Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Getting our sh*t together October 17, 2015

Filed under: sexual harassment,women in philosophy — noetika @ 5:30 am

In light of today’s news of the lawsuit against Miami, and in light of Eric Schliesser’s post from a few days ago, I wanted to open a thread in the hopes of encouraging a conversation about what we can do better as a discipline in responding to problems of equity in our community. Conversations about sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination more broadly in philosophy are difficult. They are difficult because none of us are perfect. They are difficult because the subject matter is painful. They are difficult because social dynamics are such that some feel they cannot even public offer affirmation or support for victims without inviting retaliation or scrutiny upon themselves. They are difficult because some people who want to say something don’t know what to say. They are difficult because many still do not believe there is even much of a problem to discuss in the first place. They are difficult because some of us who want to be part of the solution have been problems ourselves. They are difficult because it feels like we have the same conversations over and over and don’t get very far. But I think it’s important to keep talking because, to be blunt, we need to get our sh*t together.

(I will moderate this thread — but I do invite conversation and reflection on the issues raised by Eric’s post mentioned above, affirmations of support for victims in philosophy, queries about how one can contribute to cultivating a healthier professional dynamic in the discipline, or suggestions.)


“contemptible and inexcusable” October 15, 2015

Geoffrey Marcy is resignng from UC, Berkeley.  (For background, see here.). According to the NY Times:

In a statement announcing Dr. Marcy’s resignation, the university’s chancellor, Nicholas B. Dirks, and the executive vice chancellor and provost, Claude Steele, said they had accepted Dr. Marcy’s resignation and added: “We want to state unequivocally that Professor Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, was contemptible and inexcusable. We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered.”



“This isn’t even a slap on the wrist” October 10, 2015

What happens if someone is found responsible for multiple violations of a university’s harassment policies after multiple individuals allege they have “repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping”? In one case, it turns out, basically nothing. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at University of California Berkeley, was found to have violated Berkeley’s policies, and according to BuzzFeed: “As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given ‘clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,’ which he must follow or risk ‘sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.'”

David Charbonneau, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, said the matter has broad implications.

“Geoff Marcy is undeniably the most prominent exoplanet researcher in the U.S.,” he said, referring to the study of planets beyond our solar system. “The stakes here couldn’t be higher. We are working so hard to have gender parity in this field, and when the most prominent person is a routine harasser, it threatens a major objective nationally.”

. . .“After all of this effort and trying to go through the proper channels, Berkeley has ultimately come up with no response,” said Joan Schmelz, who until recently led the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. (Schmelz was not a complainant in Berkeley’s investigation.) “I’ve seen sexual harassers get slaps on the wrist before. This isn’t even a slap on the wrist.”


How not to address sexual harassment August 19, 2015

Filed under: appearance,gender,gender inequality,politics,sexual harassment — noetika @ 1:11 am

Missouri legislature edition (via HuffPo):

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.

Two months later, Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing.

But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City “very anything goes.”

On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that’s when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.


Another Title IX lawsuit against Northwestern is proceeding August 15, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender inequality,law,sexual harassment — noetika @ 11:03 pm

This time, from a student in the School of Medicine.

A Feinberg School of Medicine student is suing Northwestern under Title IX saying the school responded with “deliberate indifference” after he reported he was sexually harassed by a professor.

A federal judge ruled last week that the student can move forward with his Title IX lawsuit against the University. His lawyer confirmed Friday that he will do so.

Judge Sara L. Ellis ruled Aug. 6 that the medical student can make his case that the University retaliated against him and did not respond as rapidly or as strongly to his grievances as it has to similar complaints filed by female students. Ellis dismissed the student’s allegation that the University responded inadequately to his sexual harassment complaint.

The student says a Feinberg microbiology and pathology professor sexually harassed him and later retaliated against him after the student rejected his advances by assigning him poor grades, opposing his application to a fellowship and directing others to discontinue a promised scholarship, according to the suit.


Anti-harassment policy at various scientific/technical conferences June 24, 2015

Filed under: academia,sexual harassment,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 5:29 pm

I’ve seen this policy announcement at a conference of an association for computer memory and at one for the vision science society. The second adapted the first’s. It ends with strong wording:

Anti-Harassment Policy
The open exchange of ideas and the freedom of thought and expression are central to ACM’s aims and goals. These require an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. For these reasons, ACM is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for participants at our events and in our programs.

Harassment is unwelcome or hostile behavior, including speech that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation, in a conference, event or program. Harassment in any form, including but not limited to harassment based on alienage or citizenship, age, color, creed, disability, marital status, military status, national origin, pregnancy, childbirth- and pregnancy-related medical conditions, race, religion, sex, gender, veteran status, or any other status protected by laws in which the conference or program is being held, will not be tolerated.

Harassment includes the use of abusive or degrading language, intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. A response that the participant was “just joking,” or “teasing,” or being “playful,” will not be accepted.

Individuals violating these standards may be sanctioned or excluded from further participation at the discretion of the organizers or responsible committee.

It is the last sentence that may be especially interesting to philosophers who were concerned about the APA’s reference to legal liability.** We probably should remind ourselves that actions do not necessarily follow words. For example, it may be that a complaint has to meet a very high standard of proof before any sanctioning occurs.

**(That is in fact a concern I share since I have seen how easily one can end up with costs over $100,000, and in fact for that reason declined to pursue fully my own interests in a case I initiated.)


