Responding to sexual harassment in academia: punishment or pedagogy?

Eric Schliesser has an interesting discussion posted at D&I (which we linked to earlier) of the piece in the Chronicle by Brian Leiter, regarding the ethics of how we respond to sexual harassers in academia.  I think the exchange is worth reading, but that both pieces assume the wrong framework for approaching the issue.* That is, it would be more productive to think about the appropriate role of sexual harassers going forward in academia through the lens of pedagogy rather than punishment.

Leiter’s piece begins with a discussion of Colin McGinn – particularly, the question of whether or not he should be allowed to teach again. Leiter fears that disproportional punishment in response to sexual harassment in academia is trending (e.g., firing, refusal to hire); Schliesser notes that other offenses in the academic community aren’t treated under the kind of proportionality principle Leiter is advocating for (e.g., some plagiarists are shunned from the academic community; we don’t typically give students a second chance before a plagiarized paper receives an F). But, when the administration at East Carolina University vetoed the faculty’s offer of a teaching position, was this an instance of punishment? When a commentator on a blog suggests that having been fired for sexual misconduct disqualifies one for future teaching positions, are they thereby advocating for punishment of offenders?

I don’t think so. If I learn that Jane betrayed her friend John’s trust, and on that basis I decline to form a friendship with her, my failing to become friends with Jane is not a punishment. It is a negative consequence of her conduct towards John, but not all negative consequences are punishments. I wouldn’t put Bernie Madoff in charge of my finances; I wouldn’t leave my dogs with Tony Barbara; and though I’m sure she would never need it, I wouldn’t loan my car to Lindsay Lohan. I wouldn’t be punishing Lindsay Lohan – she’s just not entitled to my car, and I wouldn’t want to take the risk.

Of course, if I don’t choose to engage in a particular kind of relationship with someone on the basis of their past conduct that doesn’t entail that they will never be able to enter into such a relationship with someone else. This contrasts with the kind of case Leiter is considering where a sexual harasser cannot find another position in academia at all. But, as Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa pointed out in a comment on facebook, neither is there some general governing body handing out teaching positions: “[T]here’s a job market. No person or organization faces the question of whether [some sexual harasser] should ever be allowed to teach again. The question faced, by each of a bunch of departments, is, should we hire [this person] to teach here?” In any given instance, that will be a complicated question to answer. (If for no other reason than that the academic job market is flooded with candidates. For any one, no matter whether they’ve engaged in misconduct or not, what are the odds there isn’t a better qualified candidate out there?)

Suppose I’m wrong about all of this, though, and that there is a punitive element to the refusal to hire a sexual harasser. Even so, I think it would be more productive to think about this issue through the lens of pedagogy rather than punishment. As Leiter writes, “[s]exual harassment of students by their professors betrays the fundamental idea of a university as a place where everyone can come to learn and master an intellectual discipline, and be evaluated on their intellectual competence, rather than their sexual desirability.” (NB: with Schliesser, I suspect much sexual misconduct is not about desirability.)

Some kinds of relationships only function properly if certain preconditions are met. Friendship must be given willingly. Being a doctor requires that one have medical knowledge. Practicing as a social worker requires licensure. Rather than asking if we ought to keep those who engage in sexual misconduct on faculty so as to not send harassers out into the world for someone else to deal with as Leiter does, or asking if refusal to hire is proportionally punitive, we ought to be asking what’s pedagogically appropriate. Certainly, we have moral responsibilities – to victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct. But examining this through the framework of pedagogy rather than punishment has the dual benefit of not privileging our responsibilities to wrong-doers over those who are wronged and keeping our guiding aim, qua educational community, centered. Are those who betray the fundamental idea of a university fit to be employed by one? If so, why? If not, what would it take for them to become so again?

I would be opposed to my department hiring McGinn, but it’s not a question of punishment. I would be opposed to my department hiring McGinn because he doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong, and I don’t know how someone who thinks it’s appropriate to treat students in that way could be entrusted with their educations.

