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August 14, 2011


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The dishonesty of this latest statement is staggering. Alcoff claims she (or "we" - but I have seen no comments here or elsewhere by the other two editors of the guide) has constructively engaged with criticisms of the climate guide, and that most of the information people have been asking for has been made public (here and on the guide website). This is not true.

A sampling of questions that have not been aswered:

1. What was the survey response rate for each of the ranked departments?
2. How were the raw scores converted into the final rankings?
3. How was the decision to remove the University of Oklahoma from the "needs improvement" list made?

Also, the insinuation that some of the demands for evidence in the case of the PG climate guide are motivated by "a desire to avoid making changes" to improve the climate for women in philosophy, or that the sort of evidence demanded has been such that it could endanger whistleblowers, is nothing short of disgusting.

Sally Haslanger

You may be used to commenting on blogs that accept rude comments, but this blog aims to promote respectful conversation. For this reason, I urge you to (1) disclose who you are, and (2) refrain from using terms such as "disgusting" and accusing Linda of "dishonesty". This mode of response does not promote communication or constructive work on the issues. If you refuse, I will delete your post.

Elizabeth Harman

Dear Linda (and all the members of the Advisory Board for gender and climate issues of the Pluralist’s Guide),

I want to start by saying that I share a basic concern that I believe led to the creation of the climate for women report: I am aware that there are women—talented women—who have left philosophy because they attended philosophy PhD programs that were bad for women. Each of these women, had she attended a different PhD program, would have stayed in philosophy. Our profession is poorer for having lost these women, and it is a serious problem that we should all try to address. In addition, there are other women who have stayed in philosophy but were adversely affected by having attended a PhD program that was bad for women.
My letter is long so I have broken it into 6 sections.

1. Should a report on the climate for women be posted on the web?
As you say above, there is serious disagreement about whether *any* report on the climate for women at philosophy PhD programs is a good idea. As you say, this disagreement comes out of disagreements over epistemological questions: what is the best way to gather climate data, and is there any sufficiently good way to gather it?
My own view, which has developed over the last month, is that there is no sufficiently good way to gather data on the climate for women at graduate programs, and so it is a bad idea for anyone to post on the web a report on the climate for women at philosophy PhD programs. In my view, posting such a report, as the Pluralist’s Guide has done and continues to do, is terribly misleading to undergraduate women (and men too). I believe that an undergraduate woman who sees the site will assume that the serious philosophers who put it together would not have put together something they claim is “reporting” on the climate for women at PhD programs unless their information is sufficiently good to warrant her taking it seriously; and that she will take it seriously. Furthermore, the presence of some prominent philosophers on the Advisory Board lends authority and credibility to the report.
I’d like to hear more from you (and the members of the Advisory Board) about the following question:
(a) Why do you think that the data you have gotten is sufficiently good that it passes the threshold to make it reasonable to post a report on the web (and to say it is “reporting” on the climate for women, which is to claim a kind of authority for it)?
I think this is the central question—or at least a central question—that many people have been trying to ask. I want to emphasize that I am sure you have things to say about this, that I can imagine what some of them are, and that I find some of what I imagine you might say compelling. (Though, as I’ve said, my considered view is that the data the climate report uses is not sufficiently good to justify posting a report.)
In particular, I’d like to see an answer that responds to these further questions:
(b) Why do you think that a report can have sufficiently good information about a school without surveying any of the school’s current students?
(c) Why do you think that a report can have sufficiently good information about the climate for women at philosophy PhD programs when only women who work in feminist philosophy were surveyed but no women who do not work in feminist philosophy were surveyed?
(d) How do you respond to the concern that, as your study is set up, it could be that ten different respondents heard the same story about school X from one woman who had a bad experience, and all give the school X low marks, and your study will treat this as ten negative reports when it simply stems from one person’s bad experience?

2. The role of the Advisory Board
I think it has publicly emerged that the people called the “Advisory Board” for gender and climate issues are not really an advisory board to the creation of the reports, in that they were not consulted on the methodology of the reports (they were not, in some cases, aware of the methodology), nor did they participate in any discussion of the methodology, nor did they sign off on it.
Nevertheless, the people listed on the Advisory Board are allowing their names to be so listed. Any undergraduate who sees the website will see those names and take it that those people endorse the website. (Otherwise, presumably, they would ask to have their names removed.)
I would like to urge all members of the Advisory Board to think carefully about whether you believe a good answer can be given to question (a) as the report currently stands. If not, I think you owe it to undergraduate women to ask that your name be removed from the Advisory Board.

3. What should we do about the fact that some programs are bad for women?
I think there is a lot that we can do about the fact that some philosophy PhD programs are bad for women, even in the face of the fact that it is not a good idea to post a report on which programs are bad for women (because it is too hard to get reliable information about which programs those are).
Here are some things we can do:
-- Have mentorship workshops for women PhD students, along the lines of the mentorship workshop for women junior faculty that recently occurred at UMass Amherst, run by Louise Antony and Ann Cudd. (I believe this came out of the Women in Philosophy Task Force.)
-- Publicize a network of tenured women philosophers available to be mentors and confidants to women PhD students who are facing problems in their PhD programs.
-- Publicize resources for philosophy PhD programs to improve the experiences of their women students.
-- Publicize information about ways that philosophy PhD programs can be bad for women, that may not be noticed by some people. (The blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” has done a real service in bringing some of the problems for women in philosophy out into the open.)
The climate for women report seeks to address the problem that some PhD programs are bad for women by steering women away from the programs it lists as needing improvement. (I don’t know if that is the goal of the report, but it seems to me that that will clearly be the effect of it. Some undergraduate women will see the report and not even apply to the programs it deems to “need improvement”; these programs will lose out on any chance to recruit these women.) The four methods above address the problem by trying to help women at all PhD programs; these methods can be helpful in addressing the problem even if there is no good way to solve the epistemological problem of identifying which programs are bad for women.

4. What is the likely effect of the climate for women report in its current form?
As I’ve already said, I think that undergraduate women who see the report in its current form will take it seriously. It says it is “reporting” on the climate for women. It lists on its Advisory Board such prominent philosophers as Elizabeth Anderson, Louise Antony, Miranda Fricker, and Sally Haslanger.
It’s hard to decide where to apply to graduate school, and it is expensive to do so. If a report tells them that certain schools have particularly bad environments for women, many undergraduate women may choose not to apply to these schools.
So, one likely effect of the report is that fewer women will attend NYU, Princeton, and Rutgers. This seems like a very bad result to me.
At this point I want to say something about where I am coming from, and how it may be a very different place from Linda Alcoff and the other members of the Advisory Board are coming from. What we have in common is a deep concern about the situation of women in philosophy and a commitment to making that situation better. (I dedicated a good amount of time to being a mentor at the UMass mentorship workshop recently, as did some of you.) But I am a contemporary analytic philosopher, and I do not identify as a “feminist philosopher”, although I am a philosopher, I am a feminist, and some of my philosophical work is feminist (I defend a liberal view about the morality of abortion). I am an ethicist but I have enduring interests in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. I spend a good deal of time at conferences and conference sessions in non-ethics subfields.
I see one of the most serious problems confronting the profession of philosophy today as this:
(e) How can we get more women into the non-ethics subfields of contemporary analytic philosophy?
When one is concerned with that question in particular, the idea of reducing the number of women attending NYU, Princeton, and Rutgers sounds like a huge step backwards.
(I want to emphasize that if there are problems for women in these programs, my view is not that the profession should not do anything about it! See section 3 above. Also, if there are problems for women in these programs, the programs ought to address them, of course.)
My concern is that many of you may not be particularly interested in question (e). If you are not, you may not care about the bad effects of the climate report for the project of question (e).
My questions for you are: Do you agree that (e) is an urgent question? Do you agree that the climate for women report will have bad results for (e)? Do you take that to be a reason against publishing the climate for women report? (As I’ve emphasized, there is a lot that can be done to improve the situation of women in philosophy besides publishing such a report.) In particular, given the high stakes, don’t you think we should require that the evidence be very reliable before publishing a report that can have these results?

