« Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer Philosophy Programs | Main | Philosophy in the 21st Century? »

July 19, 2011

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Elizabeth Harman

Dear Linda,
Thank you!
As a member of Princeton's faculty, I'd appreciate if all of this information were posted on the Pluralists Guide where it would definitely be seen by any prospective student who happens upon the Guide.
It would be best if the information were on the same page as the climate report, but it could also be linked to from that page. The link might say something like "Where did we get our information?"
(The last time I looked, the FAQ and Methodology pages did not include this information, particularly the important fact that only the advisory board filled out surveys. Given that the climate report is a very different kind of thing from the other reports, it would be best if a separate explanation of how it was created was provided, rather than having that information buried along with the other information. It's important that prospective students have accurate information about the nature of the information you are providing.)
Also, I'd like to ask you to publish a disclaimer on the page of the climate report (or linked from the climate report; the link might say "Advice for Prospective Students") along these lines: "Prospective graduate students are urged to talk to current women graduate students (and male graduate students, of course) about what it is like to study at the programs you are considering. Current students are the best source of information. For each particular school, we cannot be sure that any current students at that school were consulted in the creation of our report."
-- Elizabeth Harman

Linda Alcoff

Thanks Elizabeth--we will work on augmenting the information on our site--these are helpful suggestions.

Aaron Boyden

Given both the methodology as described, and the results, it would seem that this method makes more prominent departments look worse than less prominent departments not because they have more problems, but because more people know about them.

Helen Yetter Chappell

If you choose to leave the Climate rankings up, I strongly support Liz's proposed additions. However let me suggest one modification. You write: "Only the Feminist and Gender Advisory Board members filled out the survey from which we gathered our findings." Given this, perhaps Liz's disclaimer should be modified to read:

"Prospective graduate students are urged to talk to current women graduate students (and male graduate students, of course) about what it is like to study at the programs you are considering. Current students are the best source of information. No current students at any school were directly consulted in the creation of our report."

Finally, I want to voice my concerns with the climate rankings. I have no doubt that Amy Allen, Anita Allen, Elizabeth Anderson, Louise Antony, and all the other philosophers on the Feminist and Gender Issues Advisory Board *care* a great deal about the climate for women in these departments, and that they would be fantastic resources for working out ways to improve the climate for women in philosophy. They may well be experts on *that*. But this is a very different thing from being an expert on the current climate of e.g. the Princeton philosophy department. To make an informed/reliable judgment of what the current climate for women is like at Princeton, you need to have a current (or recent) connection with the department climate. Given what you say, none of the people you surveyed for this survey had such a connection. You failed to survey the experts! In this respect, the Climate portion of the survey is very different from the other rankings. On the other areas, you surveyed *experts* on the matter at hand. As a result, they--unlike the climate rankings--are likely to be valuable tools for those interested in the relevant areas of philosophy.

I think it would be an extremely valuable thing to have a reliable survey of department climates for women. When I was a prospective graduate student, I was extremely concerned about going to a school that was hospitable to women. (I quickly decided not to go to one of the schools I was admitted to based on discussions with current/recent female grads.) I would have been thrilled to have a reliable picture of the climate of schools I'd applied to that wasn't out-dated or based on rumors. And I totally commend you for being the first people to attempt to give such a ranking.

But I worry that this survey does not give the sort of reliable, current information that female prospective grad students really need. Had I seen this survey as a prospective, I might not have wound up at Princeton. And Princeton has been an *amazing* place to be a female graduate student. We need to make sure that the information we're giving to young women is accurate, both so that we don't mistakenly push them away from schools that would be fantastic choices, and also so that we are reliably identifying the schools that really are problem schools.

I've spent a lot of time reading the Being a Woman in Philosophy blog. It would be an extraordinary benefit to women if they had a way of avoiding schools with the sort of biased, belittling, and predatory behavior often described on that blog. (And a benefit to the profession if it was known what institutions had these problems.) But this survey doesn't tell us this. As a grad student at Princeton, the things described on beingawomaninphilosophy are by and large *completely, totally, horrifyingly* alien to me. And yet Princeton is one of the schools that's called out as being bad for women, and (presumably) we've failed to identify the schools where these outrages are actually taking place!

So I'd go further than Liz's suggestions. I think it would be valuable to take down the current Climate ranking, and invest some more enegry in putting together a survey of current/recent female grad students and faculty (the experts on the current climates of departments). I spelled out some thoughts on how such a survey could be put together on the Leiter thread. And as I mentioned there, if you're interested in trying to do another survey of Climate based on members of the departments in question, I would be willing to help with some of the work.

Helen Yetter Chappell
Princeton University grad student

Linda Alcoff

Dear Helen,

Thanks so much for your post. I am of course delighted to hear that your experience has been so good there. I think you make some good suggestions, but we will have to leave it to others to do the sort of specific investigations you suggest involving surveying all the women in a department, for example. It is important to include in such a survey recent and past students and faculty and not just present ones to get a more complete picture. There are 95 departments in our survey, and this is obviously prohibitive. I believe our report will provide reason in some cases for department members to engage in such investigations themselves, or for the next external review committee to make sure they cover this area.
Let me add three points. First, I cannot say that our advisory board did not consult graduate students who are currently in these departments. I know that some did do precisely such consultations, but I don't know how extensive these were. But we absolutely trust that our board members were responsible and cautious in their assessments.
Second, anyone who has done an external review of departments knows that there may be things many, even most, faculty or students are unaware of.
Third, engaging in an investigation into how a department is doing in regard to issues of parity is fraught with difficulties that no one should underestimate. Specifically, many people from underrepresented groups will sometimes, perhaps often, feel too vulnerable to share their complete experiences and thoughts publicly. Those who do share their thoughts, and share some negative assessments, may well receive hostile responses and jeopardize their future careers. This happens not just in the corporate world but also in the academy and many philosophers have had such experiences. Sometimes, investigation gathering can turn into a witch hunt in order to ferret out those who are disclosing information that might embarrass a department. Sometimes, investigation gathering is motivated by the desire to do PR, rather than really ascertain the truth.
I know that I am dramatizing what can occur, but such things have occurred. So the challenge we all share is how to go about improving our profession's parity and inclusiveness in a way that will not require sacrificial heroism of the most marginalized, and that will be truly effective. I believe our report is one small, fallible contribution, I am sure there are other ways. It is a challenge we should all take on.
I appreciate your comments and suggestions and wish you the best.
Linda Alcoff

Jennifer Nado

In response to Linda's recent comment -

I'm baffled by the idea that current students were not surveyed because they might "feel too vulnerable to share their complete experiences and thoughts publicly", and that "those who do share their thoughts... may well receive hostile responses". Could one not have run a survey which involved anonymous responses? I would think, in fact, that the concerns Linda mentioned would be much more of an issue during investigation by board members who were given no particular methodological guidelines for gathering information from current students.

Of course, there's still plenty of room for concern over the accuracy of data one might gather from surveys of current grad students; even in anonymous surveys, students might not be fully forthcoming. But I see a far greater epistemic difficulty in relying solely on the opinions of board members who almost certainly have very little current information about the climate of departments they are reporting on, and who are likely to rely on rumor or other questionable types of evidence.

Jennifer Nado

anonymous

In response to Linda's recent comment -

I'm baffled by the idea that current students were not surveyed because they might "feel too vulnerable to share their complete experiences and thoughts publicly", and that "those who do share their thoughts... may well receive hostile responses". Could one not have run a survey which involved anonymous responses? I would think, in fact, that the concerns Linda mentioned would be much more of an issue during investigation by board members who were given no particular methodological guidelines for gathering information from current students.

Of course, there's still plenty of room for concern over the accuracy of data one might gather from surveys of current grad students; even in anonymous surveys, students might not be fully forthcoming. But I see a far greater epistemic difficulty in relying solely on the opinions of board members who almost certainly have very little current information about the climate of departments they are reporting on, and who are likely to rely on rumor or other questionable types of evidence.

Jennifer Nado

Posted by: Jennifer Nado | July 19, 2011 at 03:40 PM


Previewing your Comment

I commend Linda Alcoff for the courage to provide important information for all prospective graduate students. (Presumably most prospective male graduate students would also be wary of attending an institution with climate issues.) It is never an easy thing to publish a controversial evaluation, particularly one that clearly suggests that certain institutions have a problem that needs to be addressed.

