“Show me a grad student I can f*ck”
March 30, 2011 5:42 PM   Subscribe

A Call to Shun. Women share sexual harassment stories on "Being a Woman in Philosophy." Several philosophers suggest the idea of not inviting known repeat offenders to conferences. Professor Mark Lance of Georgetown: It's time for philosophers to take a stand against "the many people in the profession believed by wide numbers of people to have engaged in horrible behavior on repeated occasions."
posted by availablelight (99 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good lord.

A few studies say women make up 21% of professors in philosophy. In my arena of the physical sciences it's something like 13%, but while I'm sure awful things do sometimes happen, we just don't hear about this sort of institutionalized, utterly shameless, disgusting behavior. I wonder why it seems to be so much more of a flagrant problem in philosophy.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I criticize this, do I make the list?
posted by CarlRossi at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011


Does this include professors who sleep with their undergraduates or graduate students?
posted by jadepearl at 5:57 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have a friend who teaches philosophy at a university, and through him have directly heard of several incredible tales of organizational incompetence and bizarrely vindictive personal politics, just within his department.

That's what gives me pause about this informal scheme to punish those who are beyond the reach of formal discipline. The academic community is oddly dysfunctional for a community that presents itself as being more reflective and self-aware than most. I don't see how a casual, peer-to-peer judiciary can be more effective than a formally recognized one, nor avoid the abuses that formal process is supposed to prevent.
posted by fatbird at 5:57 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't deny that this is a problem, but there's got to be a better way to solve this than mob justice....
posted by schmod at 5:58 PM on March 30, 2011


I was just wondering whether this would show up here! It's very easy to understand the attractiveness of the idea, since it tries to address the reputational economy that allows people who've achieved star status to avoid consequences for serious misbehavior. Anyone who's hung around the upper reaches and niches of academia has seen extraordinarily open, well-known patterns of bad behavior go unpunished; while this is certainly true for sexual harassment, there are also many other forms of cruelty to those lower in the pecking order. (I'm thinking of some advisors who'd wreck the lives of their grad students one after the other, though with non-sexual cruelty, while their colleagues tended to the wounds and did nothing to stop the next victim from queueing up.)

But I think this is ultimately a really terrible idea. You can't substitute what's essentially vigilante gossip and whisper-campaigning for a real grievance process; nor does shunning provide any real redress for the sufferers. If sexual harassment is going unpunished by universities, that should be fixed within the existing processes.
posted by RogerB at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


But I think this is ultimately a really terrible idea. You can't substitute what's essentially vigilante gossip and whisper-campaigning for a real grievance process; nor does shunning provide any real redress for the sufferers. If sexual harassment is going unpunished by universities, that should be fixed within the existing processes.

Yes, I totally agree.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought there was going to be a list of names so that I could not invite these people to my next function. I guess what happens in The Ivory Tower stays in The Ivory Tower.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing with "innocent until proven guilty" is that it's restricted to judicial, i.e. state-sponsored, punishment.

There's nothing in the Constitution to prevent communities from self-policing, and there's no ethical reason to think they shouldn't.

I have no dog in this race, but the suggestion that an academic community can do something about behavior it despises without referring to the courts is not an inherently bad one. Other professions do it all the time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:03 PM on March 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


The thing with "innocent until proven guilty" is that it's restricted to judicial, i.e. state-sponsored, punishment.

There's nothing in the Constitution to prevent communities from self-policing, and there's no ethical reason to think they shouldn't.


Sorry, no. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a philosophical ideal that also happens to be enshrined in US law. That doesn't mean other organizations not subject to that law are also not subject to the ideal.

Same goes for freedom of speech. Just because your employer/school/broadcaster/publisher/neighbor/whoever can legally prevent you from speaking about certain things doesn't mean they aren't unethical/immoral for doing so.
posted by DU at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


there's no ethical reason to think they shouldn't.

Sure there is: The consequences of punishment misapplied are a real concern. That's the whole criticism of mob justice--they sometimes get it really wrong, with disastrous results.

When other professions police themselves, it's usually with professional associations. The more I think about this, the more I think the correct response is to fix the fucking grievance process.
posted by fatbird at 6:09 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Other professions do it all the time.

Yup, self-regulation is a big part of what communities are all about. If this is nothing more than a call for people to be more circumspect about whom they invite to functions and conferences, that's fine, I guess. But, one big problem with issuing a formal call for the development of a culture opposed to sexual harassment is the problem that all calls for cultural change have, they don't tend to work that well.

If you want to stop people from sexually harassing others, don't stop inviting them to parties, report your evidence to the relevant authorities. If those authorities do nothing, blow the whistle on them and expose the harassers. We don't stop a hidden crime by hiding our response to it, we stop it by exposing the criminals.
posted by howfar at 6:14 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


“Show me a grad student I can f*ck”

Isn't that what FaceBook is for?
posted by clarknova at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


A quick skim seems to indicate that these are people who have either tried to have their grievances heard in legitimate fora, or are keeping silent out of fear of reprisal or professional retaliation.

Which is illegal, yes, but it still happens, and someone with sufficient status can do a lot of damage that way.

What part of "Don't be an asshole" have these people thought and reasoned their way out of in such a learned fashion? Is there a paper published somewhere which gives lengthy, logical justification to bullying and misogyny?
posted by louche mustachio at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sorry, no. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a philosophical ideal that also happens to be enshrined in US law.

To you, perhaps, DU, and some others. Many (most?) of us judge people on the basis of reasonable suspicion. If Sally says Harry beat her, we take her at her word, initially.

Same goes for freedom of speech. Just because your employer/school/broadcaster/publisher/neighbor/whoever can legally prevent you from speaking about certain things doesn't mean they aren't unethical/immoral for doing so.

That's even less likely. My employer is unethical for telling employees they shouldn't get into political arguments at work? Really? If my neighbor doesn't want to hear about my religious views (in their yard, living room, or even in my driveway), they're unethical? I don't think so.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


If, according to modern philosophy, there is no truth, no right and wrong, no transcendental source of morals and ethics, who are these people to say that sexual harassment is wrong?
posted by Yakuman at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want to stop people from sexually harassing others, don't stop inviting them to parties, report your evidence to the relevant authorities. If those authorities do nothing, blow the whistle on them and expose the harassers.
Look: I don't know what the solution to this is. But it's not reasonable to put all the burden on the victims of sexual harassment. If you're a grad student, to report a senior scholar for sexual harassment is to put your career in jeopardy. Your department's reputation hinges on its ability to recruit and retain respected scholars. If they discipline the faculty member, it potentially hurts the department, especially if the scholar leaves for another department (and there are many) that will let him get away with harassing students. It costs the department nothing to discredit you and force you out. And once you're gone, you can go ahead and "blow the whistle," but it probably won't work, and you won't get your career back even if it does.