*There’s a lot more to say about all of these issues, but I just want to briefly note that with Schliesser, I also don’t think the Chronicle piece gets the cases quite right. For example, it reads:

On the other hand, there are cases like that of Sujit Choudry [sic], former dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, who was found to have violated the university’s sexual-harassment policy, though there was no finding that he acted with a sexual intent . . . A dean of a major law school should not be hugging his secretary on a regular basis, as Choudry [sic] did. Such a dean may not be a sexual harasser, but he is sufficiently insensitive to professional norms and legal rules to be unfit for administrative responsibilities, including responsibility for ensuring that others comply with legal rules regarding sexual harassment . . . But now Berkeley wants to fire him for the offense for which he lost his deanship and some salary already. He is now spending tens of thousands of dollars defending his right to remain as a professor, even though there has been no public allegation about misconduct in that role. In cases like this, vindictive hysteria appears to have replaced a proportionate response to the actual misconduct.

Choudhry was found not merely to have hugged his administrative assistant on a regular basis – rather, he admitted to (1) hugging her regularly, (2) kissing her on the cheek regularly, (3) touching her shoulders and arms, (4) holding her hands to his waist, and (5) not engaging in similar conduct with male colleagues or staff. Leiter is right that there was no finding that he acted with a sexual intent, but neither was there a finding that he did not. The investigation report notes that Choudhry’s defense was that he did not act with a sexual intent, but then goes on to explain why this is irrelevant to the question of whether or not he engaged in sexual harassment for the purposes of university policy (i.e., he engaged in intentional physical touching that was unwelcome, and only directed at women, consistently over a seven month period).

Philosophical Vanities

In an article posted on Aeon and approvingly described by Brian Leiter, Nicholas Tampio argues that philosophy, as the trajectory of thought emerging from Plato (and only Plato), would lose itself (and its funding) if came to embrace thinkers such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Confucius. I can’t speak to the characterization of al-Ghazali, but the remarks about Confucius are comically unsophisticated and deploy orientalist stereotypes. I make some remarks about this here. But every time some argument of this sort is trotted out to “defend” philosophy, I get embarrassed to be in philosophy. The reasons are multiple, but let me focus on the breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

 

Articles in this style work on a confused logic of purportedly neutral disciplinary definition. They pose as trying to define what philosophy does, as if it is but one among many academic disciplines, and express a happy pluralism about the need for many different disciplines. If that were all they do, perhaps they’d be less obnoxious. But along the way, in describing what philosophy is, they assign it exclusive rights to a host of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities. See, philosophy is interested in critical thinking; it is fearless; it is unbound by unexamined commitments; it uniquely challenges the status quo; it is independent in mind; and so on, ad nauseum. In the ascription of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities to philosophers, as their defining feature, the philosopher who wants to thereby exclude some body of texts or assemblage of people does not sound like someone articulating reasonable disciplinary definitions. He sounds like someone denying that those he would exclude have what it takes, and this makes all his softening “not that there’s anything wrong with that” gestures toward other disciplines and people especially insulting. [I’ve written a bit on the slippage from description to honorific here.]

 

First, in all of these articles I can recall, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy beggar belief as the exclusive province of philosophers. They tend to be characteristics in evidence not only in a host of academic disciplines, but in all sorts of human endeavor. So philosophers laying sole claim to them sound wildly arrogant and, far worse, incredibly ignorant, as if they’ve never encountered other human beings with anything like an open mind or curiosity about what those other human beings do.

 

Second, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy are ones actual philosophers, both historical and contemporary, regularly fail to exhibit. E.g., in the article cited above, there are so many unexamined stereotypes of Confucianism deployed that you might take the article for satire. So claiming that philosophers excel in examining everything and being unbound by hackneyed ideas holding others in thrall is just absurd. Philosophers who claim this regularly demonstrate its falsity while claiming it.

 

The level of inadvertent self-satirization in this sort of exercise is plainly embarrassing. What I get from this sort of thing is that where philosophers really excel is in exercises of self-congratulation wholly unmoored from actual learning, curiosity, or reasonable intellectual humility. For people who boldly claim to corner the market on open-minded, radical curiosity that seeks to leave no stone uncovered, they look a lot like people hiding under rocks. If philosophy is ever going to be better, even at what its old guard claims it does, it really needs to see that puling self-flattery and wanton arrogant insult of others is not the same thing as “defining philosophy.”

