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.

Sara Ahmed’s resignation

Sara Ahmed has resigned over Goldsmith’s handling of sexual harassment. An excerpt:

It is with sadness that I announce that I have resigned from my post at Goldsmiths. It is not the time to give a full account of how I came to this decision. In a previous post, I described some of the work we have been doing on sexual harassment within universities. Let me just say that I have resigned in protest against the failure to address the problem of sexual harassment. I have resigned because the costs of doing this work have been too high.

She will clearly be much missed.  Here is a letter from some of her students. An excerpt:

We could not have asked for a better teacher and mentor.

We know that sometimes there are feminist reasons to leave institutions. We are sad to lose you, but we also know that this was a positive decision for you. We are looking forward to seeing where this departure leads you, and to reading what you write next.


Pogge, ‘Remarkable’ Conduct, and Greedy Women

Others have already remarked on parts of Pogge’s response to the recent allegations outlined at BuzzFeed (with additional information at Huffington Post), e.g., here, here, and here. Daily Nous reported that the response had been updated with email correspondence, so today I read through it. Two themes in particular stuck out.  First, the “remarkable” nature of Lopez Aguilar’s showing up at Yale for the purportedly fake appointment, and second, the (nearly explicit) insinuations that the allegations against him are coming from greedy women looking to profit. After reading the correspondence Pogge has provided, Lopez Aguilar’s conduct not only fails to be remarkable — Pogge’s appears even more so. And while references to greedy women may play well to sexist stereotypes, the trope is not borne out in the evidence we’ve been given.

From Pogge’s reponse:

“There are other familiar phenomena that can explain false allegations: we know of law firms going after rich institutions for the sake of winning large financial settlements, which can often be obtained through the extreme embarrassment of a media frenzy even without court proceedings in which the evidence could be carefully and critically examined. And we know that false charges and rumors can be highly effective weapons in the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics . . . I would welcome the opportunity to challenge her allegations in a proper judicial forum. But I fear that such talk of legal action is no more than a cover for legally extorting a financial settlement . . . On 30 August 2010, Lopez Aguilar presented herself with my fake job offer letter at Yale. This was remarkable for four reasons. First, she had never accepted the position by signing and returning the offer letter as the text of this letter clearly prescribed. Second, she showed up for work two days before the starting date specified in the offer letter, just before I would return from Latin America as she well knew. Third, she had a concurrent full-time job at Brookings Institute and thus was not available for a second full-time job. Fourth, she obviously knew that she had asked for this letter to secure an apartment lease and had offered to ‘rip it to shred’ (21 July 2010) after it had served that purpose. On the basis of Lopez Aguilar’s conduct and subsequent communications, I inferred that her plan was to force me into paying her a second full-time salary for the 2010-11 year. My alternative to somehow finding the money to pay her was to confess to Yale that I had provided her with a fake offer letter.”

I’m going to reproduce portions of the email exchanges here, but the full text of Pogge’s response and the correspondence is available here.

Regarding Lopez Aguilar appearing at Yale, when Pogge alleges she knew full well that she was not actually employed by him, in an email sent to both Pogge and Lopez Aguilar on August 29 (from page 20 of the PDF), someone (I don’t know who; the sender’s name is redacted) writes:

“Fernanda, [redacted] usually gets in around 10. I usually get in around 9. Let us know when you plan to come. If you’ve gotten your ID card authorized for 230 Prospect, then you can get in the front door. You would do that either at the ID place on Whitney, or at the MacMillan Center. If not, you should call me or [redacted], and we’ll come down and let you in. My cell is [redacted]. Looking forward to meeting you!”

Lopez Aguilar responded that day to both Pogge and the sender,

“Also [redacted], I was wondering if you happened to know whether I should go to one place first, either the ID place on Whitney or MacMillan Center, in my quest for building access tomorrow. Do you know if my name is already listed as qualifying for access approval?”

If Lopez Aguilar’s appointment was never genuine, why, exactly, is she being advised on how to show up for work? Moreover, what’s remarkable about showing up in advance of one’s start date to get her ID card authorized, if that’s what you’ve been instructed to do?

