relevant, certainly — but rather point up that such problems are endemic in the profession at large, and even present at departments with some reputation for being “woman-friendly”. This is a point that many in the profession are still loathe to concede. Furthermore, it is difficult not to see a self-serving motive in Leiter’s strenuous attacks on SPEP.

  8. Larry Hubbard: I have no idea what you are talking about. It is graduate students who are nervous. If you are talking about me – I am not nervous in the slightest. I am respecting requests for anonymity from people more junior and vulnerable than I am, despite my having made a case for going more explicitly public. If you don’t mean me, what full time tenured faculty are you talking about??

  9. maenad–

    Leiter may or may not have a self-serving agenda, but it seems to me largely irrelevant at this point. If you read the threads on Leiter and here:

    You will see that plenty of people who are not Leiter and who clearly do not have such an agenda have issued very clear and comprehensive–and, I think, correct–criticisms of the Climate section of the guide and its methodology. (Not that I should need to point this out–even if it was JUST Leiter, you’d be committing the genetic fallacy to think that the cogent criticisms he has offered of the guide are somehow to be ignored simply because he (in your eyes) is biased against SPEP. He’s made several clearly correct criticisms that have yet to be addressed by the organizers.)

    I agree with you that sexual harassment and related problems for women are ubiquitous in our profession. However, it is clear that some departments deal with this sort of thing better than others, that some really do work to prevent it from happening, that some would address the kind of issue raised by the writer of the letter instead of leaving it up to GRADUATE STUDENTS, that some would not try to cover up their tracks in order to appear women-friendly.

    If you really think it is justifiable to recommend a department in which things like those described by the letter-writer occur–both the incidents and the faculty and administration’s response to it–as women-friendly, then so be it. But contrast this behavior with that of, say, Rutgers, which we now have evidence takes these issues very seriously and is committed to working to make sure these sorts of things don’t happen. Why does the latter department belong on the recommended list, while Rutgers needs improvement? Can you tell us of a very serious sexual harassment scandal that is occurring at Rutgers that is being covered up by the faculty? Do you think that the women at the department where the scandal occurred would almost all sign their names to a letter of the sort that the female Rutgers graduate students have written?

  10. You write:

    “Once again, let me add that it’s not fair that Linda is the only voice here. Why is no one else who helped make the guide saying anything about this?”

    I’m behind you 100%.

  11. Larry: My sincere apologies – I didn’t read you charitably at all. I’m worked up and extra-sensitive right now.

  12. Actually “Leiter” has been explicit that the only part of the SPEP/SAAP Guide that is scandalous and irresponsible is the section on “Climate for Women.” Leiter made no such complaints about the other parts of the SPEP/SAAP Guide, indeed, here is a quote: “I think it’s actually a good thing for philosophers involved with SPEP to have set out systematically how the philosophical world looks to them; I just expressed the wish that they be much clearer about what they’ve done.” On the other hand, the tone-deaf response of Alcoff et al. to the meritorious objections to the “Climate for Women” section runs the risk of undermining the whole project.

  13. I want to emphasize, again, that the guide is a poll of expert opinion.

    If it reveals, or leads to discussions that reveal evidence, showing that this expert opinion is incorrect, this is a _good_ thing. Faculty often make recommendations to their students about where they think it would be good (or bad) for them to study. If it ends up that a faculty member falsely thinks that a school has a good or bad climate for women, it is good to engage evidence that might lead them to change their opinion and hence better advise their students.

  14. Expert opinion of what though? They might be expert philosophers, but that doesn’t mean any opinion they might have of a philosophy department deserves to be called an “expert opinion”.

    It is not a poll of people with intimate knowledge of the departments. That has become clear.

  15. Carla,

    Notwithstanding that showing expert opinion to be false can be valuable, the guide is not presented as an investigation of the truth or falsity of expert opinion. The question is whether there was *good reason* to think departments a, b, and c woman-friendly and departments x, y, and z not to be, and it seems that by many different measures there was not, *even though what is clearly suggested by the climate rankings is that there was*. Indeed, we might also say that it is a good thing the Pluralist Guide climate rankings were so methodologically unsound, because now we have an object lesson. Surely that does not make the rankings worthy of approbation.

    On the other hand, if your intention was not to defend/praise the climate rankings but, granting their gross inadequacy, merely to accentuate the positive, then I guess that’s fine.

  16. I have the sense that I’ve missed a step here. I see that there are good grounds for thinking that the “Climate for Women” report is in error. I don’t see the grounds for thinking it was done irresponsibly, if that’s taken to mean that its authors should have known better, in some way/sense.. Maybe that case has been made and I’ve just missed it. However, as far as I can tell, it may be that there are overlapping views in the philosophy community that will show we are in general quite ill-informed about how very difficult it is to devise what might be called adequate measuring techniques. Ditto for using them and interpreting them. And double ditto for getting positive results from the whole thing.

    The idea that there is some simple and effective procedure for surveying people that will lead to some good changes is probably wrong, at least as far as I can see.

    In fact, rather than always survey the people involved, what seems to have happened is that the opinion of feminists familiar in general with the philosophy community were consulted. I think I agree with Carla and that the result is what is what it is, and it has a value. Tons of rankings are done on reputation. Here the error might be more in drawing conclusions about where to go, since there will be a time lag effect. But then if I remember correctly Brian warns explicitly about time lag effects. It is exceptionally hard to avoid them.

    As for doing climate surveys: I have had two experiences with doing climate surveys. One was done by an outside consulting firm and one was done by faculty – largely in the business school – with a lot of expertise in doing surveys. A company who is going to bring in expertise in the area to hold some workshops and survey willing faculty charged in the $100,000-200,000 range ten years ago. (It is in fact hard to get responses from faculty and the number of faculty they deal with might top at 30%-40% after people are badgered to respond; the firm probably had about 350-400 responses.) Since I had some involvement with the mechanics of the second, I know that it took months to refine the questions and weeks to interprete the results, though all the data was on computers. People will interpret the questions wrongly, interpret how to answer wrongly, fill out questions knowingly incorrectly because they are angry or because they are high, etc, and so on and so forth. There are ways to mitigate the effects of these problems. In any case, with the first climate survey, everyone who disagreed ignored it. The second one got reported in various newspapers and everyone who disagreed denied that it was done correctly, that the question were unbiased, that there had been proper control over the distribution of the questionaires and so on.

  17. If it is possible for a person to have a lifetime experience of philosophy and to become a recognized professional in the field and still be an arrogant, sexist, immoral rascal, possibly we should consider that there is something wrong with the modern “profession” of philosophy.

    Didn’t Plato tell Thrasymachus that what we are doing here is serious business, finding the way to choose the very best life a person can live?

  18. “I have the sense that I’ve missed a step here. I see that there are good grounds for thinking that the “Climate for Women” report is in error. I don’t see the grounds for thinking it was done irresponsibly, if that’s taken to mean that its authors should have known better, in some way/sense.. Maybe that case has been made and I’ve just missed it.”
    Here’s a few steps that might have been missed if one has not been following the discussion in the philosophy blogoshere:
    1. A department can have a very bad climate, and indeed be dangerous to women, due to the actions of a small minority of the faculty or others in the department.
    2. Members of a department can create a terrible climate, or even make a situation of danger, without this being easily detectable from the outside. (Sometimes it is not even known to everyone from the inside.)
    3. Both 1 and 2 are widely discussed in the literature on climate, so it is reasonable to expect anyone producing a list of recommendations to know them.
    4. Given 1 and 2, it is completely clear that a survey of a small number of professional feminist philosophers, the vast majority of whom have never been in department x cannot possibly give us good grounds for thinking that department x does not have a bad, or even dangerous climate.
    5. 4 is such an obvious inference that one can be expected to make it.
    6. A great deal is at stake here. A wrong recommendation that department x has a good climate for women can put people at risk.
    7. Nonetheless, recommendations were made to impressionable students that they take departments as having a very good climate on the basis of a survey of a small number of professional feminist philosophers.
    8. Therefore the authors of this list should have known better and have been epistemically and morally irresponsible in putting out these recommendations on these grounds.

    I hope that is a helpful filling in of the relevant steps.

  19. Rebecca Kukla has called for other PG advisory board members (beyond Linda Alcoff) to make explicit whether they still stand by the climate for women reports, given the objection (raised by several) that not outside persons, but those inside the respective department should be surveyed. Carla Fehr, who contributed as an advisory board member to the climate for women survey, responds above at #13:
    “I want to emphasize, again, that the guide is a poll of expert opinion. If it reveals, or leads to discussions that reveal evidence, showing that this expert opinion is incorrect, this is a _good_ thing.”