McGinn, Miami, Harassment, and Institutional Betrayal April 28, 2015

Filed under: sexual harassment,women in academia,women in philosophy — philodaria @ 8:08 pm

Many of you will have already seen this story, published earlier today by the Miami New Times, on the University of Miami’s handling of accusations of harassment against Colin McGinn. As the article notes, the New Times reviewed hundreds of messages between McGinn and the student who was subject to his advances while researching the story. What they found reveals a familiar pattern in universities’ handling of sexual misconduct—institutional betrayal. (Note: Miami has also been in the news recently for giving a student found responsible for sexual assault merely a one semester suspension as a sanction.) The story paints a picture of a woman not only harmed by being subject to excruciatingly inappropriate sexual advances by someone who she hoped might be her mentor and the beginning of a strong professional network, but further by her university seeking to expeditiously extract itself from a difficult situation without consideration for their responsibilities to her nor for the effects their way of handling it would have on her wellbeing and her future. The university chose to ask McGinn to resign for violating their consensual relationship policies—sidestepping a more complicated process—while the student contends there was nothing consensual about it:

Claire’s big break came two days before the end of her first semester, on the afternoon of December 12, 2011, when she received an email from McGinn. “I want you to be my official research assistant (with pay! but not much),” he wrote.

That was at 1:36 p.m. She quickly responded: “I would be absolutely delighted…! It would be great to work with you. I really enjoy our conversations.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Claire’s thoughts raced. She pictured herself cowriting books and papers with McGinn. Careers in philosophy are hard to come by, but with such a mentor, everything seemed within reach — especially when McGinn said he would turn her into a genius.

Claire couldn’t wait. That evening, she began finger-painting. Around 7 p.m., she emailed her new boss, relating the art to their research. “I have started a painting of some hands,” she wrote. “More like I am painting the hand using the hand as a tool.”

The response came as a shock: “I would love to see your paintings and your messy hands. It sounds somewhat erotic (I have a wide definition of the erotic).”

The word “erotic” glared at her from the laptop screen. The twinge of unease would deepen during the next nine months. In hundreds of messages reviewed by New Times, the illustrious, 63-year-old, married professor repeatedly used terms like “slight erection,” “handjob,” and “Lolita,” which he said was his favorite book. He even asked Claire to have sex with him — “three times over the summer when no one is around.”

Claire contends she tried to deflect McGinn’s advances by steering conversation to their research. But McGinn wouldn’t let up, she says. She lost weight from the stress. Her passion for philosophy waned, and for the first time, she began turning in assignments late.

So on September 14, 2012, Claire did what she calls “one of the most difficult things I have done.” She accused the most famous philosopher in the department of sexual harassment. She submitted his offensive emails to Wilhemena Black, the coordinator who oversees the university’s compliance with Title IX, a landmark federal statute that prohibits schools receiving financial aid from the Department of Education from discriminating by gender or allowing sexual harassment.

Thirty-five days later, UM officials ruled there was insufficient evidence. Instead, they accused McGinn of the more tepid “failure to disclose a consensual romantic relationship.”

McGinn didn’t tarry. He resigned before he could be found officially responsible for anything, then took to the internet to proclaim his innocence. This spurred a spate of high-profile stories about the case from Slate, the New York TimesChronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. Claire — whom New Times has given a pseudonym because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment — declined their requests for comment but spoke to New Times for the first time.

“I never slept with him or had sexual contact with him. I never even kissed him. So how was his obsession consensual or romantic?” Claire says. “I came to UM to learn and grow as a philosopher, not to have my professor tell me he had an erection when he thought about me and found me a stimulating mental construct to masturbate to.”

Far too often universities approach sexual misconduct as if the primary concern is risk management for their own brand, rather than as a matter of community justice and equal educational opportunity, and it seems (unsurprisingly, but nonetheless, wrongly) that’s what happened here. The handling described by the New Times is precisely the kind of response that can severely exacerbate trauma and discourage victims from reporting–it also raises serious questions about Miami’s compliance with the law.


Notre Dame under Title IX investigation April 18, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender,law,sexual harassment,women in academia — noetika @ 2:49 pm

Huffington Post has the story here. 


Ludlow lawsuit dismissed February 5, 2015

Filed under: law,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 8:43 pm

More here.


Guest posts on sexual harassment law

Filed under: law,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 8:41 pm

We’re kicking off what we hope will be an extremely useful series of guest posts today from amanforsomeseasons.  I’ll let him introduce himself.

As a regular reader and a friend of the Feminist Philosophers blog, as a former philosopher and current lawyer (yes, I know), and as a feminist and an interested observer of events that affect women’s issues, I am pleased to be given an opportunity to provide some legal commentary around many of the subjects discussed on this blog.

I have recently enjoyed a number of lively and stimulating discussions with a regular Feminist Philosophers blogger, particularly about how universities are handling – and, in some cases, failing to handle – allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. One of the major themes of our discussions has been why some universities opt to deal with these issues publicly, often to their detriment, while others decide instead to whitewash the problem quietly.

I enjoyed hearing the perspective of someone who sees frequent and startling examples of the latter solution; she was very interested to hear my legal perspective on both. She said that the Feminist Philosophers’ readership, too, might be interested to get a lawyer’s take on these things, and so she has invited me to post a few entries. Depending upon the reception, I may do more than a few (but hopefully not less).

I welcome comments and have asked that commenting for my posts remains open; I will do my best to engage with the commenters. And now the fine print:

  • Please understand that in blogging here, or in responding to comments, I am writing for educational purposes only, to give general information and a general understanding of the law. I do not intend to provide specific legal advice about your individual circumstances or legal questions. You acknowledge that neither your reading of, nor posting on, this blog establishes an attorney-client relationship between you and me. My posts should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Readers of this information should not act upon any information contained on this website without seeking professional counsel. The transmission of confidential information via Internet email is highly discouraged.

Thank you. I am looking forward to our discussions.



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