15 thoughts on “Colorado-Boulder replaces chair, suspends graduate admissions to improve climate.

  1. It is remarkable and extremely important that the CSW report has been made public; kudos to those at Bolder who chose to make it widely available. There is so much in the report, and I think that probably most chairs of philosophy departments should read it. It may well seem completely bizarre that there are people who don’t realize how toxic sexual harassment can be; one thinks of self-deception, the need for an epistemology of ignorance to address this, etc. But those who don’t realize the very bad effects of incivility, public calling out, etc, are probably legion. In a profession where the lack of empathy is a danger, it is worth thinking too about this.

    One thing I was struck by is the committee’s noting that women who were affected by actions in the department tended to stay at home, not go to department events, and so on. In fact, it is often extremely difficult for a woman to get any help either inside or outside a department; people who take the “stay at home” route may have tried many times to find another solution. The standard advice in “self-help in the workplace” literature is that someone in a irremediably toxic environment at work has two choices: resign or go underground. That is, leave, or do things like stay home, avoid department functions, etc. Not only is this advice standard in the literature, but it is also likely to be confirmed by professionals one might consult outside one’s environment.

    What may not be obvious is that following this advice can be very problematic. It can be used against the already beleaguered person to label her as someone who does not contribute at all to the work place. However unfriendly one’s environment, one is somehow supposed still to show up.

  2. I totally agree. I wrote this over at my facebook,

    “Whoa, so I just heard about and read the University of Colorado-Boulder’s report from the site visit of the Committee on the Status of Women [in philosophy]. What the report does really well is explain how sexual harassment and sexism is corrosive to, what the report calls, all stakeholders. In other words, the report does a good job of showing that allowing a climate and culture of sexual harassment and sexism does not just hurt the women who are directly harassed (which would be bad enough), nor does it just hurt all women in the department (still bad enough), it hurts the functioning of the department itself, in general. It breaks down trust, it makes people feel paranoid and suspicious. Again, this is not to take away from the direct harm to the victims of harassment and sexism. That alone would be good enough for us to get our collective philosophical house in order. But the broader damage is real and thorough, the impacts are one of collective harm. ”

    But this is the paragraph from the report that struck the deepest chord with me:

    “The Department uses pseudo-philosophical analyses to avoid directly addressing the situation. Their faculty discussions revolve around the letter rather than the spirit of proposed regulations and standards. They spend too much time articulating (or trying to articulate) the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior instead of instilling higher expectations for professional behavior. They spend significant time debating footnotes and “what if” scenarios instead of discussing what they want their department to look and feel like. In other words, they spend time figuring out how to get around regulations rather than focusing on how to make the department supportive of women and family-friendly.”

  3. The numbered list is what really impressed me, because it ties these things to the broader culture of the department. Also, if you look really hard at that numbered list, you really get a picture of what many (and I think that’s a modest claim) Philosophy PhD-granting departments face.

  4. I think the committee should have done more to quantify how much of the bad behavior if fueled by alcohol in social gatherings and the possibility that some of the faculty and students are alcohol abusers. A general program on alcohol and substance abuse would be in order along with the other trainings.

  5. Take alcohol away from a sexual harasser and you’ll have… a sober sexual harasser. Seriously, alcohol abuse is neither sufficient nor necessary to cause a hostile work environment. But thanks for the mansplaining.

  6. I want to reiterate Anne’s kudos to those at Boulder who chose to make this public. I think it must have taken a bit of courage to do so, and I’m grateful for it. I’m also thankful to all the men and women in the department who spoke with the site-visit team and made their concerns known. Speaking up is a wonderful step forward.

  7. I am glad as well that this report is public, yet being a student in the department, and having gone through this sort of thing in the business world, I am prepared to face “push-back” from male students and professors who just don’t “get it”. *sigh*

    And I also admit to suffering the phenomenon of the “frog in the pot of water”: I had just toughened myself up, and was used to the behavior.

    But I have real hope that the philosophy department will become as inclusive as I find the other administrative department that I work for on campus.

    I just fully expect it to be a rocky place to be for the next year or so…but we will all get through it.

  8. I am feeling a little bothered this morning about the decision to release the report. I have now read that, the APA Committee was invited by the department, that the purpose of the committee is to improve matters not to shame and that they promise confidentiality, and that it was the decision of the administration at Boulder to release the report., blindsiding the department. I am worried that this will have the effect of undercutting the committee’s effectiveness in the future, since departments may from now on think twice about inviting them in. And, unless we accept the idea that every single member of the department at Colorado is likely to be subject to bad behavior, it may well leave at least some members in a rather uncomfortable position.

  9. I think I agree with Prof. Atherton’s comment about feeling a little bothered. But maybe on the whole releasing the report publicly was the right thing to do. Hard for me to tell.

    Here’s from Leiterblog this morning, “Indeed, the APA’s information about the “site visit program” seems to imply that the report is strictly for the Department that requests the visit. I suspect the breach of confidentiality here was the doing of administrators at Colorado, and not the APA Committee, but it would be in the interest of the site visit program for the APA to take a stronger stand on the confidentiality issue, lest other departments be scared off. (The Colorado Department initiated this visit, not the Administration.)”

    Questions: can the APA committee even promise confidentiality of the sort Leiter has in mind? They aren’t lawyers, doctors, or priests; if they learn of misconduct in a department, are they legally required to inform the relevant higher ups? (I have no idea.) How could a department avoid sharing the report with higher ups in the admin given that it costs 25,000$ for a site visit, and most departments will need to request funds from their administrations for it– and so it seems to me highly unlikely that the relevant Deans or whatnot are going to be cool with the report that they’ve paid so much for remaining internally within the department. So how reasonable is it for a department to even assume that the report they receive will be kept internally to them? (Not very it seems to me — but that is of course different from it being publicly released.)

  10. These are fair questions, and I’m not sure of the answers. I imagine the Site Committee could enter a confidentiality agreement with the University prior to the visit, which would then bind the University contractually. By the way, I am told, reliably, that the 25K figure for the site visit is fiction. The Department did get some $$$ from the Admin for it, but nothing like 25K.

  11. According to the report, “The invitation to conduct that review was issued by the philosophy department, Dean Steven Leigh of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Provost Russell Moore.” I think that makes a big difference. Given that the suspension of grad admissions was undertaken before the report, it sounds to me as though the higher ups are largely in charge of the process; suspending admissions doesn’t sound like a faculty idea. That seems to me to make a difference. It is even possible that someone thought that those considering joining the department should know enough to look to see if anything is being done.

    It may also be that the differing views about the cost (see #13)are due to what seems to be an ownership issue.

    That said, i’m distressed to see the reports leading off with the removal of the chair. the report said the administration gave him no support.

    I’m also sorry and indeed sad that there are innocent by-standers who will be quite negatively affected by this all. I read a quite mild faculty comment on this, and it was enough to make one sense how really hard it must be right now.

    Lisa Guinther, you might think of asking the admin for some funds to bring in visitors for workshops, etc. I think that sort of thing was recommended by the report, and done properly, it can help.

  12. Thank you, Margaret Atherton, for making a very important point. I find it difficult to imagine what other department would request a site visit after this debacle. It’s really a shame how this was handled.

    Those who applaud the APA committee and Colorado administration for taking these steps might well be applauding a one-time event, given how suicidal it seems to be for a department to ask for a site visit. I think what’s needed here is not applause but an acknowledgment from the committee of how disastrous this has been and something to assure all other departments that they will never allow this to happen to any other department that brings them in.

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