    Carla Fehr clearly asserts that the advisory board members (who are outside observers of the departments reported on) are in fact experts (though fallible experts) on the climate for women question. She appears to still defend the survey’s methodology– including the contentious choice to not survey female faculty and students inside the department–phrased in terms of “expert” talk, which to my mind implies that the women in the respective departments are not experts regarding their situation.

    I suppose that this is not the response that Rebecca was hoping for, but let’s see whether other advisory board members will go on record claiming that they are (fallible) experts about the situation of others, while the students in the respective department are non-experts, or whether by now some board members are willing to dissociate themselves from the climate for women part of the PG.

    P.S.: In response to the above debate on whether the climate report was irresponsible, i.e., whether its contributors should have known better: This is to my mind a less relevant issue, the question is what view the advisory board members have at this point and what they eventually decide to do about the report.

  20. mm and Simon,

    I am an expert on gender and academic work climate. For the last five years I have been a co-PI on an NSF ADVANCE grant designed, in part, to improve climate–we focus on faculty, not students. Anne is correct that climate is very difficult to measure and that those measures are very difficult to turn into effective action. The first step to meaningful change is for a community to be willing to discuss a problem. Overall in philosophy, I think it is clear that there is a problem. The Pluralist’s Guide provides an opportunity to discuss it.

    To clarify my earlier post:

    I imagine that we all make recommendations to students about where to apply based on a school’s reputation, and that our opinions about a school’s reputation can be more or less accurate, and more or less up to date. Most of the time, when we think about reputation, there is no discussion of the importance of the for climate for women. I am not saying that women students at a school where the climate is chilly cannot succeed. There are example out there of women who have. But, a chilly climate can make it more difficult for women to succeed than for men. It can lead to the attrition of excellent women. I would be happiest if my students went to schools where there were not these additional barriers for women students. I am frustrated at the lack of attention to the significance of these barriers for the success of women students and for the underrepresentation of women in the profession.

    What the Guide does, is put issues of gender and climate front and center. I am grateful for this.

    My earlier point was that the Guide is not and should not be the last thing done along these lines. There is room for constructive discussion about how it could be better. It is addressing an important issue that is difficult to address. There is also room for constructive discussion about whether or not the opinions reported in the guide map on to the state of affairs in a particular program.

    The second point is important because this is the sort of discussion that needs to happen if departments are to improve their reputation with regard to climate. That reputation exists whether or not the Guide reports it. Knowing that it exists is good because it demonstrates the need for departments to let people know that they are a good place for women students. I want reputation to map as well as possible onto the actual state of affairs. It can help me better advise my students. Departments with recently improved climates should also want their reputation to be improved. It will help them recruit excellent women students.

  21. I agree with the bulk of prof. Brigandts comment. Just to clarify though… One important complaint isn’t that “not outsiders, but insiders” should be surveyed, but that not *only* outsiders should be surveyed. To never consult anyone in the climate is just….

  22. Prof Fehr,

    I agree with a lot of what you just wrote… See my first comment on this thread. There needs to be something like a climate guide.

    I just would hate to see that point tangled up with a defense of the guide in its current (defective) manifestation.

  23. Mark, I don’t think it is that easy. My question is meant to indicate that the development of the report was within the bounds of standard practice in philosophy and indeed in academia. As far as I can now see, it is. We’re asked all the time to assess what sort of educational experience a person will get at some place. Nonetheless, as you point out, “Members of a department can create a terrible climate, or even make a situation of danger, without this being easily detectable from the outside. (Sometimes it is not even known to everyone from the inside.)” These do not have to be about sexual harassment. There can be professors who steal students’ work, who place unreasonable demands on students, who are mean and abusive to students, who are drunk when they grade, etc, etc.. There can even be very famous philosophers who come close to causing nervous breakdowns or indeed succeed. Ratings and recommendations are made in academia all the time without specific investigations of these additional factors.

    One hopes a lot of them become known. In addition, within a group a great deal of information may be shared that isn’t otherwise available. Young female grad students do write to senior femminist philosophers occasionally about what to do, or talk to them at conferences, and a great deal of information is shared among women. That may be the best we can do now. To pull a topic totally out of the blue, a list of the top ten places to study metaphysics may well include two or more where men receive an education far superior ot that of women. It may include a place where the very brightest students are slightly misled and cajoled into thinking that their actually brilliant idea was far underdeveloped and that’s why the professor stole it didn’t refer to them when he presented it, etc. etc. Plagarism can derail one almost as much as harassment, in my experience.

  24. 1) Prof Fehr, as an expert on academic work climate and a member of the relevant advisory board, and given your view that the PG climate guide is properly understood as a poll of departments’ reputation among similar experts, why did you allow the PG to dangerously misrepresent its climate guide? The PG makes a de re claim that the the “strongly recommended” departments “have indications that female graduate students share an equally active role with males and are equally supported, and that there are no causes for general concern about gender parity” and that departments that “need improvement” “have indications that there are causes for concern about gender equality for graduate students.” Why did you personally not insist that instead “strongly recommended” departments be correctly characterised as those having a good reputation among relevant experts, and those that “need improvement” be correctly characterised as those having a poor reputation? And given your (justified) concerns about the climate for women in philosophy overall, why did you allow the publication of a guide that leaves the very opposite impression – that good departments outnumber bad sevenfold?

    2) The silence from other members of the advisory board is outrageously deafening. For example, Sally Haslanger, another PG climate advisory board member, is one of the owners of the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog where Linda Alcoff is defending the PG climate guide in an increasingly evasive fashion. Prof Haslanger herself first forcefully defended the guide on Brian Leiter’s blog, and then less forcefully as more and more damning facts came to light. Why the total silence now? Why not interject *on your own blog*?

  25. Once upon a time there was a secret meeting of the wise old** women. They agreed on a dark document that would direct the future of young women and send them to perdition forever and ever. Finally, in a last move designed to keep the coven hidden for ever, they put the whole thing up on the web and invited comments. So, so clever.

    The comments were very negative, for the most part, and everyone seemed to believe the coven had made serious mistakes. Actually, one or two people unwisely objected to the new truths about completely harmonious departments, but they did so in loose and facetious language, and they were well and truly savaged also.

    Now the wise old women did not immediately declare themselves to be total f..k-ups. (They were truly wicked, you can tell.) They actually thought that there must be something of merit in their report since they were women of manifest goodwill who had dedicated large portions of their lives to improving things for other women. (This is indeed a dark tale, where good is bad and everyone gets horribly confused.)

    So the wise old women tried to explain what might be good ways to see things, and for that earned still more disapprobation.

    Let us reflect on this tale. Personally, I hope I don’t leap on these opportunities to demonize women in the profession. It is so common that I’m actually seriously worried that I’ve participated in it. We should all be worried that we participate in it.

    We’re all fallible. Some people have an amazing track record of trying to help other women. What is it that leads us to think we are entitled to put the worst interpretation on things such women do?

    Not, mind you. that I want to say anyone has actually done anything, so I’d appreciate not having tons of sh*t piled on me. This is a performance. Do with it as you wish. The challenge is always that we make the best of others’ efforts.

    **”old” here is not ageist. Rather, it comes from the German “als” and means “other.” It is mean to indicate that the women are other; that is, quite special in some way. Of course, being a special women is… well, you decide what it is.

  26. Anne, I’m not sure what you mean to imply by characterizing my post as “easy”, but I was quite aware of the fact that your question was “meant to indicate that the development of the report was within the bounds of standard practice in philosophy and indeed in academia.” And my argument was a challenge to that claim. Nothing that you say addresses that argument at all. You point out that there are other ways to make an experience bad – and I certainly agree. You point out that young female students sometimes talk to senior feminists – I agree, (and would even note that young female students sometimes talk to men about such things as well.) Of course none of this makes the methodology look even a little bit more reasonable, or the advice even a little bit less reckless. So pending a response that actually engages with what I wrote, I continue to think that it is exactly that easy.

    It is also worth noting that ytour reference in 25 to facetious language seems somehow ironic since 25 is, by a huge margin, the most facetious and sarcastic post in this thread.

  27. Anne – Why make this characterological? I haven’t seen anyone else do that. Many of us are now calling for a concrete action – a retraction of the guide, in light of problems with it that have emerged, qua guide. That does not slam any individual’s character or past intentions. The idea that no one can call for any action because they might be insulting whoever did the thing that calls for action now is a recipe for bitter quietism.

