Harvard Professor suing over denied tenure

Dr. Kimberly Theidon, an anthropology professor, is suing Harvard University, alleging discrimination and retaliation after she spoke out on behalf of victims of sexual assault and criticized the university’s handling of their cases.

“I’m not going to be silent, I was not going to be a dutiful daughter so they denied me tenure and effectively fired me,” said Theidon.

Now she’s blowing the whistle on the university by filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination alleging she was discriminated and retaliated against for criticizing the university’s handling of sexual assault cases.

“This case is about the importance of women who are sexually assaulted on campus having someone to go to as the first responder who will not be afraid to help them,” said her attorney Elizabeth Rogers.

“We want Harvard to change their policies,” said attorney Phil Gordon.

A spokesman for the University declined Team 5 Investigates request for an interview, citing the pending litigation.

However, in a written statement, the university told Team 5 it “would never deny tenure due to a faculty member’s advocacy for students who have experienced sexual assault.” Instead, tenure decisions are “based on the quality of a faculty member’s research, teaching and university citizenship.”

“I think in principal that is probably true, but in practice, they violate it often and in my case they violated it,” said Theidon. However she said she doesn’t have any regrets,” I would do it all over again, only I would be louder.”

Read more here. 


Women MPs should ‘toughen up’.

Melissa Kite, in yesterday’s Guardian describes women who leave UK politics as a result of bullying by their male colleagues as ‘shrinking violets’.

There is some victim blaming in the article:

The problem is not that male politicians can be childish and offensive, but that today’s female politicians don’t seem to know how to handle them.

And a suggestion that women who can’t handle bullying in parliament are lacking not just in insensitivity, but in political conviction:

Ultimately, politics requires women with hides like rhinos, women who are sufficiently on fire with conviction to stand up and fight.

The reference to Mo Mowlam’s staying tough when she was called fat during her cancer treatment is particularly distasteful, suggesting, as it does, that if Mo had backed down then, she wouldn’t have been tough enough and worthy of being an MP.

Two themes: excellence and self promotion.

This post may need a bit of an explanation. I am supposed to give a brief talk to and about a partcular institution. I think the institution is often shooting itself in the foot. So I would like to talk about an aspect of institutional excellence at least to divert attention from inflicting wounds. The connection I mention below seemed to me to be possibly worth exploring. It occurred to me yesterday, so these are very preliminary reflections. I’m also reacting a bit to an earlier post on the topic of referring to one’s work.


I’ve been thinking off and on about these two themes for some time. It occurred to me last night that in fact they may be very closely connected. A little more cautiously, two institutions that have recently seemed to be very similar even though they are very different in kind might seem so similar because of how these themes might be invoked in describing them. (Just so you know, I’ve been wondering for some time why two places I’ve recently seen a lot of – Somerville College, Oxford, and MD Anderson, Houston, often ranked as the US’s number one cancer treatment and research institution, have seem so similar in some way related to excellence. That is, related in a way that is more than simply both being excellent.)

So let’s consider this conjecture: with some excellent places, the accusatory assumption that someone who mentions her work is being self-promoting is absent, or nearly absent. Further, that absence can nuture excellence while it is itself a more intelligent reaction to excellence.

What could possibly cause any association between excellence and a lack of accusations of self-promotion? Here is one connection: it is pretty unthinking to assume someone mentioning her work is being self-promoting. The assumption is a mark of a failure in excellence. Why? For a lot of reasons:

1. People who think one’s motivation is self-promotion quite probably are not aware of some other very significant motivations. In particular, there can be a genuine joy in creating something and bringing something to a conclusion, whether it is a paper, a painting, a recital, a tennis match, or so on.

2. The hypothesis of self-promotion usually has a large gap; namely, there isn’t an answer given to the question of whom the accused is supposed to be trying to impress. Too often the accuser assumes they are among those whom the accused is trying to impress. Except in some special cases where the accuser has special power or resources, that may well be false.