I also think that Helen and Liz's assertion that "current students are the best source of information" is incorrect. Although current students certainly may have some information, it is far from clear that they are the "best source". I was one of the contributors to the Being a Woman in Philosophy blog, and reported two cases of alleged sexual assault by members of the philosophy faculty at two different Leiter top-10 universities.

In the first case, I was the victim, and I am reasonably sure that the only other person in the department who knew there was a problem was the department chair, who told me that "being accepted to a graduate program is like being *born* into a family; you can't just leave" when I reported the problem and asked for his support in applying to another institution. I was far too confused and distraught to have shared my experiences with other members of the department. A survey of graduate students in that department at the time would likely have been positive, and certainly wouldn't have reflected my experience.

In the second case (in another program), sexual assault charges were filed against one of my would-be dissertation committee members by an undergraduate philosophy major. Again, despite the fact that the case was investigated by the campus police and eventually handed off to a prosecutor, there were only two graduate students (myself and one other student who was interviewed by the investigators) who were aware of the situation. The department chair explicitly asked us not to tell anyone about the case, and the campus police told us that to tell anyone anything would be to interfere with a criminal investigation, which would in itself be a criminal act. So a survey of current graduate students in that situation, too, would not have been an accurate reflection of reality.

Although I understand the reasons for the emphasis on the "present" in the survey, I worry that what counts as "present" might be extremely problematic. The second case of alleged sexual assault occurred 3 years ago. Although the faculty member directly involved in the case is no longer in the department, many other department members who were aware of the situation are. There has been no public acknowledgement of the fact that there was a problem, and no significant changes that would prevent a similar problem in the future -- or at least none that I have been notified of. (And one would assume that the current department might at least make an effort to let the former grad students involved in the case know, if there were any changes.) As with the first case, the general attitude seems to be that it was an unusual, truly exceptional situation, and therefore not "our" problem, or an incident that was made possible by a general climate problem and lack of clearly communicated and enforced policies, but rather "his" and "her" or "their" problem (the former faculty member and students). Until departments acknowledge and take ownership for their history, offer restitution to the faculty and/or students who were harmed, and institute policy changes that have a clear and demonstrable effect on the climate, I don't see why we should be unconcerned with past events.

What, for example, is the history of challenges for women in the Princeton department? Is this history truly "history"? Are the faculty members who were involved still there?

andrew

You say "We also made doubly and triply clear, by restating this in several places, that they could leave departments blank in cases where they could not make any assessment." I am wondering what list of departments was circulated to the people surveyed; could we see that? If it was not every Ph.D. granting institution in the country, as I assume it was not, could you include the criteria you used to eliminate some departments?

A parallel: the PGR does not circulate a complete list of departments to its advisory board, the list of schools is determined by previous surveys as well as those schools that have made a marked faculty improvement since the last survey (by 'improvement' one could read 'change in the direction the PGR favors' if you wish, that is neither here nor there). I cannot imagine a way one would be able to, in their first survey of such a serious issue, eliminate any schools from this survey.

Jennifer Nado

To anonymous:

First off, let me emphasize that I am very sorry for what you went through; needless to say, that such events occurred is truly appalling. What follows is in no way an attempt to belittle the severity of your experience. I'm aiming only to defend the methodological principles I feel reports such as this should conform to.

With that said, given that in your case only one other person in the department was made aware of the event, it's not clear to me how the current report's methodology would have had any more success at reflecting the situation of your graduate department than a grad student survey. An advisory board of non-affiliated faculty would seem to me to be even less likely to be aware of the situation.

I'll agree that department history should weigh into assessments like these to some degree, especially if faculty members with a history of problems are still at the institution; however, over-emphasis on past events can unfairly stigmatize departments which have genuinely made improvements or even drastic turnarounds. I suspect this is the situation, for example, with Rutgers, from which I have just graduated. Rutgers faculty are deeply aware that, around 7-8 years ago, their department had a reputation for being inhospitable to women. This was in part due to very low female enrollment (1 woman per incoming class, at best), and perhaps also in part due to a few instances of graduate students dating faculty (a practice whose moral status I won't comment on). Neither of those issues characterize the current Rutgers department, and in fact the department has made strong efforts to make sure the department environment is welcoming and equitable. They have by all accounts succeeded, and the department currently has a very strong, intelligent, supportive female community. None of whom had any chance to provide up-to-date information on department climate to an advisory board which likely panned Rutgers in part due to awareness of an outdated reputation.

Ideally, I think, a study like this should base its reports on survey data from current and very recent graduate students and faculty from the institution in question, as well as perhaps enrollment, graduation, and placement rates for both genders. By contrast, the methodology of the current study strikes me as poorly controlled and implemented, and deeply vulnerable to bias and inaccuracy.

Again, none of this is to deny that women continue to face difficulties - sometimes very severe - in the philosophical world. But a desire to promote gender equality shouldn't lead us to compromise on objectivity and good research methods.

Concerned

Professor Alcoff:

Would you make available the raw data of your survey, suitably anonymized to protect the respondents?

Will you also please let us know how many reports about a department are sufficient to warrant the formation and publication of an assessment of the climate for women in that department?

If you cannot do this, why not?

Your report makes fairly significant assertions about practices at certain departments with respect to treatment of women. Surely, the responsible - and honest - thing to do is to some more of an effort to reveal some of the data and the methodology used to process the data.

Just sharing the text of the survey and a few of the instructions does not tell us much.

anonymous.too

Looking at the departments that fared well in the climate for women, I'm very concerned that the presence of feminist philosophers was influential. There are two favorably treated departments that I would certainly not recommend to other women. This is based on my personal experience as a faculty member and/or the experience of a student of mine.

Rebecca Kukla

Linda:

I do wish that you'd stop referring to me as 'a commenter' who pointed out that you had dead people on the board. I signed my full name to the original post and to every single follow-up comment about it. It's some strange form of erasure that I don't quite grok the point of. Anyhow.

I am really just amazed that after all these years of feminist epistemology and politics, anyone would think it is ok to give someone totally outside of a department the option of saying they 'strongly agree' that "In this department, sexual harassment of female students is not a present day or ongoing concern." How could it ever be epistemically or ethically appropriate for anyone, particularly an outsider, to take herself to be entitled to assert this?

Many others above and elsewhere have raised important and thoughtful concerns, but I thought this in particular deserved to be mentioned explicitly.

Tom Kelly

I take the kinds of historical considerations raised by anonymous seriously. But it should be noted, I think, that these kinds of considerations could at best justify a policy of surveying a range of people *in addition to* current female graduate students in the relevant departments. They certainly wouldn't justify a policy of surveying a group of people *none of whom* are current female graduate students in the relevant depts., which is what (it is now admitted) happened here. (To be clear, I am not accusing anonymous of making this mistake.)

I give Linda Alcoff credit for the honesty that she displays in admitting that none of the people who filled out the surveys from which the report was put together were current female graduate students. But I suspect that she is seriously underestimating just how damning that revelation is to the credibility of the survey, given that it purports to be a reliable report on the *current climate for female graduate students*.


Michael Conboy

I strongly agree with Rebecca Kukla's latest comment. How can anyone be expected to speak knowledgeably about the climate for women in a department except, well, women in that department? The whole idea is presumptuous to the point of being offensive.

I do understand respondents were told they had the option not to rate a department if they did not feel they had enough information to do so responsibly; however, it seems to me that if those instructions had been followed there would be no list.

Michael Johnson

I think Rebecca Kukla's point is brought home quite nicely by the previous commenter, anonymous.too. There ARE departments on the list of good climate departments that aren't places you'd recommend to women (or anyone-- who wants that sort of climate?). And yet, members of the advisory board not in a position to adequately judge these matters answered 'strongly agree' to "In this department, sexual harassment of female students is not a present day or ongoing concern" for these very departments where it was (to those in the know) clearly a concern! And enough of them did so to bump genuinely bad departments (in terms of climate for women) into the "recommended" range! If that itself doesn't show that Kukla's concerns are valid, I don't know what would.