5. Is there a version of the climate for women report that would be less objectionable to its critics?
I began by saying that I think the dispute over the climate for women report is a dispute about
(a) Why do you think that the data you have gotten is sufficiently good that it passes the threshold to make it reasonable to post a report on the web (and to say it is “reporting” on the climate for women, which is to claim a kind of authority for it)?
I think this dispute is important because any posted report will inevitably be taken seriously by some people.
A number of people have suggested changes to the report that would address some of the concerns that have been raised. Linda, I’d like to hear from you whether you will make any of the following changes, and if not, why not? I deeply appreciate you posting the disclaimer I suggested (on the earlier blog thread on this blog). I think these suggestions (most of which were made by others and I am merely repeating them) are in the same spirit.
(i) rename the report: “Report of the Opinions of some Feminist Philosophers on the Climate for Women at some PhD Programs”
(ii) publish more of the data received, and more information about how the surveys were turned into rankings of “strongly recommended” and “needs improvement”
(iii) if not doing (i), then state explicitly at the top of the climate for women report page: “This report is the result of surveying the Advisory Board for feminist philosophy and gender issues, and no one else.”
(iv) move the link to the letter from the Rutgers students so that it appears immediately under the list of “needs improvement” schools. (As things stand now, one has to scroll down to see that link, and many readers might miss it.)
(v) remove Anita Allen’s name from the Advisory Board, in light of this:
(vi) explain how the University of Oklahoma went from being listed under “needs improvement” to not being so listed

6. Regarding your dismissal of the demand for “evidence”
You say “in my experience, a search for evidence can be motivated by a desire to establish that there is one isolated bad apple, or that the charges are bogus for one reason or another, or to find out who was the whistleblower so that that person can be harassed. In other words, it can be motivated by a desire to avoid making changes. So it is very important to do any evidence gathering in a way that will not end up adversely affecting whistleblowers. Perhaps the best thing for departments to do would be to forego the evidence gathering and develop some pro-active actions. What these might be may include changing hiring priorities, addressing gender and pluralism issues in pro-seminars, having some recent work in social psychology made available to the whole department in some effective way (Claude Steele’s research is great), and so on.”
I take it that what you are saying here is that NYU, Princeton, and Rutgers, rather than demanding evidence, should simply work to make their departments climates better for women. Are you assuming that the members of those departments believe that your data was good enough that they now have _information_ that their departments’ climates are bad for women? That is not the case: many people, at these institutions and elsewhere, are in serious doubt as to the evidentiary value of the report. More importantly, the people calling for “evidence” are not solely (nor even largely) at these schools. Rather, as I understand it, they are people concerned to answer question (a). They believe—absolutely correctly—that the answers to the following questions are _highly relevant_ to question (a):
(i) how many negative reports were sufficient to merit a “needs improvement” rating?
(ii) how many positive reports were sufficient to merit a positive rating?
(iii) how many negative reports were tolerated for a school to still get a positive rating?
(iv) for schools that got a negative rating, were the answers to the multiple-choice questions sufficient for the negative ratings, or were negative stories told in narrative answers also required? was it verified that the negative reports were not all stemming from stories from more than five years ago? was it verified that the negative reports about a particular school were not all stemming from a single story that was well-known among the respondents?
However, some people think the answers to (i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) are not that important in addressing (a), because no matter how you answer them, given the small number of people you surveyed, your data is inadequate. Nevertheless, even if we believe (as I do believe) that no satisfactory answer to (a) can be given, some of us are still interested in just how bad the data is. And we would like to know the answers to (i) through (iv).
It’s unclear to me (genuinely unclear!) why you won’t answer these questions. So I would like to know: why won’t you? Answering these questions would not endanger anyone’s anonymity.

I know that this letter is long. I appreciate your reading it, taking it seriously, and answering my questions.


Elizabeth Harman


Dear Professor Harman,

One thing I have been wondering is this: will a bad report on the web really lower the number of apps from women at such prestigious schools? I was warned about certain schools when I applied to graduate programs. I applied to them anyway--even to schools where I had heard from several people that there was a history of problems. I thought that, if I got in, I would go see for myself (it seems to me that many/most? women drawn strongly enough to philosophy to apply to PhD programs would have this kind of attitude).

Still, removing the climate survey results from the web is not the only way to ensure that women continue to apply to and attend Rutgers, NYU, and Princeton. In fact, it is probably not the best way, since everyone is going to remember they were there at one point. Removing them could even make things worse, since now there is no central place for dialogue/response, but just various stuff on the web and people's memories. Instead it seems to me that the *best* way to make sure women continue to apply to and attend the three mentioned programs is for faculty in those programs to take pro-active measures to ensure that the climate is friendly in their departments and then to publicize those measures. Rutgers has already done so and the Pluralist guide has printed the letter attesting to measures on the climate page. What better way to publicize to women than to say, yes, we had problems and here is what we're doing to make things better? In fact, I might trust a program that had (or was seen to have) problems and then took active and sustained measures to make sure the climate was good for women *more* than one that had never had problems (maybe the latter program was just lucky, how would they handle things if something went awry?).

I also wanted to add a thought on 4e. As an epistemologist (and an analytically trained epistemologist), I would think Prof Alcoff is very concerned about encouraging more women into the the non-ethics subfields of analytic philosophy. Even though this issue is separate from climate, I do think it is related: might a person be encouraged and taken seriously writing on issues of M&E with regard to sex, race, LGBT persons, and/or disability at these three top rated M&E programs? (For metaphysics, see S. Haslanger's work; for epistemology, see L. Alcoff.) I actually don't know the answer to this question--but if there have been dissertations in these areas of analytic M&E completed with full support at these programs, this too could be publicized and would signal to people from underrepresented groups (no matter what their interest in philosophy) that here is a program that takes such issues seriously.


anonymous grad

Professor Alcoff -

Disagreeing with you and the Climate survey is not the same thing as attacking feminism or the goal of increasing diversity in the philosophical community.

Well meaning people - people with ideals and goals you might recognize as quite similar to your own - have had strong negative reactions to the Climate survey.

Your responses almost never directly answer the very simple questions posed about methodology, and equally rarely take up the questions associated with particular rankings you published. There is a curious disconnect between what you are saying and what others are asking. We understand that the issues are complicated and that power dynamics cannot be reduced in a scientistic manner to numbers here, numbers there.

But, we also understand that there are concrete steps that you and others took to list certain departments are bad, others good, and to adjust those listings in the past month. Surely these steps - which have been queried over and over - deserve to be revealed.

But, your responses to these requests and requests like them suggest that you do not think that people's questions are well-informed. One might even infer that you think that these people are victims of false consciousness, and might even be unintentionally waging a conservative struggle *against* your goal of promoting a better, more just environment in our discipline.

Why think that, though? Isn't it possible that Liz Harman, for example, is as committed as you are to, and as able to appreciate the associated complications of striving for, many of the goals you have articulated? Surely her questions merit a proper response!

Isn't it possible that the Rutgers grad students who published the letter in response to your rankings care as much as you do about the future of women in philosophy? Isn't it possible that they are not completely in the dark about at least some of the complications women face in understanding and confronting sexism? Surely, they deserve straightforward answers from you, not lectures about the importance of anonymity and their lack of familiarity with the informal networks of feminist faculty who are the source of much of your information.

Many women who are just out of graduate school or are only early in their careers have publicly expressed their support for a more diverse and fairer workplace but have also raised measured criticisms about your report. Surely these are women with whom you can make common cause, not women you want to alienate?

Does their negative reaction to both your Climate Survey and your responses to criticism even begin to give you pause?

Phyllis Rooney

I would like to take up a particular concern that Linda touches on in her thoughtful update on climate issues and discussions. It concerns the way in which these discussions often play out—and especially on blogs other than this one and FP. I’m not just referring to the hostile and vitriolic tone that some take in the discussions and this is a real problem. My concern here is with the persisting calls for “more data” when climate concerns are discussed. In particular, I worry about the way in which such calls may deflect attention from the concern at issue (as Linda notes), and also with the way they cany operate as stalling moves—the idea being that we don’t have enough data or evidence to take concrete action on these issues. In some cases, calls for more data may be appropriate. (I think that some of the concerns with data and methodologies raised in connection with the Pluralist Guide are very constructive, and it seems clear to me that they are being addressed as such by the authors of the guide.) But in other cases such calls fit into a problematic pattern.