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.

Law Professors on the Preponderance Standard in Title IX cases

A group of more than 90 law professors have signed on to a white paper regarding the preponderance of the evidence standard’s use in campus sexual misconduct cases. I recommend reading the entire document, but here’s a snippet:

The consistency of the 2011 DCL with civil rights legal doctrine means that, had the 2011 DCL indicated tolerance for other standards of proof in sexual violence cases, it would have approved treating sexual violence and harassment victims differently from all other victims of all other discrimination prohibited under our nation’s anti-discrimination civil rights laws, and done so without any justification for that differentiation. Because differential treatment by the government without justification is itself a form of discrimination, OCR making such an exception in a specific set of sexual harassment cases, but in no other civil rights matters under its jurisdiction, would have been incompatible with the agency’s mission to secure gender equality in education.

$2905 raise for women profs at Waterloo

On Thursday, University of Waterloo (Canada) – my university – made the national news when it announced that it was giving a $2905 raise to every woman faculty member who had been employed by the University by April 30, 2015. The reason for the raise was the discovery of a campus-wide salary anomaly – on average, women faculty members make $2905 less per year than men in their cohort.

You can read what the press said about it here and here (and in a bunch of other places if you care to Google them).

The anomaly was discovered by a university working group struck in 2015 and charged with the following:

  • to investigate all cases where faculty salary inequities, including but not limited to gender-based inequities, may exist and recommend how such cases should be resolved using the Faculties’ existing anomaly funds;
  • to review the processes by which salary anomalies are currently identified and resolved in each Faculty;
  • to establish a standardized university-wide process for the detection and resolution of all faculty salary anomalies that may arise in future, wherever they may occur.

Here’s the report of the working group, and here’s a useful FAQ.

This is a good news/bad news story.

The good news:

  • The working group was struck because, in its last round of salary negotations, the faculty association asked for it. Yay! Unions work!
  • When the faculty association asked for the working group to be struck, the university agreed, with little or no resistance. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great!
  • When the working group discovered the anomaly – the correction to which would far outstrip the individual deans’ salary anomaly budgets – Waterloo VP Academic and Provost Ian Orchard volunteered without prodding to use his discretionary budget to make the adjustment right away because it’s the right thing to do. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great (redux)!
  • The working group recommended, and the senior administration has already agreed, that similar reviews occur every five years to catch any future anomalies and fix them as soon as possible if they emerge. Yay! We can learn from the past and try to do better!

Here’s some of the bad news:

  • Some women faculty think they should get back-pay too, and are disappointed that they won’t.
  • Some women hired since April 30, 2015 are frustrated that they are not included in the raise.
  • Lots of folks are frustrated that the working group just did statistical analysis without digging in to investigate the causes of any inequities.
  • And of course, many of the 326 women on campus who will receive the raise are disappointed (but probably not very surprised) to learn that they have been underpaid relative to their male colleagues.
  • The review only concerned faculty salaries; so we don’t know whether staff members (administrative support staff, food services staff, etc., etc.) are subject to a similar anomaly.

Understanding why the working group didn’t look at underlying causes helps to make sense of why it didn’t recommend back pay or redress for newer hires. Put simply, this review was a first step. It was pure statistical work to establish whether a gap exists. It was not a pay equity review per se. Indeed, while the working group was charged with checking for gendered anomalies, it was also responsible for finding individual anomalies (It found 59 individual anomalies, and another 12 cases that require further investigation by the relevant deans.). What the committee had to work with was six years of salary, demographic and annual review score data for a period ending April 30, 2015. Since the working group did not have the mandate or the expertise to investigate causes of any (then-hypothetical) gendered pay gap, it did not produce any evidential basis for back pay or for pay adjustments for faculty whose salaries were not (by reason of their start date) included in the data. (Of course, this doesn’t make the news less disappointing to women who started after April 30, 2015, some of whom by virtue of their lack of seniority are among the lowest paid faculty at the university.)