As long as grad students can't safely report sexual harassment, saying "the solution is to report it" is basically to offer no solution. And I have no idea how to convince departments to take it seriously, since all the incentives point in the other direction.
posted by craichead at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [41 favorites]


But don't you see that this scheme won't work precisely because of the vested interests and power-structures you describe? The people who are going to stop the invites aren't grad-students, they are faculty members who have knowledge about harassment. If they really were a powerful enough combined force to make this hare-brained scheme work, they would certainly be powerful enough to make a difference if they stood up together and be counted. But saying "we should do something about Dr X harassing Ms Y, let's not invite him to that conference, that'll teach him," is just cowardice by professionals who should know better.

The very people proposing this are part of the problem they are saying they want to eliminate.
posted by howfar at 6:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The particular scheme may not achieve anything, but I think it is helpful to discuss this publicly. And if the "let's not invite them to conferences" idea serves as a catalyst for public discussion, good. People who witness this problem need to know they're not alone. See related.
posted by grobstein at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2011


Yakuman: If, according to modern philosophy,...

And if the antecedent is false...
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


Outside academia there are recognised methods of dealing with problems like these (I acknowledge that they don't always work). The problem here seems to be that academics are a sheltered class. It's much harder to maintain professional discipline if you can't fire people, or even if you can't fire them without expensive and lengthy reviews; and it's much harder to get whistleblowers to come forward when their career is tied to the very people they're expected to report.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have no idea how to convince departments to take it seriously, since all the incentives point in the other direction.

Sorry for the double. Just wanted to respond make my position clear. You change cultures by changing the incentives. Sometimes that means that people with some power, and some power to lose, actually take a risk on doing the thing that is right. Saying you want to do what is right for someone else but aren't willing to risk anything to do it really is the worst kind of cowardice.

I understand that you are concerned about the risk to the vulnerable, and that is admirable. My concern is that not that the vulnerable aren't protecting themselves, but that those who should be protecting the vulnerable from the immoral are failing in their duty.
posted by howfar at 6:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, women in engineering. Women in science. Women in maths. And now, women in philosophy.

It's almost like there is some sort of systemic bias against women, in general.

Nah. That can't be it. People are 100% responsible for their own success or failure, and all that feminism stuff may have been helpful back in the olden days when we needed it. But, like unions, that day is over, and we've all evolved past that.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2011 [58 favorites]


At the University of Michigan, Slavoj Žižek supposedly had a heart or panic attack while staring at the breasts of a friend of mine.

Does that count as time served?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Welll what Dewey do about it? We Kant just have the Butler Locke them out any Moore.
posted by jcworth at 7:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Nerdy 1:Hey...are you going to the conference this year?
Nerdy 2:Nah...Kinda boring...and its in Des Moines.
Nerdy 1:Oh...well were you invited?
Nerdy 2:Of course!
Nerdy 1:Oh...ok. Because everyone is going to assume that your lack of presence means a lack of an invite. Not getting an invite means...
Nerdy 2:Oh shit...I guess I'll have to go.

(later at the conference)

Main nerd: I just wanted to say that this is a great day for philosophy. This is our largest convention yet. Even with the 400% increase in conference costs, we had a 3000% increase in attendees!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


At the University of Michigan, Slavoj Žižek supposedly had a heart or panic attack while staring at the breasts of a friend of mine.

Does that count as time served?


No...but that is some serious credibility for the female friend of yours.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The third route is for some brave women to secretly video examples of asshole behaviour and then Youtube that shit.
posted by storybored at 7:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


storybored=genius.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:06 PM on March 30, 2011


If Sally says Harry beat her, we take her at her word, initially.

Thankfully, that was just the first draft.
posted by staggernation at 8:14 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I remember when this blog was just getting started. Sorry to see it has taken off so well.
posted by JLovebomb at 8:19 PM on March 30, 2011


My impression is that there are some departments that are especially bad for this, and some that are actually safe and fine vis a vis harassment. If you're thinking of going to grad school in philosophy, you need to talk to current grad students candidly and off the record and find out if this is going on there or with prominent people you might think about working with.

It's a shitty thing for a discipline that has a lot of people working to improve the representation of women and people other than white men, but there it is. Situation is way WAY better than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but still not equal.

(I don't have anything good to say about the proposals being debated though; informal reporting isn't a good way to go, though it happens already sotto voce, such that everybody "knows" about so-and-so that they are a pig or worse. It's a small profession, which means harassers are known, but also means that if you become known as someone who made a stink over harassment or anything else, you are known for that.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And of course mistakes can be made on both sides, so people can become "known" for harassment they may not have done, or for complaints they may not have made.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:34 PM on March 30, 2011


I wonder why it seems to be so much more of a flagrant problem in philosophy.

Speaking from my own personal experience, because women seemed to do philosophy so much better than men. If they lasted long enough.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


As for percentage of women in the profession, a few recent graphs about women who finish PhD programs. (Note the numbers would be different for number of women who start PhD programs, and the number who end up with tenure-track academic jobs and eventually achieve tenure.)

Number of PhDs awarded in different disciplines, men vs women - the link is to a page with links to several PDFs with different presentations of data.

A lower percentage of PhDs are awarded to women in philosophy, than is true for mathematics, astrophysics, chemistry, statistics, and other fields one might think of as being male-dominated.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know if this will work, but I am glad they are trying. When my partner was a grad student (not in Philosophy) she was harassed at conferences all the time. Huge, big-name people, internationally famous intellectuals and authors, repeatedly turned out to be disgusting harassers. She and all the female grad students knew to deflect it as much as possible but keep their mouths shut to stay in the field.

So anyone who can find a way to help open this shit up to public scrutiny has my support. Sunlight cleanses, more than anything else. Shaming the offenders will help, a lot.
posted by Forktine at 9:03 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking from my own personal experience, because women seemed to do philosophy so much better than men. If they lasted long enough.