  28. RIchard:
    Thank you, I was misunderstanding. I retract the characterization of 25 as ironic.

  29. Mark, what I was trying to do was to make the case that the guide for women conformed to the same standards as, say, the everyday or even the more official guides for grad students interested in metaphysics.

    I thought your argument was easy, facile, in the sense that you were assuming the obvious known problems shows their methodology to fall outside the professions standards. I tried to point out that the obvious known problems apply to just about all recommendations. Hence, the report met the standards other guides do, on the evidence presented so far.

    I’m not sure what it going on with your comment about my comment about facetious. I also don’t know how much I’m really exaggerating. It is very easy to read some comments as though some really bad group action is slowly being revealed. I’m just very suspicious when women pile on women, as does happen sometimes in this blog and, obviously, elsewhere. It is as though the possible interpretations are narrowed. Normally, if someone says something to me that seems at first stupid and insulting, I have a range on interpretations. They go from “I have probably misread the whole thing and am completely wrong” on through several steps to “It does really seem this author does not know what she is talking about” to “this is an attempt to insult and belittle me” and onto “She is trying to hurt the department, the profession,” and onto “this is a bad sneaky deceeitful and possibly evil person.”

    It would be tedious to draw up a chart and place all the comments about the report on it. My impression, which could well be wrong, of course, is that a fair number go beyond wrong and are over towards intentional malfeasance.

    Interpretations like that seem to me one of the worst things that women in our field face. I would love to relate my own experiences, because I am in fact really, really angry about the way women. including myself, can get trashed so easily.

  30. Rebecca, your comment, “Someone please talk me down off the ledge because at the moment I am feeling really despairing about the culture of feminist philosophy and its epistemic and moral integrity,” wasn’t about character?

    Did I get the wrong person here? And am I now doing just what I criticized.

    I really did mean that what I did was give a performance and people could make of it what they want. I totally mean it when I say that we need to make the best of what people are doing, if we possibly can. There can be enormous benefits from what has been occcurring.

  31. Is there really an easy way out of this, or an easy way to gather useful and unproblematic data on the climate for women in specific departments? This is completely aside from the issue over the usefulness of the Pluralists’ Guide current status (which I have no comment on, at all).

    Lots of folks have talked about surveying women faculty, but surely one major problem with doing a survey of women philosophy faculty is that some departments have so few women faculty that the other members of the department would immediately know who is responsible for the negative evaluation, and then retaliate against the person(s).

  32. Anne – It’s true – the culture of feminist philosophy at this very moment sucks, doesn’t it? Is this fun? No. Is it productive and good for women in the profession? I didn’t think so. That names no individuals and makes reference to no character traits, which I take it are essentially individualistic. I actually went out of my way to frame that comment in a way that specifically DIDN’T invoke anyone’s character. I stand by both my comments.

  33. Rebecca, I really don’t think it sucks. I think this is the sort of upheaval that one gets as change occurs, and I don’t have doubts about the integrity of feminist philosophy or of those involved. It’s just very, very hard to get everything right once one steps outside the well worn track. All in my humble opinion, of course.

  34. Anne: I hope you are right. I plan on checking with my buddy, the owl of Minerva, once dusk falls.

  35. Anne:
    If I want to recommend a place as one where you can learn metaphysics, I will base it upon (a) first-hand knowledge that someone there knows a lot about metaphysics – something I’ll know by reading their work, and (b) less direct knowledge about their teaching, from talking to their students, seeing them present at conferences, etc. If there are others at the department who are bad, corrupt, or incompetent teachers, it won’t much affect the issue. You don’t need to study with everyone, and one pretty quickly learns who is worth studying with and who isn’t. When it comes to questions about climate – and yes, I get those questions a lot from students in several under-represented categories – it is much harder, because knowing that there is a good, supportive, mentoring, feminist professor at the department doesn’t settle the matter. One sexually harassing pig can ruin the whole climate, no matter how decent the others are. In this way the case is very different from learning metaphysics. So I tell them if I know of someone bad who you must watch out for, but for the most part the best I can do is to warn them that there are a lot of departments with bad climates around these issues. I try to help students who might enter the profession develop the skills they will need to confront problems that might arise. I tell them that I stand ready to support them in any way I can if they do encounter them, and I put them in touch with others who will as well.

    What I will never do is tell someone that department x has no real problems and the climate is fine there, unless I have really thorough recent evidence of this. And maybe not even then.

  36. Hi. I am a current NYU graduate student (male). The NYU folks have been pretty quiet. This is perhaps not surprising: NYU *is* a department that needs improvement with respect to its climate for women graduate students. NYU, as a department, has acknowledged as much in various ways. I’ll get to that. I completely agree, however, with all of the criticisms made with respect to the methodology of the climate guide. Any 3 randomly chosen departments are probably just as likely to need improvement as the 3 actually identified. That is perhaps a sad comment on the state of the profession, given that I have just conceded that at least one of those three (NYU) does in fact need improvement. I think it quite plausible that 1 in 3 philosophy departments “need improvement,” even if one hears that phrase not just literally, but with all of the disapprobation that is pretty clearly implied.

    The point I would like to make is that although there has been a lot of hemming and hawing about how difficult it is to measure climate, or how hard it would be for any outsider to assess what a department is really like for women, or what kind of survey would have to be designed (would it include outsiders and insiders, current students, former students, etc.), the truth is that the fact that NYU needs improvement would be easily read off of the “objective” and easily identifiable statistics that Matt Smith and others have suggested.

    I would alter Matt Smith’s suggestion slightly:

    1. Number of tenured female faculty and ratio of tenured women to tenured men.
    2. Number of untenured female faculty and ratio of untenured women to untenured men.
    3. Number of current female graduate students and ratio of current female graduate students to current male graduate students.
    4. Number of female PhD recipients in past 15 years and ratio of female PhD recipients to male PhD recipients in past 15 years.
    5. Number of female PhD recipients in past 15 years who are in TT jobs and ratio of female PhD recipients in past 15 years in TT jobs to male PhD recipients in past 15 years in TT jobs.

    Looking at the publicly available data for NYU:

    NYU has 2 tenured female faculty and 18 tenured male faculty (so 10% of tenured faculty are female).
    NYU has 2 untenured female faculty and 0 untenured male faculty (so 100% of untenured faculty are female).
    NYU’s webpage lists 49 graduate students, 13 women and 36 men (so 26.5% of NYU graduate students are female) .
    NYU’s webpage lists 31 PhD recipients since the program restarted in 1997, 7 women and 24 men (so 22.6% of NYU PhD recipients are female).
    3 0f the 7 female PhD recipients are in TT jobs (42.9%). 21 of the 24 men are in TT jobs (87.5%).

    So, NYU has a dramatically imbalanced senior faculty, a dramatically imbalanced graduate student population, there appears to be a proportionately greater number of women who begin but do not complete the program (although the numbers here get pretty small, and the ratio of men to women may have been even worse at the beginning), and the percentage of female PhDs who get TT jobs is dramatically smaller than the percentage of male PhDs who get TT jobs.

    Of course, there are a million caveats. In NYU’s case, it is a new department, there were significant growing pains at the beginning, and major changes have been made and are in the process of being made. There are also, of course, always concerns about small sample sizes (maybe person X left the program because person X really didn’t want to be a philosopher, and it wouldn’t have mattered which department person X attended). That’s a reason to begin collecting this data and tracking it over a long period of time, not to ignore it entirely.

    But I can’t help but think that it would be *extremely illuminating* to see these numbers for each department. Thanks to Brian Leiter’s push for transparent placement records, this wouldn’t be terribly difficult. The one piece of information that would be useful (and which is not typically public) is the attrition rate broken down by gender. (This would prevent one from trying to infer the attrition rate by looking at the current student gender ratio and the PhD recipient gender ratio–an imperfect way of doing things, particularly in the short term.) Of course, it would be good for each department to track and publish these figures on their own, so that one needn’t rely on possibly outdated or underspecific websites.

    Three other things.

    One, there is always a worry about reputations of this sort being somewhat self-fulfilling. NYU, for example, has wanted to have a much more gender balanced entering class of graduate students. For years now, NYU has admitted something close to an even number of men and women. But, perhaps because NYU has a reputation of being a department that “needs improvement” for women, the women who get in to NYU often choose to go to other departments (such as MIT), leaving gender skewed classes, which (arguably) contribute to a less than ideal environment. So, it is possible that the graduate student population numbers are not the result of there actually being a bad climate–there may just be a widespread *perception* that there is a bad climate. In NYU’s case, I think that is only part of the story. But it is one of the reasons that the Pluralist’s climate guide is so pernicious: these kinds of reputations can be particularly damning, particularly when prospective students are trying to make decisions about departments which are all excellent on paper and about which it is hard to get good ‘culture’ information. Let the departments “earn” them through their numbers.