My concern arises from earlier blog discussions about explanations for the low numbers of women in philosophy—there have been quite a number of them over the past few years. Several possible explanations for the low numbers have been put discussed—the sexist canon and the prevalence of combative, adversarial argumentation, among them. Yet as discussions of these possible explanations progress, a skeptical stance regularly takes hold, typically including a call for more data, since “we” don’t really know that these factors discourage women in philosophy. But some of us do know, since we have experienced first-hand these factors as discouraging and we have talked with other women who voice similar discouragements. (Clearly not all women experience these discouragements in the same way or to the same extent.) We have enough understanding to take concrete steps to lessen the impact of these factors—modifying syllabi or attending to tone of argumentation in classes and seminars, for example. So why do our experiences and evidence not count? In some situations I am troubled when male philosophers (who presumably have not experienced first-hand gender climate issues in the way that women have) issue calls for more evidence, especially when such calls indicate an unwillingness or an inability to extend a basic level of epistemic trust or credibility to women in the profession. In addition, these calls typically shift the burden of proof back to women, and they prolong the disciplinary resistance and inaction that keeps philosophy (still1) some decades behind most other disciplines that have made significant advances in addressing climate concerns.
Phyllis Rooney

anonymous grad

Phyllis -

Your points are important. But, I fear that they are not germane to the discussion.

In this instance, the calls for more data were issued in response to a widely-publicized report that accused some departments of being sexist and others of being excellent.

Let me be clear: the Climate Survey made accusations that took on very specific departments. E.g., it accused Rutgers of something quite serious: institutionalized, protected sexism. Surely, you can understand the call for data supporting the accusation!

I cannot believe that you think all accusations of sexism are protected from requests for evidence. Surely we can, all at once, acknowledge sexism, acknowledge the need to struggle against it, and seek firm ground from which to make very specific accusations.

Finally, if you look back at the blog posts, you will see a fair bit of this:

1. People accepting with the need for a proper climate survey.

2. People suggesting methodologies to develop a proper survey

3. People asking Linda Alcoff to adopt those methodologies, or similar methodologies, because they seem fairer.

4. Some people - Rebecca Kukla, e.g., - rejecting the need for scientistic surveys and instead arguing for a broader political response.

This is not exactly a case of silencing. Of course, the call for more data might be *experienced* by Alcoff and others as an attempt at silencing, But, what about when that call came from the very women Alcoff claims to support? What about when that call came from men in support of Alcoff's goals? Isn't it possible that the feeling of being silenced is unwarranted in these cases? Isn't it possible that a critical take on oneself is sometimes helpful in the struggle for justice? Can't that honesty win supporters and broader the fight for justice?

Phyllis Rooney

Anonymous Grad:
I thought I was careful in my post to make it clear that I think there are times when calls for additional evidence are appropriate and constructive, and I indicated that I think some such calls in the case of the Pluralist Guide were appropriate in that way. I then drew attention to "other cases" where such calls may may be less so, and I was very careful to shift attention to other/earlier blog discussions that that I think exhibited problematic patterns. I'm disappointed that this difference and shift did not come across clearly. I'm especially dismayed when you write, "I cannot believe that you think all accusations of sexism are protected from requests for evidence." I made no such claim, and I do not think that anything I wrote is anywhere near such a blanket claim.


Much like the open letter from the Oregon professors, this post seems to expend a great deal of energy in talking around the actual points of concern.

You published a ranking survey that effectively accused three of the top ranked programs of institutionalized sexism; and at the same time lauded a very specific subgroup of institutions that you yourself are associated with. Even without the ghastly stories coming from Oregon, or the methodological problems that seem to underlie the survey itself, did you really think people would take such accusations (and self-flattering praise) in stride and not question your motives?

Frankly I'm not surprised that the only real response you and others associated with this survey can seem to muster is accusing your critics of sexism or anti-feminist bias. It's the only response you have left short of releasing the actual details of how the survey was conducted.

Either way, it's unbecoming to question our motives while feigning umbrage at our questioning yours.

Another Anonymous Grad

Anonymous Grad,

I think you are missing something important in the legitimate concerns that Phyllis raised above. You write, “…it accused Rutgers of something quite serious: institutionalized, protected sexism. Surely, you can understand the call for data supporting the accusation!”.

Your exclamatory comment raises a question, what kind of “data” would exist as a record of truly institutionalized, protected sexism? Would we look at numbers of faculty censured for sexual harassment? The amount of official complaints filed? Or, maybe how many faculty members were fired over sexist practices? Etc..

The problem is that if sexism is thoroughly institutionalized and protected (your description) than such actions would be precisely what would not be taking place in response to sexist acts. If such institutionalized and protected sexism exists in a department, then those who suffer such sexism will be discouraged from seeking remedy, threatened over speaking out, shown a deaf ear when they voice concerns about what they experienced, told to “not rock the boat” or “keep ones head down and not start something that could hurt one’s career, or blowback on the departments reputation,” or whatever. Or, they might come up against evidentiary standards that could not be realistically met without “wearing a wire” that captured the offending faculty member in HD audio. The point is that institutional and protected sexism covers its evidentiary trail by denying the very means of institutional recourse that would provide recognition of and ultimately data concerning the problem—that’s what makes it institutional and protected.

Notice, this only applies to thoroughly institutionalized and protected forms of sexism. If an institution does not protect sexism, then, yes, data will exist. But, insofar as we have good—read: reliable and accurate--data from the institution, it is not one of the problematic institutions (or departments) protecting sexism that we are concerned with.

So, what kind of evidence are we left with to deal with such institutionalized and protected sexism? It’s not data at all. It is testimony—the direct, first person accounts of those who experience the protected sexism (or racism). The problems here are obvious: we can collect first person testimony and publish aggregate analysis of the testimony or publish them as a collection of anecdotes. But, who amongst “the accused” (and those who want to protect them) will believe the analysis or anecdotes without, yes, specific evidence supporting the given testimony. What proof could anyone give to satisfy those calling for “evidence” at this point? Official reports from the institution in question documenting the event? Except those don’t exist for the hypothetical institutions/departments in question. Detailed accounts of the experienced harassment, including names and places of wrongdoing? But, that would just make the “slander” more direct—now specific faculty instead of departments. The problem only gets resolved—seemingly--when the “accuser” is willing to no longer be anonymous (like us commenting on this blog), reveal her self and lend some “authenticity” to the accusation. But, the name of the plaintiff becoming public would do nothing against charges of their being no evidence of the claim being made. Hence, Phyllis’s claim which is most important:

“In some situations I am troubled when male philosophers (who presumably have not experienced first-hand gender climate issues in the way that women have) issue calls for more evidence, especially when such calls indicate an unwillingness or an inability to extend a basic level of epistemic trust or credibility to women in the profession. In addition, these calls typically shift the burden of proof back to women”

In light of the response to the climate for women survey of the PG, what woman in the field would ever be willing to offer themselves as the public face of institutionalized and protected sexism at a department?
Hypothetically, if a woman who graduated from one of those programs (or is a current student) made a public declaration of the harassment she experienced there, would that push the discussion further in anyway? Or would she be met with the same skepticism as the PG climate survey? I.e., why should our hypothetical witness ever expect to be accorded the epistemic trust that Phyllis points to?

---Another Anonymous Grad

Mike Otsuka

I agree with Linda Alcoff and Phyllis Rooney that the attitude that we need ‘more evidence’, because what we have is insufficient to establish that there is a problem, can be a way of trying to downplay or cover up serious problems regarding the treatment of women.

Take, for example, this statement by some of the members of the Oregon Philosophy Department: “After a thorough review of the allegations [of serial sexual harassment by a member of their faculty], including interviews with two dozen students, some faculty members, and alumni, our administration concluded that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there were policy violations as alleged.”

Surely Alcoff and the board that advises her can’t agree with the Oregon administration that they need ‘more evidence’ before they can take action, where here the action in question is the withdrawal of their strong recommendation of Oregon as a place where the climate for women is good. The standard of evidence sufficient to withhold such commendation falls well short of the often frustratingly high standards of proof that it takes to discipline a member of a university faculty for sexually harassing students, even when what is going on is clear to various people who know the victims and the victimizer.