Anonymous-III

I second several of the concerns voiced here and elsewhere about this report, two in particular. First, Professor Alcoff's declaration that the past is not relevant holds up only if past problems have been addressed effectively by the institution. Old history is out of date, but the climate/ perpetrators/ enables/ institutional dysfunction may be or may not be. Second, not only the survey itself but also many students and some faculty assume that the presence of faculty members who work in feminist theory says something about the climate of a particular department. It has nothing to do with it, and may in fact serve as a cover for an even more difficult environment for female students.

anonymous

To Jennifer Nado, and other Rutgers students, alumni, and faculty:

It is refreshing to see, in print, an admission that Rutgers was an inhospitable environment for women 7-8 years ago, including a reference, however vague, to the possibility that the environment might have been affected by “a few instances of graduate students dating faculty”. This sort of honesty and candor is an important step in moving forward. Thank you.

And I am happy to read (in the open letter on Leiter) that at least half of the women in the graduate program feel that the environment at Rutgers has improved. I infer from the number of women who received PhDs in 2011 that the gender ratio was reasonable for the women who were admitted in the 2004-6 time frame, and hope that the same is true of the subsequent years. And I applaud the women of Rutgers for working together, supporting each other, and creating a “vibrant community of women”.

That said, I’m still not convinced that the environment for women in the department has genuinely improved. Let me try to explain.
Although it is of course very important for women to work with other women in the department – and this is often something that can be achieved only when the numbers are such that women are no longer a significant minority – the primary responsibility for creating a hospitable, gender-balanced environment in a department does not rest on the shoulders of the female graduate students. Environment is an extremely complex, fragile thing, a factor that can shift easily from year to year and become imbalanced through the actions of a single individual. Short-term environmental health can be accomplished through happenstance, when the right mix of individuals are present; long term environmental health can only be accomplished and protected through policy and procedural changes.

If one were trying to assess, say, the status of the environment for crustaceans in the Baltic, one would not take the fact that there was a bumper crop of a particular healthy amphipod in a particular year, or even in a particular 2-3 year time frame, as conclusive evidence that the environment had improved. One would, instead, want to know about the status of the toxins, the DDT and PCBs that had caused the earlier decline in the crustacean population, before asserting that the problem had been fixed.

What do I think are the “toxins” that need to be checked? What would convince me that the environment in the department has genuinely changed?

Well, an open letter from the Department Chair regarding specific policy and procedural changes would certainly be a step in the right direction. (The fact that the female graduate students at Rutgers have been following the blogs and care enough about the issue to write a letter -- while there has been no similar concerted effort by the faculty at Rutgers -- says something. It is also interesting that the comments, or at least those I’ve seen, from both Princeton and Rutgers have been posted by an all-female cast of concerned students and, in the case of Princeton, a lone female faculty member. Gender-based environmental problems affect everyone. Why would the status of these two departments in the Pluralist’s Guide not provoke a unilateral response? And what of NYU?)

What sorts of policy and procedural changes do I think would be convincing? I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the issues that have troubled Rutgers in the recent past, but, as a start, here are the steps that Oklahoma took (as posted on the WhatWereDoingAboutWhatItsLike.wordpress.com blog):

• They created a committee on Recruiting and Diversity, which includes the DUS and DGS, and has been involved in many pro-diversity initiatives.

• They overhauled their hiring procedures with the goal of minimizing the impact of implicit bias. (Wayne Riggs offers to email the details to those interested: wriggs@ou.edu.)

• They adopted a formal parental leave policy, offering one semester of leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

• They have significantly increased the number of female faculty members in the department.

• They have made a concerted effort to identify and recruit qualified female students; over the past two years, 50% of the admitted PhD students were women.

• They brought an outside expert to campus to offer a workshop for faculty members about creating a hospitable climate.

• They have added sessions about department climate (with discussions of implicit bias, microaggressions, solo status, stereotype threat, and related concepts) to the proseminar all graduate students take in their first semester.

• They have adopted a Statement on Department Professional Conduct that is sent out to each of their graduate students every year.

• Many of their faculty, staff members, and graduate students have gone through their campus’s LGBTQ ally training program (known as Sooner Ally).

• They have begun sending out official messages from the chair each semester to students who perform well in our undergraduate courses, encouraging them to consider majoring in philosophy. (Data in other environments suggest that such messages have a disproportionately encouraging effect on female students.)

• And, yes, they have hired a junior faculty member with an AOS in feminist ethics, organized a feminist philosophy reading group, and invited colloquium speakers who specialize in feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, gay & lesbian philosophy, and Native American philosophy. (But note that this is not the only or even the primary change. While I can’t imagine a shift in mindset towards an appreciation of the effects of implicit bias and microinequities that wouldn’t also involve an openness to feminist philosophy, I want to stress that there is much that departments who are closed to feminist philosophy can do.)

I sincerely hope that the change in the Rutgers environment has been a long-term change, and look forward to an open message from the chair regarding the policy and procedural changes that brought about the improvement.

Jennifer Nado

To respond to the points of anonymous:

Let me emphasize that I can't speak for the whole department on the climate for women at Rutgers 7-8 years ago. I arrived at Rutgers shortly after that time, and found no evidence of problems during my entire graduate career. The only thing I can say for sure about that time period at Rutgers is:

1) I was told by a few people in competing departments, during prospective visits, that Rutgers was not a good place for women, and have heard of similar 'warnings' given to other prospective graduate students. Obviously, there is more than a little political motivation behind the spread of such rumors, especially when they come from recruiters at competing departments.

2) Other than these rumors, I have little direct evidence about the state of Rutgers prior to my arrival; other than the aforementioned facts that the admission rate was very low and there existed cases of faculty-student dating (again, I don't think this in of itself is immediately damning - there are complex moral issues involved). The participants in the relationships just mentioned have since departed Rutgers.

As for the lack of faculty response from Rutgers, the letter posted on Leiter's blog was the result of an email chain among the female grad students. Several faculty members (male and female) were in fact involved in the discussion, but it was decided that the most appropriate format was to have the signatures be solely from the female grad students. There have been several internal emails from various faculty expressing support and overall pride in the department's climate and community.

On other topics mentioned, it is surely the case that departmental environment is an incredibly complex thing, and that a survey of current grad students could in no way reveal the whole story. But, to continue on the analogy of crustaceans in the Baltic, it would surely be methodologically irresponsible to report on the current state of the the Balkan crustacean environment without any data on the flourishing or lack thereof of the current crustacean population. Or worse, to simply ask the opinions of members of the crustacean advisory board, none of whom have recently spent time studying the Balkan region.

Helen Yetter Chappell

Thanks for the response, Linda. I completely appreciate that doing a new survey of the sort I've suggested would require a huge amount of time and work. (My first thought when I saw your rankings was actually that I should set up such a survey, but I quickly realized that there was no way I could undertake such a project while on the job market.) But I think this can be separated from the question of whether to leave the current rankings up. For the reasons that I and others have pressed on, I think these rankings are not helpful and have the potential to be downright harmful. So I'd still strongly urge you to take down the climate rankings.

In response to your additional points, I'm in complete agreement with Jennifer Nado. The fact that there may be things that current/recent faculty and graduate students don't know about their departments doesn't make it any more reasonable to survey people with no current connections (and in almost all cases, no connections whatsoever) to said departments. I think that it would be extremely valuable to have a discussion about how best to collect data on what programs are currently like for women. There's lots of room for reasonable disagreement here. (Should we survey undergraduates? Should we try to seek out data on charges of harrassment, and what would be the best way to do this? How can we make sure that the survey is sufficiently confidential that people will be forthcoming about problems? How should we weight the experiences of those currently at the school with systematic reforms made by the department?) But again, these questions are separate from the question of whether the current survey provides reliable information. It seems difficult to dispute that surveying people with no actual connection to University X about the climate for women at University X is not a reliable way to get information.


To anonymous July 20, 2011 at 02:12 PM:

"The fact that the female graduate students at Rutgers have been following the blogs and care enough about the issue to write a letter -- while there has been no similar concerted effort by the faculty at Rutgers -- says something. It is also interesting that the comments, or at least those I’ve seen, from both Princeton and Rutgers have been posted by an all-female cast of concerned students and, in the case of Princeton, a lone female faculty member. Gender-based environmental problems affect everyone. Why would the status of these two departments in the Pluralist’s Guide not provoke a unilateral response?"

