Oregon: A different side of the story

which deserves to be heard. Hence, I’ve pulled this from comments and made it a separate post. In case you’ve been blissfully out of the loop, background can be found here, here, here and here. From Bonnie Mann:

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.

And now, a reminder: These discussions have been getting horrendously heated. Please would everybody remember to follow our Be Nice rule, and in particular to refrain from making uncharitable assumptions about *anyone*.