More on gender at NYU

We recently posted about a very striking lineup of gendered events at NYU’s New York Institute of Philosophy. Several of NYU’s faculty (Paul Boghossian, David Chalmers, Don Garrett, Beatrice Longuenesse, Sharon Street, and David Velleman) have written a letter in response to this post, which is now up on NYU’s website:




12 thoughts on “More on gender at NYU

  1. “(5) The faculty and students at NYU are strongly committed to making the philosophy department as good a place for women and minorities as it can be. A new committee for Climate, Inclusiveness, and Diversity….”

    Since the faculty appears to be all white, one wonders when the department became “strongly committed” to this mission. Any improvement on this front shouldn’t be hard to come by, at least.

  2. I was somewhat amused by the NYU posted response, because one of the signers features in a paper I’ve just finished on how male philosophers’ comments can silence and exclude women in philosophy. Another has been noticed in a discussion on this blog for his treatment of a woman’s philosophical views.

    It is very important to realize, as many people do not, that creating and maintaining a healthy climate for hitherto excluded people takes much more than good will and constructive intentions. A great deal of knowledge is also required for those who live in societies full of bias and bigotry. This addittional knowledge needs to contain an accurate critique of the myths bigotry has left our society with.

    Another important realization is that introspection is NOT a good guide to one’s own biases. Plenty of people who just can’t find any, e.g., African Americans worth hiring sincerely though falsely say that they are not in the least biased.

  3. Also anon,
    Which part of the response do your last two paragraphs concern? Though I think the response certainly has its flaws, it doesn’t claim (or imply) that mere good will is enough to produce a healthy climate, or that implicit biases can be introspected. Regarding climate, they specifically say that their committee “is working actively to assess and help improve the state of the department in many relevant respects.” which I take to mean they acknowledge that substantial action is required.

  4. Still more, I was mentioning issues and wasn’t directly addressing what the response said. However, I did find the response something like worrying. It does combine statements about their intentions and commitments with statements that employ success words. Thus the committee “is working actively to assess and help improve” as opposed to “trying hard to find out how to assess and help improve”. But changing a social group is very, very difficult, and finding out what is causing what is often very difficult. It is also very difficult to figure out what is relevant to climate. And even if you manage all that, trying to change the climate can easily make things much worse. A lot of people don’t like the idea that behavior they’ve exhibited for 20 years will now be considered toxic since someone has decided diversity is a good thing.

    Implicit biases: a whole lot of people in philosophy don’t know they have them, and I really haven’t seen a good (empirically tested) proposal for changing the biases existing in the members of a group. You might be able to get people to control their behavior some, but there are large problems about seeing what behavior needs to be changed. At a meeting I was at recently, some African Americans were maintaining that a depiction of an African American was not, as claimed, neutral; rather, it was racially charged, with the African American in an attack position. I don’t think any of the white guys got that, even when it was argued, but a few of the white women did. My impression is that men can find it more difficult to see the problems than women do, for what that’s worth. People who have spent a large part of their lives in privileged positions can find it difficult to see how things look when one is not in such a position.

    Over the last 15 or so years, NSF has been encouraging academics to study such matters and to make STEM fields at least more hospitable to women. Many academics think that they are so familiar with the workings of academia that they don’t really need much more background to be able to make effective changes. I think that everything we are learning these days points in the opposite direction. We do not understand ourselves well.

  5. Jenny Saul is travelling right now, but she’s asked that I post the following comment on her behalf:

    “I think that we should applaud moves in the right direction – like the ones described in this letter – rather than taking them as occasions to criticise past behaviour or hunt for evidence of hypocrisy.”

  6. Jennifer Saul is of course welcome to her perspective. Others of us have reason to save our applause — until something far more significant happens than a vague statement about intent and a new diversity committee. Without public evidence of such something, “we” have no way of assessing whether these really are “moves in the right direction.”

    An apparently all-white faculty of 25, in NYC, in 2013, isn’t optimism inspiring for some of us.

  7. “[We should] save our applause — until something far more significant happens than a vague statement about intent and a new diversity committee.” On this we agree. What we seem to disagree on is the extent to which we should take a statement of intent and the formulation of a new committee as evidence (however defeasible) that such significant steps might actually be on their way.

  8. Yeah, it’s probably right that “applaud” is too strong for an early-stage effort like this. However, I do think we should praise it, and I do think it’s a mistake to respond by pointing out past failures. There’s a time for that, but that time is not when people are actually attempting to improve. I’m very glad that they are making these efforts, and that they want to let the world know about them. I would like more departments to commit publicly to such efforts in this way.

  9. H.P., I’ve removed your comment because I think it violates our comments policy. If you want to repost, please try to keep things respectful and constructive.

    Also, for everyone complaining about the racial makeup of NYU’s faculty, you might want to go check out the latest news on Leiter! (Not saying this makes NYU a paradise of racial equality or anything – but it’s progress.)

  10. Yeah, there’s “progress” for you. The improvement wasn’t too hard to come by, after all.

    As for “complaining” about that faculty’s racial makeup — 1/26! — I’ll stay among the complainers. Thanks. (I wonder how well we could predict social identities based on such differences in attitude.)

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