Statement about the Pluralists’ Guide

We have been asked by Nancy Tuana to post the following statement from a group of feminist philosophers. Readers may wonder whether this blog takes a position in the debates over the Pluralists’ Guide. The answer is that the blog takes no position on this debate: this is a group blog and the individuals who blog here take a wide variety of positions as individuals. The blog, however, is strongly committed to respectful and collegial discussion of issues like this, so we welcome the call for constructive and civil discussion. To that end, we are opening the blog for comments for the next 24 hours, but during that period *all* comments will be moderated. (WordPress does not allow us to moderate comments from just one post.) Please bear in mind that all of us are unpaid and doing this in our spare time. Our moderating is therefore likely to be occasionally slow and, due to different moderators, may be inconsistent. We will be trying our best, and we ask you to do so as well. To that end, we remind you of our comments policy, and in particular our Be Nice rule, which will be strictly enforced. In addition, we will not allow speculation about intentions; discussion of particular philosophers’ private lives, whether by name or by description; discussion of particular departments, whether by name or by description. In addition, we ask commenters to refrain from inflammatory language. We also want to call attention to the fact that this statement is not about Brian Leiter. Discussion of Brian Leiter is off-topic and will be deleted as such.

We ask that commenters make every effort not to conflate issues about the climate for women with other issues that have been raised, such as questions about the methodologies permissible in philosophy or those concerned with the factual accuracy of claims that have been made.

Statement of Feminist Philosophers concerning the Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy

We, the undersigned, publicly support the efforts of the new Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy in both of its endeavors: to provide new sources of information on areas of philosophy that are still underrepresented in major doctoral programs and to provide information on the conditions for women and minorities in those programs. Philosophy has lagged behind the humanities and social sciences in its level of inclusiveness and diversity, a problem that adversely affects the caliber of all philosophical work. For decades now, feminist philosophers have been at the forefront of efforts to address sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and the general climate for women and other minority groups in philosophy, and to develop new and innovative areas of philosophical work. We know from many years of experience how difficult these efforts can be, and how often those who engage in these efforts are attacked, mis-characterized, and preemptively dismissed. In light of this experience, we have been dismayed at the level of vitriol and misinformation being perpetrated against some named and some unnamed feminists. We welcome constructive input about how to strengthen these efforts to provide more information on areas of philosophy that are underrepresented in major doctoral programs and urge all who work in these important areas of philosophy to contribute. And we call on the philosophical community to support initiatives, such as the Pluralist’s Guide, to make our profession more hospitable to women, and to women and men from underrepresented social sectors.
Debra Bergoffen
Susan Bordo
Joan Callahan
Claudia Card
Linda Fisher
Nancy Fraser
Sandra Harding
Nancy J. Holland
Eva Kittay
Hilde Lindemann
Ladelle McWhorter
Sharon M. Meagher
Phyllis Rooney
Ofelia Schutte
Laurie Shrage
Nancy Tuana
Georgia Warnke
Alison Wylie

Comments now closed, a bit later than promised. I think we’ve managed an extremely cordial discussion, but I don’t want to push our luck.

52 thoughts on “Statement about the Pluralists’ Guide

  1. We’ve now realised that we neglected to put in a clause asking commenters to refrain from inflammatory language. We are trying very hard to keep this discussion from re-igniting.

    Also note: if you don’t give us your email address, we can’t contact you to let you know why your comment is being held. We have, however, so far had one comment which we are holding due to inflammatory language. We urge the commenter to re-write in less inflammatory language, and we’ll be happy to publish it.

  2. The issue here, of course, is the response to the “climate for women” section. As I understand it most of the criticism on blogs etc was itself in the name of feminism, in that the main concern was that prospective graduate students, especially female graduate students, might be put in harm’s way if, as critics alleged, the evaluations of climate were seriously unsound – eg recommending departments that had serious problems, and stigmatizing departments that did not. A lot of evidence has been produced for these allegations. So we can’t assume that the Guide’s authors are being criticized *qua feminists* unless we already assume (contrary to this evidence) that these allegations are false – and perhaps even if they are false, they would have to be malicious if the critics’ credentials as feminists were to be legitimately impugned. As for “vitriol,” I don’t really see it. One of the most prominent critics has said that she “doesn’t give a crap about people’s intentions” and I think her other remarks bear that out. Most critics I have seen have been utterly scrupulous in sticking to the known facts. The charge of “misinformation” against the critics is unsubstantiated, in sharp contrast to the same charge made against the Guide by those critics. And as for “welcoming constructive input,” many highly pertinent questions have been put to the guide’s authors, usually perfectly politely, about the methods employed in composing the “climate” section in a highly instructive comment thread at the ‘Gender, Race and Philosophy’ blog:

    None has been answered.

  3. I’ll go on record here in response to Darius: I agree with many of the criticisms that have been made of the climate section methodology. However, I disagree that the tone has been innocuous and constructive. The tone of most discussion has been so filled with vitriol that I have wanted to run screaming from my computer rather than join in.

  4. Well, that’s a shame. I’m sure it was my comment you blocked. I don’t think my language was at all “inflammatory”, but readers won’t get to see it to judge for themselves.
    I said something quite critical of the Statement, but I used perfectly civil language — I followed the Be Nice rule, as you admit (which is why you now have to add another rule). It’s not the language I used, but the content of what I said that you are blocking, so there is really no point in my rewriting. I would have to say something else, since the content is what you object to. But the content is what needed to be said.

    This is disillusioning. I understand your Be Nice policy and I did follow it. The current policy is very different. It’s circling the wagons. That is not a good policy for feminism.

    If this comment is still too critical, I apologize and I will stop commenting.

  5. It is genuinely not the content of your comment that we blocked: indeed some of us at FP *agree* with the content of what you say. We are, however, bending over backwards to keep the tone of this discussion productive. That means erring on the side of extreme caution with regard to tone. I really do urge you to re-write. I think what you’ve said is important and worth hearing.