On August 30, Pogge wrote:

“You got me into a huge amount of trouble Fernanda, as I am not authorized to give out jobs to people on my own. I sent you that letter, as drafted by you, strictly for the Tafts Apartment because, so you said at the time, you could not get a letter from Brookings fast enough to secure the apartment you wanted. This was strictly as a favor to you so you could get this apartment. . . I am just amazed. You manage to destroy in an hour as much as I manage to build in months. For what? To get into the building with your own card on Tuesday?”

In a reply dated August 31, 2010, Lopez Aguilar wrote,

“I can swear to you, honest to everything that I hold dear, that I do not understand this sorry state of affairs. . . You have trivialized me and my actions Monday, under the false claim that I ‘just wanted to get into the building with my own card.’ No! I was instructed to report to MacMillan as per [redacted] request (which you read), and after I had asked if you or anyone else knew about my status/if I had permission to obtain access, to no avail. Once there, I tried to prove that I was at Yale legitimately, and not utterly delusional. I showed [redacted] the letter of employment I drafted for the Taft because I honestly believed that you would be employing me; and had you told me that my presence at Yale was to be clandestine, I would have never, ever done so. I would have asked you why, certainly, but I would not have shown them the letter. I only used it to prove that you and I had been in correspondence about my working at the Global Justice Program.

And yes, I sincerely thought you would be employing me, by way of a monthly stipend. I thought the only thing that was indeterminate was the monthly amount, which is why I had specified that this document would be worthless in September, when we would determine an amount that you thought more appropriate.”

In an email dated September 3, 2010, Pogge confirmed that there was nothing wrong with her showing up, working on campus, or asking about access, but rather it was showing someone the offer written for the purposes of securing an apartment that was unappreciated. Which is to say, the very email correspondence Pogge has provided the public seems to undercut each of the reasons we are meant to find Lopez Aguilar’s conduct “remarkable.” According to the correspondence, she didn’t sign and return the letter because she did not believe that the stipend amount offered in it was definite.  She showed up before the start date because she had been instructed to arrange building access for herself. Whether or not she had another position, Pogge himself seemed to be expecting her to work with his program at Yale, and moreover, expected her on or around the letter’s start date.

Regarding the notion that the alleged victims are after him, or Yale, for money, and always have been, on page 24, from an email dated September 6, 2010, Lopez Aguilar writes that she would like to be paid for the work she did for ASAP (“at whatever price you think fair, although, as I have already made clear to you – my estimates (of time, energy spent) place that assignments work value at $2,000), but that she will continue her work for the Global Justice Program without pay. She requested that she be granted the appropriate unpaid status so as to obtain access to campus, and particularly the building she would be working in. Again, on September 7, she reiterates that from this point onward, she would prefer not to be compensated for her work with GJP, but she that intends to serve as a volunteer throughout the year. Pogge replied both that he does not want the Global Justice Program to receive further help from her, and moreover (in an email dated September 7), the sort of unpaid status that would allow her access to the building and campus does not exist (which, in turn, raises questions about his account that she was not meant to be paid).

I find it perplexing that Pogge inferred “her plan was to force [him] into paying her a second full-time salary for the 2010-11 year” when in the correspondence he’s provided, she explicitly says multiple times after their dispute that she does not want to be paid for work with the GJP going forward, and yet she is still willing to do said work.

More generally, if she were after financial gain, going to the media before having filed suit in court would be an irrational thing to do, as it is keeping a university’s name out of embarrassing media in the first place that would typically make for the best leverage in terms of a settlement. Complaints filed with the Department of Education do not result in financial settlements for victims like many lawsuits do, and so at least with respect to that legal action, a financial motivation makes no sense (indeed, having not yet filed such a complaint, again, would make for better leverage if one were merely seeking financial gain).  And, of course, none of that is to mention that six years is quite a long time, and a significant amount of energy, to spend pursuing a settlement. If one were really after easy money, there are better uses of one’s time.