I have gotten email and facebook responses to my posts on Leiter and here from four male faculty and five male graduate students at Princeton. The male members of the faculty are certainly following this discussion. (Tom Kelly, who posted above is a professor at Princeton.) I presume, I think quite plausibly, that male members of the department simply don't feel that it's their place to comment on what the department is like for women. If there were a discussion about how accessible a public space was for people with disabilities, it might seem inappropriate for a chorus of able bodied people to respond about its accessibility, when there were people who actually had first hand experience who could talk for themselves.

anonymous

Helen:

It's good to know that you have received responses from male faculty and graduate students at Princeton. And thank you for pointing out that Tom Kelly posted here. But please note that what I am suggesting is not merely that the male students and faculty should be following the discussion, but rather that they should be actively contributing to the discussion, ideally in concert with the women from their department, and even volunteering -- in the way that you did -- to be part of the solution. In equal numbers. The problem of what it is like to be a woman in philosophy is not a problem *for* women in philosophy. It is a problem for *all* philosophers, male, female, trans, androgynous, and everyone in between. I don't think it is at all inappropriate for able-bodied individuals to note that there are accessibility issues, for caucasian philosophers to assert that the environment in philosophy is unfriendly for black philosophers, or for men to have a voice in evaluating (and improving) the climate for women in philosophy. We are, after all, members of the same species.

andrew

Anon, you say " I don't think it is at all inappropriate for [...] caucasian philosophers to assert that the environment in philosophy is unfriendly for black philosophers." And that is correct, but, other side of the coin, what is it like for caucasian philosophers to assert that the environment is NOT unfriendly? It would seem to me to be quite bold. So while, yes, it might be okay for those male members of Rutgers (or other institutions) to talk about the negative aspects they see when it comes to the climate for women, laudatory statements would probably be more well received if they were made by women (of that department). The way in which your comment has been phrased assumes issues.

I don't think it would be the right place for a caucasian male to report on the positive aspects of the climate for black females in philosophy, but he could surely speak up about the negatives he sees, whether they be few or great. So we have a problem - if it is really only the place of the man to speak of things he can improve, and not of the pre-existing good, that is, if the only things that man has the right to speak about publicly are the bad, then it seems he wouldn't, and probably shouldn't, take part in a public discussion. Obviously he should be included in internal discussions and solutions, but I don't understand what you expect of them here? You say "they should be actively contributing to the discussion", as if they are not, when, clearly, Helen said they ARE! The productive discussion is not taking place in the comments section of Professor Alcoff's disclosure of her horrible methodology that produced libelous results - it is, or should be, taking place in each department, individually, and you have no room to currently think they are just sitting by reading the blogs and getting CCed on the e-mails - talking here is blowing smoke, taking action in the department is what they should be doing, and you've heard nothing from the women at these departments claiming that they are not.

Concerned Anonymous

There are two serious problems with the method for developing the climate for women section.

One is unwarranted criticism of a department. This has been the focus of most of the discussion here, and elsewhere, and a particular instance of how this might have yielded misleading information about a particular deparment has been eloquently presented by the women at Rutgers in ther letter and in subsequent discussions.

A second problem is unwarranted praise of a department as being 'strongly recommended' for women. This has been mentioned in several other places briefly (such as by anonymous.too above on July 19, 2011 at 06:28 PM). I think this issue has not been adequately confronted by the creators of the website. I have heard several horrific tales about the treatment of women in more than one of the recommended departments. I know that the said departments have a reputation for being friendly to feminist philosophy (especially of the continental variety), but that has no connection with whether women are actually treated well in such departments. The guide, if is to evaluate anything, ought to evaluate the practice of such departements, not the theories that are taught in their classrooms or in the texts authored by members of those departments.

anonymous

Andrew:

I disagree with your statement that an assertion by a male philosopher that the environment is NOT unfriendly for women would be inappropriate. What makes an assertion inappropriate in this case is not *who* makes the assertion, but rather the existence (or lack thereof) of evidence and data to support the claim.

A perfect example of the sort of concrete evidence that would support the claim that the environment at Rutgers has improved is the list of specific policy changes at Rutgers, including the draft of the climate survey, from Ruth Chang that was posted on the WhatWereDoingAboutWhatItsLike blog today. I applaud Ruth for sending this in, and commend the Rutgers department for taking steps such as bringing in an external gender discrimination expert.

But what I *don't* applaud is the fact that this communiqué came from a lone female member of the department, in a department where the ratio of female to male faculty members is even worse than it is in the discipline at large. It makes one wonder: do all of the faculty in the department care about the climate of the department, for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff? Policies of course need to be understood and supported by a majority, if not all, of the faculty, in order to be effective.

By "actively contributing to the discussion" -- and I apologize for the ambiguity of the referent of "discussion" -- I meant contributing to the public discussion (here, and on other blogs). As I said in the note to Helen, it's good to know that male members of the department are responding to her Facebook posts. But part of what is at stake here is the reputation of Rutgers as a women-friendly department. And the rest of us need to know that the male members of Rutgers (and other departments) care. That requires contributions in a public forum. Please don't tell us; show us.

I'm more than a little surprised that the chairs of the departments involved (Rutgers, Princeton, and NYU) have not participated in the public discussion. Unless perhaps they don't think that the allegations are as potentially damaging to the reputations of their programs as the rest of us seem to think? In any case, let me repeat my call to the chairs of the Princeton, NYU, and Rutgers departments -- or a faculty member who has been formally asked by all of the faculty to represent the department on this issue -- for an open letter regarding the departmental position on climate, and providing evidence of the sort of specific policy and procedural changes that would persuade me (and others) that the department cares about and is actively working to create and sustain a hospitable environment for all of its members.

Jeremy Fantl

Anonymous 09:38 am:

Whether it is appropriate for male members of the department to make approving comments on the climate for women in their department is debatable. But you earlier (I'm assuming it's the same Anonymous) cited the alleged fact that male members of the departments (as well as the faculty in those departments) have not made such public statements as evidence of an ongoing poor climate for women:

"The fact that the female graduate students at Rutgers have been following the blogs and care enough about the issue to write a letter -- while there has been no similar concerted effort by the faculty at Rutgers -- says something. It is also interesting that the comments, or at least those I’ve seen, from both Princeton and Rutgers have been posted by an all-female cast of concerned students and, in the case of Princeton, a lone female faculty member. Gender-based environmental problems affect everyone. Why would the status of these two departments in the Pluralist’s Guide not provoke a unilateral response? And what of NYU?"

The absence of such participation is no evidence at all of any continuing hostile climate. It says nothing. (And, of course, faculty members at those departments have made public contributions to the discussion.) Or, if it says anything, what it suggests is that either the non-participating members feel it's inappropriate for them to participate or that they feel that those who are participating are doing just fine at mounting a decisive case that the climate rankings should be taken down. (And as an aside, why on earth would it be a requirement for a poorly selected group of departments to publish unilateral statements of what they're doing to improve their climate when it is no requirement on the departments on the "good" list to publish their unilateral statements?)

anonymous

Dear Jeremy:

Please be careful about attributing beliefs with respect to what I think the relative dearth of male voices in the public forum shows. I *don't* in fact think that it is evidence of an ongoing poor climate for women -- nor do I say it is. I merely fail to be persuaded, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the entire department at the institution(s) in question positively supports and recognizes the importance of an amicable climate for everyone. It only takes one proverbial bad apple to spoil the barrel. So unanimity -- or at least some semblance of such -- is a factor worth assessing and asserting.

And in response to the question in your aside: the departments on the "bad" list were put in a position in which a prima facie case was made and the burden of proof shifted to them. For better or worse, we don't usually require the recipients of approbation to prove that they merit the attention. That does not of course mean that I wouldn't welcome statements from the departments on the "good" list with respect to what they feel they have done right -- this is what the "What We're Doing About What It's Like" blog is for, and it'd be great to have more ideas and contributions. I am merely pointing out the obvious fact that the departments on the "good" list have not been put in a position in which they have a reputation to defend.

