“This isn’t even a slap on the wrist”

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.”

Are anti-sexual assault advocates on college campuses ‘hysterical’?

Stuart S. Taylor thinks they might be, as Susan Svrluga reports over at WaPo. I really only have about five minutes to put this post up — so I’ll let readers respond more thoroughly in the comments but, immediately, this part of what Taylor said struck me as something in need of corrective comment:

[T]o resolve any doubt that the respondents were far from representative of the nation’s college students, consider the facts buried in Tables 3-2 and 6-1 of the AAU survey.

These tables indicate that about 2.2 percent of female respondents said they had reported to their schools that they had been penetrated without consent (including rape) since entering college. If extrapolated to the roughly 10 million female college student population nationwide, this would come to about 220,000 student reports to universities alleging forced sex over (to be conservative) five years, or about 44,000 reports per year.

But this would be almost nine times the total number of students (just over 5,000) who reported sexual assaults of any kind to their universities in 2013, the most recent data available, according to the reports that universities must submit to the federal government under the Clery Act.

You absolutely cannot rely on the numbers reported under the Clery Act if what you want to know is how many sexual assaults are reported to universities and colleges full stop. Firstly, there’s a question about the extent to which institutions comply with the Clery Act in the first place (hence the push for increased fines as a consequence of violation in the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, and increased scrutiny under the Campus SaVE Act). Secondly, and possibly more significantly in terms of numbers, there is a limit as to which reports of assault need to also be reported under the Clery Act. If an assault happened off-campus, if it was not reported to campus security personnel (e.g., campus police), it may not be reflected in a school’s Clery report — even if it was reported to the university in other ways (e.g., a Title IX office, student disciplinary office, etc.).

New Study: Gender Effect in Research Funding


We examined the application and review materials of three calls (n = 2,823) of a prestigious grant for personal research funding in a na- tional full population of early career scientists awarded by the Nether- lands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Results showed evidence of gender bias in application evaluations and success rates, as well as in language use in instructions and evaluation sheets. Male applicants received significantly more competitive “quality of re- searcher” evaluations (but not “quality of proposal” evaluations) and had significantly higher application success rates than female ap- plicants. Gender disparities were most prevalent in scientific disciplines with the highest number of applications and with equal gender dis- tribution among the applicants (i.e., life sciences and social sciences). Moreover, content analyses of the instructional and evaluation mate- rials revealed the use of gendered language favoring male applicants. Overall, our data reveal a 4% “loss” of women during the grant re- view procedure, and illustrate the perpetuation of the funding gap, which contributes to the underrepresentation of women in academia.

Legal Literacy Lesson: Procedural Posture

From the outside, lawsuits can be confusing for a lot of different reasons. One of those reasons is that any civil suit is likely to go through many stages before the matter is truly finished (if it is ever truly finished). It takes a long time for most cases to wend through these stages, and it is easy to see the results at any particular stage as more final or indicative of a win or loss on the merits than they may actually be. These stages are sometimes called the procedural posture of the case, and understanding the different stages is important to interpreting any news about activity in a lawsuit.

Take a topical example:  recently a federal judge partially granted and partially denied the University of Illinois’ motion to dismiss claims against it by Steven Salaita. Most readers will be watching this case with interest, and most are likely pleased with the decision. But what does it really mean? Reports on the decision have tended to present it as a big win, with headlines saying that Dr. Salaita was “Vindicated in Federal Court” and that the judge “[Held] That U. of Illinois Broke Contract.” To be sure, Judge Leinenweber’s opinion is quite favorable to Dr. Salaita’s position, and it does mostly represent a win, though some of his claims against the university were dismissed with prejudice, meaning that he will not be able to press them further. The opinion is also notable for some of its musings on the untenable arguments made by the University in defending itself, particularly in claiming that it never had a contract with Dr. Salaita.

But ultimately, this opinion does one thing: it allows the suit to move forward through many subsequent stages. During the motion to dismiss stage, Dr. Salaita (theoretically) needed only to make a plausible case for each of his claims against the University. The University was trying to say he failed even to do that. At this stage, the judge is supposed to take all of the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint to be true. If the plaintiff fails to make a plausible case that they deserve their day in court even when the facts alleged are interpreted most favorably, then the case is dismissed because there is no reason for it to continue. The motion to dismiss stage can be deadly for any suit, so it is certainly a sort of victory to survive past this stage, but it is really more survival than vindication.