We are all now familiar with the complaints from numerous graduate students that have come to light that at least one member of the Oregon faculty had pressured them to keep quiet about allegations of sexual harassment (which many of them apparently believed to be well-founded) so as not to jeopardize their SWIP Women-Friendly Department Recognition award, of all things. It was, apparently, the failure to disclose these allegations and their investigation that has led the SWIP to revoke its Women-Friendly Department Recognition that it had recently extended to that department.

Whether or not the sexual harassment alleged actually took place, the complaints of several graduate students that they were so-pressured to keep quiet about such allegations should be sufficient to prompt the Pluralist Guide’s Advisory Board to withdraw their commendation. What more evidence do they need in order to conclude that a strong recommendation is no longer warranted?

University administrators have their reasons, largely to do with concerns about reputational damage, for insisting that their employees keep hush, hush about allegations of serious misconduct of various sorts. It’s disappointing that members of the Oregon philosophy department, including some feminists (but, it has been noted, not all of the feminists in the department), have themselves issued a statement that manages to gloss over serious allegations of sexual harassment in a manner that is as evasive, self-serving, and unpersuasive as any other piece of corporate public relations spin.

It’s even more disappointing that the Pluralist Advisory board still stands by its commendation. I wish it would now follow the admirable and principled lead of the SWIP.

anon grad

another anonymous grad -

let me get this straight.

i say:

if you publicly accuse a department of something terrible, you should not be surprised when people ask you to justify the accusation. in particular, you should not be surprised when people ask you to produce evidence that supports that accusation.

you say:

gotcha! when things are really bad - when the sexism is really protected and institutionalized - evidence that can be publicized is impossible to come by or just wrong to publicize (since such publication will just lead to more suffering of the person who has already been subjected to awful treatment). so, just accept all accusations as legitimate, no matter where they come from.

that is really your view? or are you distorting what i am saying - the point about institutionalized and protected sexism - so that you can score rhetorical points? my guess is that it is the latter.

Linda Alcoff and the Climate survey announced to the world that the Rutgers department was shameful in its treatment of women. the female graduate students at Rutgers responded with a great deal of anger. why? someone not from their community was telling them what their experiences are like.

it takes some nerve for the outsider to tell people that their understanding of their own lives is all wrong. talk about an "unwillingness or an inability to extend a basic level of epistemic trust or credibility to women in the profession."

You might say, "Trust Alcoff! She has a good reputation!"

Fair enough. I am sure that those who know her well do trust her. But, regardless of the high quality of her philosophical work, most in the profession do not know her personally, and until recently no one know her work as a surveyor of the climate for women in philosophy. So, all we have to go on is the report that landed in our laps one summer day. But, given the errors in her report, and the way she suddenly moved one department from one column to another, we seem to have reason to *doubt* her, not to trust her.

I hope - I sincerely hope - that other women in the field are not looking to Alcoff, her survey and the response to it as the experience of women in the field writ large. It is possible - it really is possible - that Alcoff went about this in a wrongheaded manner. It is possible - it really is possible - that a more careful attempt to address these issues would have resulted in more solidarity anda more effective response to sexism than we are now seeing.

But, no, god forbid we ever admit errors in our own struggles! God forbid we ever revise in an effort to broaden outside the cloistered academic left! Let's hope that, if anything, this affair has taught us all a lesson about what to avoid and how to broaden the struggle against sexism.

Young Philosopher

Another Anonymous Grad states:

"The point is that institutional and protected sexism covers its evidentiary trail by denying the very means of institutional recourse that would provide recognition of and ultimately data concerning the problem—that’s what makes it institutional and protected."

But if this is the operating assumption, then I would like to hear what "indications" the advisory board relied upon to label some departments as "strongly recommended," and some departments as "needing improvement," while all of the other departments were not labeled one way or the other. Absent concrete explanations concerning what evidence was taken to be indicative for positive, negative, and neutral evaluations, many well-intentioned and open-minded people quite understandably view the "guide" with suspicion--especially given that the three departments in the entire English speaking world called out for needing improvement happen to be the top PGR programs while most of the departments listed as strongly recommended are SPEP-oriented programs that have historically viewed themselves as marginalized by the PGR and analytic philosophy more generally.

Given that the board decided to reverse judgment when it came to Oklahoma (but nevertheless refrained from promoting their department to the "strongly recommended" category) but curiously decided not to reverse judgment about Oregon (which minmally seems to merit being not mentioned one way or the other rather than strongly recommended), the entire process appears so opaque as to render it suspect. That pointing out that this is a curious and sub-optimal state of affairs and requesting more information and transparency opens one up to being charged with trying to resist making philosophy more hospitable to women is uncharitable, unfair, and counter-productive. The simple fact is, the verdict for the overwhelming majority of people who have participated in this debate is that the methodologies that went into constructing the guide, however well-intentioned, were not transparent enough to make it useful or reliable.

Calling the motives of the litany of critics--many of whom have behaved very charitably, reasonably, and even-handedly--into question is both unnecessary and inadequate. Instead of continuing to rehash the same insufficient arguments and responses, I think it is high time for Professor Alcoff and the rest of the members of the Advisory Board to either respond to the substantive worries that have been raised or apologize for a well-intentioned but entirely flawed and possibly counter-productive guide to the climate concerning the climate for women in philosophy. That this hasn't already been done is both surprising and disappointing--especially given the serious problems and issues that have been raised.


Below are some questions that were already been asked in previous threads, but were not answered. Some of these questions have been asked repeatedly (in various guises.) Let's stipulate 2nd person plural 'you' for the following. Obviously, all of these questions are about the climate for women section of the pluralist's guide:

1) What, exactly, led to the removal of the University of Oklahoma from the 'needs improvement' list?

2) Why don't you make the raw data from the survey public?

3) Why don't you make public the decision procedure that was used to categorize departments based on the collected data?

The answers to these questions are not unimportant. In fact failure to make an effort to anonymize and release the raw survey data is sufficient reason to think that the climate for women section of your survey is irresponsible at best. Are pluralist's guide readers just supposed to take your word for it? Are maligned departments (some of which have already been established to be slandered by the pluralist's guide) just supposed to take your word for it? Accusations of misconduct should be accompanied with evidence -- I'm sure you'll agree. So far no evidence has been provided to the target audience of the pluralist's guide.

Of course there is the further problem that, even with the raw data's release (and I reiterate, this needs to happen, if only out of concern for ethical principle at this point) nothing that we evidence-examiners would find could possibly justify the climate for women list. As was already mentioned previously on this blog, the little that is already known about the pluralist's guide's methodology is enough to discredit its results, and thus to discredit the basis of the climate for women rankings, and thus to undermine your evidential and ethical grounds for publicly maligning various departments. That's a serious problem; one that should be taken very seriously by any individual who wishes not to be doing very naughty things. It is also a problem that can be readily seen to obtain in this situation by any not-overly-biased person who had even rudimentary knowledge of statistics or survey methodology. To reiterate the relevant considerations:

As was said earlier (and of course not responded to:) "the chairs of the relevant departments were not contacted directly for information about gender equality efforts, [...] the data is largely based on here-say[sic] collected by 45 people listed elsewhere in your website, [...] there were few explicit criteria for turning evaluator responses into lists" and, perhaps most damningly, graduate students at the relevant departments were not systematically surveyed.

The results were based on whatever 45 people with no special expertise on these departments (and whose fact-finding methods (were they to choose to engage in them at all) were left up to their own discretion) had to say about (whichever and however many) departments they cared to opine and/or report their impressions and/or report their (unverified) findings about.

Why do you (Linda) say "The peremptory demands that the site be taken down with an immediate apology are rather ungenerous, to say the least"? Given the faulty nature of the methodology underlying the climate for women section of the pluralist's guide, it is ethically obligatory that it be taken down. Its naughty to malign people and their institutions without evidence.

Yet another anonymous grad student

So far I have remained on the sidelines on this matter, mainly because I prefer not to comment anonymously but, being a job-seeker, I would have to do so for prudential reasons. However, this discussion is becoming so infuriating by now that I cannot not speak.

