Addressing an injustice in the profession

The contribution below is from Jackie Taylor, U San Francisco, who had mentioned in email a session at the APA where some women and, I believe, all African american philosophers were not called on. I think trying to create a structural guard against such things may well be the most promising approach there is.

Some of us have recently returned from the Pacific APA, where we were heartened to see many women active in sessions, both as speakers and audience members. Yet we still see some behavior that is detrimental to women — speakers monopolizing sessions, chairs failing to call on audience members (or only the most senior/famous), or calling on women only when time for the session threatens to run out. I spoke with Ned Markosian about this, who wrote to me,

There is this valuable commodity — being able to speak during Q&As — and it is unjustly distributed. I think that the extent to which this injustice has very harmful consequences in our profession is vastly under-appreciated.

I agree with him — someone who decides to be a more active bystander, and intervene to request that more people be called on, may be viewed as rude, or ignored, although such people are often praised by those with an active concern to change the behavior at our conferences.

Ned, as readers may know, organizes the BSPC conference in Bellingham, Washington. This is a very gender friendly venue, thanks in part to the following system for more evenly distributing time for asking questions:

While such a system is probably easiest to implement for individuals, small groups or societies organizing conferences, we hope that we can take this up with the APA to make it a more inclusive place where all have more opportunity to be heard.

29 thoughts on “Addressing an injustice in the profession

  1. We do need a reform of the way chairing is done, specifically at the APA. I appreciate Jackie’s concerns, but there is another source of vulnerability being overlooked here. The APA has a rule that one cannot be on the main program twice. So, that means that if you are giving a paper, you cannot chair a session (on the main program, if you are the group program you can chair or give a paper on the main program as well). This rule is used to increase participation in the meetings (and to fill hotel rooms, imho). But, what that means is that it is very difficult to fill the Chair slots. Often in order to do it, we ask assistants or grad students to chair sessions, for they are willing to come to the APA “simply” to chair, whereas more senior or mid-level folks are either giving papers or not coming. So, we are filling our chairing slots with the most vulnerable people in the profession. Such people may not feel empowered to cut off speakers, encourage the panelist to stop lengthly comments to one another and engage the audience. As to calling on the most “important” or “famous” people in the room, many of us do not know who they are by sight, and I know of cases in which junior people have chastised for failing to call on “more important” people. The power deferential between the speakers and the chairs needs to be addressed by the profession.

  2. I’m a big fan of the BSPC question system, and for what it is worth, it does not seem it would be that difficult to implement a similar system at the APA. Chairs would be instructed to call on participants with question cards first, and cards would be distributed with name tags at registration. As already noted, a primary benefit of such a system is that it helps in combatting various forms of bias in conference sessions. And at least three secondary benefits of moving to such a system include:

    (1) making it much easier to chair big conference sessions, where keeping a speaker list can be difficult, especially if you do not know audience members;

    (2) chairs can collect cards as questions are asked and perhaps even use them to gather basic data about how many people participated in each session (which would be useful info for the Program Committee);

    (3) giving people another incentive to officially register for the conference.

  3. I had never heard of this system. It’s brilliant! I love it. (I bet game theorists, decision theorists, and social choice theorists get to ask more questions…) Seems like it might be unwieldy for the APA meetings, though. What if I lost my cards? Maybe we need an app and have the cards on our smart phones.

    How strict is the rule against appearing on the program twice? Many speakers at APA Committee sessions were on the (Pacific) program in a regular session too. And Robin Jeshion and Shieva Kleinschmidt appeared twice in regular sessions. If the rule isn’t going to be enforced seriously, maybe adding some more established people as chairs of sessions is a good idea, even if those people are already on the program. I’m not sure. It’s not clear to me to what extent members regard chairing as desirable rather than a duty or a chore. (One year I had to solicit chairs for the Easterns — the people I asked were very nice about it but I do think they saw themselves as performing a service rather than getting a plum.)

  4. As I remember, at the Central APA 2013 we let someone who presented a paper to also chair another session.

    Jason Stanley talked about giving 3 papers at the Pacific APA, perhaps some in special society sessions.