    Two, some of these things take a long time to change. NYU, in particular, has long been involved in trying to improve the gender balance of its faculty. But that can take time. I think that even if the data is made available and collected, prospective students should be advised to talk to current students, visit, and try to ask about what departments are doing or in the process of doing to improve the situation.

    Three, these numbers do not pick up on things such as sexual harassment of students by professors, predatory faculty, and so on. To my knowledge, there have been no instances of these things at NYU. Surveys that might ask current students about such things would get at the current “climate” issue more directly in a certain way, but precisely because of the difficulty of doing such surveys consistently, confidentially, and in a way that students would feel comfortable answering candidly, I am inclined to think that the better “first step” would just be to make data of the above sort publicly available.

  37. “The silence from other members of the advisory board is outrageously deafening.”

    No one who worked on the guide or is sympathetic to it will admit wrongdoing. Why? They would be wrong. It’s quite simple. Cognitive dissonance is strong with them. They also would rather not give Leiter the win. This is all very simple. We have a lot of posturing here. Silence is the alternative.

  38. Wow, there has been lots going on here since I went for dinner.

    “Poll of expert opinion” is a term of art in the social sciences. It is a kind of methodology. The methodology and the list of people surveyed is available on the Pluralist’s Guide. Members of the advisory board, me included, were asked to answer a series of questions, which Linda Alcoff posted elsewhere. There was the option of not commenting on a department with which one is unfamiliar. I did not comment on most departments because it would not be responsible for me to do so.

    If we can have a constructive discussion about how the Guide could be made better, I am all for it. I want the best data possible. BTW, anon 24’s point (1) about the definition of the categories ‘strongly recommended,” and “needs improvement” is well taken and I have made that suggestion myself. I think that is one way that the Guide may be improved, and it deserves further discussion.

    The Guide did not claim to survey members of the departments in question. If people would like to see a guide based on such surveys, I would invite them to construct one. I think that would be fabulous (this is genuine enthusiasm, not sarcasm). More and different kinds of data are a good thing. There are also significant challenges, both in terms of labor and in terms of methodologies, when it comes to determining climate by surveying and/or interviewing insiders. So this, other, project will also be very challenging.

    I have done detailed analyses of departmental climates using insider data in the context of improving the culture and hence improving the recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty members. These climate studies involved qualitative and quantitative work. A member of our team developed alot of baseline indicator data, such as attrition rates, time in rank, salary discrepancies,… . This kind of data is very useful. It is very difficult to construct valid surveys, especially on this topic. We used the AAUDE Faculty Satisfaction Survey, COACHE, as well as a survey that we developed on our own. It took a team of researchers, including me and a group of social scientists) a year to develop that survey. We had an expert in Institutional Research analyze those survey results. This was an expensive expert because it takes serious training to do this work. The survey work was extremely expensive. Because of the limits of survey data, which are significant, there was also a major qualitative portion of the study. The qualitative work that went into collecting the data, developing a methodologically strong report, and implementing that report effectively in _one_ department, was equivalent to my teaching three labor intensive courses (this does not include the years spent collecting preliminary data and designing the experiment itself), and there were members of the department under consideration who took on a committee assignment designed to help with that project. You can see the bigger project here: The ‘collaborative transformation’ tab takes you to the qualitative research portion of the project that I describe. It is worth noting that the larger project took five years and cost $3.3 million.

    Given that studying and improving the climate in philosophy cannot command this kind of time and money, what ought to be done? Those doing this work, need to do the best they can, with very limited resources. In the case of the Guide, it involved picking a methodology, and making the methodology and the results public. This is a starting point, and I hope that other kinds of data collecting will develop (for example I agree that graduate student attrition rates by gender would be good to know) and that Guide will continue to be refined, or perhaps that the discussion that it produced will lead to better or more effective analyses of climate and to strategies for improving the climate in the discipline overall.

  39. Rebecca, I should have asked you more about your concerns, which might include more that the climate report?

  40. Prof Fehr, it’s very misleading to say that the methodology behind the guide has been made public. What has been made public – and only after a substantial outcry – are the questions the raters were asked. There has to date been no explanation of how the responses to that questionnaire were processed into the “strongly recommended” and “needs improvement” ratings. Do you know how the data were analysed, and would you share that information here? To add to the mystery, the recommendations were altered a few days after the test launch. Do you personally know what procedure lead to the University of Oklahoma being removed from the “needs improvement” category? What was the advisory board’s role in this alteration?

  41. @Anon NYU grad: thank you very much for getting those numbers and posting them here. They’re pretty sobering, but exactly what we need.

  42. I’m puzzled by the amount of vitriol in this discussion, which I’ve been half watching across the blogosphere.

    Most people seem to agree that (i) the climate for women in philosophy is not as it should be; (ii) it would be good for grad students to have some sense of the climate in different departments; (iii) that information is hard to come by for students (and indeed, others).

    As far as I am aware, the Pluralists Guide is one of the first attempts to provide some sort of guide to climate. Given how difficult a thing this is to get some sort of grip on – for a variety of reasons – there were bound to be a number of teething problems. And of course, producing any such guide was always going to piss some people off, as it involves making judgements about where there are problems, and where there are not, which will be fallible.

    But rather than praising the Pluralists Guide folk for attempting to do this – which involved sticking their necks out a fair bit – and then having a constructive discussion about how to improve it, there has been a Big Fight. And don’t all jump on me now and claim this is due to the silence/response of the Pluralist Guide Folk. Quite frankly, if I had spent ages putting such a thing together, I would not feel much like talking to people, given the general tone of the discussion.

    AnneJ makes a good point at 25 with her little story.

  43. Thanks Monkey! I was beginning lose faith that anyone out there could see how horrible and unhelpful the discussion has become.

  44. Monkey: Again, people are mad, not because the guide was made, but because it is sitting there right now in cyberspace and people are refusing to take it down or make clear its limitations, even though we know that right at this very moment it is recommending to aspiring female philosophers that they go to a department with massive sexual harassment problems and a culture of suppressing and ignoring them, among other misleading recommendations.

    Anne: I am not sure what you count under the heading of ‘the climate report’. In terms of the culture of feminist philosophy, and beyond the production of the report itself, I am concerned

    – with how this discussion turned immediately into a professional and social turf war rather than an honest attempt to protect women

    – with the fact that virtually every prominent feminist philosopher has remained silent or anonymous throughout this discussion, across all the various blogs

    – with the makers of the guide’s repeated unwillingness to answer straightforward and important questions, such as why Oklahoma was suddenly removed from the list and how the data were tabulated

    – with the fact that by stunning coincidence the three departments singled out for attack by leaders in the field – based, admittedly now, just on their own personal opinions from afar and not on any direct evidence – just *happen* to be the three top-ranked departments in the country on a list that they generally resent, and what that says about feminist philosophers’ feelings of marginalization and ressentiment.

    – that there are departments with ‘feminist’ faculty where the students have to take it upon themselves to try to force the faculty to do something about sexual harassment, and – most depressingly – that a ‘feminist’ faculty member actually tried to keep the students from exposing the harassment so that she could keep the school in the running for a ‘climate for women’ award.

    – that no one (including me, evidently) is willing to say the name of that department and its relevant players out loud even though people were happy to call out three other departments by name with no definite evidence against them.

    Look, I really want to emphasize something – I am kind of the one who started all of this by raising questions about the climate portion of the guide on Leiter’s blog. (I did it there because commenting was disabled on the actual guide.) I spent a long time writing and rewriting and getting input from smart, feminist-friendly friends on that post. It was NOT an angry post at all. I politely raised what I still think were measured and thoughtful concerns about the climate portion of the guide, without attacking anyone in particular, and in a way that I thought would be productive. And instantly, what that started was this defensive, obfuscating, mud-slinging sh*tstorm. So I am depressed about the *culture* of feminist philosophy, which apparently makes constructive criticism designed to help women in the field literally impossible.

  45. Rebecca,
    Your most recent post captures a large chunk of the current state of things quite well. The way the discussion has moved along is indeed depressing.

    Just one small correction: though you were one of the first in with extensive good discussion of the climate section, you don’t get the praise or blame for being “kind of the one who started all of this…” Brian’s original post was sharply and appropriately critical of the climate section. Brian wrote:

    “Now there is one bit of the new SPEP Guide that I do think is pretty outrageous, namely, the section that purports to be about the “Climate for Women in Philosophy,” which is essentially an anonymous slur, without any evidence adduced, on four departments. Even more ridiculous, the only departments deemed to have a suitable “climate” for women are SPEP departments, with one striking exception of a top ten PGR department that had a faculty member involved with this ‘assessment.'”