  6. There’s a way to read (most) of this that’s pretty reasonable- when the authors say they support the efforts of the new Pluralist’s Guide to … provide information on the conditions for women and minorities in those programs. this could mean that they think the goal is a worthy one and hope to see it carried out in responsible and successful way. It’s hard to see who could disagree with that, though one might doubt that it’s possible to do an adequate job. (I take no position on that.) But, it can also be read as saying that the author support the actual attempt that was made, and that seems, at this point, to be pretty clearly wrong. Even if the intentions were wonderful, it seems clear now that the actual “climate” guide had, most likely, negative epistemic value, and is not worth supporting. There are other similarly ambiguous parts in the statement. It’s hard to get a group to agree on clear statements, sometimes, but I think this would have been worth more if the intended meaning was clearer.

  7. Even granting, for the sake of argument, that much of the criticism has been vitriolic, I think that most feminists would suppose that the risk of putting graduate students in harm’s way is more serious than the risk of offending the sensibilities of the Guide’s authors and defenders. It is therefore surprising that the Feminist Philosophers in their statement above have focused on the tone of the criticism rather than the content (apart from an unsubstantiated charge of ‘misinformation’) and, like the authors, have said nothing whatsoever in response to the many critics, for example in the comment thread I mentioned, whose objections have been highly detailed and cogent, whether temperately expressed or not.

  8. Just to avoid confusion, here: The feminist philosophers who wrote the statement above are not the feminist philosophers who run the blog Feminist Philosophers.

  9. Okay, fair enough, jender.

    I basically agree with what’s in the Statement, but I’m very disappointed at what was left out. The women who signed together ‘deplore’ (rightly) the vitriol displayed against certain feminist, but equally deplorable are the aspects of the climate guide discussed at length here and on other blogs. It is crucially important for feminists to speak up about those deplorable features, and disappointing that the Statement is silent on them.

    (Note that ‘deplore’ is from the Statement, and I use ‘deplorable’ so as to be speaking of the same sort of merited affective reaction.)

  10. Even though I am deeply exhausted by all of this, I guess I need to comment.

    1. I call on the signers of the letter to explain, using concrete examples, what ‘misinformation’ they are talking about.

    2. It seems to me that from the beginning, those upset at criticism of the guide have tried very hard to turn this into an issue of feminist philosophers being attacked as such, even though several of the people who have been most visible in their concerns – me, Naomi Zack, Anita Allen – are obviously feminist philosophers, and even though every single criticism that I have seen has been from a standpoint of deep concern for the climate issue. It deeply dismays and depresses me that things have been cast this way; this rhetorical strategy has been painful, misleading, and directly harmful to the broader climate for women in philosophy. Calling this a “statement of feminist philosophers concerning…” rather than just “statement concerning…” seems an obvious attempt to reinforce this purported divide.

    3. Darius – thank you for your kind words. I have tried extremely hard to remain civil throughout all of this, and I’ve tried again and again to deflect attention away from individual personalities and intentions and onto the objective impact of the guide. Jender, I share your feeling that much of the tone of the debate has made me want to run screaming from my computer. Coming right after Darius’s comment, though, I worry that you were suggesting that I was a source of vitriol. It saddens me if you think this; I have tried so very hard not to be one. This has all been just ridiculously painful, and I really desperately wish that we could just stay focused on what’s best for women in the profession and not on people’s hurt pride and bruised feelings.

    Jender: – I’d prefer for you not to respond to (3), because I don’t want to put you on the spot. I am just registering my reaction, not calling upon you to sooth my feelings.

  11. Rebecca, it is wearying. If it wasn’t so important, I wouldn’t comment either. My sympathies.
    I agree with you that calling this “a statement of feminist philosophers concerning…” can reinforce the pseudo-divide. While that’s unfortunate, I do not believe it was an actual attempt to so divide, let alone obvious. THis reminds me of when I titled a monograph with the phrase, “The Feminist Perspective of …” etc., and my (feminist) external reviewer, who disagree with particular points, reminded me to retitle the book “_A_ Feminist Perspective…” as opposed to “The.” Having had the experience of very unintentionally speaking for feminism, and even setting up a potential divide between feminists (those who agree with me) and all others (anyone who differs), I feel obligated to suggest that the undersigned did as I did, unintentionally wording something as if it was THE view. But starting the statement with “We the undersigned” is to me a clear indicator that it is their view, not all of our views.

    I know you explicitly let our lead blogger off the hook for necessary soothings, but allow me to say that in the several hundreds of emails and blog posts I’ve seen about this, no one in the profession ever referred to you as a source of vitriol. I’ve read some passionate disagreements, but I’ve seen widespread acknowledgement of your civil discourse. For that, I thank you, Rebecca.

  12. Profbigk: Thanks, I really appreciate both paragraphs of your comment. And it made me realize I violated my own rule even as I was defending it. I shouldn’t have said anything about an ‘obvious attempt’, as that attributes specific intentions, which I think should be avoided at all costs. Let me rephrase: Calling it a ‘statement of feminist philosophers’ made me feel like I was being excluded from the category of ‘feminist philosophers’ and placed on some anti-feminist side just in virtue of criticizing the guide. (Conflict resolution 101: talk about how things make you feel and not about what the other person intended!)

  13. Oh, agreed! My Arendtian aspiration is to avoid visiting the depths of people’s hearts, and aim instead to address the effects of what they say/do. But I figured you were basically doing that.

  14. And we call on the philosophical community to support initiatives, such as the Pluralist’s Guide, to make our profession more hospitable to women, and to women and men from underrepresented social sectors.

    I think that this call is misguided. Well-intentioned initiatives that aim at laudable goals can still not merit support. Critics of the climate for women section of the PG aren’t against taking action to make profession more hospitable for women, they’re against this particular attempt to do so because they think that it’s counterproductive.

  15. I am writing in general and not in response to particular comments on various blogs about the Pluralist Guide. There can be reasons for attacking, mischaracterizing and dismissing climate studies that are not related to conscious bad intentions. Thinking about these reasons does not negate the problems with such responses, but it can help move discussions forward in a more productive manner. These reasons can often relate pretty directly to the notion of situated knowledge: one’s social position influences what one can and cannot know, or perhaps what one thinks they know but don’t actually know.

    For example, in a climate survey at Wisconsin, department chairs reported that the climates in there department were generally great, men who were not department chairs generally reported that the climate was less great and women who were not department chairs had the lowest opinion of the climate in their department.