But now that we have statistically significant evidence of a gendered pay gap at Waterloo, the next step is to assemble the right team to begin to dig in and investigate causes. What are those causes likely to be? The best guess so far is that a confluence of small things add up to the nearly $3000 per faculty member gap the committee discovered. A starting pay of $500 less doesn’t take long to become a $3000 gap. Unpaid leaves of various kinds can chip away at one’s pay increases. And, due to a big shift in data management at Waterloo six years ago, we don’t have any information about faculty members’ pre-2009 salary and merit score trajectories. Surprisingly, merit scores seem to have been more or less fairly allocated (across gender, at least) for the period covered by the study. The working group found no statistically significant differences in merit scores for men and women at any rank.

So, what are the next steps?

At Waterloo, the plan is to keep doing anomaly investigations (and, if necessary, corrections) every five years, and to strike a separate working group to investigate causes. The end goal is to be in the enviable position of University of Windsor, which yesterday announced that for the first time it has no gendered wage gap.

A separate challenge, at Waterloo and elsewhere, will be to undertake similar work to ensure that non-faculty employees are also paid fairly. Most of the recent high profile cases of Canadian universities addressing gendered wage gaps have focused only on faculty wages. There is good reason to expect that the same small, subtle, unconscious forces that likely produced the Waterloo wage gap are at play among staff as well as faculty. Indeed, faculty women arguably benefit from the fact that the job of professor is typically marked as masculine whereas support staff often work jobs marked as feminine, and are hence comparatively poorly compensated. And, of course, faculty members have a lot more clout at universities and in the media than most staff members do. So it’s harder for the latter to get a hearing. It is especially good news then that in a television interview yesterday, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur said that if the staff association asks for a similar review, they will get one.

Another big challenge relevant to many of our readers is that Waterloo’s willingness to look for and then correct a gendered pay gap is extremely rare. While stories like this one are not unheard-of at Canadian universities, there seems to be much less willingness (or capacity?) in, for instance, the U.S. college and university sector to address the pay gap. There is probably even less willingness outside of the post-secondary sector.

One lesson that folks in other places might take away from the Waterloo experience is the role that the faculty association played. Getting the university to enshrine the working group in our last faculty contract was instrumental in producing this week’s result. If you are lucky enough to work in a union workplace (or something unionesque, as we have at Waterloo), lobby your union to get the wage gap on the agenda for your next round of contract negotiations.

Departments changing social activities

As soon as the prospective graduate students visiting Northwestern University’s philosophy department reached the top of Chicago’s lofty John Hancock Center, the cocktails began to flow. Later that evening, everybody had dinner at a prominent professor’s high-rise apartment, where the partying continued well past midnight.

Those raucous recruitment weekends were once routine in the department. But the big, boozy nights are over. Now prospective students spend an early evening with professors at a local Thai restaurant. No one orders alcohol, and the director of graduate studies often brings her children.

That is the new reality as colleges are increasingly vigilant about sexual harassment. When a well-known philosopher at Northwestern, who had hosted the party at his apartment, was pushed out of the university after a female graduate student filed a high-profile complaint of sexual misconduct, the department examined not only his behavior but also its context. “These events all provided a really easy opportunity for nonprofessional relationships,” says Jennifer Lackey, director of graduate studies in the department.

Read on.

Equality is not a credential

Sara Ahmed resigned from her post after trying for several years to get justice for a series of victims of sexual harassment at Goldsmiths University.  Her discussion of the resignation is here.  She has now written a powerful piece that discusses the ways that institutional efforts toward greater equality have come to be paperwork exercises.  Worse yet:

Being good at writing documents become a competency that is also an obstacle for diversity work, as it means that the university gets judged as good because of the document….

So a problem can be reproduced by the appearance of having solved it. I mention this earlier work on diversity here and now for a reason. It helped me to make sense of a statement on Sexual Harassment published by the college on June 3rd in response to the attention given to the problem on social media (an attention that has something to do with an act of bringing to attention).