  46. I worry that we are beginning to talk past each other somewhat. All of the following are compatible:

    (i) The report (that is, the Climate guide) was put together by people of goodwill, with good intentions
    (ii) It’s a good thing to try to get information about the climate for women in philosophy departments
    (iii) Some valuable discussion has arisen in response to the report
    (iv) The report employed methodology which was deeply flawed
    (v) The report section should be taken down (or if it is left up, it should be preceded by some *very strong* caveats)

    Holding (iv) and (v) doesn’t commit you to thinking that any of (i)-(iii) are false. We can admire the efforts and the goodwill of the report’s organizers. We can think they acted with the best of intentions. But we can still think the methodology they used to compile the report was bad (NB: this doesn’t mean we’re committed to thinking that the organizers are themselves bad or blameworthy for using this methodology. It’s easy to point fingers, but sometimes errors that look obvious are only obvious in hindsight.) And we can still think, more importantly, that the climate report as it stands should either be heavily edited or taken down entirely.

    The climate report, if it’s left online without suitable disclaimer, has the potential to harm women. So there’s good reason to think it should either be removed or filled with appropriate disclaimers. That’s not to cast aspersion on it’s well-meaning organizers. That’s just to say that good intention isn’t enough to justify potential harm.

    But regardless of what happens to the climate report, I do hope we keep having conversations about the climate for women in philosophy departments. Because it really has been a good thing (well, some of it anyway).

  47. I have a question on methodology and a modest request that follows from it.
    My question is: what departments were evaluated?
    We know what questions the list of advisors were asked “about each department,” but not the scope of the quantifier. This seems important because as I look at the page on climate, it seems to me that there is a Gricean implicature that schools listed under neither category – that is, the vast majority of graduate programs – are seen by the guide as neither needing improvement nor as being strongly recommended. That is, they are sort of so-so. They don’t really need improvement, but they aren’t especially wonderful.

    But even given the methodological limitations that have been discussed, I think that can’t be right. For example, I find it very hard to believe that the collective view of the list of feminist philosophy advisers is that Pitt HPS does not need improvement. (Yes, I have given serious thought to whether to mention this example. I do not want to generate a discussion on the improvements that might be needed there, but I think it is an example that will resonate clearly enough that my point will be clear to anyone who has followed these issues for some time. And I think there are reasons to name names in some cases.) And in any event, I am confident that there are examples of other departments that people have strong reservations about.

    So while I endorse the call to remove this page entirely, for now I will make a much more modest request, one that I think is in line with the caveats that have already been included on the page.

    Could you include something like this disclaimer: “One should infer nothing from the fact that a department is in neither list. In particular, non-inclusion in the “needs improvement” list does not imply that there are no serious problems at this department, nor even that none of our advisers are aware of serious problems. Non-inclusion may simply mean that this department was not evaluated.”

  48. Crimlaw: Fair enough. I didn’t mean to sound like I was claiming credit. My point was that that post of mine was the first one on this that had a *comments section*, and while I felt like I had done a really careful job of writing the post, the discussion it started immediately went off the rails in the ways I described. This was all in answer to Anne’s question about just what concerned me about the ‘culture of feminist philosophy’ (my words).

  49. Rebecca, thanks so much for these further comments. Thank you, crimlaw and magic, for your additions. I’m not quite cogent enough on Sunday mornings to conceptualize the complex of issues you’ve mentioned. E.g., sometimes the internet can interact to create a perfect storm that may indicate participants don’t know how to communicate, but doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad people.

    But I think we might be able to move toward addressing some of these problems and others about a climate survey. And perhaps we can do something that dosen’t exist just on the internet. One thing might be to try to have an informal conference one weekend in Oct or Nov 2011 while seeing if the program chair for the central or the pacific div apa 2012 meeting could find space for a session coming out of the informal conference. We might aim for a set of national guidelines or some such.Another idea might be to try to tie something iin with a mini conference on climate for women that Rice is putting on in

    Another thing would be to try to get a grant to fund a conference; I think there is so much to be learned from what people like Carla have been doing with nsf program that that might be a promising direction for a conference.

    Does anyone think discussing the issues face to face would be good?

    By the way, I’ve also seen feminists who seem to sell out on their principles. I wonder if the cause is capture by social dominance theory. Here’s a post on that:

  50. Thank you magicalersatz, that is very useful.

    My contribution to the guide was limited to filling out the survey. I agree that more transparency would be a good thing. I agree that it would be nice to know what is up with Oklahoma.

    It is also worth noting ways that the guide has been modified after some of these online conversations.

    The open letter from Rutgers grad students is posted on the climate section of the blog.

    Some folks called for a disclaimer on the climate section, and for what it is worth the folks maintaining the guide have put this up:

    “Prospective graduate students are urged to talk to current women graduate students (and male graduate students, of course) about what it is like to study at the programs you are considering. Current students are the best source of information. For each particular school, we cannot be sure that any current students at that school were consulted in the creation of our report.”

    It might be useful to discuss whether or not people find this appropriate.

    There are several additional productive things that I see arising out of this conversation and similar conversations: the first is a call for greater transparency, the second is anon NYU’s elaboration of Smith’s suggestion regarding useful data to collect, and the third is that the heated discussion of the guide demonstrates that there is a significant community of philosophers who care about getting good data about the climate for women in their departments and in the profession and care about addressing climate issues. I find the last especially heartening.

  51. I strongly second everything in magicalerzatz’s post. It is sad that it is not obvious that criticizing the guide is not equivalent to making assessments of the intentions or character of its individual makers.

    Anne, I think a mature and well-moderated public discussion of these issues is an absolutely wonderful idea. Much more potentially productive than any list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools, no matter how produced, imho. I for one would be happy to participate (as an audience member or in some more formal way – either one).

  52. Anne,

    Your suggestions for creating a space to talk rather than only write about this are great. Perhaps a mini conference attached to an APA? It will be at least 6 weeks until I am in a position to think about the nuts and bolts of how to make this happen. After that, you can count me in.

  53. Response to Carla Fehr (at #40): “The methodology and the list of people surveyed is available on the Pluralist’s Guide.”

    Such a blatant misrepresentation needs to be called out. To date the list of people surveyed for the climate questions is not available on the Pluralist’s Guide. It merely states that “we posed the climate question to experienced observers of the paths that people from underrepresented gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual identity populations take through the profession”. There is an advisory board for every category but ‘The Climate for Women in Philosophy’. (Only recently, upon public outcry did Linda Alcoff reveal that the climate survey question was posed to the members from the Feminist and Gender Advisory Board — on a blog, not on the Pluralist’s Guide.)

    “I want the best data possible.”

    To my mind, it is futile to endeavor to arrive at “the best places to study select sub-fields of philosophy” across the globe (as opposed to explicitly restricting the survey to certain countries), and claiming that one has collected the best data possible (given the enormous task) is phony. Of course, the fact that all advisory boards consist of people from American institutions with at most one token European thrown in (and other parts of the world not represented at all) does not inspire confidence that the results provide world-wide coverage and unbiased results. But let’s leave this aside, as it pertains to all categories, not just the climate for women aspect.

    If the climate for women report is based on data, why did you chose to not disclose which departments were surveyed in the first place (and still do not feel the need to do so)? (Which departments are not mentioned as recommended or needing improvement simply because they were surveyed at all?) Why did you chose to not disclose how many responses were received for each of the departments? (Among the departments surveyed but not listed in the results, is a particular department not listed because there was not enough data, or because it can confidently be neither be recommended nor deemed to need serious improvement.) Why was the University of Oklohama recently listed in the results (among those needing improvement), but is it not any longer without any acknowledgement that a change in the published results have been made? Published survey results should never be changed (as opposed to publishing a correction or new results) anyway, but given that you profess that you want the best data possible, how has the new data been obtained that warrants the change about Oklahoma’s status? (This is something that would have to be answered on the Pluralist’s Guide website, to dispel the potential impression that the survey results keep changing because the data are being fabricated.)

    You indicate that the primary aim has been to “put issues of gender and climate front and center” (and this is a laudable aim), but it is unclear whether this has been done based on a strategy that has some chances of yielding success. (If the aim was to put issues of gender and climate front and center no matter how, one could have equally well selected in a random fashion a list of departments recommended and in need of improvement and published it as an actual survey — at least then one could more easily claim later on that this was not a serious survey and the aim was to initiate discussion on climate and jumpstart a rigorous survey.) Given the PG’s large Feminist and Gender Advisory Board and the persons on there, any future, improved survey is likely to require the involvement of several of these persons, but currently it is unclear whether such an improved survey is possible, given that the current advisory board members either remain completely silent or keep defending the current survey.