Well, sure. Having a pussy means you know how to think.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at your sexist assualt on sexism.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


An American woman I know who took vows as a Buddhist nun was the first female student in the Dalai Lama's School of Buddhist Dialectics—now the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics—in McLeodganj, Dharamsala, India. During the debate classes there, here is an example with another Western Buddhist nun participating in the philosophical dialog, she told me she endured years of relentless and psychologically crushing verbal abuse by the monks, routinely being called whore, slut etc.

Sexual abuse of women in philosophy circles happens all over the world. I'm glad the subject is up for open conversation, it's long past the time for it. Shunning of another kind got attention in the past and maybe this present attempt at that is setting the conversation in motion.

A brilliant comment about the difficulties for women in philosophy from MeFi LobsterMitten.
posted by nickyskye at 9:21 PM on March 30, 2011


I was at one time associated with an academic department that had suffered a mass departure of female grad students, all at once, on account of bias and harassment. Clearly, institutional policies had failed these women. They did make their point, though: after gaining the "#1 misogynist" reputation overnight, the departmental culture in this particular place had changed a lot by the time I got there a couple of years later. The public shaming wasn't quickly forgotten, either: when I was being recruited, I was assured by several senior faculty, and some current grad students, that the situation for women had improved a lot. The faculty really were concerned about it -- after it became public. Sometimes drastic, extra-instutitional action is what it takes. Though I never knew them I always felt indebted to my predecessors who had to leave in order to create an environment in which I could succeed.

Part of the problem is that academia functions on the departmental level: no matter what platitudes the administration spouts, the character of a department is determined by its senior faculty. Philosophy departments are usually very small, unlike most sciences, so in philosophy a couple of misogynist assholes can wield a huge amount of influence. I'm not sure that shunning alleged perpetrators is the solution, but communication and sharing experiences is key, and I'm glad to see that women in philosophy are doing this and getting the sordid stuff out in the open. That's the first step...
posted by philokalia at 9:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


"But I think this is ultimately a really terrible idea. You can't substitute what's essentially vigilante gossip and whisper-campaigning for a real grievance process; nor does shunning provide any real redress for the sufferers. If sexual harassment is going unpunished by universities, that should be fixed within the existing processes."

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that most university departments have any interest in the kind of functional honest grievance process that could lose them an established, productive and valuable scholar in exchange for a disposable friendless graduate student. PLEASE, lets give provosts and deans a reason to see, at least, the conspicuous assholes as a liability. Its about damn time this is happening. Refusing to invite a serial harasser to your institution is not vigilante justice any more than refusing to re-invite the douche who got drunk and shit in your couch is, it is simply being a compassionate, human host who gives a damn about their guests. Students really are powerless to protect themselves and their careers simultaneously, they need friends for that. The fact that there is pushback against something so straightforward is only indicative of how broken academia is to its weakest members, even now.

I'm in biology, which is supposed to be generations ahead of philosophy, but I've routinely seen shit like this. At my old undergraduate institution, there was this one Organic Chemistry professor in particular. In my whole four years there I never once saw him look a woman under thirty in the eye, not once, and no one I asked could honestly say they had either. It was almost a running joke! Only it wasn't funny to the women in his classes, or the students who felt they needed to flirt with him, or anyone male, or the students unwilling to flirt with him. His interests and how they were received were more plainly reflected in how he evaluated students than their understanding of Organic Chemistry. I was in some position to know, I was an O-Chem tutor, and the stories from his classes were always the same.*

As I talked to the professors I got to know better, it became clear that a weird kind of co-dependence had formed between him and the institution. Everyone knew there was a problem, they could all at least guess at how bad it was, and when prodded even predict that his career would end explosively someday but no one could or would take any action. They all knew about the two professors in the institution's short history who were dismissed for sleeping with students currently in a class they were teaching**, though they would not name names, even if I knew them from articles in the local newspapers archives*** How the administration felt about harassment was made abundantly clear when one professor was found guilty of a felony for masturbating while staring at students in the gym's locker room, he was back teaching classes the next year. It was clear that, in the eyes of the administration, the fact that he was on the faculty was not the problem, the potential for an explosion was.

"The third route is for some brave women to secretly video examples of asshole behavior and then Youtube that shit."

If by brave woman, you mean one interested in a different career? Sure! Lets let those victims solve their own goddamn problems, their dreams in exchange for our satisfaction. As much as it pains me to say it, as I do truly love my old institution, if it had a Organic Chemistry graduate program I couldn't see it accepting a student who had made a video like that. Despite its deep feminist core, I'm sure it would think twice before hiring an Organic Chemistry faculty who had, even if he was not on that committee. Just read the blog, my institution is not alone.

*Except the classy one about him making out with a current student who was in a class of his the previous quarter at the local Safeway, that I only heard once.

**Amazingly, at the tiny institution only this was against the rules, he openly dated current students he had taught as well as ones he reasonable expectation of teaching.

***With victim blaming so thick you could eat it with chopsticks
posted by Blasdelb at 9:30 PM on March 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Ah, right, the old trope that trollops out every time I forget to read a Jenny Diski piece in the LRB and/or all men are sex crazed misogynists.

"Because by percentages alone, YOU KNOW that there are people reading this thread who are, indeed, serial flashers or public masterbators. There HAVE to be."
posted by four panels at 9:47 PM on March 30, 2011


I know everyone's been conditioned to think lawsuits are never the answer... but I think when severe harassment goes on, and the administration either ignores it or punishes people for reporting it, lawsuits might actually be the answer. Unless people sue, ignoring the problem will be always be cheaper than dealing with it, so the administration will do that - but it doesn't take many successful lawsuits to completely reverse that equation.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, more bullies. It's puzzling that Universities don't find it counter-productive to keep these douchebags around. Not every one of them can be an irreplaceable genius, can they?
posted by maxwelton at 10:00 PM on March 30, 2011


Are there any institutions that are doing it right? Or which, at least, provide some extra-departmental and/or anonymous mode of successfully registering complaint?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:18 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Look, I think I perceive you saying you feel uncomfortable when I harass you. But look at it from my point of view - there's no way for me to really experience your mental states, because they're entirely internal to you. And we might not even really be here. If your brain in a jar imagines my brain in a jar imagining touching your brain in a jar's imaginary body, is there really any harm?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:21 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


four panels, that's not what's being claimed, and the jennydiski comment is altogether irrelevant.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Harassment lawsuits are very difficult to bring (because the evidence is so often just the student's word against the prof's), and even if you win one, then you are known in the profession for having brought a lawsuit and caused embarrassment and trouble to your department and to a person who may be longtime friends with people who would later be deciding about admitting/hiring/promoting you. (Those are two reasons why there are not more lawsuits; I'm not endorsing that state of affairs.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:26 PM on March 30, 2011


The academic community is oddly dysfunctional for a community that presents itself as being more reflective and self-aware than most.