From here the next big stage of Dr. Salaita’s case will be discovery — a period where both sides try to gather facts in the run-up to trial. Both sides will get access to emails and other communications, they may discover other people who have information, and they will have a chance to depose witnesses, a crucial part of a case both because it will reveal information and lock in the testimony of those witnesses for trial. After discovery, the University will likely move for summary judgement, a stage somewhere between motion to dismiss and a full trial, in which the University will claim that, given all the facts that have come out in discovery, Dr. Salaita will be unable to make his case. If the University fails there, there will be a trial, then there may be an appeal by the losing side.

(Pardon a brief detour in the discussion. Looming over the entire process is settlement. Discovery is very costly, so the University may be especially motivated to settle now that their motion to dismiss has been denied. Suppose that the University wants to depose 10 people, and suppose each deposition takes 8 hours. Depending on who is taking the deposition, the hourly billable rate might be anywhere from $450 to upwards of $1000. Suppose it’s something in the middle, maybe $700. Just the deposition time itself — setting aside preparation time and assuming that it’s just this one lawyer doing all the work — will cost the University $56,000. That’s a new professor’s salary or a few graduate student stipends for a year and that’s just taking depositions. There will also be time spent defending depositions (what the University will do when their witnesses are being deposed, which amounts to sitting there and occasionally objecting for the record), collecting and reviewing documents, and preparing for trial. The high costs of litigation may often make settlements a good economic proposition for both parties, which is why reading anything about the merits into the existence or amount of a settlement alone, as some did after the University of Colorado settled with David Barnett, is disfavored.)

Let’s return to our discussion of the motion to dismiss. With some caveats, winning at the motion to dismiss stage does not mean Dr. Salaita will definitely win if his case goes to trial. For one thing, he has requested a jury trial, so even if the opinion is read as a reflection of the judge’s views on the merits of the case, a jury might feel differently. When a plaintiff loses a motion to dismiss, however, this constitutes the final decision in the case (where “final decision” is a sort of term of art, the denial may be appealed, of course). For example, when Peter Ludlow’s suit against Northwestern and other individuals was dismissed, this was a reflection of the judge’s view that he had failed to make a case that the law had been violated even viewing the facts alleged in the light most favorable to him.

Any time you hear about a development in an investigation or lawsuit, figure out what the procedural posture of the suit is and do some investigation about what it means. Wikipedia provides helpful pages on these stages written in language that is typically easy for a layperson to understand. Doing this extra bit of research will provide you with necessary context as you evaluate the claims at issue in the dispute, the impact of the decision, and the future of the case.

Ann Olivarius on Miami, McGinn and Shalala

Some of our readers may have come across this article, which includes criticism by Ann Olivarius of Donna Shalala’s handling of Colin McGinn. Feminist Philosophers has obtained permission from Olivarius to publish the whole of the editorial which is quoted from in the Miami New Times Article. She has also given us some vital background to the editorial.

First, the background:

I am the lawyer representing the victim of Colin McGinn’s sexual harassment at the University of Miami. In an op-ed below, I set out my views about a recent statement by UM President Donna Shalala praising herself in her conduct of this case. But from speaking with Jenny Saul and others, I believe that many philosophers are under some misapprehension about key facts in this case, which as a preliminary matter I seek to clear up here.

Read More »

Philosophy, Depression, and Mental Health at Daily Nous

Over at Daily Nous you can read Peter Railton’s C-APA Dewey lecture, as well as join in an open thread on philosophy and depression. DN also links to an earlier post from PhDisabled on the same topic.

From PhDisabled:

“We are not beyond a society that sees mental illness as a stain within one’s soul, some present-age demons who continue to torment mortals. Mental illness still stands as something to be ashamed of because we want to believe in karma or something similar. We want to believe that the ills that we suffer are somehow dependent upon something we deserve.

“Those of us who are more scientifically inclined want to believe that we can redeem and fix mental illness, as if it were machinery. If we could only figure out the brain, then we believe that we could “normalize” it, or better, “cure” it.”

“I think it should be the job for philosophy to demand that society’s discourse regarding mental health gets less awful. Good philosophy should offer alternatives for social problems, or at the very least scold the often careless ideologies that cause social problems.

“But first, academic philosophy itself needs to turn its gaze to depression and how it is treated within its own ranks. We treat it with silence. No one finds it polite to speak on it, unless talking about the personal lives of the dead or as a dry systematic theory. We philosophers prefer to hold depression at arm’s length, even though it often lives so close within our chests as a tightening knot limiting our actions.”