  54. Since Pitt Hps has been mentioned, let me give (qua DGS) a few bits of info about our department.

    Gender ratio among faculty: 1/8 so far, but will be 2/9 next year.
    Gender ratio among current students in the PhD program: 8/27 (~29%), will be 13/33 next year (~39%).
    In recent years, we have been trying to increase the number of female graduate students in our department, and we have been relatively successful. For ex., 5 of the 6 students in our incoming class are women.
    Gender ratio among recent phds (last five years): 5/16 (~31%).
    In addition, Sandy Mitchell has been the chair of the department for a few years.

    While these numbers are not perfect and while improvements are still needed (e.g., I will probably start using a survey inspired by Ruth Chang’s), I believe that they are better than in the profession in general.

    (In passing, I am afraid Prof. Lance is basing his opinion on outdated information, and is doing exactly what he thinks the Pluralist Guide should not have done. But I’d be glad to be corrected if he contacted our current graduate students before making his judgment.)

  55. Mark, re 55: I think it is possible for one bad apple to make mischief for faculty and students in a field other than his own in ways at least nearly as deleterious as sexual harassment.. Someone was telling me recently that he’d been told that university X was now the place in England to study A, since university Z was dominated by two individuals and it was either their way of the highway. I don’t know how true that is, but it is the sort of mischief making that can seriously degrade a student’s study. There must be many variations on this which leads to, to imagine another example, a student’s going to study with Metaphysicians W and R, but finds someone in the department is configuring the department into the mainstream and the whacky, and their metaphysicians involvement with science means they are on the whacky side. That can be really bad. Maybe their funding will get cut first, etc. Some of these bad effects can be nearly as bad as sexual harassment. As I think I said before, getting seriouslly plagarized is at least nearly as bad as rape, and like rape, no one will believe it. Or there can be a faculty member who tells students they will get good letter and then sinks them. That’s hard for anyone to know about unless you are tracking the fact of that person’s students.

    One interesting question for students would be whether there were any seriously nasty surprises when they arrived at grad school, and the whether they were sexual or not.

  56. Carla Fehr at #52: “My contribution to the guide was limited to filling out the survey. … There are several additional productive things that I see arising out of this conversation and similar conversations: the first is a call for greater transparency, …”

    There has clearly been a call for greater transparency, though not by those involved with the Pluralist’s Guide. As far as I know, none of the advisory board members have publicly dissociated themselves from the report in its present form and, more importantly, announced that as advisory board members they will ask the makers of the Pluralist’s Guide to increase the transparency of the current survey. As a case in point, Carla indicates that in her view “more transparency would be a good thing”, yet her current role on the advisory board appears to boil down to indicating that her function has been limited to filling our the survey.

  57. Rebecca, I’ll see if our dean has any money to enable some sort of weekend event. There might be some problems, but I’ll see. I’ll be sure to let you know if we can do anything..

  58. Carla, that’s a reallly interesting variation on what I was thinking about. It might be better than trying to work up a meeting at one university. But probably the thing to do is to investigate all the alternatives.

  59. Edouard: I am very pleased to learn that steps are being taken to improve things at Pitt HPS. I will be happy to discuss privately with you further. I would ask that you re-read what I wrote – “I find it very hard to believe that the collective view of the list of feminist philosophy advisers is that Pitt HPS does not need improvement.” I trust you can see that this is a very different claim that the claim that a department is one with an excellent climate, and therefore that you can see that you accusation of hypocrisy is without merit.

    Anne: I don’t doubt that it is possible for a faculty member who is bad in some other dimension to poison the atmosphere of a department. But (a) my sense is that this is far less common than is the construction of a sexually hostile climate and (b) whether or not I’m wrong about that, your point suggests greater caution in advising about where you can learn, not lesser caution on advising about where one finds a safe climate.

  60. Ingo,

    What I meant was that one can go to pages listing the advisory boards for the various sections and one can read the methodology as it is described online. It was not my intention to mislead, and I would encourage folks to check out those pages for themselves, and make their own assessment. I suspect that many here already have.

    I was not claiming, or did not intend to claim, that the main aim of the guide has been to put gender front and center. I did not construct the guide. I was pointing this out as a benefit of the Guide.

    Throughout this entire discussion I have been talking about opportunities for improving the guide and for collecting more, different and better data, discussing the barriers to doing this well and emphasizing the importance of transparency. It seems that you and I share many of these concerns.

    I think it is a good thing that the guide has evolved in response to criticism. This is difficult to do well, for many of the reasons that you raise.

    It is difficult to assess people’s intentions as we write here. It is my intention to address these issues with earnest goodwill and hope for productive change.

  61. I do hope that those above who claimed that the anonymity of the ‘recommended’ school with the major sexual harassment crisis undermined its strength as a worry about the guide have noticed that Brian Leiter now got permission to out the department, and did so. It is the University of Oregon. No surprise there; they have a documented history of sexual harassment issues dating back decades. A simple google search should also make it clear to anyone who looks who the ‘feminist’ was who tried to force the students to keep silent in order to preserve the image of the department as ‘woman-friendly’. It is also easy to look up the undergraduate director, and thereby know who the alleged serial harasser is.

    So there is no longer any veil of secrecy there. Which I think is splendid. At a bare, bare, bare minimum, Oregon should be removed from the list immediately, which I notice it still hasn’t been.

  62. Rebecca, thanks so much. I’ll start with 3 emails tomorrow (2 APA program chairs and one dean) and let you know if anything looks promising. Supposing, that is, that anyone replies.

  63. Rebecca,
    one of your claims above concerns me because there is more than one feminist teaching in that department.

  64. @Rebecca’s comment at #62: I note that the UO Philosophy Department appears to have two women doing feminist philosophy. I make note of this because I don’t want one of them to be slandered, e.g., the one whose name is alphabetically first, if she isn’t the offender (I don’t know which “feminist” it was who discouraged grad students from pushing the department to address its sexual harassment).

    Looking at the picture of the sexual harasser makes me furious. I’m proud of the grad students who spoke up, and I sincerely hope they won’t pay a heavy price for their whistleblowing.

    I also, since I’m posting, would like to thank Rebecca for her many comments, including the one about how it really isn’t fair to Linda Alcoff to be left taking all the heat because she’s the only one (or one of two, with Carla Fehr here) willing to defend the guide. Others involved in this have a responsibility to speak up with whatever their view now is, I think.

  65. I apologize. I forgot there is a second feminist in the department. I need to think about whether I think full-on whistle blowing is the right thing to do here – it might be. And thanks, Elizabeth!

  66. #36: excellent post. I’d add one more statistic that is needed: one needs to know and compare *where* male and female PhD recipients who get TT jobs are being placed. Are female PhDs getting jobs at places that are as highly ranked as male PhDs? Or (if, say, we use Leiter’s rankings as a guide to the hierarchy), do they routinely get jobs at places that are 10 or 15–or 20–places lower down in the hierarchy than the department’s strongest male Phd recipients?

  67. I am trying to take stock as to who among the advisory board members has publicly commented on the climate for women survey:
    — Sally Haslanger (
    — Carla Fehr (in comments on this thread)
    — Anita Allen (, though pointing out while being listed on the advisory board, she never agreed to serve on the board and has not completed the survey

    Any one else that I am not aware of?

    (Given that Linda Alcoff’s deeply unsatisfactory remarks on the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog and the fact that persons have been put on the advisory board without their consent, I am afraid that it appears more and more unlikely that Alcoff, Taylor, and Wilkerson will take down the climate for women survey — at least temporarily, until it has been clarified based one advisory board input what information about results and methodology should be published. But I would be happy to be wrong about this dim prediction.)

  68. Just want to note: people listed on the advisory board may well be engaged in non-public discussions on the topic with the report’s authors. Public pressure isn’t the only kind of pressure.

  69. Indeed, I would hope that some of the advisory board members, rather than joining the public pressure, discuss the matter among themselves and clearly express their suggestions and requests to Alcoff, Taylor, and Wilkerson. To be sure, given that the report has come under wide public discussion that involves outrage and serious objections, it would be good to know from the advisory board members that they aware of this public scrutiny and in the business of taking non-public steps.