The statement refers to various activities as evidence of its credentials. One activity is Athena Swan: which has become reduced to a branding exercise (which is not to say that is all that it is) by being evoked in this way on a statement on sexual harassment. Another activity they reference is the conference on Sexual Harassment in Higher Education (SHHE) that took place in December 2015. The conference was organised by Anna Bull, Tiffany Page and Leila Whitley who were . They as organisers have just published an important and powerful response to the college’s statement. As they note: “It was because no one was else was willing to organise an event on sexual harassment that we took it upon ourselves. This has been a recurring theme during our time at Goldsmiths: the reliance on the labour and energy of students, rather than a concerted effort by the institution.”An event that was claimed as evidence of what the college was doing came about because of what the college was not doing.

This article is really a must-read for all of us who are working to make philosophy more equal, writing endless documents and protocols, organising workshops, etc.

 

 

A philosophy graduate student on why she’s leaving the discipline

Udoka Okafor writes,

When I began university at sixteen years old, I was very young and naive. I practically grew up in a very abusive catholic boarding school in Nigeria, as I was sent there at the age of nine and didn’t leave until I was fifteen. The one year of highschool that I did in Canada was also severely distressing. Needless to say, up until the time I got into university, my only instinct had been to survive life, never to fully live it, experience it, and indulge in its many diversions. But, when I got into McMaster University, the world felt more open than ever before. I left the sciences behind and I fell in love with philosophy, and ultimately ended up doing my undergraduate degree in “Justice, Political Philosophy, and Law”, which I enjoyed thoroughly; so much so that I decided to put off plans for going to law school in order to do my Masters in Philosophy.

. . . For my Masters program, I had to take six philosophy courses, but this time the courses just felt tiring. It felt as though we were recycling the same philosophers and the same canons of knowledge. I learnt about Hume, Kant, Aristotle, and it all felt so exhausting; not just for me, but for some of my friends in the program as well. We had to sit through these classes where we were told that of course these philosophers were racist and sexist, of course Aristotle believed in natural slaves, but none of that was to be taken as salient when interpreting their works. I took a Social and Political Philosophy class on our duties to the poor were we talked in great lengths about Thomas Pogge, and not once did we talk about his sexual harassment scandals, because it wasn’t deemed salient to his philosophy. That is how we protect these “great” philosophers, we separate their personal life and actions from their philosophical legacy. We excuse too much, and we concede too much.

. . . Philosophy helped me at a time in my life when I needed the help the most. But, I have lost faith in its ability to answer the questions that are most pressing to me, I have lost faith in its ability to help me understand the world.

Her full piece is here.

Okafor cites a broader set of issues, but her piece reminded me of a post at Daily Nous awhile back on the intellectual costs of misconduct to the discipline:

[W]hile I love philosophy and thoroughly enjoy teaching, there are times where I am deeply conflicted about whether or not I genuinely want to continue after I finish my degree. There are certainly many features of my experiences with philosophers to recommend such a career. I have found some wonderful friends, intelligent and creative colleagues, a place where I can pursue my interests, and mentors who give me hope that I might, someday, feel at home in the profession.

All the same, what should I think about my place in a discipline that sometimes feels like an episode of Mad Men, only with less well-tailored clothing? How am I supposed to feel about the worth of my welfare when I can no longer count the number of people I know who have been sexually assaulted by fellow philosophers on one hand? How should I respond when I am told that I ought to keep silent about such things until I have tenure? Why would I want to adapt to a professional culture where this is normal? Will it be possible to succeed without becoming part of the problem along the way?

I know folks tire of having conversations about misconduct, exclusion, and diversity in the profession. These conversations are hard. But this is exactly why we need to keep having them —  it isn’t just a matter of justice (though it is this too), or for that matter, moralizing. It’s that we lose talent. It’s that we miss out on important insights and intellectual developments. It’s that we cannot make the most of our intellectual community when it functions such that systematically, people with certain social identities do not feel welcome within it, and people are regularly discouraged from pursuing swaths of legitimate areas of study.