YES AND YES!

There's so much ugliness in academia. It would be deeply satisfying to see creepers stop receiving invitations to professional conferences. Not a viable solution to The Problems of Sexism and Institutional Weirdness, but it might be a start.
posted by Neofelis at 10:29 PM on March 30, 2011


Again, I should stress that in my experience and talking to people, this stuff is way better than it was an academic generation or two ago. And I think it's much more a thing of "a few real prize jerks" rather than "a high percentage of phil profs are like this" - I don't think the latter is true.

But there are a few departments and individual famous figures that are well-known for being bad about this, and it's frustrating that even though those reputations are very well known, there is a general attitude of "oh well, what can you do, it's not like he'd ever get fired for that; anyway, don't work with him".

I also have no idea whether this is worse in philosophy than in other fields.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb wrote: You seem to be under the mistaken impression that most university departments have any interest in the kind of functional honest grievance process that could lose them an established, productive and valuable scholar in exchange for a disposable friendless graduate student.

There must be some way people who are individually powerless could come together and negotiate from a position of strength. Suppose these students formed a representative body - call it an "amalgamation". The amalgamation could demand a proper grievance procedure with protection for whistleblowers, and back it up by a threat to call on the students to suspend their efforts. I think that most faculties would be willing to take things seriously if they were faced with the prospect of an embarrassing public "suspension" by the graduate students' amalgamation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:42 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


The fact that there is pushback against something so straightforward is only indicative of how broken academia is to its weakest members, even now.

There are very good reasons for pushback against the shunning idea that have nothing to do with a lack of sympathy for victims of sexual harassment. And there's nothing at all straightforward about trying to institutionalize gossip and backbiting rather than creating a fair grievance process. If that process is broken now (which I agree seems to be true in many cases) then the right thing to do is get it fixed, by organizing (on preview, Joe in Australia has it exactly) and protesting — not to try to systematize the already-existing rumor mill as though rumor were a fair way to decide whom to punish. It seems like anyone who endorses the shunning idea is neglecting the huge leap it would take to move from their personal shit list to an at least semi-public shaming based on everyone's personal grievances without appeal. We all have grudges and resentments, and we all know or think we know who the "serial harassers" are, usually by gossip or rumor rather than firsthand; making a list of these grudges and then acting on it is not exactly a fair system. As LobsterMitten said above, the rumor mill "knows" plenty of things that aren't true too.

As LobsterMitten suggests when she talks about "individual famous figures," the pervasive systemic problem here (at least as far as I'm aware) is mostly at and near the top of the star system, where some number of asshole scholars live basically consequence-free existences by virtue of their fame's value to their departments and institutions. While there are surely still plenty of unfairly handled individual cases in the lower tiers, ordinary non-star academics would probably be as likely, in most circumstances and at most institutions/departments, to face serious consequences for a pattern of serial harassment as people at most other workplaces. I think the real academia-specific problem here has to do with the power differentials being so much larger than we like to pretend; in a way it's easier to make a sane sexual-harassment policy when at least everyone acknowledges up front that the CEO is in a position of power over the secretary.
posted by RogerB at 10:57 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know what the ole boys would do in this instance?

Create a secret society and make it so difficult and hostile for the offending faculty members, that no matter how famous they were, they would be shamed.

I would form a group of colleagues from multiple universities willing to publish names.

Work with hackers and lawyers. Create an anonymous website.

Publish the names.

Send an anonymous letter to the Chronicle of Higher Ed and post on major academic discussion boards explaining the group's motivations.
posted by macross city flaneur at 12:10 AM on March 31, 2011


RogerB, Every university I've interacted with does in fact already have a logically constructed and administratively arbitrated grievance process, but nothing can stop you from being the PERSON WHO EMBARRASSED THE DEPARTMENT and then the PERSON WHO EMBARRASSED THEIR PREVIOUS DEPARTMENT. This is in addition to now having fewer options for letters of rec, as well as ones that will, by necessity, need to be less focused on how awesome you are at what you do, and this assumes you have convincing evidence. Once a decent process is in place that is decided by a mix of impartial faculty, student representatives, and staff representatives, I can't come up with further creative ways to change an institution as, for the most part, its no longer the institutions that are the problem. Its the culture of acceptance that is the problem and the culture that has to change. Not inviting assholes to nice things seems like a nice culture change, even if it would be a quixotically unworkable institutional one.

I don't think you guys are suggesting trial by union*, as many strengths as unions have, I don't think that either making accusations or directly influencing an active grievance process could be among them.

*can we please instead not be coy?
posted by Blasdelb at 12:21 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Consequences make culture change fairly fast. Sending plainclothes female cops to deter public assaults in India seems to have worked better than "not inviting assholes to conferences".

These are very vexing problems which touch on pretty much everything wrong in academia: power imbalances, long-term dependence on references, conflicts of interest for editors and reviewers, insularity, and lack of external employment outlets for grad students.

I was hoping another small, insular group would have found a good social solution for sexual harassment, but it looks like the Amish have their own problems.
posted by benzenedream at 1:40 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


he openly dated current students he had taught

Oh noes ......

How is this comparable to harassment if it's legal under a school's policy? Adults are free to date each other everywhere else they don't have a supervisory relationship. This moralism is as sexist as anything you decry.

Consensual dating or sex where there is no possibility of coercion or exploitation of power differential is not "harassment," and this slippery slope bullshit is why vigilantism like that advocated for here and by many in this thread makes me nervous.
posted by spitbull at 1:57 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact much of the hand wringing in this thread is stereotype, and does not describe the contemporary academy I know, where most male faculty live in fear of being accused of improper conduct and avoid situations that could even be slightly construed as compromising. The office door stays open during meetings, that kind of thing.
posted by spitbull at 2:01 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


paper published somewhere which gives lengthy, logical justification to bullying and misogyny?

