“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.”

A fight for LGBT rights in Lincoln, Nebraska

Reader DL draws our attention to an ongoing conflict over LGBT rights in Lincoln, Nebraska (state capital, population 250 000+). It all started when the city council passed a “fairness ordinance” granting gay and transgender people anti-discrimination protection in employment, housing and public accommodation. 21 states and some 140 cities in the US already have legislation like this on the books, so you might think that that would be the end of the story.

However, local law allows for a vote on any new ordinance if sufficient petitioners demand it quickly enough, and an impressively well-organised reactionary campaign managed to garner the 10 000 signatures required within the 15 days allowed. Due to the complexities of the laws governing petitions and  votes on them, the city mayor has responded by recommending that the legislation be repealed, and the protections instead be put to the vote as an amendment to the city charter (he remains himself very much committed to the idea of somehow ensuring anti-discrimination rights are guaranteed for his LGBT citizens). This vote is likely to be in November.

The issue has naturally occasioned much local debate, including some cheeringly moderate contributions and some, err, less well-reasoned and not so moderate arguments. But the vote is also likely to attract national attention.The petition drive was led by two organisations: the Nebraska Family Council and Family First. The latter is affiliated to Focus on the Family, a national evangelical campaigning group founded by the worryingly irrational James Dobson. No doubt FotF and other such organisations will be making their muscular financial presence felt in the run-up to the charter vote. The national press is also starting to pick up on the story, with the Huffington Post columnist Clay Farris claiming (perhaps a touch hyperbolically) that Lincoln can become the “Gettysburg of gay rights”. If he’s to be proved right, there may have to be some sort of counter-balance to the pressure that FotF can bring to bear on the voters of Lincoln; though, like their mayor, I’m hopeful that the vast majority of the city’s citizens are fair-minded enough to resist bigoted influences and vote the right way. One to keep an eye on.


Walmart Case: Women don’t have enough in common

A quick update on the Walmart case that ednainthesea discussed here. The US supreme court has decided that one and a half million women cannot bring a class-action suit against Walmart, in which they were to argue that the corporation’s record on the promotion and pay of women belies institutional sex discrimination. The justices agreed unanimously that the suit failed to meet a particular technical requirement. More interestingly, a 5-4 majority ruled that the women do not have enough in common to bring a class action suit; according to Justice Scalia, the necessary common element is “entirely absent”.

You can read the full opinion here (direct link to .pdf). Part II of the court’s opinion (pp. 8-20) explains the reasoning behind the no-common-element decision. The appended dissenting opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg, takes issue with this part of the opinion (post, pp. 1-11).

Whatever the niceties of the legal arguments, it seems clear that the decision has greatly diminished the chances that large class-action suits could be used to address systemic discrimination.

Why We Need Women in War Zones

An excellent article here dealing with Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt.
Women can cover the fighting just as well as men, depending on their courage.

More important, they also do a pretty good job of covering what it’s like to live in a war, not just die in one. Without female correspondents in war zones, the experiences of women there may be only a rumor.

Look at the articles about women who set themselves on fire in Afghanistan to protest their arranged marriages, or about girls being maimed by fundamentalists, about child marriage in India, about rape in Congo and Haiti. Female journalists often tell those stories in the most compelling ways, because abused women are sometimes more comfortable talking to them. And those stories are at least as important as accounts of battles.

There is an added benefit. Ms. Logan is a minor celebrity, one of the highest-profile women to acknowledge being sexually assaulted. Although she has reported from the front lines, the lesson she is now giving young women is probably her most profound: It’s not your fault. And there’s no shame in telling it like it is.

(Thanks, David!)

Lost women of science

A fascinating article:

Yet my re-examination of the Royal Society archives during this 350th birthday year has thrown new and unexpected light on the lost women of science. I have tracked down a series of letters, documents and rare publications that begin to fit together to suggest a very different network of support and understanding between the sexes. It emerges that women had a far more fruitful, if sometimes conflicted, relationship with the Royal Society than has previously been supposed.