  5. I really appreciate anonchair’s point about the power differential when junior people serve as chairs. Perhaps the APA and other conference organizers can do more to empower the chairs, for example, by stating on the website more specifically what the chair’s role is, and having the chair reiterate her role as she opens the session: my role will be to ensure that time constraints are observed and to moderate and facilitate discussion. Regarding the latter, I must regretfully curb discussion among the panelists in order to allow as many audience questions and comments as possible. [And if the audience is large] Followup questions may not be possible.

  6. We should consider the option passing our turn to speak to others, too, if we think they are being excluded. Perhaps this especially applies to the famous and/or established. (Such people, I suspect, have an easier time approaching speakers after sessions to ask questions, too, though in my experience many people are happy to keep talking, if they have time.)

    I am _pretty sure_ that rules about only being in one session have not been applied to panels organized by APA committees, even when they are listed in the “main session” part of the program. (Each division seems to do the program a bit differently.) At least, when I’ve put together sessions for the Committee on Law and Philosophy, this issue hasn’t come up.

  7. I am on the program committee for the Pacific. The no person twice rule was told to me by the Program Chair, and as I understood it, exceptions were not given. I am pretty sure, the programming software also blocks you from entering a name of someone on the main program twice. I seem to remember that happening. Also, I should add: getting people to Chair is very difficult. It turns in to begging, anyone? Anyone? If people aren’t local, it’s tough. Most Universities won’t pay travel expenses for anything other than presenting.

  8. The Pacific doesn’t allow you to be on the main program twice. You can be on the group program more than once and you can be on the main and the group program. You cannot be on the main program more than once.

  9. @APA-Pacific There **are** people on the main program more than once. Just look at the participants list at the end of the program. It shouldn’t take long to find a few that are on the main program twice (I know of a couple who both commented and gave their own talks, within the Main Program).

  10. I know it’s a rule, but as I said Robin Jeshion and Shieva Kleinschmidt were in fact on the main program twice. (I don’t know if they are the ones #8 has in mind.) Jeshion commented on a colloquium paper in 10K, and also at the ‘Slurs’ symposium at 12C. Kleinschmidt was a colloquium speaker in 4J and a symposium commentator in 6C. All four of those sessions are on the Main Program and none of them is an APA Committee Session. (Jason Stanley’s extra appearance was at an APA Committee Session.)

  11. I’m glad you like the BSPC card system, Jamie! It seems to work well at Bellingham, which is a small, workshop-style conference with all the participants in the same room for 9 sessions over 3 days. I have no idea whether something similar could work at an APA. But I really like Jackie’s idea of trying to figure out *some* system for dealing with Q&As at the APA that would make them more egalitarian.

  12. Just to clarify something. 6C was my symposium session. I suggested Shieva as one of the commentators, and she conditionally agreed to do this provided that her own paper that she submitted was not accepted. However, her paper was accepted, and accordingly she didn’t comment in session 6C (even though her name still appeared in the program notes). An alternative commentator was located who appeared in her place (and did a terrific job and has my gratitude). I can’t speak to the other situation.

  13. Thanks, Kris!
    I saw Robin at the ‘Slurs’ session (also heard), but maybe she was replaced at the colloquium. The paper she was listed for was Katie Monk’s “On Jeshion’s Account of Singular Thought” so maybe the organizer(s) wanted to have her comment but found someone else after the program went to press.

  14. Anyway, since APA Pacific #7 shares my impression that being a chair is more a duty than a prize, maybe the divisions should consider allowing speakers and commenters to chair something too. That is, drop that part of the current rule.

  15. There is an exception to the Main program rule for APA committees. I wasn’t saying it doesn’t happen that the rule is violated. It looks like it was. I don’t know who made exceptions, how, or why. I am just telling you as someone on the Program Committee I was told the rule, and told no exceptions, and the software prevented me from entering someone’s name twice.

  16. Jamie at #14, Why not empower junior people who serve as chairs rather than having senior folk in a second role? Chairing can be a way to participate if one is not yet at the stage of presenting or commenting. As I said, I’d prefer that chairs be empowered (by more APA guidelines) to facilitate in a way that is more inclusive and egalitarian.

  17. Jackie, I worry that despite the explicit rules a grad student would be really uncomfortable enforcing if a loud senior person was going on too long.
    But why not try both (adding senior chairs and empowering junior ones)? Doing both might help shift the culture of APA question time.

