Hilde Lindemann: Guest Post

What follows is a guest post from Hilde Lindeman, Chair of the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women. She was interviewed for by Inside Higher Ed regarding sexual harassment in philosophy, and her remarks were taken so far out of context that their meaning was seriously distorted. Here she sets out her views regarding sexual harassment in philosophy.

Let me be clear. It seems I was not, in the interview I gave Colleeen Flaherty for the article that was published in the May 19 issue of Inside Higher Ed. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/05/19/unofficial-internet-campaign-outs-professor-alleged-sexual-harassment-attempted#ixzz32C3gVxms All sexual predators should be prosecuted and, if the evidence warrants, punished for their crimes (and yes, sexual harassment is actionable, as is attempted rape and sexual molestation). Within philosophy, sexual harassment, sexual predation, and bullying have been and are all too common, and I agree with Eric Schliesser that because too many decent philosophers keep looking the other way and refusing to speak up, lawsuits and “the harsh light of publicity” are needed to break the culture of silence.

While Schliesser calls the discipline a “train wreck” that is “incapable of self-reform,” I have not given up on self-reform. I believe philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts, both from without and from within. Each of us in the profession is obliged to do what we can from where we stand. Departments must do their part, as must the APA, as must the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women, which I chair. Neither the APA nor the CSW are in the business of policing individuals’ behavior. That responsibility falls to the universities where the crimes occur, and to courts of law. The allegations against specific philsophers are so serious that due process is and ought to be required before they are stripped of tenure and made to pay criminal penalities, yet because universities seemingly fail pretty frequently in their duties to investigate these allgeations and punish the offenders, we are too often left with nothing but rumors and inuendoes, so that while many people “know” so-and-so is a sexual predator, nothing concrete is done about it.

In any case, when the focus is solely on individual bad apples, and whether their victims consented, and whether the balance of power is so great between a graduate student and big-ticket philosophers in her area of specialization who might be able to advance her professional interests that consent isn’t really possible, attention is diverted from the systemic problem of a culture in which bad behavior flourishes. That is why I say philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts. Some of us have given to the Protecting Lisbeth campaign—a worthy way of helping victims hire the attorneys they need to prosecute their harassers. (In my interview with Ms. Flaherty, I was not asked to comment on the Protecting Lisbeth campaign and did not do so. Nor did I suggest that a site visit to the Yale philosophy department would be a better strategy. In fact, such a suggestion would have been ridiculously naïve. Site visits are for any department, including good ones that want to become better, and are made at the request of the department.) Some of us have called out colleagues in our own departments who have made disparaging remarks about women or engaged in bullying behavior. Some department chairs among us have asked the CSW for a site visit to assess their department’s climate and make suggestions for improvements. Some of us—in fact, quite a lot of us, and I’m personally grateful to you all—have given money to the CSW for its Site Visit Training Program and the Diversity Conference to be held in May 2015 at Villanova University.

We need all these strategies and more if we are to succeed in making the profession of philosophy a hospitable one for women and other underrepresented groups. Philosophy as a discipline is better off when talented people from many different social positions contribute to its body of knowledge and understanding. And in any case, discrimination for irrelevant reasons is just plain wrong.

I am actually quite heartened by the well-publicized scandals that have made the headlines this past year. I take it as a sign that something is shifting, that the old culture of sexual predation, coverup, and contempt for the relatively powerless is beginning to give way to a culture in which such behavior is no longer tolerated. But we are going to have to keep applying steady pressure here, in all the ways I’ve mentioned and in many others as well. Philosophy deserves no less.