3. The accusation is a way of dismissing someone’s work without incurring any burden of proof. That is less than honest trickery (At the same time, we might reflect that there are different reasons one might want to dismiss someone’s work. The quality of the work might really threaten one’s own sense of self-worth. Or one might be trying to derail some candidacy, etc. and there are no doubt more reasons.)

I think and hope I’ve said enough to give some sense of a line of thought.

I expect there are objections, and I’d love to hear of any you think of. You can also be positive!

There is a great deal, in fact, that remains to be said. For example, aren’t there some brilliant people who have made huge advances while still being nasty and accusatory about others’ supposed self-promoting narcissism? (talk about projection, one might say.) If you are thinking about this, please notice that the ideas get quite qualified as this post progresses.

So please add or subtract from these reflections.

A Three-Minute Demonstration of What Infantilizing a Grown Woman Looks like

On a Morning Joe broadcast from 2007, Mika Brzezinski became indignant when her producer tried to have her to lead the news with a story about Paris Hilton getting out of prison, as opposed to talking about the Iraq war, among other things. (There is also something worth saying here about why Paris Hilton is taken to be especially unfit and undeserving of attention in the news, and why an anchorwomen is pissed to be covering such a story.)


You can watch a few clips edited together here  of her two co-anchors then telling her to “take control” of her job, to not use her producer’s commands as a cop out, and to make her own lead…and then proceed to ignore her commands, physically control her actions, and make light of her indignation over lax journalistic standards.  The editing may be making the interactions look more disrespectful than they actually were, since there is usually is a lot of bantering on the show.  But even granting that, grabbing a lighter from someone’s hand belies your insistence that they should take charge.  Even if Brzezinski didn’t feel disrespected by her colleagues, their actions have such a weird patronizing undercurrent to them. (I’m sure someone somewhere can describe this with more exact philosophy-speak.)


Here’s an article written shortly after the newscast aired. And here’s a previous Fem Phil post from 2012  about another incidence where Scarborough claims that he respects Brezinski while his actions cast doubt on that point.


Depressing court decisions

for those who care about harassment and discrimination.

Monday was a great day for sexual harassers and for bosses who retaliate against workers claiming discrimination. The rest of us did not fare so well in the Supreme Court. While most Court watchers will likely focus on the narrower-than-expected decision in the Fisher affirmative action case, the most lasting impact of today’s decisions likely will be the twin blows struck against women and minorities in the workplace. Taking advantage of employees just became a whole lot easier.
The first case, which we previously labeled the “scariest pending Supreme Court case that you’ve probably never heard of” made it significantly easier for many people’s bosses to racially or sexually harass them and get away with it. Though the law provides fairly robust protection to workers harassed by their supervisor, the Court’s 5-4 decision in Vance v. Ball State University defined the term “supervisor” very narrowly. Under today’s decision, your boss is only your “supervisor” if they have the power to make a “significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

Thanks, L.

Lewis’ Law

“As I’ve just told @alicetiara, the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism. That is Lewis’s Law.”

A recent article entitled, “Donglegate: Why the Tech Community Hates Feminism” referenced Lewis’ Law, which is explained above.  What do people think?

Also, I really hope the article linked above is mistaken about the increased popularity of MRAs.

Also also, Lewis’ Law, if sound, definitely applies to the article linked above.

Picking Our Battles: The Paradox of Power & Social Justice

Yesterday I was watching the Melissa Harris Perry (MHP) Show and legal scholar  Kenji Yoshino talked about a possible paradox at play in regards to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on Prop 8 (and the other case that no one seems to reference by name).  He brought up the following point: a group has to have a significant amount of political power in order to even make it to the Supreme Court, who will rule on whether they are being discriminated against.  This can be restated as,

“A group must have an immense amount of political power before it will be deemed politically powerless by the Court.”

I can’t find the exact clip, though here is Sunday’s MHP show.  And since I was forced to search the internet for another mention of Yoshino’s quote, I stumbled across a law review article he wrote on the topic (no pay wall!).

Today I was reminded of this paradox as I logged onto Facebook and was greeted with a newsfeed awash in red and pink:

a pink equals sign on a red background

(more after the jump)

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