    In analyses of department climates that I have done, there have been departments where the reports of collegiality and department climate were so variable among faculty members that if I didn’t know better I would not have thought that these people were talking about the same place.

    I have had many interactions with smart people of goodwill, who simply refuse to believe either survey data or first person reports from colleagues that their department climate is problematic for women. Two reasons for this seem to be that it conflicts with their deeply held personal values, which are commendable, and that their own first person experience does not reveal climate troubles.

    It is often the case that junior women have a much rosier assessment of department climate than more senior women. Some interpret this as evidence that the climate is improving. However, climate problems often manifest themselves as a series of molehills that over time amount to a mountain. While the effects of climate trouble can sometimes be dramatic and immediately apparent, they often impact people in an increasingly negative way over a long period of time.

    The upshot is that good, smart people often think they know, but don’t actually know about the climate in their own department. There is a need for a wide range of different kinds of data, and local and personal interactions and interventions that build a shared sense of purpose and trust are key. These measures are incredibly energy and time consuming and are often conducted by people, often women, as a significant service work overload.

    There seems to be fairly wide spread agreement with intention of the climate section of the Pluralist Guide, but common critiques are that the methods were not good enough, followed carefully enough or appropriate to the question being asked. What is heartening is the energetic group of philosophers who agree with the importance of the goal. What is constructive is that we now have a starting point, as a philosophical community, for investigating ways to collect better information. Some excellent suggestions so far have been to collect data on the attrition rates of graduate students by gender and to look at the long-term career success of graduate students by gender. There have also be members of several departments who have talked about doing local climate surveys.

    Constructive support of these efforts can include course buyouts for faculty who do department climate studies, financial support to and from our professional organizations for doing this kind of work at the level of the profession, collaboration with social scientists with expertise in doing this sort of research, and collaboration with our colleagues who have expertise regarding gender and social/employment equity. Feminist philosophers can be an excellent resource for the entire profession because expertise regarding gender analyses takes significant time and effort to develop.

  16. I shared your misgivings when I first read the statement, Rebecca (and I’d like to echo profbigk’s statement of support – I’ve found your contributions to this discussion incredibly valuable). Profbigk has made me worry less than I did, but here’s the passage I found particularly problematic:

    “For decades now, feminist philosophers have been at the forefront of efforts to address sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and the general climate for women and other minority groups in philosophy, and to develop new and innovative areas of philosophical work. We know from many years of experience how difficult these efforts can be, and how often those who engage in these efforts are attacked, mis-characterized, and preemptively dismissed. In light of this experience, we have been dismayed at the level of vitriol and misinformation being perpetrated against some named and some unnamed feminists.”

    Let me be clear: much of the discussion about the pluralist guide (particularly the Climate for Women section) has been cringe-inducingly terrible. But I think it’s uncharitable if the above passage is characterizing the vitriol in that discussion as an attempt to undermine “efforts to address sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and the general climate for women.” Much of the vitriol seems to have been the by-product of concern over these very issues. That concern has certainly not been expressed helpfully in many cases. And perhaps you could make an argument that in some cases it’s false outrage. But it seems – at least to me – that a very great deal of the concern about the Climate for Women report specifically has been that it deployed a flawed methodology and, as a result, has the potential to harm a great many vulnerable women. People certainly could have expressed their concerns on this matter more productively. But I think it’s unfair to suggest that the concern expressed – even when it’s expressed poorly – was an attempt to undermine efforts to help women. I’d wager that many of the most violent complainers thought they were helping women – because they thought the report harmed women. That doesn’t excuse they way they chose to express themselves, but nor does they way they chose to express themselves license the belief that they were actively trying to undermine attempts to help women.

    Likewise, I worry about the implication that those who have been attacked have been attacked qua feminist. As far as I can tell, the most vitriolic criticisms of the guide have focused on the methodology of the report on the climate for women, and the perceived lack of subsequent response to these criticisms. Whether or not these criticisms are good ones, and whether or not the way in which they were expressed was helpful, it doesn’t seem that this is an attack on feminists qua feminists. It seems that its a criticism of people who self-identify as feminist philosophers who put together a report on what departments are like for women. That these people self-identify as feminist philosophers strikes me as somewhat orthogonal to the criticisms that have been levelled at them. Though maybe I’m being naive on this point?

    I guess I worry about sliding between three different forms of criticism: (i) criticizing the report; (ii) personally criticizing the people (who happen to be feminist philosophers) who wrote the report; (iii) criticizing feminist philosophers in general/feminist philosophy in general. Maybe some participants in the discussion have have done all three, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the norm. Many have, unfortunately, done both (i) and (ii). But a lot of people have only engaged in (i). I would hate to see the implication that those who engage in (i) are somehow tacitly guilty of (ii) and (iii).

    I don’t want to suggest that this is what the author’s of the statement intended. I just think we should be extra-clear that these are separate issues. You can criticize the report – indeed, you can be deeply troubled by the report – without throwing personal criticism at its authors or their discipline. And we can agree that the tone of much of the criticism of the climate report has been unhelpful and in places quite hurtful, while still maintaining that much of the substance of that criticism was correct.

  17. I have commented on this blog and elsewhere in defense of the intentions of the group behind the Pluralists Guide and I have critiqued the tone of many attacks on them. However, I do think that the group behind the Pluralists Guide owe it to their good-faith interlocutors to acknowledge the valid criticisms of the project’s methodology that have already been offered. Such acknowledgement is at this point overdue. For this statement to say simply “We welcome constructive input…” makes it sound as though none had yet been offered, which is both unfair and likely to inflame criticism further.

    I had a similar worry when the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog put up Shannon Winnubst’s post with “thanks and applause” for the Guide in apparent response to the 80-comment thread on Linda Alcoff’s post. Winnubst’s post also contained no acknowledgement that cogent and constructive suggestions for the guide had in fact been offered amid the vitriol of that thread. It seems to me unproductive for the public responses to the controversy over the guide to consist largely of what appears to be circling-the-wagons. Despite apparently soliciting input, the statement’s failure to recognize the existence of constructive input already offered gives the rest of us little reason to believe that anything other than praise is really desired.