  18. I was the program chair of last week’s Pacific APA. This thread was just brought to my attention. I don’t have time to respond in detail at present, but I’ll do my best to do so later tonight.

  19. Kevin,

    I don’t think anyone meant to single out the 2014 Pacific APA for criticism. We’ve seen the behavior for years and years. Still, I am sort of horrified that as we double and triple efforts at diversity, some people still seem to have so little interest in talking outside their circle.

  20. Jamie, good points, I think. Nonetheless, being a chair at an APA CONFERENCE IS MUCH SAFER THAN GIVING A CHAIR TALK, SO we might instruct the chairs that they are instructed to call time, to move the discussion along politely and firmly, etc. and we could stress that this is needed practice for them.

  21. In addition to Anne’s point at #20, to have audience members who are willing to be “active” bystanders, and rebuff attempts to hijack the discussion would be enormously helpful, and really affirm the role of and respect for the chairs.

  22. Ah, I hope I didn’t come off as critical of the Pacific program committee. Didn’t mean to at all. I chaired the Eastern program one year, and it was hard. I really was just wondering how strict the rule is.

    Jackie, I agree. Just trying to think of policy changes that would help push that culture change along.

  23. Thanks Anne and Jamie for making it clear that you’re not aiming to criticize either me or the Pacific. I appreciate that. But there are some things that I think I can add to this discussion that might be worth hearing.

    First, let me be clear–I’m speaking only as an individual and not on behalf of the Pacific Division. I know from being on the program committee for 3 years, from being at a number of the executive committee meetings, and from my stint this past year as program chair that the Pacific Division takes seriously issues of diversity. I put a lot of time into having a diverse program committee and trying to make sure the program was diverse.

    All non-invited papers are subject to triple anonymous review and the program chair never finds out the identities of those whose papers are not accepted, so there is only so much that one can do regarding this part of the program.

    I tried to encourage members of the program committee to keep issues of diversity in mind when putting together their invited sessions, but it is the members of the program committee that put together the invited sessions.

    It is true, as mentioned above, that there is a rule that a person cannot be on the main program (bracketing sessions put together by APA committees) more than once. There were a few times this year that in order to fully staff sections, that rule was violated–though always with caution and only in cases where it seemed to be the best option available to us. For instance, some of these people stepped in at late stages when other people backed out and we were having a hard time staffing sessions with other individuals.

    Anonchair is correct that one reason for the rule is to increase the number of people contributing to the program (and, in turn, fill hotel rooms–the simple fact is that there is a percentage of the rooms that we have to fill given the negotiated contracts with the hotels). If you (or anyone else) has suggestions on how to address the potential power imbalance to make chairing go better, please suggest them.

    While I’ve heard of the BSPC method that Meghan mentions, I’ve never seen it in action. I don’t know if it could be implemented on such a large scale, but again I suspect the division would be willing to consider it though there might be logistical problems (as Ned suggests). I will pass along the suggestion to the division.

    The division does give instructions to chairs regarding their duties; they can be found here:

    Now I’m not so naive as to think that everyone who does chair follows these instructions, nor that they feel they are able to in all cases given the power dynamics at worse. But if there are suggestions that any of you have for how to try and address these problems, please let us know.

    Perhaps one of the best things those of you with concerns can do is to help us out. It is difficult to staff the program committee with people that are willing to do it, do not have other obligations that prevent them from doing so, balance out the needed coverage so that we can referee all the papers (this year there were 844 submissions, meaning each person on the committee referenced an average of about 25 papers), etc… If you are willing to serve on the program committee, let me know and I’ll pass your name along to next year’s chair for vetting by the division.

    I am sorry, per the original post, that people saw behaviors that were not appropriate. There were over 1200 people on the main program and we really did try to put on not only a good conference, but one that exemplifies the best of our discipline. If anyone wants to email me, in confidence, details of problematic behaviors that you saw so that I can work with the division and next year’s program chair to try and alleviate those, please do.

    In closing, let me also say that the APA (in either the national office or the three divisions) is, basically, us–collectively and writ large. One of the things that I’ve personally appreciated being a part of the Pacific is one of the things that brings me to this blog regularly–it’s a community of people trying, among other things, to make the profession better.

