Lisa Lloyd’s experiences at Princeton

Lisa Lloyd has shared a very depressing account of what her experiences were like at Princeton in the 1980s, including both recurring sexual harassment from Paul Benacerraf and manifestly unjustified dismissal of the quality of her work.  You can read the relevant bits of her account over at the Daily Nous here.  Or you can listen to her full story on the SciPhi podcast here.


Thanks for sharing this, Lisa.  I know it’s not easy to do.

“Everyone fucking knew”

A Hollywood screenwriter has written a powerful post, describing the way that everyone knew Weinstein was up to something bad, even if they didn’t know the details– and the reasons they went along with it.  And apologising.  He also notes the shock so many in Hollywood are expressing and calls bullshit on that.

Unsurprisingly, this has me thinking about the world of philosophy. I’m a pretty well-informed person when it comes to harassment in philosophy, and yet I am still sometimes shocked when a big story breaks.  So it’s not the case that *everyone* knows.  However– without fail– within days I discover that in a particular department, or a particular sub-discipline, it really was true that everyone knew– or at least strongly suspected.  And this is morally important, as these people are letting it continue, and not blowing the whistle.  (Well, some of them are trying to stop it, but not enough, or not the powerful enough people.)  And you know what else?  I often discover that some of the people expressing shock and horror on fb are actually within the circle of the “everyone” who knew that things were happening which shouldn’t have been– they were at the parties in professional settings at which sex workers were hired; they were at the department events held in strip clubs; they saw the moves being made by the professionally powerful older man on the professionally powerless younger woman.  And they just let it go on, expressing shock and horror only when it hit the headlines.

Sometimes I feel like there’s something to this adapted quote:

“if [disgraced philosopher]’s behavior is the most reprehensible thing one can imagine, a not-so-distant second is the current flood of sanctimonious denial and condemnation that now crashes upon these shores of rectitude in gloppy tides of bullshit righteousness.”

After all, some people are in a position to declare “no more department events at the strip club”, and to make that happen– it’s clear what these people should do.  It’s an important and baffling failure when they fail to do this.  What’s needed is not even difficult.

But individuals are not the whole of the problem.  We also need to think about institutions.  We desperately need to reform the way that departments and universities deal with sexual harassment.  Currently the university’s main interest is almost always adverse publicity– which means that victims and witnesses are silenced, and perpetrators are all too often quietly handed packets of money to go away.  There’s a nice discussion here of ways that institutions could be reformed.

And on an individual level we also need to think about the more complex cases in which people feel they don’t know how to intervene: e.g. the older man isn’t from the same department as the younger woman, and they can’t really tell whether what they’re seeing is mutually desired, or they have less institutional power (they themselves are just a student, and fear the consequences of objecting).  However, even in these cases, there *are* things to be done.  One could sit down next to the younger woman, join the conversation, offer her a way out in case she wants it (“some of us are going for pizza– want to come?”).  A colleague from another department could talk to the older man, remind of him of his professional power, and the potential problems that brings with it.    A student may not be able to safely intervene, but they may be able to check in with a fellow student, and see if they’re OK.  And they may be able to to raise issues with a sympathetic faculty member (though identifying these can sometimes be hard).

So did everyone fucking know, in all the philosophy cases?  In lots of cases, with appropriate domain restrictions in place, YES.  And we need to do something about all the reasons that this isn’t stopping the harassment.  I’d really love to see a widespread effort on the part of philosophers to think through ways that we can reform our profession– from individual actions to institutional change.  I hereby invite a discussion of this topic in the comments.  But please no identifiable discussion of individual cases or departments.

Excellent article on sexual assault and harassment in academia

This article by Anne McClintock is so rich that it’s hard to pick just a bit to quote.  I strongly recommend reading it.

To start you off, here is her brilliant analysis of why people are so invested in disbelieving rape victims:

Why is society so ready to sympathize with the perpetrator and disbelieve the rape victim? Believing that the perpetrator is innocent, or that he is in the thrall of drink, or that he is basically well-intentioned and guilty only of making a harmless mistake, all these are forms of magical thinking.

Magical thinking about rape allows people to believe in a world that is basically good and wholesome and safe. By speaking out, the rape victim tears the filmy web of magical thinking to tatters. And so the rape victim cannot be forgiven and must be banished, or silenced, or ostracized.

For centuries, rape victims have been blamed and shamed, flogged and beheaded, burned alive, buried alive, tongues cut out, driven out, and almost always disbelieved. How much easier to drown and disown them, and exonerate the perpetrators.