  18. Avoiding the attribution of motives is indeed one of the principles of introductory conflict resolution. Another is that one address one’s points to concrete individuals, rather than vague unspecified groups. This letter criticizes vitriol and misinformation. But who is being vitriolic, and in what claims? Who is spreading misinformation, and what? This thread is busy speculating: is it Rebecca, or Naomi Zack, Anita Allen, me, Shamik Dasgupta, Brian Leiter, Elizabeth Harman, graduate students at Rutgers or Oregon, …? We don’t know, but all have offered criticisms of the climate guide advice.

    There have been very serious worries raised about the methodology of this set of recommendations. It has been pointed out that this is not merely an academic matter, but a case of giving advice to students that could be potentially very damaging for their lives. So the moral stakes, as well as the epistemic, are high. Careful and detailed arguments have been given for these conclusions, and they have largely been ignored. Now we have a letter that purports to address this issue, but says not one word about such arguments, merely condemning vitriol and misinformation, unidentified and unattributed, and relating it to historical sexism.

    I experience this as having the rhetorical force of dismissing, once again, the criticisms that people of good will – feminists – are making.

    I yearn for a concrete claim to consider and will certainly take any criticism of my claims or modes of expression seriously, but as it is I feel criticized without knowing whether I really am, or if so knowing what the criticism is. It would not surprise me if that reaction was widespread.

  19. I have found the discussion of the Pluralists’ Guide absolutely painful, and have refrained from engaging for that reason. I don’t want to revisit that, but I do want to express a degree of disappointment in this statement. Much of the criticisms that were valuable focused on problems in methodology (as magicalersatz notes) and in particular concerns about the methodology in assessing the climate for women. I would have liked to have seen this response make some progress in acknowledging the validity of those criticisms and move towards improving the method in that assessment. It is not inconsistent to be both profoundly concerned with the climate for women and other underrepresented groups and to require a solid (thought perhaps still imperfect) method for assessing that climate. A start would have been an enumeration of various elements that contribute to a positive or negative climate for women: percentage of women faculty; percentage of women faculty with managerial responsibilities (ie chair, dgs, etc); percentage of women in program; percentage of women completing program; relative job placement record for women and men; complaints of sexual harassment/discrimination; process through which any such complaints were addressed; concerns about microinequities… I am sure there are additional criteria like this.

  20. Mark, I really don’t think it would be useful for us to spend time trying to name those whose comments have been vitriolic and those whose comments haven’t been. But I agree with the desire for a sense of progress in the discussion.

  21. I believe that efforts to improve the climate for women and other members of groups underrepresented in philosophy are of vital importance. And I believe that the organizers of the Pluralist’s Guide worked on the Climate section in a genuine attempt to improve the climate. I can understand how, in the midst of an ambitious project with many other facets, they may have been focused more on the logistics of the overall project and less on preemptively identifying potential problems with the Climate section.

    It is unfortunate that some have impugned the organizers’ intentions, and I can see why a group of feminist philosophers has wished to come out in support of the organizers and their aim of improving the climate for women. But as others have noted above, this statement seems, at least implicitly, to endorse the Climate section as it now stands, when the signatories state that they “publicly support the efforts of the new Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy in both of its endeavors: to provide new sources of information on areas of philosophy that are still underrepresented in major doctoral programs and to provide information on the conditions for women and minorities in those programs.”

    As much as I would like to see reliable information about climate made available, I now believe, along with many other observers, that the Climate section has very grave flaws. Regardless of whether someone could or should have predicted these problems in advance, the available evidence now suggests that asking people not affiliated with a department to rate its climate for women has resulted in both false negatives and false positives. Many of the associated harms have already been described, especially by feminist philosopher Rebecca Kukla in her eloquent and measured critique of the Climate section (particularly here: To list a department as “Strongly Recommended,” when in fact it has serious problems, puts female students directly in harm’s way. To place three of the top departments in the country alone on the “Needs Improvement” list, when evidence suggests that many of the female students and faculty in (at least) two of those departments find their climates quite women-friendly, harms top female students by suggesting that they should go elsewhere rather than seeking out the best analytic philosophical training and job placement available. It encourages women to self-select into a lower tier (when in fact they may well have thrived in the supportive atmosphere of one of those top departments), thereby diminishing their professional prospects and perpetuating one of the very problems that people concerned about the climate for women should be trying to solve. For these reasons, while the Pluralist’s Guide may be an initiative “to make our profession more hospitable to women, and to women and men from underrepresented social sectors,” the Climate section of the Guide is not a positive element of the initiative. It may even make things worse for women in the profession.

    I can understand the desire to provide moral support to colleagues who attempted to do something valuable with the best of intentions, and who are now facing such a painful barrage of criticism. But to provide moral support by endorsing, or appearing to endorse, an initiative which has deep flaws and significant potential for harm does not, in my judgment, help to move things in a positive direction.

    As a philosopher and a feminist, I appreciate the efforts by the organizers of the Pluralist’s Guide to bring climate issues to the forefront and to provide helpful information about departmental climate to female graduate students. I hope that some of the excellent suggestions others have made about ways to provide climate-related information (particularly objective information about how programs stand with regard to percentage of female faculty and grad students, rates of tenure for female and male faculty, job placement success for female and male grad students, etc.) will be taken up by the organizers of the Pluralist’s Guide or by others.

    I also believe the Climate section, as it now stands, is fatally flawed, and I hope that it will be taken down.

  22. I am surprised at this “Statement” for a number of related reasons.

    (1) It aids in the production of an US vs THEM discourse that only hurts discussion on this topic. It encourages defensiveness rather than collaboration. This is precisely what is going on here and on other blogs.

    (2) The Statement’s US vs THEM sentiment also hurts whatever disciplinary gains we have made to make feminist philosophy more mainstream and enmeshed within other philosophical fields (e.g., epistemology, metaphysics, mind…). If grad students and other philosophers see this “circling of the wagons” (as someone previously put it) without addressing any criticism, it is bound to be quite off-putting and strengthen the thought that one need not engage in feminist philosophy if its practitioners exhibit such attitudes. One can only hope that such impressionable people have experiences with other feminist philosophers who do not exhibit the US vs THEM sentiment. To make this point simply, this Statement bodes badly for the general conception of “feminist philosophy” as an inclusive, serious philosophical venture. I am already well-convinced it is, but I am not everyone.