Jeremy Fantl

Dear anonymous,

I took the "says something" and "it is interesting" remarks in the cited passage as evidence that you took the dearth of male voices to indicate a lack of change in the departments in question. The context of that paragraph was in answer to this question:

"What would convince me that the environment in the department has genuinely changed?"

It doesn't seem a stretch to think that to find that a given fact "says something" and that another fact "is interesting" in answer to that question indicates that the author thinks the facts in question are evidence that the environment has not genuinely changed. But if that wasn't your intention, I apologize.

We readers, of course, don't have all your evidence. But from our evidential perspective, we are faced with two lists, one that's "good" and the other "bad". We are provided with no first-order reasons for thinking that the lists are accurate, and we are presented with defeaters for entrants on both lists (some departments on the "good" list, we're told, have had histories of tangible problems and some departments on the "bad" list have lots of members testifying things are wonderful there now). We have reasons for thinking that the methodology used in compiling the lists was not truth-conducive (that is, it doesn't look like current members of the departments were actually queried) and we have reasons for thinking that considerations we don't think are relevant were either consciously or tacitly used in filling out the survey (that is, because the surveyed folks were on the feminist philosophy advisory board, we have reasons for thinking that there might have been some equation between "especially good in feminist philosophy" and "having a good climate for women"). All this taken together makes us think that the lists have little evidential value. Then we're told that to maintain their place on the good list, the good schools don't have to come up with a list of things they've done well, while those on the bad list do have to come up with such a list. Finally, it seems reasonable to think that being wrongly included on the bad list would be unjustly harmful to those schools that are. You can see why we readers -- lacking the specific evidence you have and being asked to just take on trust that you have it and that it's good evidence -- might think that this is not a terrific state of affairs.

Also, I apologize for the "why on earth" locution. That was uncalled for, patronizing, and condescending.

Tom Kelly

anonymous wrote:

the departments on the "bad" list were put in a position in which a prima facie case was made and the burden of proof shifted to them.

But certainly by now, fair-minded people who have been following the discussion are in a position to recognize that the relevant part of the report is essentially worthless as a piece of evidence. (For reasons that have been rehearsed at length both here and elsewhere, chief among them the failure to include any actual female graduate students among those surveyed!) So it's not as though there is some residual burden of proof that needs to be discharged by NYU, Rutgers, Princeton (or for that matter, Oklahoma) above and beyond whatever obligations exist for graduate programs in general.

Helen Yetter Chappell

Anonymous - I agree with Andrew about the (perceived) difference between outsiders pointing out problems and outsiders saying things are great. I think it should be added to this that whether or not it *is* inappropriate for outsiders to comment in these contexts, it is at least *understandable* that it would *feel* inappropriate to said outsiders. The relevant claim is a psychological one. You implied that the lack of men commenting on these matters show that they don't care. But another explanation is that they *feel* that it would be inappropriate for them to be the ones jumping forward to say things are good for women. (Maybe I'm abnormal, but in the parallel case involving the accessibility of a public space, if I thought that it was very accessible, I wouldn't *feel* that it was my place to say so. Maybe I should feel okay doing so. But, well, I don't think I would. And that wouldn't signal that I didn't care or that I wasn't following the discussion!)

Concerned Anonymous - Just want to register my agreement with you that the second question is important and hasn't been addressed. When you have an unreliable methodology, you have the potential for misinformation all the way down, on all sides. And claiming that departments are good for women when they're really not could very well be more harmful than the reverse.

Linda - Could you please issue a response to Concerned Anonymous? Are you concerned that the methodological shortcomings discussed here and elsewhere--that the surveyed people had no direct knowledge of the climate for women in the departments--could result in problem departments being touted as good?

Helen Yetter Chappell

Oh, and thanks to Linda for adding Liz's disclaimer to the climate rankings. I think that sort of transparency is a huge improvement to the ranking. Kudos also for linking to the Rutgers women's response. (Though, note that I still think the methodology is sufficiently flawed as to be worth taking it down.)

observer

Came here via Leiter's blog.

I have to say that it impresses me as a tad hypocritical of Leiter to inveigh as he always does against the use of anonymity on the Internet to talk trash against others, and then to quote "a senior female philosopher" who seems to do little else in the excerpted remark.

It seems that if it's Leiter who wants to score a point, anonymous invective ain't so bad.

Linda Alcoff

I want to thank the many commentators to this discussion for their honest thoughts--this is precisely the sort of constructive open discussion we need more of. One thing this discussion demonstrates is that the nature of "objective and good research methods" has some room for debate in which reasonable people can disagree. No need to attribute underhanded motives, in other words, every time we find ourselves disagreeing on what are truly complex methodological and epistemological issues. I hope we can all agree that attaining a fully adequate picture of the climate in any given department is exceedingly difficult. Yet I imagine we can also all agree that there are better and worse methods. To get to a better assessment, we need more sources of information and more open discussions.

Let me address some of the new points that have been made:

1) Current graduate students are an excellent source of information, and I always advise students considering a department to talk to the graduate students. But there are still questions, such as---which particular students do you speak to? Will a majority vote on climate issues among all the female students necessarily yield the truth, especially given the climate of secrecy around problems that exists in many places? Should men be consulted? Shouldn't we consult students who have left the program, since they may have left for reasons that are relevant to our concerns? Despite these problems, I do think current graduate students will be a good source of information. But my point here is that there are methodological difficulties that arise even with a survey of all current graduate students. (And btw, I did not claim that no grad students were consulted in our survey, I claimed that I do not know who all was consulted)

2) Faculty members share their problems across departments. Many white women and people of color have been for a long time 'the only one' in their depts, and we developed strong relationships with others in other departments. In fact, we may be more able to discuss issues that occur inside our depts with people outside of them than people inside of them, at times. It is not always responsible to discuss dept business in this way, of course, but that doesn't mean that it is NEVER responsible to do this. We may need help in figuring out how to address something, or just need the release of sharing, or we may want to share vital information that should be known about our dept. Thus, there is reliable information about departments known to people outside those departments.

3) All of this might get classified by some as 'rumor' and 'hearsay'. What gets put into those latter categories is undoubtedly a contentious issue. Information shared inside a department may also be classified, sometimes rightly, as mere rumor. But sometimes, the information our faculty friends at other institutions share with us gets independent confirmation, for example, when we know the people they are talking about, or perhaps we even see an email or a report, or hear the same information from multiple sources. ALL OF THIS IS FALLIBLE. Yet, over time, the justification can mount that grounds belief in a responsible way.

4) There were also some good points made about the issue of the history of a dept versus the present. I entirely agree with the argument that past history is still relevant if a department has taken no steps to address past problems, if the offending persons are still there, if the problems were actively hushed up, etc. So I was undoubtedly too quick to dismiss the relevance of the past.

5) We have invited some depts to post information about pro-active steps they have taken to address climate issues, including some on the 'needs improvement' category. None are thus far willing to do so, and I do think this bodes ill for the profession. Departments do not want to call attention to themselves in this way, but this contributes to the climate of intimidation about talking about climate issues and about problems that exist. I do find it interesting that mainly women are writing and posting, etc. This is an issue that all should be concerned about and all can contribute to, even while it is true that women are privy to some experiences men do not have (such as being in a pretty extreme minority and being in a group that has a long history of epistemic discrediting). But especially department leaders should take leadership here and offer examples of pro-active steps and their commitments to achieving inclusiveness and parity.

6) Every PhD granting dept in the US was on our survey list but only some of the major ones in Canada and the UK. We hope to achieve greater comprehensiveness in the future.