The rape survivor demands that we accept that perpetrators are not exceptional monsters, they are just the ordinary people we know. They are our everyday familiars wearing bathrobes, who turn out, with unspeakable suddenness, to be utter and forever strangers.

Magical thinking allows us to believe that the world is safe if we wear the right clothes, walk the right way, go to the right places, walk home with the right person.

Rape survivors hold up a dark, broken mirror to society that reflects a world without limits, revealing our deepest fears about the fragility of our world, a world where magical thinking is not enough to protect one from power abused with impunity.

There’s also a nice discussion of the self-undermining nature of Laura Kipnis’s own narrative of being the victim of a feminist “witch hunt”:

The strange truth about the Kipnis story is that her Title IX case, a central part of her book and of a lawsuit against her and HarperCollins, rebuts her own arguments. Kipnis was commissioned by The Chronicle of Higher Education to write an essay on campus sexual politics. Students at Northwestern University filed a Title IX complaint because she allegedly took factual liberties regarding a serious sexual misconduct case. Peter Ludlow, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern, had been charged with sexually harassing two of his students. Ludlow abruptly resigned during his termination hearing and moved to Mexico. Kipnis befriended Ludlow and a core part of her book engages the case.

Kipnis makes some startling admissions about what she called in a second essay for The Chronicle her “Title IX Inquisition”: “In light of the many horror stories I’ve heard about despotic treatment in Title IX cases, I have to say I was treated extremely courteously.” She confesses she had complete confidence she would win and that “academic freedom would prevail.”

And she indeed won. All charges were dropped. Freedom of speech prevailed. Unwanted Advances makes a familiar claim that campus misconduct hearings are “stacked against the accused”; that there “is no adequate method for sorting legitimate from specious claims”; and that “the safer path is to simply throw everyone accused of anything under a bus.” None of which were true in her case.

Far from a malevolent netherworld of rigged results, Kipnis admits her investigation had been “thorough beyond belief” and that the “investigators had “bent over backward” to clear her. More startling, she confesses with self-sabotaging frankness that she wished the investigation had been “a little less thorough.” She even “half-hoped” she would “be found guilty.”


But there’s so much more here– discussions of connections between Kipnis and various right-wing groups, standards of evidence, debunking of false claims about the outcomes of campus disciplinary procedures.  Really, read all of it.

Me too: But What About You?

If you’ve been on social media much in the last few days, you might have seen a lot of status updates saying “Me too” with or without explanation. The idea is to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment, particularly of women, though my personal take is this ought to be something for people of all genders. While it seems likely that the nature of the violence would vary depending on the genders of the people involved, we do ourselves no favours in framing sexual violence as exclusively a women’s issue.

But now that we see each other as survivors, what are some next steps? One, I think, is to know that many people do not feel comfortable speaking up about their own experiences, for a variety of reasons, and that we ought not make assumptions.

But another piece of this: who has been causing the violence? There are huge numbers of people speaking up about their experiences of harassment and assault, but let’s not ignore the fact that these wrongs have all been committed by someone. And who are those people who have perpetrated these wrongs? The hard truth is that in many cases it is also us. I think that the common narrative of perpetrators as predators, deviant, outsiders, and others, has resulted in a great deal of harm. It does not help us see that in a world run through with injustice, it is very easy to be ignorant of ways in which we harm one another and perpetuate injustices.

Perpetrators of assault and harassment need not be monsters. They can be us, having watched too many movies portraying the relentless pursuit of an unwilling romantic partner as charming rather than terrifying. Or having internalized women’s resistance to sex as obligatory behaviour, and not necessarily reflective of a woman’s actual desires. Or having accepted an ideology of pity, that disabled bodies are inherently undesirable, and anyone who is disabled (or otherwise not-conventionally-attractive) should be grateful for sexual attention of any kind. It is not that hard for us to hurt each other without being monstrous in moral character.

So perhaps instead of just feeling heartbroken and helpless in the face of wrongs perpetuated only by others, it would be a good time to wonder about situations in which we have ignored boundaries to which we ought to have attended, or interpreted situations in line with our desires rather than another’s. But the point isn’t just to feel bad about this, either, or to treat it as just a sign of your own bad moral character. The point is that there is a reason that this behaviour is easy to ignore on your part, as well as on the part of others. It is easy to disbelieve that a friend has committed sexual assault because you know them to be at heart a good person, and think that the two things are incompatible with each other.

All of this needs to go. Guilt and shame are not ends in themselves here, and the mere recognition of our own wrongdoing is not enough. Recognizing wrongs in retrospect at times like these does not change the fact that many of these wrongs did not seem so wrong at the time. And it is this last fact that needs to change before these problems can be solved. Without that work, these confessions seem (as many other things do to me) like just more yelling into the void.