I was a little worried when I read the following– afraid the author would go on to say that women had special insights because of their relational thinking, or care, or something like that:

Indeed, the Royal Society archives suggest something so fundamental that it may require a subtle revision of the standard history of science in Britain. This is the previously unsuspected degree to which women were a catalyst in the early discussion of the social role of science. More even than their male colleagues, they had a gift for imagining the human impact of scientific discovery, both exploring and questioning it.

But then he linked it instead to their exclusion from the Royal Society– a very interesting example for standpoint theorists:

Precisely by being excluded from the fellowship of the society, they saw the life of science in a wider world. They raised questions about its duties and its moral responsibilities, its promise and its menace, in ways we can appreciate far more fully today.

Pay Disparities and Sex/Gender Transitions

A recent study has found that:

women who become men (known as FTMs) do significantly better than men who become women (MTFs). MTFs in the study earned, on average, 32% less after they transitioned from male to female, even after the authors controlled for factors like education levels. FTMs earned an average of 1.5% more.

The study’s authors and the Time Magazine article reporting this take this to show the extent of discrimination in the workplace– of the most traditional sort (paying someone less money for the same work just because of their sex/gender). It’s a very interesting study, but I’d also like to know what those with greater knowledge than mine about trans issues make of it.

(Thanks to the FEAST mailing list for this one!)

Social Dominance Theory & Biased Practices

It’s such fun to discover a theory!  Here’s today’s find:

Social Dominance Theory is about hierarchical status within social groups.  It describes a characteristic that many individuals within a structured social environment have.  If recent research is correct, it may provide a clue about how to mitigate bias in hiring.  Equally, it offers an explanation of an array of behaviors that can seem puzzling.

Social Dominance Theory describes social dominance orientation,  a widely spread trait in structured social groups, which characterizes those

who will support the mechanisms that produce and maintain {the] group-based social hierarchies [which they are in].

SDO is defined as “…the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of `inferior’ groups by `superior’ groups” …. Individuals who are high in SDO are motivated to support and adhere to the traditional societal hierarchy such that they express more negative responses toward members of low-status groups than high-status groups. Thus, no matter the basis of group formation (e.g., race, gender) those higher in SDO will tend to support the hierarchy evident among these groups. Consistent with this notion, measures of SDO have been shown to correlate highly with prejudice and negative reactions toward a variety of low-status groups…

The authors present data that supports the effectiveness of a particular mitigating measure:  If someone in authority tells a person high in SDO to hire a (very qualified) low status person, then they are more likely to do so.

If this research is on the right track, you can increase the chances of  hiring women and other minorities into your department by getting your dean to advocate such hiring, given your dean has authority with your department.

Does this just say that people higher up in a social hierarchy tend to work to support the hierarchy?  I think it goes beyond that.  It might offer an explanation of a lot of attitudes and tendencies to behavior that self-interest alone does not.  Of course, one might try to amplify an explanation in terms of self-interest with appeals to other things, so I can’t claim that SDT wins out. 

But here’s one thing it might explain:  The demeaning language that Leiter uses to describe specialities that he thinks are not main stream.  What’s going on with “pander,” “pet” and “mafia,” for example?  (See here and comment 8 on it.)  SDT would say:  He’s really keen on the philosophical hierarchy and is promoting it, not just describing it.

If this diagnosis is correct, then you’d expect to find other behaviors that can seem very puzzling in philosophers:  The persons high in SDO are awfully good at obeying those above them.  And one can expect them to adopt without much judgment the deliverances in assessments the hierarchy issues or embodies. 

Since the hierarchy is so often white male, the women who are high in SDO can seem to be even worse sell-outs, but that might not be quite what is going on.  Rather, they might well support women in a hierarchy, if there were such.

So if you have a hire coming up, see if you can get your dean to support diversity.  If not, try getting the provost to work on the dean.  Etc.