    (3) I have been to a number of FEMMSS conferences, and I have always been amazed at how collaborative the speakers and attendees are towards one another. There is ample criticism, but the spirit of collaboration sparks a forwarding of whatever project is at issue. I have yet to see all out resistance to answering criticisms or a refusal acknowledge that there may be some problems with one’s own research. The irony is at the first FEMMSS conference, many of the Statement’s undersigned were there and were paradigm examples of the collaborative spirit. Thus, call me puzzled at the Statement.

    (4) Though this is included above and has been implied by many other commenters, not answering or even acknowledging some of the thoughtful, insightful criticisms is a bad example of good philosophy. There appears to be the thought that giving any credence to any of the extant criticisms is giving the farm away. Why think that? Again, acknowledging that there are some serious problems with the climate study should only open to door to collaboration. Good philosophy is done in an open community of constructive dialogue, criticism, and collaboration. Dear undersigned, the community is here! Don’t close the door.

    What saddens me is that I’m afraid the damage is already done and will galvanize negative sentiments.

    I fully support the need for a pluralist’s guide and a climate study. It is absolutely needed!! But the methodology has to be sound (enough), and its authors must be willing to acknowledge and take action on good criticism.

  23. As one of the signatories to the letter, let me see if I can clarify what we were trying to do. We felt that the conversation had indeed gotten pretty cringe-worthy and hoped to turn down the heat a little. Also, we felt that the authors of the Pluralist’s Guide shouldn’t be left hanging out to dry.

    We DO support what the Guide is trying to do, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious methodological problems. And these can only be fixed if all of y’all come forward and give Linda Alcoff better information–from your own direct experience–of where the woman-friendly departments are. The methodological issues are staggeringly difficult, but I don’t think there is any easy way to fix them, because they have to do with emotional resonances, suspicions, what feels right, what smells bad, and so on, rather than hard data about which universities have censured people for sexual harassment. I think the best we can hope for is some kind of convergence of opinion from people who are sensitive to these issues as to what departments are reasonably safe for women.

    What can be fixed is the lack of transparency about how the procedure for gathering and compiling the data. I’ve spoken to Linda about my concerns in that regard, and she has told me she will clarify those matters.

    So, here’s the thing, ultimately. We’ve never had easily accessible information on climate issues in philosophy, and that’s not working. Linda’s attempt, which is modeled on corporate attempts to identify climate issues, is a good-faith first pass at this. But the problems with the Guide won’t get fixed unless we all help fix them. The signatories certainly didn’t mean to imply that people haven’t already made valid and useful criticisms and we do welcome them. But it would be great if we could all pull together to get reliable information on climate out there to the prospective grad students who need it.

  24. Carla Fehr’s comment – #16 – seems to me to be full of well- taken points. Let me urge people to look at it carefully.

    Carla, Jender, do you think it could be put as a self-standing post?

    I am very concerned that the present discussion not polarize those who care about the climate for women in philosophy, though the preaent discussion is very encouraging in lots of ways. It may be that the task Linda and others undertook could not be brought to a successful conclusion. If so, it hardly seems disrespectful to ask that the report not continue in anything much like its current form. Being a pioneer can suck; it is exceptionally hard to get something right when there really are no precedents. But, to indulge that metaphor, they opened up territory in ways that hadn’t been done before, and we all know it is very important.

  25. There are 18 signatures on this statement. I believe that 8 are on the advisory board for the climate on women for the Pluralists Guide, and 10 are not.

    That advisory board has 45 members. I can only assume that all 45 were invited to sign the statement, and that 37 declined to do so. If so, that is very interesting.

    If an undergraduate student stumbles upon that website, in its current form, then the website will be taken very seriously by that student. The website still fails to make adequately clear that *only* the advisory board were surveyed. The website purports to have genuine information as to which programs are good for women and which are not. An undergraduate stumbling upon it would have no reason to imagine that its methodology was as bad as it in fact was. Furthermore, the names of those 45 philosophers — some of them prominent — are all there *endorsing* the site. An undergraduate who stumbles upon the site will take it that their endorsement means something.

    It is my view that in its current state, the site is inexcusably irresponsible. (This has nothing to do with anyone’s intentions in putting it up.) It is my view that no one should endorse it. Perhaps the 37 philosophers who were unwilling to sign this statement should remove their names from the advisory board. (All 45 should remove their names, but perhaps those 37 are closer to realizing that they should.)

  26. Anon., the assumption that all 45 were invited and 37 declined is a rational but hasty assumption, and not the only one possible. I am on the list of advisory board members for programs with strengths in feminism, and I was not invited to sign the statement. I can imagine many reasons why this was the case, some of which come too close to needlessly visiting the hearts of others, which I tend to be disinterested in doing. My main point, though, is that whatever the other possible assumptions, I can offer myself as a counterexample disproving the assumption you stated (which, I realize, is only an assumption, and not a big ole claim of fact).

    My assumption is that I am not alone in being on a long advisory list but not an invitee to signatory on a public statement, and reasonably predicated on a few factors. I am not in daily conversation with any of the signatories, so any sense of urgency they may have had in writing each other about a timely statement would not have reached me. I am certainly not renowned and influential in the ways that so many of the signatories are; I believe the invitation to join a profession-wide conversation is better done by someone of influence with, in a sense, more ‘skin in the game,’ and I say this in the hope that a call to action from someone of repute is meaningful. Yet I may likely have been looped in on the formation of the statement anyway, if I had rushed to contact my colleagues and express my enthusiasm for and support of the Guide; however, I did not do so. These three seem like perfectly reasonable factors in non-involvement with the statement above, and in no way bear a necessary relationship to unwillingness on my part.

    Anon’s concerns about what undergraduates perceive and what they would have reason to imagine are certainly salient, and I too am passionate about excellent advising of undergraduates. However, I would urge Anon and similarly like-minded people not to proceed on the assumption that 37 people were unwilling to sign the statement of the signatories. Whether or not I should remove my name from the rough draft of the advisory board member list is another matter, and somewhat beside the point of the signatories’ statement.

  27. Here’s a very simple criticism, constructive if ever any was: the Climate for Woman rankings *in their current form* are not merely uninformative but potentially harmful (to women!) for a host of reasons already discussed ad nauseum.