Finally, with respect to the claim “that false charges and rumors can be highly effective weapons in the intensely competitive worlds of academia and university politics,” it is worth remarking on that the one woman who was willing to identify herself publicly is the same woman who has left academia. This isn’t surprising. Indeed, I am sure that Pogge is quite familiar with the difference power, politics, and dependence can make. And while in some ways, I appreciate that he acknowledges that there is generally a high price to pay for reporting harassment, I am also sure that he is familiar with how liberal rhetoric can be used to distract from the persistent inequalities of the status quo. In fact, I think he wrote the book.

UPDATE: The link to the response doesn’t seem to be working right now. A copy of the response and appended correspondence is here.

More on Pogge: Links

An excellent discussion of the way that the “presumption of innocence” is used in internet discussions, by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa here.

The admonition not to pass judgement about the allegations is simply the admonition to ignore them. “Don’t believe anything unless it’s been proven in a court of law.” But this is just a ludicrous epistemic standard. Do you care whether powerful men in academic philosophy are using their stature to coerce students into compromising sexual situations? Then you should be interested in credible testimony to the effect that this one has been. Don’t be tempted by the fallacious inference from it hasn’t been proven in court to you have no way to tell whether it’s true.

Eric Schliesser notices the strangeness of Pogge’s invocation of lie detector tests here.

I was baffled to read the quoted sentence in Thomas Pogge’s Response to the Allegations (see here) My gut reaction was, “if a mutually agreeable experts can be found, such an expert would be a fraudster.” It is widely known that Polygraph testing is a pseudo-science.

Philosophy Goes Pop on testimonial injustice in discussions of the case here.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. When Bill Cosby was accused of rape by 58 women, a surprising number of people leapt to his defense, delegitimizing the women’s claims altogether as hearsay. We are consistently taught to view women as liars, starting with the stereotype that women are gossips who believe whatever they are told. This stereotype pervades depictions of women who claim to have been assaulted or harassed. In fact, one police unit even called their sexual assault division the ‘Lying Bitches Unit.’ There is a tendency to believe that women are lying about sexual harassment and assault, and to find alternative explanations that exonerate the perpetrators.

Huffington Post here.

Pogge’s response, here.

Buzzfeed, discussing Pogge’s response, here.

If you’re looking for places with discussions of Pogge (including, sadly, a lot of scepticism about victims’ testimony) there are two posts up at Daily Nous, here  and here.

Here, we’d welcome discussion from those grappling with how to improve our profession.   Those who want to undermine victims’ credibility can head somewhere else.  We’ll be confining ourselves to useful discussion.

Adjuncting in Philosophy

A powerful post at the APA Blog, demonstrating clearly why reliance on adjuncts is terrible for both adjuncts and their students.

I’m frequently impressed with myself—my energy, my mad skills, my philosophical breadth, and my hard-earned pedagogical wisdom (dissonance theory’s induced-compliance effect, no doubt). But I’m not sure my students see things the same way. They’re probably wondering why their philosophy instructor isn’t required to hold office hours or why, if she does hold them, students’ grades and personal challenges are aired (illegally) in the presence of three office mates. They’re probably wondering why they have exams, instead of papers; why their teacher won’t remediate writing and close reading, when both are secret prerequisites for passing the course; why she so frequently loses her train of thought in the middle of lecture; why it takes so long to get papers back; why she’s not teaching in her area of expertise; why she can’t remember her students’ names; why she doesn’t know anything about the other philosophy teachers, the other philosophy courses, or the university’s Gen Ed requirements; why she lectures most days, with few of the bells and whistles they’ve heard about from their friends at wealthier schools, like experiential learning, small group activities, and Skype sessions with remote experts, to name a few; and why, as soon as finals have ended, she vanishes, unavailable for advice, rec letters, and subsequent courses.

Read the whole thing!

Un-diversifying academia

An important article on universities’ failure to tenure and retain the members of underrepresented groups that they hire.

This disturbing trend of denying tenure to women and minorities at disproportionate rates vis-à-vis white males is revealed in June Junn’s study at the University of Southern California. Junn found that of 106 tenure cases, heard between 1998 and 2012 at USC, 92 percent of white males were tenured, whereas only 55 percent of women and minority scholars were.