Please see Philosophical Works. Specifically, all of them before the 1900s (give or take a few decasdes)
posted by litleozy at 2:04 AM on March 31, 2011


It seems to me that a lot of people here are so accustomed to a culture of powerlessness that they have come to believe there really is nothing much they can do. Hence a lot of well-meaning people are defending these impractical suggestions. No-one supporting this stuff seems to recognise that, in a culture geared toward serving the interests of the powerful, there will be cultural sanctions against those who oppose that. People won't actually shun for the same reason they don't actually support the harassed against their senior colleagues, there will be too much to lose by displeasing those people.

Imagine the scene:

"X hasn't invited me to the last three colloquia at Redland."

"Chippy little prick must think you're a sex pest!"

"Well we're not inviting him back for a second interview"

Of course, this dialogue may occur only within the head of the powerful harasser, or it may be the subtext to a process that quietly excludes "awkward" people. As most people who support this idea have pointed out, some of the nastiest people wield enormous amounts of power. Given that this is the case, announcing a policy of "shunning" seems, if anything, counter-productive, as it will tend to increase the risks involved with any particular act of shunning.

Of course there needs to be a change in any culture that allows harassment to go unstopped and unpunished, but I don't see how this will achieve it. Much better that those who might shun (who are by and large going to be faculty members, not grad students) took steps to collectively openly oppose abuses of the grievance procedure, to provide legal support for those who wished to sue, to report and follow up allegations of sexual assault made to them and to be prepared to withdraw their labour in extreme circumstances. Active and principled unionism, in other words.
posted by howfar at 2:05 AM on March 31, 2011


Surprised to see this turn up here. My first reaction was concern about a lack of due process and a further departure from blind peer review standards, but on reflection I've decided that we're just talking about "The No Asshole Principle," which I wholeheartedly endorse. Assholes aren't worth the damage they cause, famous or not. (I'm not sure that this can really be blamed on the star system: I've known and known of some obscure misogynists: tenure and unaccountable power over others seems to do the trick often enough.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


From Wikipedia's enrty on Arthur Koestler :

Koestler's relations with women have been a source of controversy. In 1998, a biography of Koestler by David Cesarani alleged that Koestler had been a serial rapist and that the British writer Jill Craigie had been one of his victims in 1951. Craigie confirmed the allegations.[63] In his biography Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual, Michael Scammell countered that Craigie was the only woman to go on record that she had been raped by Koestler, and had only revealed this in public 50 years after the alleged incident.

Scammell admits that Koestler could certainly be rough and sexually aggressive, and others (including Cesarani) claim that Koestler had misogynistic tendencies, reportedly engaging in endless seductions and generally treating the women in his life badly. As argued by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in a review of Cesarani's biography, philandering on this scale is neurotic: a man driven to copulate with as many women as possible not only has difficulty establishing happy relations with women, or regarding them as equals, but does not actually like women.[64][65][66]


I think of Arthur Koestler as a rapist, rather than as a philosopher, because I feel that is a more important part of his character.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:42 AM on March 31, 2011


I don't know philosophy departments well. But I know other humanities and social sciences departments, and I don't recognize this portrait of the academy, in 2011, as a hotbed of harassment and male privilege. Sure, it still happens. So does the occasional act of theft or homicide. But the climate in most American universities is deeply hostile, and properly so, to harassing conduct. A generation of senior women in the humanities have reached high positions of power -- there are many women chairs, deans, vice presidents, etc. at elite universities. Many lawsuits have been filed, litigated, and settled. Whole offices devoted to policing this stuff have been created at most major American universities. Policies are explicit and drummed into faculty members constantly.

The other day I was dressed down by a female senior colleague for forgetting to use a gender-neutral pronoun in an email. My bad, indeed, but that's the level of scrutiny one faces day to day as a senior academic in the contemporary university. I can imagine this same colleague would make my life a living hell if she thought of me as a sexual harasser. And again, rightly so, but my point is there is no expectation of impunity for male faculty members when there are plenty of senior women around.

So much of what I am hearing described in much of this thread sounds like the academy of 1975, not 2011. Now maybe philosophy is that far behind the times, but I find that hard to believe.

And that leads me to think many people commenting in this thread don't really know what they are talking about, are basing their views on pop culture sources or brief encounters with the academy or isolated bad experience, and/or just have it in for academics. We have extensive due process options at my university (and most I know) for filing grievances confidentially. Sexual harassment charges, substantiated, *would* get a senior colleague in trouble, and likely shunned and suspected by his colleagues, and would *not* brand the accuser as a troublemaker if they were fairly made and substantiated charges. And the line between consensual fraternization and conduct that could be construed as sexual harassment is brightly drawn and clearly stated in university policy: where there is a supervisory or potential supervisory relationship, fraternization is prohibited. Elsewise, it is is discouraged but expressly permitted.

In 15 years at my current university, I have *never* seen a colleague in my own department become (publicly) involved with a graduate student advisee, and only a couple of times in other departments (it used to be common as dirt in my father's generation). I've seen occasional relationships emerge between faculty and students, but never a student who was directly the current advisee or currently in a class with the faculty member, which would violate my university's policy and subject the faculty member to rather serious disciplinary consequences even if he were tenured. (Like a sensible institution that respects the civil rights of its employees, my institution does not ban all fraternization, as long as there is no supervisory relationship it's legal, as it should be in a free society or otherwise women students are being treated like children by the moralists every bit as much as by the harassers and their apologists.)

Also unmentioned anywhere in this discussion, as though it couldn't possibly happen in a feminist utopia that the campus is apparently supposed to be, is the possibility that female students might seek out relationships with faculty members of their own volition and choice, in which case of course it is incumbent on the faculty member to observe his university's policy and the law, but not to check his (or her) humanity at the campus gate.

I am also aware of at least two senior female colleagues who have dated (and in one case married) younger male graduate students with whom they have worked. Two is not a lot (I can think of a dozen examples of male faculty members who have married former graduate students, albeit almost all of a generation 10-20 years older than me), but it does happen the other way. Anyone have a major problem with that? Should these women be shunned on the assumption that if they are married to former students, at some point the relationship had to be coercive due to the inherent power differential?

Crickets, right?

Academia is far less a boy's club than it used to be, and much less than many other industries still are. College and grad students and junior faculty are not children. They may be in positions of less power than faculty, or more senior faculty, and that creates a potential for abuse everywhere (looked at the military lately?). But I seriously question whether academia is any less accountable than other industries or major public institutions on this score.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Innocent until proven guilty" is a philosophical ideal that also happens to be enshrined in US law. That doesn't mean other organizations not subject to that law are also not subject to the ideal.

