A harrowing story

of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, from The Guardian.

One of the things I found most disturbing was this:

This was, in some ways, a more prototypical harassment experience. Perhaps not coincidentally, my harasser was a tenured philosophy professor, like McGinn. Physical contact of the sort this fellow engaged in – hand on thigh/small of back and repeatedly trying to kiss me – has been ruled to constitute a hostile environment. He also mentioned possibly being able to get me funding, which, in the context of physical advances, is a classic quid pro quo. (And I don’t need the funding: I have a great academic fundraising track record, and had no problem securing it myself.)

A few other professors observed some of this professor’s inappropriate behavior toward me. They filed a complaint bundle with the university’s equal opportunity office, ostensibly about a much broader pattern of sexual harassment. Against my express wishes, they included in their complaint the inappropriate behavior they had observed toward me as an “anonymous graduate student”.

Anonymity was not meaningful in this context. I asked to be left out of the complaint for fear of retaliation and in the knowledge that it would distress me to be involved because of my previous bad experience with the complaint process. The other professors disregarded my preference. With the decision thus made for me, I eventually talked to university investigators as a “witness”, and then filed a one-page form to become a complainant myself, in order to better secure my access to outcome information.

I’m wondering if the professors filing the complaint were legally obligated to mention the behaviour they had witnessed, even thought the student told them not to. I’ve recently learned that, at least for many members of a department, there is an absolute legal obligation to do this. This shocked and appalled me– the last thing a victim needs is to feel even less autonomy; it strikes me as incredibly important to respect victims’ wishes. The Guardian story makes me even more convinced that this requirement is a problem.

I’m leaving comments open on this, but please be especially careful in comments– for all we know, the victim and/or the professors who filed complaint are reading this.

The SunDay cat feels attenuated

It was about six years ago that the Sunday Cat was introduced to disrupt some arguments. At that time, some people worried that we’d appear like little old cat ladies.

Now I, and surely others, have a new worry. The idea that cat flicks are a common and stale trope has become itself a tired joke. So I’m wondering about alternatives. Suggestions would be very welcomed.

If I were anything like organized, I’d have asked the co-bloggers here first; apolgies if any one feels left out.

If you are wonder how a cat could break up a fight, I’ll leave you with an example. As far as I know, none of us has tried the technique:

Academics and their universities must do better on sexual harassment.

Yes, indeed! An excellent article by Luke Brunning. My only quibble with it is with this:

If members of the ‘rigor and clarity’ brigade have influence within an academic department it is hard to see how cultures can change. Belligerent or plain aggressive behavior is justified in terms of ‘informality’ or conceptions of what ‘good thinking’ requires. In speaking of his conduct, for example, McGinn emphasized that he was “a philosopher trying to teach a budding philosopher important logical distinctions.” Many think that some ideas justify ‘forceful’ modes of presentation.

I think it’s vital to realise that one can distinguish concern for clarity and rigour from being an arsehole. The author is right: such concern is used as an excuse for appalling behaviour. But condemning “the clarity and rigour brigade”, seems to me to look a lot like accepting that such behaviour is simply what comes along with caring about clarity and rigour. (Thanks, C!)