The job search is almost over

And you are down to two candidates. One is a young man, with two very professional articles in good journals, in addition to a PhD from a very good dept. The other, a middle-aged woman whose appearance among the finalists is due to some pesky people, has some early lackluster articles, and a spotty employment record. She has support among people who speak of her originality, but in highly analytic philosophy the best work is done by the young. Right?

If the older woman is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant. Marina Ratner, whose career in some ways reflects the lack of support she had, did extremely important and influential work after 50. Her work underpins that of two people who won Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. From the NY Times:

Her dynamics research helped unravel mathematical problems that had resisted more direct, traditional approaches of attack.

Dr. Avila said Dr. Ratner’s work had been the basis for that of younger mathematicians like Elon Lindenstrauss and Maryam Mirzakhani, two winners of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Dr. Mirzakhani, the first woman to win a Fields, also died this month.

“What is remarkable about these results of Ratner is how many unexpected applications they had,” Dr. Lindenstrauss said in an email. “It is almost as if this dynamical fact was a philosopher’s stone that allowed many mathematicians to show quite remarkable things, in remarkably diverse situations.”

She found little support in Russia, where she was born, and not much in Israel.

“She had a very hard time in Russia,” said Alexandre Chorin, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Russians took a variety of steps to penalize her.”

Dr. Ratner and her daughter immigrated to Israel in 1971, where she was a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was able to pursue her mathematical research but was unable to find a permanent position.

Her work caught the attention of Rufus Bowen, however, at Berkeley, and he lobbied the university to hire her. It did, in 1975, initially for a temporary position, and even that, given her relatively meager record, was controversial in the department. She eventually became a tenured professor.

So this brilliant woman who produced transformative work started out as an adjunct! Awwwkkk!

Your hiring choice is clear.

An aside: the article remarks

Dr. Ratner’s style of working may have contributed to her not receiving as much acclaim as some thought she deserved. She always worked alone. At Berkeley, she earned high marks as a teacher of undergraduates but was the thesis adviser to only one doctoral student.

The remark seems naive to me. Her survival may have depended on her being able to work alone. In any case, many women in a dept are not included in the community of researchers.

Finally, is she really the cause of her not having grad students?

Update On ‘Rape’ Ban

Update, from Shakesville, on our earlier post regarding a courtoom ban on the use of words like ‘rape’ in a rape trial.

The accuser, Tory Bowen, has refused to sign an order agreeing not to use these words. In her own words:

And then I’m pausing three seconds because I don’t know if it’s a word that will lead to a mistrial or me being jailed or held in contempt. It’s frightening. That’s not something a victim should go through.

‘Rape’ banned in rape case

A judge has banned the use of the words ‘rape’, ‘victim’, ‘assailant’, ‘sexual assault kit’, and ‘sexual assault’ in a Nebraska rape case, accepting the defense argument that they are prejudicial. This has, it is said, left only the word ‘sex’ to describe what took place. (Though the defense has tried to get that banned as well for the re-trial: the first jury deadlocked.) Dahlia Lithwick at Slate writes,

Bowen [the complainant] testified for 13 hours at Safi’s first trial last October, all without using the words rape or sexual assault. She claims, not unreasonably, that describing what happened to her as sex is almost an assault in itself. “This makes women sick, especially the women who have gone through this,” Bowen told the Omaha World-Herald. “They know the difference between sex and rape.”

Of course, some, such as MacKinnon, insist that rape is very much a kind of sex (indeed, an all too common kind of sex). But Lithwick suggests that use of the word ‘sex’ carries a very strong presumption of consent:

The real question for Judge Cheuvront, then, is whether embedded in the word sex is another “legal conclusion”—that the intercourse was consensual. And it’s hard to conclude otherwise. Go ahead, use the word sex in a sentence. Asking a complaining witness to scrub the word rape or assault from her testimony is one thing. Asking that she imply that she agreed to what her alleged assailant was doing to her is something else entirely. To put it another way: If the complaining witness in a rape trial has to describe herself as having had “intercourse” with the defendant, should the complaining witness in a mugging be forced to testify that he was merely giving his attacker a loan?

It seems to me that there is indeed a widespread use of ‘sex’ on which rape is a kind of sex, but also a widespread use of ‘sex’ on which sex must be consensual. Given the latter, it certainly seems that forcing the complaining witness to use the word ‘sex’ is prejudicial. It also seems to me that whether the event which occurred should be described as ‘sex’ or ‘rape’ is precisely what’s at issue, and that both sides need to be able to describe the facts as they see them. Interestingly, Lithwick notes that it’s increasingly common to get words like ‘victim’ banned in courtroom proceedings. This seems to me somehow different. If a person is being charged with a crime, surely one has to be able to name that crime in the courtroom. And, importantly, Lithwick notes that nobody is trying to ban the use of the word ‘murder’.

Update: I’ve learned here that I made an error in the above description. It was the prosecution that tried to ban ‘sex’ and ‘intercourse’ in order to avoid the connotations of consent. The discussion at Sex in the Public Square also makes a very nice case for avoiding both the terms ‘rape’ and ”sex’– that testimony would be much clearer and better if it contained more explicit and precise terms than those.