Fair enough. But how does that get worked out? The implication of your argument is that there is no justification for altering one's behavior towards another on the suspicion of misconduct unless there has been some kind of formal process proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's just not how we do things, nor should it be. It is how we should treat judicial punishments, i.e. judgments of guilt that have the potential to severely impact the accused's life and liberty, but it really shouldn't be how we handle social relationships, nor even necessarily professional ones. Reputations are important, and we make judgments on the basis of reputation all the time. There's nothing wrong with this.

What's always kind of surprised me is how many academics are widely perceived to be assholes who experience a minimum of professional consequences for their assholery. I'm a lawyer. Unlike academia, my profession actually does have written rules for just about everything, but make no mistake, people not liking you matters a ton. There are partners at my firm that can yell at judges to their faces in open court because they've got such a good relationship both inside and outside the courtroom that they can get away with it. But I've seen attorneys from other firms lose important issues simply because they pissed off everyone in the room by being dicks. And we're talking about a context to which "innocent until proven guilty" actually can apply.

That's the whole criticism of mob justice--they sometimes get it really wrong, with disastrous results.

If we were talking about pitchforks and gallows, that'd be one thing. Instead, we're talking about not inviting people perceived to be assholes to invitation-only events, i.e. events to which they do not actually have a right to attend.

You'll pardon me if this does not appear to me to be "mob justice" as traditionally conceived.
posted by valkyryn at 4:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


And that leads me to think many people commenting in this thread don't really know what they are talking about, are basing their views on pop culture sources or brief encounters with the academy or isolated bad experience, and/or just have it in for academics.

You should really read this.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:19 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea, I read it in detail. How telling that the pull quote which provides the incendiary title of this FPP is from an incident (reported anonymously and thus fully unverifiable) that the accuser claims happened in the 1980s.

Anecdotes are not evidence.

I'm a lawyer. Unlike academia, my profession actually does have written rules for just about everything

Let me invite you to examine my faculty handbook, which must be 100 pages long. Or the several-page-long sexual harassment policy we are sent every year. Or the endlessly detailed rules governing job searches, tenure cases, and evaluations of subordinates and students. Or my compliance requirements from the IRB, the federal agency that funds my research, or my university's conflict of interest policy, which I have to file and sign anew every time I sign on as a co-PI for a student's grant proposal or IRB proposal under penalty of perjury.

I know a lot of lawyers and spend a lot of time around law school folks for various professional reasons. The culture of accountability is really no better there than in academia. And law often feels like a boys' club too.

Then you can report your findings to the female associate vice president to whom I report as department chair, or the female dean of the college, or one of the two female full professors or 5 female tenured professors in my department, one of whom was chair for 6 years before me.

Seriously, I think some people get their ideas about academia from movies. Very old movies.

The linked blog would be a lot more impressive if they named names and took accountability upon themselves for the potentially libelous consequences.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:21 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the line between consensual fraternization and conduct that could be construed as sexual harassment is brightly drawn and clearly stated in university policy: where there is a supervisory or potential supervisory relationship, fraternization is prohibited.

I say this as a junior academic who does think the profession gets misunderstood by the general public a lot of the time, but: there is a big, big gap between 'prohibited' and 'nonexistent'. In one department I worked in, I knew of two male academics who had a well-deserved reputation for sleeping with their undergraduate students, and another who got repeatedly got drunk and sleazy with all the female students and younger staff. He was mostly regarded as a harmless nuisance; of the two who were actually sleeping with students, one was politely (and informally) asked to either stop or find another institution by the head of department (he chose to find another institution, at which he left his wife for a PhD student of his who he was engaged to last time I heard), and the other left of his own accord, and then started sleeping with one of his PhD students at his next institution (at which point his wife finally divorced him). And that wasn't a big department.

This sort of thing absolutely does happen. It's possible that it just doesn't happen at US universities, but that's not what I've heard from US colleagues, and besides, the US-UK academic cultural divide isn't really all that great.
posted by Catseye at 5:24 AM on March 31, 2011


To be clear, I am not saying harassment doesn't happen, or that it isn't egregious when it does. I am saying that academia is not the culture of impunity and zero accountability that is being portrayed by some in this thread as a stereotype, and hasn't been for some time. And I am suggesting that it is really not any worse than many other professions and industries, which doesn't excuse academia, which in fact holds itself to a high ethical standard in our discourse. And I am criticizing the slide that occurs between "harassment" proper and consensual, permitted fraternization in some of the comments above.

Academic culture has been more profoundly influenced by feminist thought and by gains in women's power over the last couple of decades than nearly any other area of modern life. Again, I can't speak to philosophy as such (I consider it mostly an anachronistic discipline anyway and I can never understand what they are talking about, since they so rarely refer to the real world outside their books). I'm just suggesting we not promulgate absurd stereotypes that dismiss the clear evidence of huge progress in this area within the academy in the last couple of decades. A lot of us have worked hard to make academic culture more just and accountable. I'm with the anti-harassment crusade. I'm not for witch hunts, scapegoating, vigilantism, or making shit up because it suits your narrative of oppression.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:28 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"X hasn't invited me to the last three colloquia at Redland."

"Chippy little prick must think you're a sex pest!"

"Well we're not inviting him back for a second interview"
That just seems like an odd scenario. While I was in grad school, I coordinated two workshops that invited outside scholars to present work, and I co-organized two conferences. There was no way we could have invited every scholar in the field who was doing interesting work. There are lots and lots of scholars who have never received an invitation from me, and I can't imagine that they take it personally (or even care that much.) I don't think the issue here is that scholars feel entitled to be invited to any particular conference. I think it's that they might start to feel like there were consequences for their reputations if they found themselves receiving significantly fewer invitations overall.

(That's not to say that I support this. I don't think I do.)
In 15 years at my current university, I have *never* seen a colleague in my own department become (publicly) involved with a graduate student advisee, and only a couple of times in other departments (it used to be common as dirt in my father's generation). I've seen occasional relationships emerge between faculty and students, but never a student who was directly the current advisee or currently in a class with the faculty member, which would violate my university's policy and subject the faculty member to rather serious disciplinary consequences even if he were tenured.
There were two instances of students in my department having affairs with professors who directly supervised them. I know a lot about one of them, because the student was my roommate and close friend. There was eventually an investigation, but everyone agreed on the polite (but totally untrue) fiction that they hadn't had sex until after my roommate had found a new supervisor. Very coincidentally, during the investigation the professor, a big name in the field who had a history of sleeping with his students, let it be known that he had a job offer at a rival department. Nobody was very surprised that he was totally exonerated.