  70. There is good reason to be suspicious of (invocations of) non-public pressure in cases like this. A recent example: at the height of the Synthese fiasco, a number of people urged patience and moderation in response to many justifiably angry comments and boycott calls on the blogs, also in order, supposedly, for private pressure and persuasion to be given a chance to work their magic on the Editors-in-Chief. The outcome: the blogospheric furor died down and there was never any apology, or retraction of the problematic disclaimer, or any action about the unrefereed “response” paper in which Francis Beckwith launches a sexist personal attack on Barbara Forrest.

    So it’s all nice and good if (some) members of the climate guide advisory board are (or may be) discussing the matter privately with Alcoff et al. But they really need to say something publicly soon. Not a single advisory board member has yet publicly called for the guide to be taken down – which is the only honorable course here.

  71. The APA needs to apply for a grant from the NSF (or somesuch) and conduct a climate-for-women study of American philosophy departments using independent, non-philosopher social science experts. Urgently. Women. Are. Leaving. Philosophy. Because. Of. The. Climate.

  72. Am I one of the few who sees the actions of Leiter and some of the other more outraged critics of the guide and its authors to be verging on bullying?

    Look, I certainly agree that the guide was, well, deeply misguided in its methods and its evaluations, and, yes, quite irresponsible.

    But the almost instant demand for retraction and apology, the calling out of everyone involved in even a slight way to answer to the entirety of a supposedly incensed profession, and the general insistence that those “responsible” subject themselves to the most abject public humiliation seems just way, way over the top. It is more akin to the penalties exacted by a religious inquisition than by a group of intellectuals who seek to have an unfair assessment of programs rectified.

    There is something just not right about Leiter’s crusade, which, I think, puts on show a little too much blood lust for my taste.

  73. Anon: I assume this was aimed squarely at me, among a few others. I began by calling for critical scrutiny and discussion, not public shaming. I still have no interest in public shaming. But as long as Oregon is STILL up there as a good place for women after all that has come out (for instance) I think the guide is doing concrete harm. I just want to see the thing retracted – or at least the parts where there are now really blatantly good reasons not to trust it retracted. If that finally happens I will be content, and I couldn’t care less about individuals giving any kind of public accounting or going through any kind of public shaming. I don’t give a crap what people’s intentions were. Heck, I’m not even sure I believe in intentions; my philosophical tastes run towards the behaviorist. I keep calling for a concrete response to the problems, and others keep accusing me of making it personal, but I really honestly don’t feel like I am the one making it personal. People seem to think that now that the critical points have been made, they should be dropped, and if they aren’t it constitutes a vendetta. But the point is, the critical points have been made and nothing has been done and the guide is still up and unaltered (except for the mysterious retraction of Oklahoma). That’s why they are still being made.

  74. Rebecca,

    When I was composing my comment, I most certainly did not have you in mind — and, if your latest comment represents your thinking about the issue, I don’t see why it would apply to you. I certainly agree that the problem of the guide needs correcting.

    And I think Leiter really is probably the most egregious example of what I am deploring here. He seems incapable of understanding that allowing those involved in this guide to save a little face is actually a productive and human response. He seems determined instead, frankly, to use his current advantage to humiliate these people. In a rather natural oppositional reaction, they don’t seem so eager to jump through the hoops he insists they must.

    Leiter’s behavior is really pretty bizarre, in my view. I don’t know what it does for him. It certainly seems very poorly designed indeed to correct the very problem he bemoans.

  75. Rebecca Kukla’s latest comment is consistent with every comment she’s made here. She’s been a model of clearly expressed courage and sanity throughout this entire unfortunate affair.

    Thank you, Rebecca, for your many posts.

  76. So, I’d be willing to bet that when the Leiter report first came out it was very rough and ready and full of data collection problems. I’d also be willing to bet that there was a lot of negative reaction (to put it mildly) to what Leiter was trying to do. The Pluralist’s Guide is clearly still very rough and ready. And it very clearly has data collection problems. But I think that just as the Leiter report is not perfect (and in the past was very probably even less perfect), it has, on balance, been a good thing for the profession. As it currently stands, the Pluralist’s Guide badly needs to be revised. But a revised version, with better data collection, would be, on balance, a good thing for the profession.

    There has been a lot of negative reaction (to put it mildly) to what the Alcoff et al are trying to do. In my view, some of that negative reaction is justified. I’m inclined to lend a good deal of credence to the letter from the Rutgers graduate students, and can understand that they are annoyed that Rutgers has been singled out in the way it has, especially given the problems with the data collection. The reason I give their letter a good deal of credence is that I’ve encountered a number of Rutgers’ faculty (Andy Egan, Brian Weatherson, Dean Zimmerman, Jason Stanley) and these guys are some of the good guys. I also suspect that many of the female graduate students who signed the letter are concerned that that an (unintended) upshot of the Pluralist’s Guide (in its current form) might be that the idea that women face problems in the profession will be taken less seriously as a result of the mess with the data. I, for one, share that concern.

    That said, Rutgers still has work to do (like many other departments not named as needing improvement). The letter from the Rutgers students addresses the culture in the department *as a whole*; it doesn’t say that the department is an asshole-free zone. I’ve heard some pretty bad stories about *one* very senior male faculty member at Rutgers (call him Professor X), from highly reliable male and female professional philosophers (senior and junior) and graduate students. Professor X has a strong influence in the profession, especially within Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language. But it’s a lot less clear that he still has the influence on the culture of the department as a whole that possibly he once had. If enough people (especially senior people) within a department are very clear about what they think about the behavior of people like Professor X, that can be enough tip the balance, and change the culture in the department as a whole. I suspect that this is what has happened (and still is happening) at Rutgers, and this is what the students are defending in their letter. That of course, doesn’t solve all problems for all women in the department. In particular, it doesn’t prevent the problems for women who would like to work on Mind and Language with Professor X because he is a good philosopher (and he is). Many of those women will feel that the option of working with him is not an option available to them as it is to the males students within the department. That’s unfair to those women, it needs to be talked about, prospective students need to know about it, and passive tolerance of the behavior of people like Professor X needs to change. If future incarnations the Pluralist’s Guide help with that, that’s got to be a good thing.

    Just my two cents.


  77. Here and elsewhere, people keep comparing the climate guide with the PGR in its growing pains. Whatever one may think of what the PGR was like ten years ago (or even now), at least people should acknowledge the difference between giving someone poor advice on, say, where to study Early Modern, and giving poor advice on climate, like recommending a place where there’s rampant sexual harassment. Trying to paint Brian Leiter as the real bad guy here, or as just as bad in some ways simply doesn’t fly. I hope the climate guide gets taken down, and if it does, that probably will have been impossible without Leiter’s blogging.

  78. OK Anon 4:14, I am sorry if I read your post egocentrically. But then, honestly – sidestepping an argument about Brian Leiter, and I can’t imagine anything more boring or beside the point than another of those – I have no idea who the ‘other more outraged critics’ are. I have seen nothing resembling the calls for humiliation you talk about from any of us who have been critical.

    And three cheers to Anon 11:52. In case anyone thinks the concerns about damage are abstract, Oregon has now listed on the front of its website that it was ranked by the PG as having a good climate for women. This is still up despite the revelations of the last few days. Undergrads don’t read philosophy blogs but they sure as hell read web pages when deciding where to go to grad school. This is directly sending them into harm’s way.

  79. Hi Anon,

    Quick question. I’m not sure whether your comment was directed at what I said just now but (as far as I can tell), nothing I said paints Leiter as ‘the real bad guy’. Indeed, I think one of the problems with some of the discussion around the blogs is that too many people see the debate about the Pluralist’s Guide in terms of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’.

    Also, I’m might be a bit slow off the mark today, but what exactly do you mean when you talk about ‘the difference between giving someone poor advice on, say, where to study Early Modern, and giving poor advice on climate, like recommending a place where there’s rampant sexual harassment.’ I ask in all sincerity. (Today’s thick-headedness is possibly due to the fact that I’ve had no sleep.)



  80. OK, everyone: This blog’s Be Nice rule is violated by comments which assume bad intentions on the part of other philosophers. Bad intentions are being assumed on all sides in this discussion. Future comments which make these assumptions will be deleted.

  81. I second Rebecca @ 76. At the same time, I can see that those involved with the guide are unwilling to cave in to public pressure, especially if initiated by and maintained by Leiter. But then the issue is that those responsible will have to decide what matters most to the profession — a climate for women guide that benefits (or at least does not harm) women, or a climate for women guide that is set up by a group of persons attempting to create a counterweight to the influence of Leiter’s Gourmet Report.