Here's all you need to know about me: I am currently a graduate student in a department not named in either column of the "climate" report, but I used to be a graduate student in one of the ones listed as "Strongly Recommended". I will have nothing to say about that department -- I don't know how its climate for women compares with the others included in either list (and, I'm pretty sure by now, neither do the authors of the PG "climate" study). Also, I am not female.

Dozens, perhaps by now hundreds, of comments on at least five different blogs (this one, Feminist Philosophers, New APPS, Leiter, Philosophy Smoker) have asked some very serious questions about the methodology of the study, and neither Linda Alcoff nor anyone else speaking for the study has replied to any of them. These are the questions I have in mind:

1) How were the raw data converted into the two lists that appear on the "climate" page?

2) What was the response rate for each of the departments?

3) How was the decision made to remove Oklahoma from the "needs improvement" list?

4) Why was Rutgers not removed from that list after evidence that suggests it has a quite good climate for women was made public?

5) Why has Oregon not been removed from the "Strongly Recommended" list (even though SWIP-UK has withdrawn Oregon's "Women-Friendly" award, for reasons that have been made public all over the web)?

These are very simple, straightforward questions, and they have been repeatedly asked on the blogs named above. Why has no one speaking for the PG answered these questions?

I was willing to give the PG "climate" study the benefit of doubt for some time, but Linda Alcoff's latest statement, which again does not answer any of these questions -- and instead implicitly questions the motives of those who ask them* -- has pushed me from fence-sitter to opponent. Since the authors of the study are unwilling to defend it, I conclude that it is indefensible and should be taken down.

* If the point is not to call the motives of the critics into question, then why is this claim included in the statement: "a search for evidence can be motivated ... a desire to avoid making change"?

Ram Adrian

I'm very happy that this initiative is being treated by the Gender, Race and Philosophy blog. I'm an undergraduate student at McGill University and, perhaps, I don't have nearly enough experience to make a comment on this issue, but one resource that I was very happy to read concerning the status of women and minorities in philosophy was Professor Haslanger's paper, which was published in Hypatia (Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy). Are there other papers or resources of a similar nature for undergraduates to probe?

Given that one concern has been the supposedly negative effects that the "climate for women" section may have for prospective graduate students, bringing to light past efforts to treat these issues may be an important political and academic strategy. Maybe one way of constructively dealing with the poor treatment of minorities and women for undergraduate students contemplating the prospect of graduate school, then, would be to compile these resources.

I apologize if my suggestions may not have been helpful or pertinent, seeing as I'm less concerned with reviewing the SPEP guide than I am with thinking about looking for ways to help current undergraduate students who think that considerations of gender, sexuality and race may play an important role in whether or not they should pursue graduate school.


Tell me. Why is diversity a good thing? Why is pluralism good?

This all seems to be nothing more than navel gazing.

Another Anonymous Grad

Anonymous Grad,

(1) I'm not sure why it's rhetorical or merely scoring points to draw out the implications of the difficulties of actually gathering evidence of truly systematic, institutionalized sexism. (Side note: Who am I scoring points with? Considering that Alcoff represents a minority point of view—in more than one sense—I’m not sure what I gain from posting anonymously and making claims that show skepticism toward some—not all—of the critique of her guide. Scoring points would actually be to post under my real name and take the side of the vocal majority.)

(2) Trying to draw out implications of institutionalized sexism and the difficulties of evidence gathering generally is not a defense of the methodologies of the PG's climate survey in particular. It is rather to point to common feature of discourses surrounding sexism, sexual harassment, and worse sexual violence. The discursive pattern is undeniable (see, e.g., in the case of sexual violence: http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates ; or, a more anecdotal glimpse of the same pattern: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/apr/30/rape-justice-after-20-years ).

Pointing this out is not to impugn the motives of those critical of the report (who seem overly concerned about their motives being attacked for some reason), but rather to suggest that those making the calls for "more method" and "more evidence" really need to be more self-aware of the critique they level. E.g., at what point would the calls for more clarity on the method used, or for a "better" method, or for "more evidence" be satisfied? That's an honest question. The PG does offer this on their method: http://pluralistsguide.org/about/methodology with a link on that page to questions asked.

So, given their general comment on method, let's do a thought experiment then, methodological critics: let's imagine that the PG report clarifies more details of their method, what set of procedures would be worthy of the epistemic trust such that you would acknowledge the veracity of the conclusions (and still keeping anonymous the evaluation of individual evaluators)?

(3) Would any level of methodological rigor satisfy those wanting more method and evidence? For some, sure—there are no doubt many “genuine” critics of the climate survey who ultimately want to see a more accurate one emerge in its place. But, it is hard to deny that some of the criticism comes from people who will never accord the climate review such trust. My reasons:

(a) Quite clearly, many critics have in fact called the intentions of Alcoff and those behind the report into question and questioned the legitimacy of the project altogether: http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/07/further-thoughts-on-the-climate-for-women-survey.html#comments . The comment, from one “Brian” (no last name) explicitly states that the project has no value and was only intended as means to slander PGR programs.

(b) Some might say that the divide of the climate results, that SPEP (non-PGR) programs are safe from critique and that only PGR programs are the object of critique is evidence of such political intent. But, is it necessarily? Might those behind the survey have good intentions, but the group of advisors created an unintended bias against and in favor of certain programs? (I.e., you survey a bunch of SPEP people and of course they will say, yea our program is good for women and I have heard some nasty stories about those departments over there.) I’m not sure why we have to assume bad intentions instead of methodological flaw, i.e., sample bias (mind you, something that non-PGR folks say about the PGR all the time). Also, given all that Alcoff has done for women and minorities in the field, I’m not sure why we assume, from the start, that she is a deceitful liar out to score political points, instead of someone whose first attempt is methodological imperfect.

(c) So, yes, there is honest critique of the report. But, there is also an undeniable, vocal backlash led by people who (a) are primarily concerned with it not as being methodologically flawed, but a critique on certain departments and (b) the ranking system that celebrates those departments (rightly or wrongly). Hence, my skepticism that certain people, who critique this survey, will ever be satisfied (not listing you as one of them—we just met, so who am I to judge?), no matter how public its methodologies become, no matter how rigorous its methods. When people are referring to Alcoff and the “gang of idiots” (http://philosophysmoker.blogspot.com/2011/08/worth-repeating-pluralists-guide.html )it seems to support the idea that many are concerned with who is putting out the report, than the means by which it is carried out. I.e., this group of evaluators will never be accorded any epistemic trust by certain vocal members of the field. If they make methods public and rigorous, the survey results will be called doctored-up lies, if an ally department becomes an object of critique.

(4) How come no one here gives credit to Alcoff and the report for posting the dissenting testimony of the Rutgers students? Instead of saying: wow, that’s big of them, their report—methodologically flawed as it might be—concluded that Rutgers might have some concerning issues with their department, but they still were willing to give voice to those who disagree; critics claim: ranking Rutgers the way they did was completely wrong, they must have no legitimate concerns at all about Rutgers, the whole thing is a sham! I think it is great that Alcoff was willing to post the dissenting testimony of the Rutgers students. (Does BL post dissents to the PGR directly on his website?) It shows that they are willing to not be dogmatic with their report and shows that, going forward, they do actually intend to improve on it.

(5) Why are we still waiting for an open letter from NYU and Princeton students if the report is completely wrong?

Mysterious Grad Student

There is an odd asymmetry between critics of the climate guide and its defenders (though, since very little substantive defending is going on, it might be better to call such individuals "critics of the guide's critics"). Some of this can be seen in the dispute between Anonymous Grad and Another Anonymous Grad, though it seems to be going on to some degree whenever this discussion crops up.

The critics of the guide say something like this: "We have some critiques and some concerns that the guide is harmful. Please answer these critiques and concerns. Why haven't you answered our critiques and concerns?"

The critics of the critics say something like this: "While there may have been some legitimate concerns raised, there are [some/many/a-few/one-named-Brian-Leiter] critics of the guide that are being mean and vitriolic and assuming bad intentions on the part of the guide's creators, etc..."

The critics then reply: "Yeah, we're sorry about those few/many/some/Brian. However, while some sub-portion of the guide's critics have said mean things, 100% of the guide's defenders have ignored our original critiques! We know that some of these critiques and concerns that the guide may be harmful were expressed in unkind ways. However, the percentage of critiques (and concerns about harm) that are NOT mean is above 0%. The percentage of the guide's defenders who have offered ANY answer to our questions/critiques/concerns is 0%"

I understand that we should be nice and assume good faith. Some (but not all) of the critics of the guide are doing that.