I know a lot less about the other situation, except that the grad student was forced to leave the department, and the professor is still there. I don't know whether there was a formal investigation.

I'm not sure that I consider this the unwanted advances/ comments/ etc. that the blog describes. There are good reasons for policies that say that professors can't sleep with their students, but it's kind of a different issue. But claiming that it never happens kills your credibility with me a little bit, because I've seen it happen.
posted by craichead at 5:32 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think these issues are less of a problem in other disciplines; I've never heard about serious problems like these in history today. I don't know if that is a result or the reason why history seems to be more gender balanced - about 1/2 of grad students are women, and prominent women scholars in most fields I can think of. There are likely still systemic issues shared with other disciplines: women and visible minorities less likely to be hired to tenure track jobs, married women less likely to get tenure than married men, etc. These are partly issues of bias, partly issues of family-work balance/gender roles. But I've never heard even rumours of wide-spread sexual harassment, and women have been prominent voices in all of the seminars and conferences I have attended, are well-represented in edited books, etc.

Sorry - didn't mean to be boasting. But there is something about Philosophy. Perhaps it's caused by the current gender balance, perhaps it causes it, but Philosophy is not in the same place as the rest of the social sciences & humanities.

Could it be the place of Philosophy as the traditional highest status discipline? Women make more inroads in lower-status jobs, though the fact of women working in a job can lower its status. But I wonder whether upstarts like History, literature, sociology -- all these new Fangled studies are more open to women due to their lower status? maybe fewer things to prove re genius, etc, since we already know no historian is a genius.
posted by jb at 5:35 AM on March 31, 2011


fourcheesemac, my understanding is that this conversation has in fact mostly been about sexist harassment in philosophy and not a general indictment of academia generally.

I think you should consider whether it makes sense to dismiss the statements of others about a culture of which you state you are ignorant. What is the necessary logical relationship between your experience of not-philosophy and someone else's experience of philosophy? You've explicitly said that you "can't speak to philosophy as such" (then you shat on it) but you're still contemptuously asserting that the stories being told about philosophy are false and unhelpful "narratives of oppression." Is that based on anything other than your own ignorant conjecture? It doesn't seem to be, and it's needlessly insulting.

I don't understand how you can consider yourself an anti-harassment crusader when you so easily and insultingly dismiss women who speak up about harassment.
posted by prefpara at 5:36 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


of the two who were actually sleeping with students, one was politely (and informally) asked to either stop or find another institution by the head of department (he chose to find another institution, at which he left his wife for a PhD student of his who he was engaged to last time I heard)

OK, first, were these *his* students? And if not, no matter how sleazy, where is the ethical problem here?

Second, you report that he faced serious consequences and shunning, effectively, by his colleagues for being sleazy, if not unethical. Isn't that just what this FPP is saying doesn't happen often?

Third, so he married his graduate student. How is that harassment? He's unethical for cheating on his wife, and he would be if he were in any other profession. (Do we think lawyers and business men don't cheat on their wives with junior subordinates?)

We're mixing up apples and oranges here. Harassment is the imposition of unwanted sexual attention of any kind; the imposition of any sexual attention when one has a supervisory or advisory relationship to the student in question; and routinely aggressive sexual conduct in situations where it is inappropriate and could make others uncomfortable. Merely having a relationship with someone who happens to be a student, even at your institution, and not under your direct supervision may be sleazy if she's half your age or you're married, but it isn't illegal and it isn't harassment.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:37 AM on March 31, 2011


Plenty of comments in this thread generalize out from philosophy to all of academia, prefpara. By your logic, that's unacceptable too.

Calling any instance of human sexual expression in academia "harassment" (more a fault of this thread than the linked blog, to be sure) is inimical to the cause of stopping actual harassment. That's how I reconcile my positions. I decry harassment. I don't think it's nearly as common or as exempt from sanction as many in this thread, and to some extent the linked resources, are saying. Not in the academia I know. It's a perfectly reasonable position and not at all at odds with my own feminist and ethical commitments. To equate my views with denying the reality of harassment victims' experience is sloppy thinking; perhaps that's also typical of philosophy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:41 AM on March 31, 2011


Also, while I am careful to say I don't philosophy intimately, so to speak, I know plenty of colleagues in the field, have worked with philosophy majors and undergrads many times in my career, have actually given talks in philosophy departments, and work myself in a humanities field that does have a significant interface with philosophy. So my "ignorance" of it is relative, and probably a good deal less misinformed than the views of some in this thread who haven't got a clue about modern academia in general, let alone in one discipline or another. I know the modern university well. I've worked in them for 20 years, 30 if you count my prior education.

We still have problems with sexual harassment, no doubt. They are real, they are serious, they are deeply hurtful to women students and colleagues. The same could be said of any other profession. We could have better accountability and enforcement. I don't disagree with any of this.

But the modern university is not a candy store for lecherous old men the way it once was -- and yes indeed it was, just like the rest of society -- and it's really no worse than other professional settings, mutatis mutandis. That is all I am saying. And I'll back off now and take whatever lumps that gets me without further response.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:47 AM on March 31, 2011


Calling any instance of human sexual expression in academia "harassment" (more a fault of this thread than the linked blog, to be sure) is inimical to the cause of stopping actual harassment.
Until you chimed in to claim it never happened, very few comments on this thread were about consensual relationships between professors and their students. That's your hang-up: most of us are responding to a blog which details instances of unwanted sexual comments or advances. And frankly, your attempt to shift the conversation feels a bit like you don't want to confront the conversation which the rest of us are having.
posted by craichead at 5:49 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Speaking from my own personal experience, because women seemed to do philosophy so much better than men. If they lasted long enough.

Well, sure. Having a pussy means you know how to think.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at your sexist assualt on sexism.


In my time in undergrad and grad, the women in those programs, both students and professors, seemed to be better at doing philosophy than the men in those programs. I didn't claim anything more than that. Certainly not why that may have been.

But hey -- you want to ascribe arguments to me I didn't make? Go nuts.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:54 AM on March 31, 2011


OK, first, were these *his* students?