    Let’s do not forget that all this public outcry (alleged by some to be shaming or bullying) has been very specific. It pertains to the climate for women survey, and thus to only one category of the so-called Pluralist’s Guide. And cogent objections have been made: the methodology used is not made fully transparent on the website (so that it should at the very least be added), the methodology used is unacceptable and the results published have harmful effects (so that this part of the guide should be taken down).

    Just one example of what we are up against: One of the defenses Lind Alcoff used is the claim that the PG “is not even officially public yet” ( — this in itself is not acceptable, given that the website has existed for weeks and it was pointed out that some of the information there will have harmful effects). But if it was really deemed not official yet and a website under construction by its makers, why since Alcoff’s statement have there been changes made to the website (Oklahoma has disappeared from the list, the survey questions have been added, …), but to date there is no disclaimer on every page making explicit to everyone accessing it that the website is still under construction and even the survey information is not finished yet? This suggests to me that not much will happen unless the public pressure is kept up.

  82. I have just taken down a series of comments which were about particular philosophers (and named these philosophers explicitly). The discussion was quickly becoming more about gossip than substance.

    Can I ask that future comments refrain from referring to specific individuals (whether by name, or by description in cases where readers can easily infer who you are talking about). I realize that it’s tempting to have these conversations, and that in places it may seem relevant. But the potential for harm – especially to those who are being named, often by those who choose to keep their own names concealed – outweighs the potential for good.

    I realize that people want to gossip, and sometimes want to gossip publicly. But you can’t do it here.

  83. As one of the feminist philosophers from the UO department, and by the way, there are four of us… I have just learned of this discussion and feel that something must be said. The entire discussion, as far as I can tell, seems to be based on a letter sent to Leiter, or to someone else and it got to Leiter, from one graduate student in our department. It might be more, there are a few people who share his perspective, I believe. This letter seems to have been taken at face value, however, with no hesitation whatsoever in assuming its factual worth. There were allegations of sexual harassment at Oregon, there was an investigation by our affirmative action office, initiated by the chair of our program, I understand the investigation has finally concluded and that there will be some public announcement of the results at some point, but I dont have any more access to the official investigation or its results than you do, so I cant be sure… The students at Oregon value the climate the department has been able to create for women in the past 15 or more years, after the old department which did have endemic sexual harassment issues was transformed by the work of a number of our current faculty members, including Mark Johnson, and former faculty members, including Nancy Tuana, into a program that values feminism and has been a wonderful place for women to study. That reputation was hard earned. If the allegations are substantiated, and even if they arent but some harassment occurred, and I dont assume harassment is always substantiated if it occurs, then we, like almost every other philosophy department are not perfect in this regard. Please name one department in which there is not a single male faculty member who behaves inappropriately toward women, ever. Given that we are members of a very sexist discipline, with a history of egregious behavior toward women, it is hardly surprising if Oregon would also face such issues. The outcry of our grad students is in part an expression of their expectation that this wont happen at Oregon, in part their deep concern for any women who may have been harmed, and in part the product of wild misinformation and an attempt at secrecy around the investigation that failed (apparently such processes are supposed to be kept confidential until there is a finding that is made public–in fact I am not supposed to be writing this post). I have been in a number of departments where the exact behavior that is alleged here occurred regularly and no one blinked. They dont get publicly raked over the coals because no one expects anything different from them. I have no doubt that I am the feminist accused of being more worried about the departments reputation than about the case itself. I know the source of the accusation, so let me have the opportunity to set that part of the record straight. I was and am concerned about both. If a student in our program has been harmed, I want action to be taken. I spent years working to end violence against women, in the battered womens movement as an advocate and director of programs before I came to academia. I know that incidents of harassment and or violence against women can be mishandled in male-dominated contexts in at least two ways: 1. they can be ignored, covered up, or excused and 2. they can be used as political footballs by those motivated by other interests (remember how George Bush became the feminist president for a moment when he invaded Afghanistan to save the women) . I was worried about both, and have worked hard, since the accusations came to light, to avoid both–if my urging some of the men in our department to stay focused on the issue of harassment and its investigation and not to use this case to slander the department as a whole or particularly its feminists is a “cover up” then you have your cover up, enjoy it. It is clear that I had reason to worry about both things, since the last thing that seems to be at issue in any of these discussions is the actual woman who may have been harmed, and the efforts to publicly defame the department without so much as a phone call to the affirmative action office to ask about the actual process or outcome of the investigation certainly harms a lot of other women–our feminist students, me, the other feminist faculty,; and some of us are beiing publicly hung here. That this situation would be used as an occasion to discredit Linda Alcoff and her efforts is galling and wrong. There is no way she could have known about this situation, I didnt know about it until the investigation had been on-going for months. And let me say something about the investigation–when I did find out about it I set out to see what the hell was going on and I asked a lot of questions and kept asking them. After weeks of this, it was my judgment that the department had acted responsibly, if by department we mean the faculty. Those who knew or thought they knew something came forward. The chair asked for an investigation. I cant say anything about the affirmative action office which conducted that investigation except that it took a long time and I am given to understand that they have recently concluded it. There was too much gossip and some people let personal stuff get tangled up with their legitimate concerns, no doubt about it. Some people found this situation to be a very convenient way of pursuing their own agendas and letting their hostility vis a vis the kind of philosophy UO does just fly. That kind of shit happens. But there was no cover up and no negligence on the part of those in leadership positions in the department. And while this was going on, the hard work of feminist philosophers in the department continued. Three feminist dissertations were completed and defended in the spring, and two of those women have jobs. The first required feminist philosophy proseminar was taught to all first and second year grads in the fall, a new addition to the distinction we hold of requiring feminist philosophy of our grads, something, by the way, that makes some of our students and some faculty members uncomfortable or angry. The Beauvoir society conference was held at Oregon in the spring, and a number of feminist speakers were invited to campus and paid for their time. If you really arent interested in promoting women in philosophy or valuing what women and feminists have accomplished, then continue to tear UO apart publicly. If you are, realize that weve just been through something that any other department could have gone through–that Im sure many other departments did go through without the public hanging. It was a painful process that fragmented our community in a way that I have not seen in my eight years at Oregon. It may be a long road back. That doesnt erase the work that weve done for almost two decades on behalf of women in philosophy, and it doesnt erase the fact that the actual allegations were not brought by the woman who brought them in order to give Leiter an excuse to defame Linda Alcoff or to provide a political football to those who would use these claims in that way. I dont know the results of the investigation yet, but I hope that they will be made public soon.
    This post is from Bonnie Mann, Associate Professor of Philosophy, specializing in feminist philosophy, at the University of Oregon.

  84. As a UO graduate student who has been heavily involved in the investigation process and a signatory to the graduate letter that was distributed, I would like to second (almost) everything that Bonnie Mann articulates in her comment. UO graduate students expect that this sort of thing does not happen here, precisely because it is a fantastic place for women for all the reasons Bonnie cites. A group of us wrote and other graduate students signed the original letter out of frustration with the AA process, which included the implied suggestion that the ‘scandal’ was widespread knowledge amongst the faculty. Indeed, this was not the case, and it was out of an expected commitment to feminist philosophy and a climate of ‘women-friendliness’ that the graduate community at UO distributed and signed the original letter. I can only guess that it was similar frustration with this entire process–which, no doubt, has fragmented our community just as Bonnie described–and a firm commitment to feminism and the equality of women philosophers that prompted the email that was written to Leiter. Some will disagree with me on that assessment. Either way, it is unfortunate that Leiter decided to append our name for the purposes of raking us, and Linda Alcoff, through the coals. The world and our discipline remain male-dominated, and it is unfortunate that this problem, which has only been taken seriously BECAUSE of our commitment to feminism and women-friendliness, is now being used to tarnish the good work that goes on here as well as the work of Linda Alcoff. As for the allegations of ‘keeping quiet.’ First of all, I think it is pretty clear what announcing our problems is now doing on the forums. We are continuing our work to sort out the appropriate response to this issue as a department. Second, this mainly concerned the request of SWIP-UK to speak to the valor of the UO’s nomination for being a ‘women-friendly’ department. I can not speak to why graduate students did or did not reply to their request. I know that I chose not to reply because I was torn about the entire situation. We were asked to comment in the midst of our department reeling from the light of this issue, yet I firmly believed (and continue to affirm) that we are a good place for women. I was never able to formulate a response that adequately reflected this, and for that I do apologize to the entire community. I also agree with Bonnie’s disappointment that the concern of the philosophical community is not with the well-being of the accuser, but rather as a point of disciplinary in-fighting. Shame.

    Anonymous UO Feminist Grad Student wary to sign my name only out of concern for future job prospects. If this anonymity becomes an issue, I will append my name.

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