We should also give serious answers to legitimate critiques and concerns when they are politely raised to use over and over and over again. NONE of the defenders of the guide have done that.

anon grad student #n

Phyllis Rooney writes:
"I am troubled when male philosophers (who presumably have not experienced first-hand gender climate issues in the way that women have) issue calls for more evidence, especially when such calls indicate an unwillingness or an inability to extend a basic level of epistemic trust or credibility to women in the profession."

And when female philosophers issue more calls for evidence? Rebecca Kukla and Elizabeth Harman both express a desire for more transparency. I quote Professor Kukla here:

"It seems to me that there are lots of reasons to be deeply suspicious of the area rankings here. Since there are no faculty lists published, one can't judge how accurate the starting data was, and there are reasons to suspect that some of the information used is not very current. For example, the advisory board contains dead people, and some of the rankings are only comprehensible if you assume that out of date information about who is in a department and available to supervise students was used. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to check for this type of source of error."

It is disparaging to them and unprofessional to discount a criticism by implying that it has only come from men.

How can we believe in your good faith in supporting the cause of women in philosophy when you ignore and disparage those women who don't toe your party line?

How do we know that it wasn't this sort of biased standard that placed NYU, Princeton, and Rutgers on the Needs Improvement list, or got Oklahoma off of it?

anon grad

wow. methinks another anonymous grad doth protest a bit too much.

try THIS thought experiment. imagine that these are sincere statements:

i believe we should struggle for gender equality throughout society. as a young member of the academy, i feel i have an obligation to struggle in the academy for equality. i believe that gender inequality and sexual harassment exists in the academy and in our discipline. i believe we should do something about it and i believe we should be aggressive.

i also believe that accusing people of sexual harassment is a serious thing, and i believe that just because someone is responding to an injustice, they are not thereby permitted to become vigilantes.

now, go re-read my posts.

when did alcoff and the people behind that climate survey become the paragons of justice, such that their methods are unimpeachable? why is it that people who want change, but who are not in of alcoff's orbit, cannot question alcoff's methods?

once again i ask: isn't it possible that good hearted people like Alcoff can make honest mistakes?

Yet another anonymous grad (again)

I should add to my earlier comment that I have remained silent in part because I find it difficult to participate in a dialogue that doesn't exist. The critics of the climate guide/report/whatever are offering serious and constructive criticisms. (The best constructive suggestion so far seems to me to be this: take it down. Very easy to implement.) The defenders of the climate whatever respond by ignoring the criticisms and saying that some critics have been rude/male/named Brian Leiter/have assumed bad intentions/whatever. The critics respond by repeating the criticisms. The defenders respond by continuing to ignore the criticisms *and* attributing bad intentions to the critics (I'm no ethicist, but I thought that the commonsense principle of "two wrongs don't make a right" was pretty widely accepted). At this point, what more can the critics do besides continue to repeat the same criticisms? This is why I simply repeated some of them in my first blog comment.

Forget about the details of the criticisms for a moment. They (or the ones I care about, anyway) all come down to a demand for some basic transparency. Someone is making some very serious allegations against some of the top departments in the US, while praising a list of generally less distinguished North American departments. Some departments are removed from one list for unknown reasons while other removals that might be justified are not made. The accusations appear on the PG website. Who is making the accusations? Evidently not the advisory board, as we have know that at least one person is listed there simply because she did not reply to an email announcing that she would be listed. Who is making the decisions to remove or retain departments on the lists? How? For all that's been said, it may be that one person is making these decisions based on some cursory reading of some fairly random scattering of survey responses from people who have no relevant expertise (in particular, have never been in the department whose "climate" they are evaluating), plus word-of-mouth about how, e.g., Oklahoma has gotten better but some other departments have not, plus idiosyncratic prejudices. I hope this is not the case, but the defenders of the climate whatever have said nothing that would rule out this possibility. So this is the situation we're in, essentially: the critics keep asking whoever produced the PG to rule out the above unflattering hypothesis about how the study was produced, and no response is forthcoming. Except, of course, that our motives are questioned.

And the rudeness issue -- is it really rude, say, to call something intellectually dishonest when it *is* intellectually dishonest and the speaker knows it? The threshold for the use of such language should be fairly high, but surely we can all agree that there is a threshold. The longer this non-dialogue continues, the more people are going to conclude that the threshold has been reached.

Phyllis Rooney

Anon Grad Student #n:
Again let me clarify. I made the comment (about extending some epistemic trust to women) quite specifically in relation to earlier (pre-PG) blog discussions about which aspects of philosophy might be discomfiting for women. There I think the epistemological point is clearer. The issue with the Pluralist's Guide is more complicated, since it is not most directly about chilly climate, but about efforts to address chilly climate concerns. So the question of epistemic trust is also more complicated there, but I do think it is important to keep it in mind in assessing the overall climate of the PG debate. It's the climate of the debate that very much concerns me at this point. I also stressed in my earlier posts that I think that some constructive criticisms and calls for evidence have been made in the PG discussions, and it is my understanding (from various posts) that the authors of the guide are paying close attention to them. Some of these constructive criticisms have been made by female philosohers, and some by male philosophers. Hence, I am perturbed by your summary question: "How can we believe in your good faith in supporting the cause of women in philosophy when you ignore and disparage those women who don't toe your party line?" Your mischaracterization of my position accords more closely with some disrespectful aspects of the overall debate climate that must surely be a concern for all of us as philosophers.

anon grad student #n

Phyllis Rooney:

I can only quote Professor Kukla's own words once more. (I am female but have no affiliation, professional or otherwise, with Professor Kukla.)

"It seems to me that from the beginning, those upset at criticism of the guide have tried very hard to turn this into an issue of feminist philosophers being attacked as such, even though several of the people who have been most visible in their concerns – me, Naomi Zack, Anita Allen – are obviously feminist philosophers, and even though every single criticism that I have seen has been from a standpoint of deep concern for the climate issue. It deeply dismays and depresses me that things have been cast this way; this rhetorical strategy has been painful, misleading, and directly harmful to the broader climate for women in philosophy. Calling this a “statement of feminist philosophers concerning…” rather than just “statement concerning…” seems an obvious attempt to reinforce this purported divide."

When you attempt to cast such criticisms as being made primarily or exclusively by men, you *do* ignore and disparage us. You claim an authority of speaking for female and feminist philosophers that you do not possess.

Your rhetoric, to quote once again, is "directly harmful to the broader climate for women in philosophy."

One more anonymous grad student

"I also stressed in my earlier posts that I think that some constructive criticisms and calls for evidence have been made in the PG discussions, and it is my understanding (from various posts) that the authors of the guide are paying close attention to them."

If they are paying attention, they've done precious little to demonstrate that. Cf. Prof. Harman's eloquent restatement of the numerous concerns that have, despite being stated clearly and repeatedly by many people, been passed over in silence by Alcoff et al. - which has itself gone without a reply. The thing most concerning about the "overall climate of the PG debate" is the complete and utter disregard that the authors of the guide have shown numerous interlocutors who are clearly committed to bettering the lot of women in the profession.

Yet another anonymous grad (again)

It seems to me that a quite broad consensus has been forged. The critics of the guide (all of whom are presumably speaking from a position of serious concern for the climate for women in philosophy; there is no evidence to suggest otherwise) are in broad agreement about the criticisms that the guide's authors need to answer. The guide's authors have so far steadfastly refused to answer or even acknowledge them, despite probably hundreds of blog comments by now asking them to do so, again and again. That is the main problem with the "climate" of this particular discussion.

I do not see any reason to be hopeful that the guide's authors will acknowledge these criticisms. Indeed, I see some evidence that at least one of them may have adopted a strategy of deliberately ignoring criticisms of the "climate" study's methodology. Linda Alcoff has written:

"...women need to think politically about how to survive in the profession. They must gain allies, even partial allies, forego their illusions about the absolute rationality and meritocracy of the discipline, give up trying to win over recalcitrant members of the old guard, and instead work on building power bases."

