Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Legal Literacy Lesson: Procedural Posture August 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — womandamus @ 9:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

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 May 28, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 8:08 am
Tags: , ,

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.



Philosophy, Depression, and Mental Health at Daily Nous February 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 1:54 pm
Tags: , ,

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) January 21, 2015

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 January 7, 2015

Filed under: academia,teaching — cornsay @ 7:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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) December 5, 2014

Filed under: CFP — kaitijai @ 3:25 pm
Tags: ,

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’ November 18, 2014

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.”


On reasons for diversifying the profession September 12, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,diversity,multiculturalism — jennysaul @ 8:31 am
Tags: , ,

In response to Eugene Sun Park’s article on why he left philosophy, Brian Leiter writes:

“What I still do not believe is that we should add Asian philosophers, or African-American philosophers, to the curriculum in order to “encourage” (on some misguided theory) minorities to enroll in philosophy courses.”

I agree. We certainly should not add anyone to the curriculum on the basis of a misguided theory. But knowing all that we know about stereotype and implicit bias, we have very well-supported theories in favour of adding demographic diversity to our syllabi. Knowledge of these theories tells us that our selections for syllabi are very likely influenced by implicit biases which it make it more likely that we will select white men. It also tells us that demographically diversifying our syllabi is no mere marketing ploy, but rather something which is likely to have real effects on the attitudes not just of students from underrepresented groups, but also on those of other students.* Those who are making such suggestions are not acting as “identity politics police”, as Leiter would have it. We are carefully examining the evidence, and working to improve our profession. Eugene Park’s testimony is a further piece of evidence (albeit anecdotal) that these suggestions are on the right track.

*For a summary of some of this, see my “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy”, downloadable at the lower right, here.


Recommended readings for module on distributive justice December 14, 2012

I’m putting together my reading list for next term’s module on distributive justice, and aiming that it NOT be a total sausage fest. I’m finding it surprisingly easy – so many great women political philosophers!

There are two topics I (and perhaps other interested readers?) would really benefit from reading recommendations on:

a) prioritarian principles (either arguing for or being critical of them), and

b) so called left-libertarianism. Any ideas?


Sexism at Science Journal Nature November 27, 2012

A pretty striking statement about the underrepresentation of women from the Editors at Nature. A cause for cautious optimism? Might have been nice if they’d said more about what those ‘unconscious factors’ are, but the resulting heuristic is still a promising one:

We believe that in commissioning articles or in thinking about who is doing interesting or relevant work, for all of the social factors already mentioned, and possibly for psychological reasons too, men most readily come to editorial minds. The September paper speculated about an unconscious assumption that women are less competent than men. A moment’s reflection about past and present female colleagues should lead most researchers to correct any such assumption.

We therefore believe that there is a need for every editor to work through a conscious loop before proceeding with commissioning: to ask themselves, “Who are the five women I could ask?”

Thanks JI!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,347 other followers