    So take down the current Climate for Women section of the Pluralist’s Guide.

    (Obviously, that does not exhaust constructive criticism in this matter — most importantly, it does not preclude the creation of a *better* set of rankings put together collaboratively and by other constructive criticism about methodology, etc.)

  28. The Pluralist Guide was very quick to post our letter, and it has remained prominent on the website. I thank them for doing this. A prospective graduate student looking at the website can easily find the letter, and so will at least know that there are those who disagree with the Pluralist Guide’s assessment of the climates for women.

  29. I agree with Simon Gurofsky to the extent that a climate survey and a graduate-program guide are such different animals; methods for each would have to be so widely different that they may just not belong together. One can certainly appreciate the Pluralist’s Guide rankings in, say, critical philosophy of race, in the absence of the Climate Survey page.

    I’d add that those of us on the long list of advisors are not, as Anon. says, all there *endorsing* the site. Advisors do not endorse content. They may provide consultation, or fill out surveys. But filling out a survey does not equate to endorsing the content of the website that results.

  30. Kate, just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to suggest that no climate rankings should ever be part of a graduate-program guide, but rather that this particular set of climate rankings, being potentially harmful, ought not to be disseminated, in this particular case via a graduate-program guide. One might well think that the two in principle do not mix. But I want to be clear that the climate rankings *as they now stand* ought to be taken down *simply because they could do harm*, and so regardless of whether or not one thinks the proper place for climate rankings as such is in a graduate-program guide.

  31. Point taken, Simon. I realize you weren’t saying that. I was toying with my own reasons for agreeing. Hmm, but now that I’ve read your follow-up, I think I agree with you even more. They could in theory go together. I should try to separate the theoretical point from this particular occasion.

  32. Here’s another very simple criticism, constructive if ever any was: Those responsible for the Climate Guide aren’t responding to constructive criticism and concerns.

    So either concede legitimate points, or explain and clarify your position.

    (Obviously this doesn’t mean one must accept every criticism or concern, but it does mean one must treat one’s interlocutors with the respect that comes from acknowledging and responding to legitimate concerns.)

  33. I think Kate had it right in 30. I think that it is probably a very good idea not to link any future climate discussion – whether it be recommendations, survey results, lists of measures, just a site for discussion, etc. – to any graduate program guides. There is, as we all know, lots of controversy and no little hostility attached to gp rankings. Many feel that such sites exemplify political agendas, whether rightly or wrongly. But the concern over climate issues is much broader than support for various guides. So attaching a climate discussion to either PGR, PG, or some future ranking that will be seen by some as attached to some other sub-division of the field just seems like a bad idea. I would like to see future work on this led by a group of eminent philosophers from various under-represented groups, chosen in a way that removes as much as possible any suspicion of an unrelated agenda.

  34. Here’s another, hopefully constructive, thought: it seems to me that it would be best if the development of a climate survey of this sort was not too closely associated with a particular philosophical “school” or with one side of the (so-called) “analytic-continental” divide or anything of that sort. After all, it’s in everyone’s interest to come up with a survey that is as free from even the slightest appearance of bias as is possible. This, I think, speaks in favor of separating the project of developing a climate survey from the project of developing guides like the PGR or the Pluralists’ Guide. After all, both the PGR and Pluralist’s Guide are informed by some quite substantive and not uncontroversial views about the sorts of philosophy that are worthwhile – which is perfectly fine, of course, given their aims. But a climate survey, it would seem to me, would be most useful if it was the product of a group of philosophers that cut across these sorts of disputes.

  35. Interesting thought, Karl. I’ve long envied the concerted efforts to put together more social science data in the natural sciences in the U.S., which seems often to issue from the National Academies Press (_Beyond Bias and Barriers_ is a work of amazing scope, available at A climate survey from such a source would be outstanding. Alas, there aren’t so many philosophers that governmental sources would devote efforts to such a thing.

    Sorry for delays in comment approving tonight, but duties called. As it nears bedtime for many of us in North America, approval will be slowed, but please feel free to continue registering your comments and reflections. It’s been a privilege. Goodnight.

  36. It is a shame that people, instead of seeking to develop more and better methodologies for this guide, began to attack its creators. But, it might also have been constructive for the creators of the guide to have been a bit more publicly supportive of those who proposed methodological fixes.

    […] If you look at the initial *comments* on [Leiter’s] blog when the survey first came to light, you will see the methodological suggestions couched in terms that were clearly supportive of such a survey existing. […]

    So, here’s my constructive suggestion: Would it be possible or feasible for the folks who raised constructive criticisms of the Climate for Women survey be willing to express, collectively in an open letter, support for a methodologically adjusted Climate for Women survey?

    And would those who developed the Climate for Women survey be willing to do a re-boot of the discussion and engage with, and perhaps even adjust their survey in light of, the concrete methodological criticisms and suggestions?

    That’s a lot of work for something that might have exhausted everyone involved. Oh well. Maybe we could have done this earlier and avoided the exhaustion. Lesson learned.

  37. This is a response to anonymous 1:01pm: as an individual, I cannot respond “collectively” to create an open letter. But I do welcome the invitation to “offer support for a methodologically adjusted Climate for Women survey.” In the discussion of this issue on Leiter’s blog, Helen Yetter Chappell, a grad student at Princeton, made what I thought were some excellent, constructive, and concrete suggestions under the title “Proposal for a Helpful Survey of Gender-Climate”. Her suggestions would be a good starting point. I also agree with Mark Lance and others that any survey on Climate for Women should be entirely separated from graduate program ranking guides like PG or PGR.