"We should give up on trying to convince either the methodological center or the right-wing of the discipline."

"We should recognize that administrators are sometimes our most reliable allies: deans and provosts often know more about sexual harassment litigation, and, with some notable exceptions at Harvard, they may well be more socially egalitarian than our colleagues" (http://www.alcoff.com/articles/call-climate-change-women-philosophy).

I have never encountered the terms "methodological right" and "methodological center" before, but I am guessing that, whatever these terms mean, Alcoff would apply them to those who reject the methodology of the PG climate study. (Please, someone who understands these terms, correct me if I'm wrong.) If so, we can expect her to continue to ignore our criticisms and to instead focus on building "power bases" for the party-line feminists and to forge alliances with administrators instead of trying to persuade colleagues with arguments.

This is a strange situation to be in, among philosophers. I believe that most of us think, most feminists included, that rational persuasion is the way to win people over to your point of view (assuming you have a point of view worth winning others over to; you also need to consider the possubility that you don't, especially if you can't come up with any replies to criticisms that the majority of your interlocutors are directing at your view). But it seems as if one party to this "dialogue" does not share that view. What Linda Alcoff has written suggests this, as does the silence of the other authors.

How to proceed from here? I have no idea.

Anonymous Grad Student (from an earlier thread)

It does seem clear that Prof. Alcoff is not going to respond to concrete, appropriate questions and concerns like those voiced by Liz Harman (above). Where discourse and persuasion fail, the only remaining recourse is coercion. Perhaps (?) those listed on the "advisory board" can be appealed to to retract their support for Prof. Alcoff and the course of action she has chosen.

Anonymous Grad Student (from an earlier thread)

I stand corrected. It appears the advisory board listing for the "climate for women" portion of the guide is no longer to be found on the "Pluralist's Guide" website.

Rebecca Kukla

AGS(FAET): It is still there. It is folded into 'feminist philosophy and gender issues', as it always has been, because, tellingly, the boards for feminist philosophy and for climate for women were one and the same.

Rebecca Kukla

Actually, one of the reasons this conflation of the climate and feminist philosophy boards bothers me so much just became clear to me. Forgive me if this is fairly obvious after all that has been said, particularly by Liz Harman, but it was a moment of clarity for me.

Women in philosophy who don't choose to devote their professional, theoretical attention to feminist philosophy (regardless of how strong their feminist commitments may be in their practical lives) may well have a very different experience in a department than women studying feminist philosophers. I've been in departments in which there is a ghettoized clique of feminist grad students clustered around a feminist philosophy professor. They still experience marginalization relative to the department at large, perhaps, but are fairly supported and protected within their circle. Meanwhile, women who don't happen to be specializing in feminism are often the most marginalized and least protected in the department. The main point is, the experience being a female student in a department might vary greatly depending on one's specialty. Surely being a feminist philosopher can AT MOST give one special insight into what it's like to be a student of feminist philosophy in a department. (I would contest even this, but never mind that for now.) So by conflating the two boards, we further marginalize and ignore the experiences and needs of women whose theoretical interests lie elsewhere. And that's a shame, because - despite all the really important work that's gone on in feminist philosophy - as long as it is the only comfortable place for women in the discipline (even if it were that) we still have a ghetto situation on our hands.

Rebecca Kukla

* women studying feminist philosophy

Sorry, it is very late and my brain and fingers are tired.


Anonymous Grad, thank you for pointing out #4: that the PG posted the letter from the Rutgers students and with a link directly on the Climate page. Also, PG posted news about DePaul perhaps being a not so friendly place anymore. UofO remains to be seen, but I would think PG is checking it out--so we'll see--of course, it's all over the blogosphere, so I would think someone interested in applying there who sees the PG would have also seen all the discussion about UofO, too.

One of the things that is difficult is that climate cannot be measured in a moment (one swallow does not make a summer). I like that the PG is attempting to handle this by posting information over time that tempers what they themselves have said: here's a place that the people on our board think is great--but check out this news item, things may be changing; here's a place that the people on our board had serious concerns about--but check out this letter from the grad students at Rutgers, things may be changing.

I'd like to ask again, though, does anyone seriously think Princeton is in danger of being harmed because a website has been posted that says: the people on our board think this... And, really, that's all it says, so I don't see anything untruthful in it, the people on the board *did* say that. so we don't have exact numbers... the fact that no one has asked to have their name taken off the board (as far as I can tell) does indicate something though... they're standing by it. so why do we need to know who exactly said what? (seems a bit like rubbernecking... to be clear, I am not saying that is what is motivating anyone. I'm just saying I don't see how bringing out all the gory details is going to help anything or anyone).


Rebecca, thank you for calling attention to the distinction between FP and being female. I agree that they are definitely distinct and no one should be forced to undertake any particular study just because they are female or a person of color or LGBTQ or whatever--I have seen this kind of pressure placed on people, too, and it's not right.

I do think though that while distinct they may be related. Maybe being willing to take FP seriously is a necessary but not a sufficient condition? Not that there actually *is* a feminist philosopher at a particular program, but just that it is taken seriously. I have seen places where women who work in tradtional areas are taken very seriously, but work that is feminist is not, so in these cases if you are female and you are happy to say, "oh yeah, FP is such nonesense!" you'll be fine. I'm not sure I want to call those places friendly to women.

All this to say, there are places where one can study feminist philosophy where the climate actually may not be good for women at all AND there are places where you can be female and happily supported, but *not* if you want to consider issues of sex/gender in your philosophical work (and it would seem that one ought to be able to at least consider such issues, even if there is no one in particular at a given program who specializes in *that*--doesn't this happen sometimes? as we develop in grad school, we discover interests and find, wow I would have been better off in another program, but at least the faculty here are willing to hook me up with external colleagues and do what they can...)


"does anyone seriously think Princeton is in danger of being harmed because a website has been posted that says: the people on our board think this... "

I don't know, but it doesn't seem outlandish to me. They might lose one or two of their favorite grad student prospects to another department (Pitt? MIT?).
I mean, if the recommendation, or advice or whatever it is, is completely ineffectual, then the PG people should stop wasting their time on it. If it has effects, then obviously these effects are apt to be bad for the programs singled out as inhospitable for women.

Rebecca Kukla

Shoot, I am not sure if I didn't post my last comment successfully or it didn't pass muster with the moderators, but I will try to reconstruct it.


Yes I agree entirely. A department that is downright hostile to feminist philosophy is pretty much automatically creating a poor climate for women, if only because it is telling students that it is impossible or not valuable to use philosophical tools to think about their own gendered positions and about the gendered structure of society.

But my point was specifically about the composition of the advisory board. I just don't think a group composed exclusively of feminist philosophers can possibly be in an epistemic position to report on the climate for all women in a department.

Also, word to James's comment @9:18.

Rebecca Kukla

Also, while I think the threat to (eg) Princeton is real, the larger risk is that women are dissuaded from joining top departments in the field and having the very best training and opportunities in philosophy available to them. This is a serious harm to both the women themselves, and the discipline of philosophy at large.

Yet another anonymous grad (again)

I was about to say what Rebecca just said. The most serious worry here is not that Princeton (et al.) will be harmed but that some women might be. Princeton will no doubt find good people to admit no matter what the PG says about it. The real worry is that such lists may harm efforts to recruit women into core M&E fields (by recommending against applying to three of the top M&E programs), where they are clearly underrepresented, as well as harm individual women's careers who might be persuaded to not go into M&E or not apply to the department that is best suited to their interests.


Yes, good point. I entirely agree with RK and YAAG(A).


Hmm. As I did say earlier, with all the ruckus the Climate survey has stirred, it seems quite unlikely that taking it down will do anything to erase people's memories and/or assure women (or future women) who would not apply somewhere because a group of people said these places are unfriendly to women. These things are whispered to people quite a bit I think. As I said, when I was applying to schools a number of faculty said to me informally, "hey don't apply to these schools..." (and they were really good schools).

The advantage of leaving it up is that the issue is out in the open--hey, some people are whispering this!--so the programs have a chance to show the concrete things they do to support women or even just to report some numbers: the percentage of women we have placed in jobs has grown from x% to y% over the past few years or what have you. I would think actual concrete measures from the departments tagged and advertising it would be the BEST way to assure women are attracted to these places (besides the fact of getting to say, "I have a PhD from Princeton"--which seems to me a pretty big draw, I would have done it, even though I was warned...). And I think if the programs tagged sent a list of their stats and/or concrete measures, they would get placed on the climate page, just like the Rutgers letter.