Finally, I believe the situation we all face is this. We need to balance our concerns for maintaining the highest epistemic rigor and protection of the innocent on the one hand with the equally valid goal on the other of finding ways to share more information publicly given a context too often beset by secrecy, intimidation, recrimination, and hostility to those who share negative experiences. How do we go about pursuing both of these aims? The Pluralist's Guide to Philosophy has endeavored to do both in the best way we could find. We will continue to work to improve its procedures and methods, with your constructive help,
regards again,
Linda Alcoff

Linda Alcoff

Sorry--I forgot to make one last point about 'bad depts' getting on the 'good' list, though I have addressed this in the past. Yes, I have no doubt that our list is fallible and some recommendations are already out of date. To address this problem we are doing three things:
1) a new report will be conducted this year, and every year hereafter;
2) new factual information about depts that is relevant to our report will be posted on the site as it comes to our attention, as we have done with DePaul.(And thus we welcome your help in this).
3) We will work to expand/improve our advisory boards every year, and as I said, will add a special advisory board on climate issues for women separate from the advisors on feminist philosophy.

jenny

Hi Linda,

"We have invited some depts to post information about pro-active steps they have taken to address climate issues, including some on the 'needs improvement' category. None are thus far willing to do so, and I do think this bodes ill for the profession."

Rutgers has posted information about the pro-active steps that they take, just as Oklahoma did (when it was in the "needs improvement" category)-- over at What We're Doing About What It's Like: http://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/.

Shamik Dasgupta

Dear Linda,

Could you please explain why U Oklahoma was removed from the "Needs Improvement" list a few days ago? Was there some very recent change in the department that was significant enough to outweigh your initial evidence that it needs improvement? Or was it because Wayne Riggs informed us on the "What we're doing..." website about efforts that sound like they've been ongoing for a while now?

If the latter, could you please explain why you didn't know about those efforts when you initially listed U Oklahoma in the "Needs Improvement" list? My guess is that Wayne would have been happy to tell you about them if you had asked. So am I right to think that you didn't contact U Oklahoma to ask them about gender equality initiatives before putting their name on the "Needs Improvement" list? And am I right to think that you didn't contact the other departments on that list either?

To be clear, I am *not* suggesting that U Oklahoma should be put back on the "Needs Improvement" list! I would just like to know more about how much information was gathered when creating the lists.

Best,

Shamik Dasgupta

Tom Kelly


Shamik Dasgupta's questions are excellent ones. I'm sure that many who have been following this would be interested in knowing their answers (at least, I would!)

Matt Smith

Professor Alcoff -

Thank you for your responses to the many questions that were posed to you.

Would you answer this question:

How many negative survey responses were sufficient to land a department on the "needs improvement" list?

Given the very serious accusations you make in your report, it seems important that you explain how you achieved sufficient confidence to make those accusations. You mentioned that you and others shared experiences with each other. Were these discussions the real basis of the report? If so, shouldn't you be up front about that in the results?

I am all for urging departments and the discipline in general working hard to overcome sexism and racism. To that end, I applaud Rutgers for its efforts, which have become quite public in recent days. I urge other departments to take those measures. Surely, if this occurs, it is an excellent consequence of your report, although I suspect it's not happening in quite the way you expected.

anonymous

Tom wrote:

"certainly by now, fair-minded people who have been following the discussion are in a position to recognize that the relevant part of the report is essentially worthless as a piece of evidence."

Tom, I don't think it's wise to discount the relevant part of the report as a worthless piece of evidence. While I grant that it is reasonable to think that it does not provide reliable evidence regarding the actual climate at the institutions in question, it presumably *does* provide evidence about the collective opinion of the 45 philosophers on the advisory board. And surely this is something that should not be summarily dismissed.

It is not uncommon, after all, for undergraduate advisers to give students advice about the climate at various programs. When I decided to return to graduate school, my undergraduate adviser strongly advised against applying to Princeton due to climate concerns. I heeded the advice. What the authors of the Pluralist's Guide have done is to bring at least some of these opinions out into the open by capturing and quantifying the beliefs of a fairly large group of philosophers. This has given the departments who were unhappy with the estimation an opportunity to respond to what otherwise would have been silent judgment. At some level, the departments in question owe a debt of gratitude to the PG.

In response to the implicit suggestion in Jeremy's earlier comment, I should probably remark that I am not a member of the advisory board. I'm also not really a feminist philosopher; although I'd like to consider myself one, I don't think I have done enough of the relevant reading to count feminist philosophy as an AOS. And I don't know Linda Alcoff, although I would welcome a chance to meet her and the other authors of the PG. To publish a web site that lists three of the top-10 Leiter departments as having an inhospitable environment for women is either very courageous or very foolish -- and this is, I think, one of those remarkable cases in which courage and folly are indiscernible.

Michael Johnson

Professor Alcoff said this:

***

Let me address some of the new points that have been made:

1) Current graduate students are an excellent source of information, and I always advise students considering a department to talk to the graduate students. But there are still questions, such as---which particular students do you speak to? Will a majority vote on climate issues among all the female students necessarily yield the truth, especially given the climate of secrecy around problems that exists in many places? Should men be consulted? Shouldn't we consult students who have left the program, since they may have left for reasons that are relevant to our concerns? Despite these problems, I do think current graduate students will be a good source of information. But my point here is that there are methodological difficulties that arise even with a survey of all current graduate students. (And btw, I did not claim that no grad students were consulted in our survey, I claimed that I do not know who all was consulted)

***

No-one, as far as I'm aware, suggested that the appropriate replacement for your climate survey was a survey that *only* included current graduate students at the departments surveyed. That was rather a criticism about your survey, that one of the strongest sources of evidence about climate was ignored in it. It doesn't follow that your detractors thought what you ignored was the *only* indicator of the climate for women.

Your other criticisms are not criticisms of someone else's position, this straw man that doesn't exist ("the *only* evidence that's relevant to the climate for women is what current female graduate students say"), but rather your own survey:

"which particular students do you speak to?" That's a great question. How did your climate survey resolve this difficulty? By not asking any students at the department whatsoever?

"Will a majority vote on climate issues among all the women students necessarily yield the truth, especially given the climate of secrecy around problems that exists in many places?" That too is a great question. Of course, it's not a question for a theory that doesn't exist ("the *only* evidence that's relevant to the climate for women is what current women graduate students say"). It's a question for your survey:

IF there's reason to doubt that a majority vote from current women graduate students at a department (that has a significant sample size for women graduate students) would be a truth-conducive method for determining climate issues, AND you think that that doubt is sufficient to undermine our confidence in a survey conducted *only* of current women graduate students, THEN isn't there also even more reason to doubt that a survey of faculty who are united only because they do feminist philosophy and aren't necessarily related to the department in question will be truth-conducive AND shouldn't that doubt then undermine any confidence we have in your survey?

"Should men be consulted?" That too is a good question. Do you mean just any old men, like random strangers off the street? Or did you mean men in the departments being surveyed. How did your survey resolve the issue presented by this question? By not necessarily asking men in the departments being surveyed? (I say 'not necessarily' because I admit there are men on the survey committee and they do review their own departments-- what I mean is that this is accidental: they weren't selected because of their affiliation, and they weren't given more or less of a say because of it, and there's no more representation of them on the committee than of any other random subgroup.)

"Shouldn't we consult students who have left the program, since they may have left for reasons that are relevant to our concerns?" Good question. How did your survey solve the issue posed by this question? By not necessarily surveying students who had left the department?

"Despite these problems, I do think current graduate students will be a good source of information." They will be? Like "they aren't now, but they will be"? Or do you think the current graduate students who've criticized your survey *are* good sources of information? How much do their current public statements weigh against the climate survey responses that were negative? Are the negative responses still so strong that the current evidence you have is for Rutgers "needing improvement"? And do you think the quality of the evidence for Rutgers' case for not being on the list is strictly less than the quality of evidence for including each "recommended" program on the recommended list? (By implication, I mean that how could you do this, given that some of the recommended departments are terrible?)

Summary: no one has done a climate survey *only* of current graduate students at all the PhD granting departments, and subsequently presented its results as a guide to the climate for women in those departments. However, you *have* done a survey consulting people not necessarily related to the departments you collected information on, and then presented that as a guide to the climate for women in those departments.

Furthermore, if someone had created such a survey (of *only* current graduate students at the surveyed department), you have presented several ways in which such surveys would be deficient (maybe they didn't consult men, or those who left the department, or those who graduated from the department). Aren't your very own surveys, which actually exist and have actually been presented as evidence for the climate in departments subject to precisely these same worries? And if that would be a reason for you to mistrust a survey of only current graduate students at these departments, do you then mistrust your own report?