  38. Anonymous:

    When this debate began and I hadn’t yet thought about any of this very thoroughly, I did think that one could and ought to do a different kind of survey. After lots of thought and discussion I have decided that I would probably be opposed to any survey as a tool for ‘measuring’ climate. Indeed, any ‘scientific’ study of climate, I think, is likely doomed to be a bad idea. The dangers of false positives and negatives, given how vexed and subject to distortion any form of reporting will be, seem to me bound to outweigh the epistemic benefits. For the data to be even slightly reliable, you’d need serious social scientists to do a massive qualitative study with carefully designed one on one interviews, some way of screening out selection bias in who is willing to participate in them, etc., all of which is totally unrealistic. But even if you had this, I would still have serious doubts about the trustworthiness of the results. People have a vested interest in helping their own department and not giving an honest interview if it will hurt it. And we are such a small field that even if the interviews are ‘anonymous’ it may be quite easy to guess who said what, and so people may be afraid of retribution. And anyhow, we have no idea how to operationalize ‘climate’ or how to amalgamate people’s individual responses into an overall measurement. And again, getting it wrong is not just bad science but potentially damaging to people and departments – and people tend to be too trusting of things that *look* ‘scientific’.

    I do think that there are two other kinds of information-collecting that would be useful. First, I think that, as some others have suggested, concrete quantitative data of various sorts should be collected: What are the percentages of female and minority students and faculty, and what is the retention rate for each? How many of each transfer to other programs or move to other jobs? Have there been any official sexual harassment investigations? Etc. This kind of quantitative information is very incomplete but it gives a helpful and objective snapshot. It should be presented as NOT a proxy for ‘climate quality’. Second, I think that creating fora where people can share anecdotes about what is going well and badly in departments could be very useful, as long is it is NOT given an inappropriate rhetorical veneer of ‘science’. The ‘what are we doing about what it’s like’ blog is a good start. If we had some way of circulating problems and solutions that was easy to access, this would give another kind of helpful snapshot. Of course this would be subject to all the same risks of representing a department as better or worse or just different than it actually is, but at least it would not present itself as the definitive outcome of some supposedly scientific process, and this would make it less likely to mislead. It would also provide more contentful and usable information than the amalgamated upshot of some kind of survey.

    It is an interesting and deep and important fact that scientific and quasi-scientific methods simply can’t give us all the information we would ideally like to have. This isn’t to undercut the value of science or to pull any kind of relativist crap, but just to point out that some phenomena are, for all kinds of reasons, inherently resistant to being disclosed by way of our standard stock of quantitative and qualitative methods. And in a case like this, where false positives and false negatives can cause serious damage to people’s lives, it’s best not to fool ourselves about this, however much we wish that we had reliable answers to important questions.

    (This is a slight modification of a comment I made over on the NewApps blog, but it seemed relevant to repost it here in response to Anonymous’s call and a few other comments above.)

  39. Hahaha, while I was composing and fiddling, Mark linked to my original comment anyhow. But I think this version is better.

  40. I have yet to read any criticism of the PG that attacks either (a) the intent to protect female philosophy students or (b) feminist philosophers.

    What I have seen are criticisms of the editors’ methodology for the climate guide, criticisms of the results of the study, and criticisms of the idea of a climate guide altogether. All sets of criticisms appear to be out of concern for (a) women who might take the climate guide seriously to their detriment and (b) departments that have been misrepresented to their detriment.

    I do not understand why the signatories who “have been at the forefront of efforts to address sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and the general climate for women and other minority groups in philosophy” and who wish to “make our profession more hospitable to women” object to those who criticize the editors of the PG for unintentionally working *against* those efforts (i.e. by what is in their opinion a flawed methodology that led to flawed [and dangerous] conclusions).

    Surely, it must be that the signatories are thinking of criticisms that are not of the kind I have seen, but when asked specifically about the criticisms they object to (e.g. by Mark Lance in #19), they are either silent or perhaps simply agree with Jender, who responded, “Mark, I really don’t think it would be useful for us to spend time trying to name those whose comments have been vitriolic and those whose comments haven’t been.”

    The names and comments addressed by the Statement would be very useful for me, as I cannot make sense of the Statement without it. All I’ve seen are people concerned about women in philosophy and how PG’s guide might harm them, and I can’t get a sense of the objection the signatories are making, because I can’t imagine their statement directed at the criticisms I’ve read. I can’t figure out between whom this fight is raging!

  41. Since this statement appears to be a call for constructive dialogue, it is depressing that those who issued the statement, with one exception, are not participating.

    With that in mind, I’d like to thank Hilde Lindemann for her contribution, and engage with what she had to say point by point:

    > We DO support what the Guide is trying to do, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious methodological problems.

    I think this is a point of widespread agreement!

    > And these can only be fixed if all of y’all come forward and give Linda Alcoff better information–from your own direct experience–of where the woman-friendly departments are.

    It is not clear how this addresses the methodological problems that have been raised. And it would seem to ignore the widespread concern that Linda Alcoff has been irresponsible in her stewardship of the current guide, by, for example, leaving up recommendations that we now know are dangerously wrong.

    > The methodological issues are staggeringly difficult, but I don’t think there is any easy way to fix them, because they have to do with emotional resonances, suspicions, what feels right, what smells bad, and so on, rather than hard data about which universities have censured people for sexual harassment.

    Agreed. Though I would add that such hard data (and the other sorts of hard data that others have suggested gathering), would be useful as well.

    > I think the best we can hope for is some kind of convergence of opinion from people who are sensitive to these issues as to what departments are reasonably safe for women.

    But Brian Leiter, Rebecca Kukla, and Mark Lance have all raised serious doubts about the value of convergence of opinion, as found in reputational surveys, as a measure of climate. Perhaps the thought is that this is the best we can hope for, and would have value in the absence of other options. But that value is precisely what is called into question by the criticisms of this methodology as a measure for climate.

    > What can be fixed is the lack of transparency about how the procedure for gathering and compiling the data. I’ve spoken to Linda about my concerns in that regard, and she has told me she will clarify those matters.

    This is certainly long overdue, and thank you for pressing her on it. But note that, as others have said many times, at least one other thing can be fixed: the current version of the report needs, at minimum, to be revised in light of now public information; but really, it should be taken down.

  42. Wes McMichael, attacks on the intent of the authors of the climate guide and doubts about their good faith have come from several quarters. I pointed some out in comments on the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog at and

    The climate guide has received lots of constructive criticism and it is a very serious problem that the guide’s authors still have not acknowledged them, much less responded substantively to them. However, it does no one any favors to pretend that there have been no attacks on the intentions of its authors — and from some pretty loud voices. That doesn’t mean that it’s worth dwelling on those attacks or using them as an excuse for not engaging with the many good faith interlocutors. They are worth noting, though, if only to understand this statement and why some felt it was necessary.