Any program in Philosophy could stand to do some pro-active work on improving climate for women, no? It doesn't even have to be admitting to anything--these three programs could just say, "wow, we didn't know we had that rep. That's awful. Well let's do something, since we really do care about fixing the gender ratio in Philosophy!"


Thanks for clarifying the larger point you were making, Rebecca. I probably should have realized that. It seems that Alcoff has listened to and is thinking about this criticism insofar as the HigherEd article states, "In hindsight, Alcoff said that it might have been good to have separate advisory boards for evaluating the climate for women and feminist philosophy programs, but said that she thought the feminist philosophers were very well connected with climate issues."

I do agree that one need not work in feminist philosophy to have a good sense of the climate issues. Working in feminist philosophy might make one more visible as a "go to" person if you are experiencing trouble (although, it doesn't necessarily mean one *is* the best "go to" person...as we all know sometimes what one preaches is not at all what one practices). Hopefully, the next iteration will include some people who are working hard on climate issues but who don't work in feminist philosophy at all.

Yet another anonymous grad (again)

GP, you say: "Any program in Philosophy could stand to do some pro-active work on improving climate for women, no?"

Well, that's the point here, isn't it? If that's so, then why on earth do we have these two lists that implicate that only 3 programs in the world need to improve their climate for women, and that a dozen or so others, incl., Oregon, do not? Such a lists are likely to do more harm than good.

And this:

"it seems quite unlikely that taking it down will do anything to erase people's memories and/or assure women (or future women) who would not apply somewhere because a group of people said these places are unfriendly to women"

You cannot seriously believe that taking down the website is unlikely to have *any* effect on what programs women apply to. Do you think that, say, had the PGR been taken offline a year ago and renounced by its author, its rankings would still have *exactly the same* influence on what grad programs in philosophy people apply to as it would if it remained online? (After all, people talk about these things, and nothing can erase the memory of the PGR entirely.)

Surely you don't believe that.

Rebecca Kukla

GP: Link to Higher Ed article please? Somehow, miraculously, I missed that.




To Yet Another,

Actually I do think some could use it more than others *and* if it is the case that people are whispering about these three programs in particular (guess what? I heard things about all three places when I was applying to grad school long before the climate guide ever got posted), then maybe it would be better to identify publicly the places people are singling out privately and let those programs speak for themselves about all the good things they are doing to improve climate for women in philosophy. I was really pleased, for example, to see what Rutgers posted on the "What We're Doing About What It's Like" blog. I guess given my own experience, what Alcoff has done seems more like simply placing a microphone in the corridors of academe.

Isn't that kind of what Leiter is doing, too? asking around: "Hey, which do you think are the best schools?" and then reporting, "if you want to know which schools people are talking about these days, check out this list..."; Alcoff just asked a different question... and it is a question that people (and women applying to grad school in particular) *do* ask around about, just privately. (But perhaps my sense of Leiter’s report being about reputation is mistaken—I vaguely remember that being how it started out, but I don’t really follow it at this point.)

As for people remembering and forgetting—actually, yes, I can seriously believe it. If the Gourmet Report had been taken down in its first year, it's quite possible people would not remember all of the various rankings since there were/are so many. However, in the case of the climate report--I doubt people will forget the names of just three prestigious schools, so the comparison seems to fail. Plus, all over the web: “Princeton” “Rutgers” “NYU”. I do think folks will remember.

Still, the more I think of the list as a kind of reputation guide, the more I think the climate guide is a good thing. If "people are saying" (and especially if "people are saying" to women applying to grad schools), why not report it and then let the programs respond by letting us know what they are doing that shows that what people have been saying is wrong?


lol--okay, reading what I just posted I am laughing at myself a little now: I mention my vague memory about the GR and then say "yes I do think people will remember!"

Seriously, though, while people may forget details over time, I think the names of three prestigious schools and the fact that it seems unlikely that all traces of this discussion will disappear from the web anytime soon (even if the climate guide disappears) will keep these names in people's memories. Best to prove the reputation wrong at this point I think--forward march...

anon grad student #n


There is now a fourth name that people won't forget: the "Strongly Recommended" U. Oregon.

That will remain a marker that the whole guide is highly suspect.

Yet another anonymous grad (again)

Yet another anonymous grad (again)


As Anon #n said,

Therefore people will never forget that Oregon was Strongly Recommended -- am I right? And the department I used to be at which is Strongly Recommended but which I *know* has climate problems will also be eternally associated with the words "Strongly Recommended".

I cannot believe that you seriously think that taking down the PG would have no effect whereas taking down the PGR would have an effect, "since there were/are so many" rankings in the PGR.

You are right that there is all kinds of gossip about people and departments, but I am shocked that you think it is a good thing for this to be made public so that the subjects of the gossip will feel some pressure to respond. Here's an analogy. Suppose that I start a rumor to the effect that you are a child molester, and as a result lots of people -- say, the majority of professional philosophers -- come to believe that you have been alleged to be a child molester (not that you've done it, just that you've been accused of it). Do you think it would be good for a newspaper to make this allegation public so that you would feel some pressure to respond to it? By your reasoning it would seem that you should be overjoyed to see newspapers with headlines saying "GP Accused of Child Molestation".

Anyway, if you really believe that all widely heard gossip about important matters should be made public, then surely you must think that the PG climate guide is disastrous, because there is widely heard gossip about at least 20 departments which should earn them a place on the "Needs Improvement" list -- *including ones on the "Strongly Recommended" list* -- whereas that list only has 3 departments. You cannot really believe that there are just three departments which "Need Improvement", and you cannot seriously endorse a list that says that only three departments do. Or can you?

This is exasperating. The more I hear from the defenders of the PG climate guide, the less inclined I become to think that there is any justification at all for it to remain online.

The best defense I've heard amounts to this: "Yes, it incorrectly claims that only three departments need improvement and that a dozen or so other ones do not, but at least it's started a discussion". There's some merit to that, but the problem is that the discussion is not about the issues we really should be discussing -- it's about the flaws of the PG climate guide, which, by claiming (or by its spokepersons claiming), as Rebecca Kukla has repeatedly pointed out, to speak for feminist philosophers, and conflating the climate for women with the climate for feminist philosophy, is just not being helpful.

Let me pursue another analogy. Suppose I'm Amnesty International, and I want to call attention to the very serious problem of torture, and I publish a list of states that torture their citizens, which consists of Belgium, Egypt, and, Belize, and a long list of countries which are to be commended for not practicing torture: Sweden, Germany, UK, Saudi Arabia... And suppose that everyone attacks my idiotic lists for the obvious reasons. Could I defend these lists by saying, "But now people are discussing the very important issue of torture, so the lists did do some good? And, see, Belgium has taken steps to prove that it does not turture its citizens -- shouldn't more states do that?" No -- it seems that I've just managed to produce a discussion about the flaws of my two lists and probably discredit the work of serious human rights activists. (Of course, this is not how Amnesty International operates, and thank goodness for that!)

Rebecca Kukla

Oh, YAG(A), word, excellent post!

Anonymous Grad Student (from an earlier thread)

I couldn't agree more. YAG(A) has just captured the ethical issues concerning the PG climate guide exceptionally well!

anon grad

GP -

You heard rumors about Rutgers. Guess what? They probably weren't true - I know many women who have graduated from or are currently at Rutgers and they report a pretty pleasant climate for women, at least given the horrible sexist baseline from which all such assessments start. (That is to say: we live in a sexist environment and confronting that environment tout court is what our struggle is.)

But, were you were applying to grad school 10 years ago? Is that when you heard the rumors? But then why is it okay to publish stale rumors? Oh, because it will start a discussion, that's why!

Is there anyone - anyone? - who is closely associated with the climate survey who is willing to call for taking it down? Or is it really this sectarian?

Hmm, this leads me to the lesson that the climate guide has taught me: The academy is as beset with sectarian disciplinary struggles as it has ever been, and the people on the left are as guilty of this as are the people on the right.

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