Sexual harassment as scientific misconduct

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Board of Directors has approved changes to the AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy. The revisions adopted on 14 September were made in response to a June 2016 decision by AGU leadership, under then AGU President Margaret Leinen, to form a task force to review the organization’s ethics policy and practices in the wake of high-profile cases alleging sexual harassment in science…

Most notably, changes to the policy include identifying as scientific misconduct harassment, discrimination, and bullying in scientific endeavors.


More here.


Sexual harassment, and an inadequate response

A sadly all-too-familiar tale.

Seven current and former professors, including Kidd and Aslin, as well as another former graduate student, have submitted identical EEOC complaints claiming that Jaeger, the University of Rochester, and several administrators violated laws that ban discrimination in the workplace and in federally funded education, and stating their intent to sue if the EEOC does not take up their case. The charges, laid out in a detailed 111-page document, allege that over a span of 10 years Jaeger contributed to a “hostile environment” for some graduate students, postdocs, and professors in the department, causing at least 11 women to actively avoid him and lose out on educational opportunities.

When Aslin and a colleague, Jessica Cantlon, complained to the university about Jaeger’s behavior last year, UR investigated and ultimately cleared him of violations of its harassment and discrimination policy. Yet the EEOC complainants dispute the investigation’s conclusions and say the university has since retaliated against the professors involved.

Read the whole thing.

There is no liberal right to sex with students

There is a long and distinguished history of conceptualising liberal democracy in terms of basic rights to which, all other things being equal, everyone is entitled. Sexual freedom is rightly counted among these. But should this right apply where one person is in a position of power and authority over the other? Doctors are sanctioned if they have sex with their patients, as are lawyers who sleep with their clients. Should sexual relationships between professors and students in the same department also be off limits?

Read on.

On Kipnis, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Agency

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa has another really excellent blog post today.

One of the central themes in Unwanted Advances is Kipnis’s suggestion that campus “sexual paranoia” stands in tension with a recognition of female sexuality and sexual agency. She attributes to the contemporary American university a Victorian sensibility, treating women as precious, featureless, sexless wards requiring zealous protection. I think this is a serious misreading of the cultural situation, and of the nature of agency.

Read on.



Northwestern Graduate Students on Kipnis

The Northwestern Philosophy Graduate Student Association has published an open letter on Kipnis’s book.

Several people, including a graduate student in the department of philosophy at Northwestern University, were recently targeted in a book by Radio, Television and Film faculty member Laura Kipnis. In “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” Kipnis constructs a narrative around a series of events — which have been largely centered within our own department — to support her claim that Title IX fosters a sense of sexual paranoia and creates an environment hostile to academic freedom.

In doing so, Kipnis dedicates a chapter of her book to questioning a sexual assault allegation our fellow graduate student brought against a faculty member. Kipnis questions this allegation on the basis of a limited set of evidence, without consulting with our colleague or those close to her to check a number of important details in the case. Moreover, Kipnis reinforces her claims with unsubstantiated speculations. Her construction of the narrative is, as a result, irresponsible. We feel compelled to express how dissonant Kipnis’ retelling of these events is with our first-hand experiences of them and with the people involved in them, and to express our concern for Kipnis’ conduct, both as an author and as a faculty member at NU.

Read on.

A Reply to McMahan and Singer on the Stubblefield Case

Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer have a piece in the Stone today at the New York Times that I think is woefully ill-argued, in which they conclude that Anna Stubblefield has been treated unjustly by the courts, and question whether or not the man she was convicted of sexually assaulting was really harmed by her. I’m not going to address every point in their piece — but I do think it’s important to say a few things.

First, while I haven’t seen all of the evidence they have apparently been made privy to, there is enough in the public domain to know that their description of the events which transpired is deeply misleading.

For example, on the matter of John Doe’s* communicative capacities, they write,

“Sheronda Jones, an undergraduate at Rutgers at the time, volunteered to assist [John Doe] by using facilitated communication so that he could write papers for an English class he was auditing at Rutgers. Before the trial, Jones had told a detective in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office: “He pretty much read the books. I didn’t know any information about the book. I made sure never to read any of the information. I can’t tell you what he read. And he typed out the information.” Jones did not attend the class [John Doe] took. If she did not read the material on which his work was based, how could she have produced writings that respond to that material?”

They fail to mention that Jones’ statement went on to note that one of her roommates was in the same class, and she knew that her roommate and John Doe produced similar writings for the class. So, how could she have produced writings that responded to the class material which she had not read? By reading her roommate’s homework.