Responding to gender-based violence (online and elsewhere)

Many readers will recall that recently, John McAdams, a Marquette political science professor, drummed up a spurious reason to make a politically-motivated public attack on Cheryl Abbate, a graduate student of philosophy (our previous posts here and here; Daily Nous coverage here and here. Marquette is taking action against McAdams; its outcome is thus far unclear).

As a result of his actions, Abbate received hateful, misogynistic abuse, disturbing in both content and quantity, in a number of forms and forums. She has now written a blog post detailing the extent of this abuse, exploring her experiences on the receiving end, reflecting on how one should respond to it, and making it quite clear that McAdams bears responsibility for inciting it.

(For those clicking through, I reproduce Abbate’s trigger warning: “This post includes a number of reprinted misogynist and homophobic comments”. She’s not wrong).

Abbate says that she was mostly advised to ignore the abuse, but chose to expose it and draw attention to it, for a number of reasons. This was a brave decision. Abbate says the most important reason she has for speaking out is that, if we aren’t aware that such horrible abuse takes place, we can’t begin to do anything about it. This seems quite right to me. I’m unlikely to receive any misogynistic email myself, and I find it reprehensibly easy and tempting to bury my head in the sand about such things. I really shouldn’t. If someone writes about their experiences with such courage, to read and think about it is the very least I can do.

Resources for more inclusive philosophy classrooms

An excellent new site, Best Practices for the Inclusive Philosophy Classroom, offers a host of resources for philosophy teachers who want to make their classes more inclusive and mitigate the effects of biases. The site includes suggestions for syllabi and readings, advice on grading methods, ways to manage discussion and participation, and links to empirical research underpinning all this. The authors are associated with Minorities And Philosophy (MAP), a  graduate student-led organisation that exists to “address issues of minority participation in academic philosophy”. They welcome contributions of additional resources, suggestions, and so on for the best practice website — drop them a line if you know a good one not yet included.

CFA: Casualization in Academic Philosophy: SWIP UK Panel at the Hypatia 2015 Conference: Exploring Collaborative Contestations (28-30 May, Villanova University, Pennsylvania)

There is at least anecdotal evidence that casualization—increased use of adjuncts, part-time and temporary academic faculty—disproportionately disadvantages members of underrepresented groups (women, working class academics, disabled academics). For example women, on average, are more likely to have carer responsibilities during their careers, and are on average more likely to be the more junior members of their marriages/partnership, career- and earnings-wise; and because of this are often less mobile and less able to take up insecure temporary employment than their male counterparts.

We would like to explore the implications of this for academic philosophy. Should we conceptualise casualization as an equality issue, or is casualization’s disproportionate affect on women and other underrepresented groups better understood as simply a knock-on effect of wider social inequality? Can we justify the hiring of adjuncts and temporary teaching cover even in the face of inequality concerns? What could departments do to counteract the exclusionary effects of casualization? What structural aims should we have, in the academy, in order to foster equality ‘from the inside’? What would structurally-inclusive academic hiring practices look like, optimally or in the ideal?

We invite 300-word abstract submissions for our panel on casualization in academic philosophy at the Hypatia 2015 Conference: Exploring Collaborative Contestations (28-30 May, Villanova University, Pennsylvania). Presenters might draw insight from areas such as Political Philosophy, Legal Theory, Ethics, and practical experience. We welcome both theoretical and practical approaches to the issue, and encourage both junior and senior members of the profession to submit.

Please email your abstract, prepared for anonymous review, in .pdf, .doc or .docx  format, to Lindsey Porter at l.porter@sheffield.ac.uk  by 15 January, 2015. Please include biographical information (affiliation, past or present, etc) in the body of the email. We intend to arrange at least partial funding for travel & accommodation to those in need of such funding.

‘Philosophy Grad Student Target of Political Smear Campaign’

Daily Nous has the story.

A philosophy graduate student and instructor at Marquette University [Cheryl Abbate] is the target of a political attack initiated by one of her students, facilitated by a Marquette political science professor, and promulgated by certain advocacy organizations.

The full story is quite disturbing, and Justin has screen shots of some incredibly offensive (and misogynistic) comments that have been directed towards Abbate as a result.

Justin has also added this update to the story: “Those interested in encouraging Marquette University to support Abbate may wish to write polite messages of support to the dean of the university’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Richard C. Holz, at richard.holz@marquette.edu, or the interim provost of the university, Dr. Margaret Faut Callahan, at margaret.callahan@marquette.edu.”