  24. Kevin, Thanks for your detailed response. As the OP, my concern was panelists monopolizing conversation, this in a three hour invited symposium, with a chair who appeared not to feel empowered to intervene. Anonchair gave us the astute insight about the potential vulnerability of some chairs, given their junior status. This led to the issue about letting senior people have more than one role. I did read the Pac. APA’s guidelines for chairs, and think they could be more explicit — see my #5 above. Beyond clarifying the role for the chairs, with the aim of empowering them, I am not sure what else the APA can do. It is, as Ned observes, a problem with the culture of our profession (at least in the US — I was told such monopolizing behavior would not be tolerated in Australasia), and it may require that more of us take on the role of active bystander (requesting to hear audience members’ questions, for example) to change collectively the status quo. I think it’s good that the issues get an airing and such thoughtful responses on this blog.

  25. Jackie, I am the person who chaired the session you are referring to. I also organized that session. I am commenting now because I fear you last comment potentially reveals my identity, and the OP suggest claims of gender and racial bias. I am posting anonymously, because if I reveal my identity, I will reveal the identify of the speakers in that session, and I don’t want to do that. I accept your criticism that I could have done a better job charing that session, but I do not want to be wrongly associated with failing to call on women or African-Americans, when in fact neither are true. I was very clear to me that you were frustrated with my chairing while the session was occurring, and I know you criticized me afterward to at least one of the panelists. Some relevant facts that may paint a fuller picture of that session, which doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done a better job.
    1. All of the speakers, spoke in their original papers longer than I had anticipated.
    2. I, in fact, passed notes encouraging them to finish up.
    3. One of the speakers answered questions at great length, and I saw no real opportunity to interrupt them.
    4. On the second question of the Q/A one of the speakers rather aggressively scolded an audience member for interrupting them. At that point, I didn’t know how to “wrangle” that speaker, and as they turned to engage in dialogue with another speaker, their back was to me, and it was difficult to imagine how to interrupt them. Though, after perhaps too long, I did find a way to do that.
    5. Everyone who held out their hand was called on. I was trying to facilitate an order moving from left to right in the room, and also stacking people in order to get all questions in. You weren’t pleased with the original order, and asked that a woman be called on next, I obliged.
    6. Questioner 2 and 3 were non-white, though male.
    7. The last person who asked a question, was an African American male, I did call on him. However, by the time his question came around it was 12.04, and the session technically over. I suggested that maybe he could ask his question in private, and you asked that it be heard as it was. I should have said, let’s take this question, the last one,but if folks need to leave that is understood.

    Could I have been more assertive, and done a better job? Yes. Were your interventions helpful? Yes. But, insofar as anyone reading this may know my identity–your displeasure at my chairing skills was very evident in the session–I want to make clear that there aren’t grounds for saying that women or African Americans weren’t called on in that session. Maybe you are referring to other sessions, but the association with me was too strong to remain silent.

  26. Anonchair
    I do not wish to reveal your identity. I have tried not to refer to specifics of the session in question. For what it’s worth, please know that I now intervene on a regular basis if necessary to ask that questions or comments be taken from women, students and those not likely to already be in the limelight (so really, this could in principle have been any session I attended). I was frustrated with how the session went, but mostly at the speakers who did not seem to respect your role as chair (nor as you note, some audience members). I frankly would have liked the men on the panel to apologize for taking up so much time of the session. It was a nicely diverse audience and it would have been great had the speakers made an effort to reach out to hear what people had to say. I did not say anything above about philosophers of color; I believe Anne may have misinterpreted something I wrote to her, and I apologize for not being clear.

  27. It’s a first step, but the Pacific Division has just added the following sentence elaborating on the mention of non-discrimination in its professional conduct policy: “Chairs, in particular, have the obligation to ensure that members of groups that are traditionally underrepresented in philosophy have an equal opportunity to participate in discussion.” The policy is on the PD web site.

  28. Dom
    Thanks so much. I think that’s an excellent first step — it should really help chairs to feel empowered to guide their sessions.

  29. I think it’s pretty naive to think that publishing a bunch of directives is going to change the way grad students or even junior faculty function as chairs on panels with more senior members of the profession. I also think it’s rather silly to have a kind of roving etiquette group enforcing good behavior on everybody. Will they wear safety orange vests?

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