The exact same reasons that you want to resist a climate survey of *only* current graduate students of the surveyed department are *much stronger* reasons for you to reject your own survey and its methodology.

Darius Jedburgh

Anonymous 03:29 wrote:

"To publish a web site that lists three of the top-10 Leiter departments as having an inhospitable environment for women is either very courageous or very foolish -- and this is, I think, one of those remarkable cases in which courage and folly are indiscernible."

I'm not sure about this. Mightn't we discern them along roughly the following lines?

If the judgment is true, or at least warranted: courage

Otherwise: folly

Michaela M. McSweeney

Professor Alcoff,

I think it's really time for you and the rest of the organizers of the Pluralist's guide to take it down and to apologize. I have nothing against the idea of the Pluralist's guide (I think it is probably a good idea to have an alternative to the Philosophical Gourmet); I don't think that the serious concerns that people have raised here and elsewhere about the Climate section of the guide should damage people's views of the rest of the guide.

I also, like Helen, think that conducting a more responsible survey to determine something about the climate of graduate programs is a wonderful idea, and I also, like Helen, would be happy to help with it.

As an incoming Princeton graduate student, transferring from another department, having definitely done my homework about Princeton, I have been following this discussion with much interest. I must admit that I was pretty shocked to find Rutgers and Princeton on the "needs improvement" list, and also to find a few departments which shall remain nameless on the "recommended" list (the only reason I didn't register the same shock about NYU was merely that I'm not familiar enough with the grad students or climate at NYU to have a view one way or the other about it). But all this has been said already, and so I won't repeat the concerns that have been raised here and elsewhere.

All I really want to say is this: sometimes, we need to admit that we were wrong. As philosophers, we expect people to defend their views (or, in this case, their practices) against our objections, or to concede that we are right, and abandon their views. Stubbornness and dogmatism are things we ought to avoid. I'm not trying to say that you don't know this--I know you are a gifted philosopher, and I respect your work--I am saying this because sometimes we don't always see, especially when a project is very close to our heart, that we are engaging in this sort of behavior, and I believe that you are engaging in this sort of behavior, about a matter that I realize you have invested a great deal of time, energy, and probably emotion into.

I've been immensely frustrated with the way that you have responded to many of the criticisms laid out here and elsewhere; I am sure that others have been too.

Specifically, I wish that you would respond to Shamik's concerns, and to Michael Johnson's accusation that you are both strawmanning your opponents and that the argument you gave applies to your own methodology. I also agree that the transparent thing to do--and I think the right thing to do here--is to release your raw data. It would allow us to figure out, if not exactly who was slandering these departments, at least whether we ought to be concerned about how the data was sorted into the two categories.

Also, I'd like to ask two of my own questions, regarding two things you posted above:

First:

"3) We will work to expand/improve our advisory boards every year, and as I said, will add a special advisory board on climate issues for women separate from the advisors on feminist philosophy."

I think it is clear, and that Helen has stated quite eloquently here and elsewhere, that this is not an adequate fix. Suppose you decide to include graduate students on your advisory board (after all, they are, as Helen points out, experts on this). Well then you face the problem of having graduate students evaluate other departments that they know nothing of the climate in, just as now you face the problem of having people evaluate departments that they know nothing of the climate in. The only solution is to completely overhaul your methodology. You need to survey graduate students (and recent graduate students, and those who have left) IN each department about that department. Creating a separate advisory board for the climate surveys will solve only a single issue in the massive set of issues you have to deal with: the bias towards departments that are well-represented in feminist philosophy, and against those that are not. But until you fix your methodology, changing who sits on that advisory board will NOT fix this problem. What you could do is appoint an advisory board that is solely responsible for figuring out what kind of methodology should be used. But that is not what you suggest you are planning to do above. Which do you plan on doing?

Second:

"3) All of this might get classified by some as 'rumor' and 'hearsay'. What gets put into those latter categories is undoubtedly a contentious issue. Information shared inside a department may also be classified, sometimes rightly, as mere rumor. But sometimes, the information our faculty friends at other institutions share with us gets independent confirmation, for example, when we know the people they are talking about, or perhaps we even see an email or a report, or hear the same information from multiple sources. ALL OF THIS IS FALLIBLE. Yet, over time, the justification can mount that grounds belief in a responsible way."

Ok. Then I would like (and I suspect a lot of other people would like) for you to tell us what this information is. Here is a parallel to what you are doing here:

A: "Philosophy is a useless discipline that shouldn't be taught at universities."
B: "What makes you say that?"
A: "I have my reasons."
B: "But what are those reasons?"
A: "I can't tell you, but I can tell you that other people share my view, though I also can't tell you who (specifically) those people who share my view are, or why they share it."

Here is what B should think in this case: I have ZERO reasons to take A's claim seriously.

I think it is clear, then, that Tom Kelly is right:
"But certainly by now, fair-minded people who have been following the discussion are in a position to recognize that the relevant part of the report is essentially worthless as a piece of evidence."

Perhaps this might indicate that you don't have a responsibility to take down the guide, except that there is a worry that future grad applicants will read it without being aware of the discussion that is going on in the blogosphere now.

I believe that a reasonably diverse (perhaps even pluralist?) group of philosophers have demonstrated by this point that your methodology is flawed enough that you should take down the Climate section (and apologize). If you choose not to do this, you really ought to address the concerns raised instead of sort of acknowledging that they are good concerns and telling us what you plan on doing in the future (almost none of which actually addresses any of the concerns laid out here or elsewhere).

I apologize if the tone of this post is not as neutral as I would have liked it to be. I am simply frustrated with what I can't help but see as a lack of a defense of your position, while you simultaneously seem to refuse to consider that you might be wrong.

Michaela M. McSweeney

Ack! I meant, by that first "it" in my post, ONLY the Climate section of the report, not the entire report. I hope that was clear from what followed.

Rebecca Kukla

I strongly second Michaela McSweeney's eloquent post in all its details, as well as many of the above comments. I think that that part of the guide needs to be removed from the web and retracted with an apology. I also share her and others' dismay at the unresponsiveness to serious questions and concerns that we've witnessed here. Linda has taken a lot of heat because she has been willing to stand up as the voice of the guide, but there were many people involved in this and I am wondering why everyone else is so silent - they are neither helping Linda defend the list, nor retracting and apologizing. This is both unfair to Linda and unacceptable professional behavior, I think.

If there had been any remaining doubt about the unreliability of the list and its really serious potential to mislead and damage female students, I think it has been effectively removed by the grad student letter that Brian Leiter posted today. I have independent reason to trust its accuracy. In case it is not posted on this blog (as it should be), here it is:

"As a member of one of the "SPEP departments" which is valorized for its "women-friendly climate", I feel compelled to relate a little detail of how considerations such as this work out locally.

Our department was recently involved in a major scandal concerning a male professor who repeatedly made sexual advances towards undergraduate students and even groped a young freshman in his office during his office hours. The department response to these offenses came not from the departmental faculty, or Affirmative Action, but from the graduate students (including myself), who were appalled by such conduct as well as the seeming lack of concern from the departmental and university administration. This disconnect prompted us to compose an open letter effectively forcing the issue and listing our remedial demands.

No only were many faculty members (with a few notable exceptions) hostile to this, but a feminist faculty member actually expressed concern that, were this matter to become public, it would hurt our reputation as a feminist and "women-friendly" department—for which we were, at the time, up for an award.

We won the award, but this faculty member remains in his place, is still the "director of undergraduate studies", is still teaching required classes, and is still holding office hours in the privacy of his own office.

This should tell you all you need to know about such rankings."

Linda Martín Alcoff

As even its detractors must admit by now, The Pluralist's Guide to Philosophy is certainly producing more discussion about inclusiveness and parity issues in the philosophy profession!

We are actually glad to see more information come out in the blogosphere here and elsewhere, galvanized by our report, about departments good, bad, and ugly. This is a good outcome for the profession at large. I believe most everyone shares a concern that the information that is circulated is accurate, but as readers of the various sites might note, sources of information are turning out to be diverse. Official department sources are not always forthcoming, to put it mildly, and thus there need to be new spaces for public sharing of information and assessments on how we are doing as a profession, and how particular places are doing, so that students can make the most informed decision possible.