They also fail to mention that despite training in how to use facilitated communication, neither John Doe’s mom or brother was ever able to successfully use it to communicate with John Doe, and that they believed the purported communications facilitated through Stubblefield conflicted with what they knew about John Doe from experience living with him (e.g., according to Stubblefield, John Doe didn’t like gospel music, but according to his family, his behavior suggested he particularly enjoyed it).

As another example, on the matter of the assault itself, they write:

“If we assume that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, we should concede that he cannot understand the normal significance of sexual relations between persons or the meaning and significance of sexual violation. These are, after all, difficult to articulate even for persons of normal cognitive capacity. In that case, he is incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations; indeed, he may lack the concept of consent altogether.

This does not exclude the possibility that he was wronged by Stubblefield, but it makes it less clear what the nature of the wrong might be. It seems reasonable to assume that the experience was pleasurable to him; for even if he is cognitively impaired, he was capable of struggling to resist, and, for reasons we will note shortly, it is implausible to suppose that Stubblefield forcibly subdued him. On the assumption that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, therefore, it seems that if Stubblefield wronged or harmed him, it must have been in a way that he is incapable of understanding and that affected his experience only pleasurably.”

Now, just on the question of if John Doe was forcibly subdued, set aside for the moment that of course assault is not actually the sort of thing where all perpetrators lurk in dark alleys, twirling their mustaches as they lay in wait, ready to do obvious physical violence, and one need not have been forcibly subdued in order to be a victim of assault — as a matter of fact, the evidence does suggest that John Doe tried to get away from Stubblefield, at least on the first occasion they had sexual contact. As the New York Times wrote on this case back in 2015,

“They met the following Sunday at [John Doe]’s house, while his mother was at church. They tried to kiss while lying down on [John Doe]’s bed, on the theory that it would be easier, given his impairments. But [John Doe] kept sitting up, and then he lowered himself onto the floor. Anna offered him the keyboard and asked if anything was wrong. Nothing’s wrong, he typed, he was very happy, but also overwhelmed — he needed a minute. Anna said O.K., and [John Doe] scooted out into the hall.”

Stubblefield performed oral sex on John Doe a few minutes later.

Second, philosophically, this argument is quite astounding. One’s being incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations makes unclear what the nature of the wrong of sexual assault could be? Seriously? Why ever should we think that one must have the cognitive capacity to conceptualize precisely how one has been harmed in order to have been so harmed? Are small children not even possibly victims of sexual assault? Can animals not be unjustly exploited? Are persons with severe brain damage incapable of being victims of theft?

Why think experiencing pleasure precludes genuine harm? And even if one wanted to subscribe to a principle so readily met with counter-examples, why ignore that, again, according to Stubblefield’s own description of events, on many occasions John Doe expressed discomfort?

On the question of predation, McMahan and Singer write:

Judge Teare described Stubblefield as “the perfect example of a predator preying on her prey” and gave her a sentence that would be fitting for a predatory rapist. Yet no one would or could ever have known that Stubblefield and [John Doe] had had sexual relations if she had not conveyed to his mother and brother what she believed to be his message to them, via facilitated communication that she conducted in their presence, that he and she were in love and had consummated their relationship. This is the action not of a sexual predator but of an honest and honorable woman in love. Even if she is mistaken in her beliefs about his intelligence and ability to communicate, it is undeniable that these beliefs are sincere and that she was neither reckless nor negligent in forming them. This ought to have been a mitigating, if not wholly exculpating, consideration in the sentencing.

Stubblefield was aware of the controversial nature of facilitated communication. She may have believed that the experts which determined it to be pseudoscience were mistaken — I suspect she genuinely did — but she also knew that others who had diligently attempted to learn the methods of F.C. had failed to communicate with John Doe. She knew that she was in a particular position of power over him, and that she had an interest in virtue of her own feelings, in his communicating particular things.

But more importantly, McMahan and Singer confuse self-conceptualizing as having good intentions with failing to engage in predatory behavior. They confuse a willingness to articulate one’s position with being honorable. If these characteristics were genuinely interchangeable, multitudes of paradigm instances of exploitation through grooming, and even through violence, would be mitigated or exculpated. How many victims of childhoood sexual abuse have been told that their assailant loved them?  How many cult-leaders have thought they were doing what was best for the souls of their followers? How many perpetrators of domestic violence believed they were doing what was best to keep their families as they should be?

Intending to do good is not in any way inconsistent with doing enormous harm.

[Update: An earlier version of this post used the victim’s initials rather than the pseudonym John Doe. I’ve removed his initials in an attempt to do a better job of respecting his privacy.]