Diversity in Philosophy initiatives

Jessica Moss (NYU) and Edouard Machery (Pitt, HPS) sent us the following note, which will be of interest to many of our readers:

There are now several well-established initiatives aimed at addressing the lack of diversity of philosophy (http://www.apaonline.org/page/diversityinstitutes). To support these efforts, NYU and Pitt have recently decided to waive application fees related to their PhD programs in Philosophy (NYU and Pitt) and in History and Philosophy of Science (Pitt) for students who participated to these initiatives. We suspect other schools have similarly waved their application fees and we invite them to advertise their efforts in the comments thread.

On being reinvigorated by Mary Astell but worn out by the discipline

Regan Penaluna started by loving philosophy. Over time, though, the climate for women in the discipline ground her down. Her self-confidence flagged, and she became one of the quiet students rather than one of the vocal, passionate ones. And then she discovered 17th century rationalist and feminist philosopher, Mary Astell.

Penaluna, now a journalist, has just published a popular account of her ups and downs in philosophy, her love affair with Astell, and her eventual departure from the discipline.

Penaluna’s account of Astell is a great primer on an original thinker who deserves more attention than she gets. But just as illuminating is Penaluna’s account of the slow grind of being a woman in philosophy. Her article offers a glimpse into some of the reasons women leave the profession.

You can read Penaluna’s account here.

#thanksfortyping

Hop over to Twitter and check out the two-day-old hashtag, #thanksfortyping. The creation of UVA mediaevalist Bruce Holsinger, #thanksfortyping aggregates screen shots of book acknowledgement excerpts in which men thank their (typically) unnamed wives (and sometimes their daughters) for typing their scholarly works. Indeed, in many of the acknowledgements, the wifely duties extend beyond typing to transcribing, editing, and more.

There are two striking feminist lessons from this growing archive. First, it is stunning just how much scholarly work by women was historically unpaid and went uncredited. Not only the careers of individual male scholars, but the smooth functioning of departments and disciplines owed much to women’s uncompensated labour. Second, it is worth remarking that any scholar who did not have a wife to serve as their voluntary r.a./co-editor/co-author — so, for instance, women scholars — was competing on a very uneven playing field indeed.

Who should take the notes?

Yesterday, I posted the following note on my Facebook page. It has generated considerable enthusiasm, much more than I anticipated for a modest bit of administrative advice. Since folks seem to find the advice useful, I am posting it here too, for a broader readership.

Earlier this week, I told a bunch of female colleagues that, for many of the meetings I attend, I don’t bring paper/pencil because, too often, a woman with writing tools is seen as the best candidate to be recorder for the meeting. The colleagues — especially the more junior ones — were very excited about this tactic, and many resolved to start doing the same.

Today, I was at a consultation at which each table was provided with a note pad and pens and asked to assign a recorder for the table. I was the only woman (and the most junior person, from the puniest department) at the table. I told the table that, on principle, I do not take notes when I am the only woman in a group, and that one of them would therefore have to take notes. After some kerfufflement, the most senior person at the table (a quite senior admin) took the notes for the table. I feel good about this result.

Friends, let me recommend that when a note-taker is needed, you try to identify the person at the table whose perspective is least likely to be overlooked, and have them take notes. That way, those (women, racialized people, junior folks, etc.) whose perspective is most likely to be overlooked can put all of their energies into sharing their perspective rather than recording the alpha dogs’ perspectives. If you are the alpha dog, or think that you might be, consider volunteering to be the note-taker so that others’ voices can emerge. This saves the more junior/marginalized folks from the sometimes scary task of refusing to be recorder.

Postscript: A couple of further notes in response to comments folks made under my Facebook post.

  1. Note-takers are important. We shouldn’t diminish the important work that careful recorders do, nor neglect the power that a recorder can have to influence what goes on record. For some folks, in some contexts, recording may well be a better, more powerful, way for them to contribute than talking.
  2. Having said that, it is quite likely that for some folks — women in particular — regarding recording as more powerful than speaking is an adaptive preference. That is, if the context isn’t conducive to their full participation in a discussion, then recording — and valuing recording — may be a way to feel empowered rather than disempowered in an otherwise disempowering situation.
  3. The aptness of the above advice varies by context and purpose. Junior folks can learn a lot from senior folks if the former record what the latter are saying, and in some contexts that’s desirable. After all, typically students take notes while profs explain stuff. In such a case, the work of recording helps the junior person to learn. However, in a meeting intended to survey a range of perspectives — as opposed to a context in which expert knowledge is being passed on — it makes sense for someone whose perspective is over-represented to record.
  4. The distinction in #3 between contexts in which a range of views is sought and those in which expertise is transmitted is a fuzzy one. As standpoint theorists, such as Sandra Harding, have been telling us for decades, a crucial but oft-neglected question in inquiry is who gets to count as an expert and why.

Freedman on Galloway, Boyden and Implicit Misogyny

In recent months, the Canadian literary and academic worlds have been rocked by sexual harassment allegations against former UBC Creative Writing Program Chair Steven Galloway. In brief, UBC fired Galloway, whereupon CanLit golden boy Joseph Boyden published an open letter to UBC  deploring what he saw as a breach of due process in the case. The letter was signed by 88 luminaries of Canadian literature (including, most notably, feminist author Margaret Atwood). A Twitter war ensued.