The Pluralist's Guide is now being criticized for too many negative critiques, and also for not enough negative critiques.

But when the dust begins to settle, what will become clear is that there are serious problems in a number of places, and that we need better, more comprehensive sources of information. The Pluralist's Guide is dedicated to trying to collect this information in a responsible and systematic way, so that students do not have to read reams of blog comments in multiple locations. This should be seen as an obvious improvement.

The Pluralist's Guide will update its report every year, post concrete changes on the site that affect the report outcomes, and endeavor to augment and improve its advisory boards and methods as it goes along. Faculty advisors can counsel students to take the Guide as a fallible but useful starting point for their inquiries into where to apply.

I would hope that our reasonable colleagues will allow some time to see how this report will develop. The peremptory demands that the site be taken down with an immediate apology are rather ungenerous, to say the least. Other such initiatives began in small ways before becoming the standards they are now. We have made a long term commitment, and hope that our colleagues will assist in making this effort better as it goes along, rather than trashing and slandering before it is out of the gate. A true commitment to inclusiveness and parity would seem to mandate a patient and constructive response.

The many comments demonstrate one thing very clearly: we need a more reliable and systematic way to gain public access to information about departments on a variety of fronts. The Pluralist's Guide is just such an effort.

regards to all,
Linda Alcoff

Wow

The pluralist guide is not being criticized for its number of critiques, but rather for the obviously crap method they were arrived at.

I completely agree that we need better methods of acquiring such data besides getting via random blogs, and so forth. Unfortunately, the PG in its current incarnation is an even worse source.

Tom Kelly

(Speaking for myself, and not for anyone else at Princeton.)

I am flabbergasted by Linda Alcoff's most recent comment.

Although I certainly stand by everything that I have said in criticism of this report, I realize now that my initial anger at seeing my department the object of an utterly unsubstantiated internet slur left me blind to a point that people like Rebecca Kukla and Mark Lance have been urging since early on: that the real danger here is not that departments that are in fact good for women will be labelled as bad for women, but that departments that are bad--indeed, terrible for women--will be recommended as good. In the light of recent revelations, this is now clear. (Of course, both of these have the same source, the by-now manifest awfulness of the methods employed.)

It is also becoming increasingly clear that nothing could possibly emerge that would lead Professor Alcoff to abandon her insistence that what has been done here is actually a good, worthwhile thing (they just need to work out the bugs a bit!). I add my voice to Rebecca Kukla's in calling for others whose names are associated with this project to speak up.

Matt Smith

I agree with Michaela McSweeney and Rebecca Kukla.

And, as I read it, Professor Alcoff's just expressed response is this:

1. We admit that we made a bunch of unwarranted charges against a variety of departments, and that we might even have labeled some departments as safe when in fact they were predatory.

2. But this started a very useful discussion!

3. So, let's keep those unwarranted (and often false) charges and endorsements up there. (Also: No apologies - you should *thank* us!)

Is this really your line of thinking, Prof. Alcoff?

Also, Tom Kelly is correct to suggest that that it is a non-sequitur for Professor Alcoff to mention that in the future, the Pluralist's Guide will be better. The focus of Michaela McSweeney's and Rebecca Kukla's comments were the currently existing guide, not the future guide.

Professor Alcoff: I believe that we must confront the very serious discrimination that exists in our discipline, but I also believe that we ought to confront it responsibly.

Simply throwing accusations around without really caring about the whether they are well-founded is not a responsible way to address discrimination in our discipline, even if it is an expression of justified anger and frustration at the state of our discipline.

To that end, I support the existence of a guide to the climate for women in departments across the discipline. But, let's make one that uses verifiable data, e.g.:

1. Number of tenured female faculty
2. Number of untenured female faculty
3. Rate of tenure of female faculty vs. rate of tenure for male faculty
4. Number of female graduate students
5. Number of female PhD's in past 10 years
6. Number of female PhD's in past 10 years who have gone on to TT jobs

How about starting with that? Supplement that with a survey of departments' practices that promote inclusivity (e.g., the Rutgers program Ruth Chang told us about over at Leiter).

Concerned Anonymous

Dear Linda,

I have an extremely hard time understanding what value you currently believe that the 'Climate for Women' section of your guide has. There are strong reasons to believe that it contains a large percentage of false positives and false negatives, and hence is a terribly misleading source for any prospective student.

You claim that you will be updating the report every year, but why should anyone believe that will help matters? If serious problems have marred the initial report, why should addional reports conducted in the same way allay anybody's worries?

The guide seems to be worse than a "fallible but useful starting point." Rather, it is a thoroughly flawed and corrupt piece of misinformation. Given what I know, and what I have recently learned, I now have no reason to put any stock in whether a department has been designated as either a good or bad environment for women by the Pluralist's Guide.

Given the manner of response to the criticisms, it's very hard to feel that all of the Guide, including the Climate for Women section, is anything but a cheering section for SPEP-friendly departments. For, it seems that there has been a systematic tendency to see analytic-designated departments as worse than they are, and to see continental-designated departments as better than they are.

While this may have provoked discussion in the profession, making an arbitrary list of allegedly continental and analytic departments selected at random, and calling these departments harmful to women, would have proviked just as much discussion. However, that would be an intellectually vicious way to proceed. Not all ways of provoking discussion are intellectually virtuous. Provocation of discussion is no reason for believing that the PG's methods of determining the Climate for Women section are themselves virtuous rather than vicious.

Gareth

I am absolutely staggered by Professor Alcoff's responses to the criticisms offered of the climate section of the guide.
The criticisms are so obviously cogent and the problems with the section obviously so serious as to merit its removal with an apology, that either we have to question the basic reasoning abilities of its defenders, or their intellectual honesty.
Clearly the people involved are competant philosophers and so I cannot but conclude the latter.
I apologise for the tone of this post, but that philosophers could endorse a guide which, we now know, has the potential to put in harms way the very people it is supposed to protect, and for such dishonest reasons, leaves me in total disbelief.

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa

I'd like to add my voice to what looks to me to be an emerging consensus: the defence of the 'climate for women' section of the report against the extremely serious complaints that have arisen is inadequate to the level of irresponsibility. There are indeed serious gender climate problems in philosophy, and I agree with Linda Alcoff that it is important to shed light on them. Contrary to Professor Alcoff's suggestion, however, it now appears clear that the 'climate for women' report does not contribute to that important goal; instead, it worsens the problem by spreading misinformation. This doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help students find healthy climates. It actively hurts deserving departments that still have poor reputations on the grapevine. It doesn't help to improve departments that have serious problems but feel they've earned the right to pat themselves on the back for making the 'nice' list. And more broadly, it makes it more difficult to have the serious, researched reports we all agree that we need taken seriously. "Oh we don't need to worry too much about that study; we all know these things are very unreliable and mostly based on hearsay."

Low-quality, high-profile information is not the start of the solution; it is a deepening of the problem. I cannot see any reasonable argument that on the whole, it is better to keep the page up than to take it down.

Asking the publishers to take down the climate for women page (not the entire report, just that page) and apologise seems to me extremely reasonable and not at all ungenerous. Frankly, I'm very surprised this isn't already obvious to its authors. Professor Alcoff's latest suggests that at least in her opinion, this option is not being seriously considered; I consider this a great shame. This decision reflects very poorly on the Pluralists' Guide on the whole. I hope that her opinion will change and/or that other responsible parties will appreciate the need to correct this harmful situation.

Shamik Dasgupta

Dear Linda,

I too am flabbergasted by your recent message. Why did you not answer my questions? Or Matt's questions? Or Michaela's questions? They were simple questions of method. If you decide to make public assessments of departments, we deserve to hear your methods.

And the fact that you completely ignored the recent testimony concerning events in one of your "recommended" departments is simply beyond belief.

Like many commentators here, I think that a *well researched* document about the climate for women in philosophy, utilizing the great advice offered by people on this blog and others, would be extremely valuable. I'd be happy to help out on such a project.

But it is clear that your "Climate for Women" page is not well researched. And the damage that your document could potentially cause to someone's life is now, unfortunately, also clear. I *strongly* request that you take it down before it does lasting damage.

The comments to this entry are closed.