  43. At the end of the latest blog post about the climate guide and the Statement posted here, Brian Leiter writes: “The real puzzle is why so many seem to be willing to give those responsible for this travesty a ‘free pass’ on their professional misconduct, to assume that their motives could only have been good ones, that they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and so on. Why not judge people by what they have actually done, including their complete failure to acknowledge or respond substantively to questions and criticisms?”

    While I understand the conciliatory impulses by many critics of the climate guide here, this strikes me as exactly right. I have no knowledge of what Alcoff, Taylor, and Wilkerson’s true intentions originally were – the climate guide itself is consistent with an intent to smear top PGR departments, or with an honest mistake, or with simply letting one’s philosophical prejudices cloud one’s judgement so that one fails to notice that the bad methodology one has selected does nothing more than unjustifiably bolster those pre-existing prejudices. But their response – or lack thereof – to criticisms of the climate guide (some of it harshly put, but almost none unfair) casts them in a very bad light indeed. The Statement in support of what they’ve done and how strikes me as worse than unhelpful in this context.

  44. O.L., I certainly won’t belabor the point, but, while I agree that those comments are uncharitable about the editors of the climate guide qua editors, I don’t see them to be uncharitable about the editors qua feminist philosophers. For all I know, some of the “unnamed” (according to the Statement) people responsible for the guide are simply people who care about how women in philosophy departments are treated and do no work in “feminist philosophy” as such at all. The tone of some of the comments you link does seem harsh, but I don’t understand why they should be taken as criticisms of feminist philosophers in general.

    The Statement seems to suggest that the attack has been against feminist philosophers qua feminist philosophers, not simply against editors who may or may not (again, the Statement says some are “unnamed”) be philosophers who specialize in feminist philosophy. For example, it reads, in part, “For decades now, feminist philosophers have been at the forefront of efforts to address… the general climate for women… in philosophy. We know from many years of experience how difficult these efforts can be, and how often those who engage in these efforts are attacked, mis-characterized, and preemptively dismissed. In light of this experience, we have been dismayed at the level of vitriol and misinformation being perpetrated against some named and some unnamed feminists.”

    It doesn’t seem to be the case that the Statement is attempting to defend the editors who are philosophers and happen to be feminists (I hope most of us fit into that category, including the ones who have been harsh in their judgment of the editors’ intentions). It seems that the Statement is saying there have been criticisms that are either directed at (a) efforts in making philosophy departments better for women or (b) at people who work in feminist philosophy (I really can’t see any other way to read it). The comments you highlight don’t seem to be directed at either. They appear to be very harsh criticisms of the editors of the climate guide qua editors of the climate guide, not qua feminist philosophers.

    I really hope that I am not being naive, that the comments you’ve highlighted are not simply clever ways to undermine feminist philosophy (I know history is replete with cleverly-veiled criticisms of this sort). But, if a person wanted to criticize the Guide’s methodology and (perhaps unfairly) even the editors’ intentions (i.e. good-faith efforts), how could they be worded differently than they have been and not be taken as a criticism of feminist philosophers? In other words, if I believed the editors utilized poor methodology and arrived at conclusions that could be harmful to women (and their careers) AND if I wanted to criticize the good-faith intentions of the editors (though, in this case, I do not), how would I word my criticism such that the signatories took it as a criticism of these editors qua editors instead of a criticism of feminist philosophers in general? Judging from how these few harsh comments have been taken, I’m really not sure how I could make these kinds of criticisms without being taken to be criticizing feminist philosophers, even if I had great respect for feminist philosophers outside of the editors of the Guide.

  45. How does criticism of the professional behavior of individual feminists, or of departments that have members who are feminists, constitutes an attack on feminism? The “Statement of Feminist Philosophers concerning the Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy” fails to take into account concrete realities in which feminist philosophers work on a daily basis and as a result, it does not separate those realities from feminism and feminists generally. Here are two examples: (a) Very good intellectual work by feminists can be done in a department that is not in its internal political governance, feminist. And (b) feminists when in charge of varied things can behave in ways that are not friendly to women. Whenever (a) or (b) are in evidence and criticized as such, that does not constitute an attack on feminism. Being a feminist does not protect a person from criticism for behavior that is unprofessional, unfriendly to other women, or not feminist. And, supporting the study of feminism, having feminists on the faculty, and having the ideal of being women-friendly as a whole unit, do not in themselves, separately, or all together, guarantee that a department as a whole unit, is in reality women-friendly. Criticism of departments that fulfill these less than sufficient requirements for being women-friendly should be welcomed by committed feminists, because if such criticism is responded to theoretically and practically, the general goals of feminism will be furthered, especially in philosophy. Keeping a cool head, taking the high road, and upholding scrupulous standards of ethical professionalism in daily academic life: these are the practices that will further the greater inclusion of women, minorities, and other under-represented groups in philosophy, as well as it will support high quality work produced by pluralist or other nontraditional philosophers.
    Naomi Zack
    University of Oregon

  46. Wes, it seems plausible to me that the Statement we’re all commenting on contains (at least) two different strands of objection to the discussion of the Pluralist Guide. The first is that there has somehow been a criticism of feminists qua feminists, or an attempt to undermine the efforts of feminists to help women. And I agree with you that I haven’t seen much at all in the discussion that substantiates this charge (though there has been some – particularly in one of the threads over at Philosophy Smoker). But there’s also the more general worry that the tone of the discussion has been, in places, unhelpfully harsh and combative, to an extent that’s likely to impede progress on the subject. The clarification offered by Prof. Lindemann at 24 backs up this reading, I think: she says the signatories “felt that the conversation had indeed gotten pretty cringe-worthy and hoped to turn down the heat a little.”

    Personally, I’ve agreed with most of the criticisms levelled against the Pluralist Guide. But I’ve found the way that some of these criticisms were expressed (some! uncancelled implicature: not all! not all by any means!) upsetting and unproductive. I should note that I’ve had similar reactions to comments from those who have been *defending* the guide – so it’s not simply that the guide has been mercilessly attacked by a bunch of internet meanies. But the tone of the entire discussion has, in many cases, seemed more likely to polarize factions than to help solve problems.

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