As Canadian feminist philosopher Karyn Freedman observes, the complainants in the case have been effaced from the public discussion.

Today is Canada’s s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women — a day, it bears observing that marks the anniversary of the so-called Montréal Massacre, in which 14 women Engineering and Science students were murdered for being women. To mark the day, Freedman has published a piece on HuffPo Canada, decrying the implicit misogyny that led to the effacement of Galloway’s accusers, and urging Boyden and his fellow signatories to retract the letter.

You can read Freedman’s post here.

National boycott and some small things philosophers can do to help

Yesterday, Shaun King at the New York Daily News announced a national boycott against “police brutality, racial violence and systemic injustice in America.” The boycott will start December 5, the anniversary of the 1955 start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Here are some of the key features of the planned boycott, from the King article linked above:

1. We will not be releasing the names of the cities, states, businesses, and institutions that we will be boycotting until Dec. 5, 2016. Between now and then, we hope that cities and states around the country will begin to enact emergency legislation and policies to prevent police brutality and racial violence. Furthermore, we do not want any potential institutions to somehow undermine our efforts.

2. We can tell you this, our boycott will be national. That means we will be boycotting:

  • Entire cities and states much like what you see being done in North Carolina right now over the anti-LGBT House Bill 2.
  • Particular brands and corporations who partner with and profit from systemic oppression.
  • Particular brands and corporations headquartered in cities and states notorious for police brutality and racial violence, which say and do little to nothing about it.
  • Particular institutions, including banks, which fund, underwrite, inform, train or otherwise support systemic oppression and brutality.

8. We do expect this boycott to last for months, or even years, not days or weeks.

It’s worth reading the whole article to learn about the background and the other details. So, here it is again.

For those of us who intend to support the boycott, some planning is in order. We won’t know which particular cities/companies/institutions are subject to boycott until the day is upon us. But we can make some reasonable conjectures.

Here are a couple of small things philosophers can do to show solidarity with the movement. It is highly plausible that Baltimore will be among the boycotted cities. The 2017 Eastern APA will be held in Baltimore in early January. Philosophers who are in a position to do so may wish to hold off on pre-registering for the APA and purchasing airline tickets to Baltimore until we know whether or not Baltimore is subject to boycott. And, if Baltimore is targeted, those philosophers who are able to skip the meeting should seriously consider doing so. Further, philosophers, especially APA members, should consider writing to the APA to inform the Association that they will be joining in the boycott and hence will miss the Baltimore meeting if Baltimore is boycotted. They should therefore urge the Association to develop both an official position and a clear plan in case Baltimore is boycotted. Finally, we should speak with our colleagues in other disciplines and urge them to take similar tacks with their professional associations, who will similarly have meetings planned in cities that are likely to be boycotted.

(h/t SE for the links)

Canadian domestic violence survivor goes public after replacement judge declares mistrial

Yesterday, Canadian public broadcaster the CBC published the story of Isabelle Raycroft, Canada’s latest high-profile victim of intimate partner violence.

Here’s the tl;dr: the trial judge wrote a decision convicting Raycroft’s husband of four counts of assault against her, then got sick and couldn’t deliver the verdict. A replacement judge was appointed to read the verdict and determine the sentence. Before sentencing, a delegation of “old boys” from the rural Ontario community in which the Raycrofts reside appeared before the court to attest to the good character of the convict. Having heard this testimony (but not the evidence that was presented at trial), the replacement judge declared a mistrial. The devastated complainant decided that the public needed to know what she’d gone through. She went to court to have the publication ban on the case waived, and then she went to the CBC.

The story is frustrating, astonishing and riveting, and provides yet more evidence (as if it were needed) that when it comes to sexual violence, the law is an ass. Read it here.

Canadian uni prez doesn’t even make it to Day 1 of her term — gender troubles?

Today, September 1, should have been the first day on the job as Brock University president for Wendy Cukier. However, on Monday, the Canadian university dropped a bombshell — Brock and Cukier had mutually decided that she would not take up the position. So far, both sides are mum on the reasons for a move with huge costs (as they must have known) for both Brock’s and Cukier’s reputations — not to mention the costs of running another presidential search. But much of the speculation, both in the Canadian post-secondary scene and in the media, has it that the break-up is evidence of gender problems at Brock.

Here’s Globe and Mail reporter Simona Chiose’s take on the story. Predictably, an overwhelming number of contributors to the comment thread below that story are hostile to speculation that Cukier’s gender played into the shocking breakdown of her relationship with Brock.

However, there is good reason to think that the Canadian post-secondary education sector (like PSE sectors in many other countries) is not only less welcoming of women presidents but also less good at retaining them than their male counterparts when troubles emerge. Earlier this year, a group of mostly-male Canadian uni presidents agreed that the lack of senior women leaders at Canadian universities is an urgent problem.  For decades, the percentage of Canadian university presidents who are women has remained unchanged at less than 20%. Despite this, Cukier is one of a series of high profile premature departures by women university presidents in recent recollection. Put simply, we (in Canadian PSE) are bad at hiring women presidents, but we’re pretty good at letting them go.