All the students that I knew of were, but these were undergraduate students in a small department - he would, at one point, have taught 90% of all its students, as would any other senior member of staff.

Second, you report that he faced serious consequences and shunning, effectively, by his colleagues for being sleazy, if not unethical.

No, he didn't. Dr Sleazy-but-not-actually-sleeping-with-his-students got a lot of rolled eyes and "eh, what can you do, that's just Dr So-and-so for you" - which isn't exactly cheerleading him, but neither is it 'serious consequences and shunning'. It wasn't taken as a serious problem, even when female postgraduate students had to put up with his unwanted and very physical advances at social events.

Of the other two, who were sleeping with students, one of them faced no consequences at all - the other continued with the exact same behaviour, increasingly blatantly, for twenty years until a new head of department told him to either knock it off or leave. No formal procedures were instigated against any of them, at any point.

Third, so he married his graduate student. How is that harassment?

I didn't call it harassment - and for the record, I wouldn't call a senior academic saying "show me a grad student I can fuck" harassment, either. It's part of a culture that has made actual harassment a hell of a lot easier to get away with, though.
posted by Catseye at 6:01 AM on March 31, 2011


fourcheesemac, certainly part of this is the academic department to which one belongs, clearly, you come from a fairly enlightened field, but your problem is that you're taking your experiences and saying that this must apply to all of academia.

My experiences in academia in a male-dominated science are very similar with the experiences people are discussing in this thread and in the blog. The academics I know are typically unprofessional, harbor sexist old boy's notions, and definitely, will circle the wagons to defend colleagues, especially respected, tenured ones. So much so, that having spent time in both places, I'm convinced that it is much harder to deal with sexual harassment and sexism in my former academic field than in the professional world. The idea that all academic culture has been more profoundly influenced by feminist thought is completely silly. Perhaps some fields have, but to take this and apply it to all of academia is a huge assumption.

I do agree with you that consensual relationships between adults really isn't really the problem here. Some people have mentioned it, but you seem to be harping on this, rather than addressing the instances of sexual harassment linked to in the blog. On preview - exactly what craichead says.

And let's not forget, it's possible that sexual harassment could be going on all around you and you'd never know. Simply being in academia doesn't make you privy to people's private relationships, nor does it make you an expert on sexual harassment in academia. For all the reasons described, women are extremely hesitant to report bad behavior to college authorities. And certainly, if you're a man, you will more than likely go your entire career without ever experiencing sexual harassment. So, unless you've talked at length with women about their experiences, you certainly are not the expert you claim to be on this subject.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:12 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


(I consider it mostly an anachronistic discipline anyway and I can never understand what they are talking about, since they so rarely refer to the real world outside their books)

I was about to be offended, but then I realized that a) you probably haven't read any contemporary philosophy but Jacques Derrida, or worse, Michael Taussig talking about philosophy, and b) I feel the same way about cultural anthropology!

Even after all that fieldwork, you still manage to climb into your own navel and talk only about yourselves.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a tenured male academic in a field which historically has a large majority of male participation, but not philosophy. I've been a professor for about 10 years.

I literally can't name a senior male scholar in my field who has a reputation as a serial sexual harasser.

I can think of two explanations for this.

1. The norms against that behavior have by now become so firmly established in my field that people really don't act that way anymore.

2. It happens, maybe even happens a lot, but I (and other men on the faculty) just don't hear about it, because the information is transmitted through other channels, or not transmitted at all.

I have no idea which of these is accurate.

In any case, what's definitely not the case in my field is that there's a big population of persistent harrassers who are known as such to the faculty and administration, and are tolerated because they're bigshots or just because we don't care.
posted by escabeche at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2011




At the University of Michigan, Slavoj Žižek supposedly had a heart or panic attack while staring at the breasts of a friend of mine.


Said breasts were probably wrapped in an Ohio State jersey. Understandable.
posted by spicynuts at 7:57 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was a paper published in Hypatia a few months ago about this very subject. The author doesn't agree that there should be restrictions on sexual relationships between students and faculty. And she points out something I think is really important, which is that if a university takes as its paradigmatic harassment case a pervy male professor harassing female undergrads or graduate students, it makes it harder for female faculty to have their harassment complaints taken seriously. She concludes with a really troubling anecdote about one way this has played out.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


When my mom was a grad student, one of her professors actually attacked her in a hallway, pushing her up against a wall and squeezing her breasts. She kneed him in the nuts and filed a formal complaint in conjunction with two other women with similar experiences. It went nowhere. The admin suggested they had mental problems, but agreed this paricular professor would remove himself from their advisory committees. Years later, he raped a student on a trip to a conference. She sued him, but he died meanwhile of cancer. So she sued the university, who claimed they had no idea he was a sexual pedator. This woman found many many formal complaints about the guy when she subpoenaed his records. My mom testified at the trial. Here's the thing. My father-in-law works at the same university. His best friend works in the same department as dead asshole. He just could not believe it. He kept saying that these things were impossible, that it could not have happened. That in his experience, no one harassed like that at the university. It wasn't true. When I pointed out all the evidence, when I pointed out my own mom's experience, he was just flummoxed. For some men, good men especially, who are incapable of being other than ethical, the rotten behavior of the harrassers is just invisible.
posted by Malla at 9:32 AM on March 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


I know that in mathematics there has been a hard push to increase the share of women in the field. We also have the advantage of of having a transformative thinker who happened to be a woman; Emily Noether is pretty directly responsible for the way we think about modern algebra today. There are probably some sexists hanging on, but the scene is changing quickly; I have the feeling that lingering inequalities in the numbers of mathematicians is going to be due more to institutional problems in the arrangement of academia rather than outright discrimination.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:31 AM on March 31, 2011


Did I miss it, or do none of the authors of the linked articles actually call anyone out by name?

Not a promising start.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:00 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


USR, the whole point is that it's a situation where it is (or feels?) hugely, take-your-career-in-your-hands risky to name names. These names are floating in the sotto voce information networks but people won't put them in writing - even in private emails, people will say "let's talk in person". (This is why - again - prospective students need to visit campus and talk to grad students off the record.) Where the power difference is so great, the proof so much "just her word", and the consequences to great - ending the accused or the accuser's career -- it's hard to know what solutions there are. It's not surprising at all that people aren't naming names.


About math vs philosophy:
From reports from family members and good friends in pure math (as opposed to applied math), my sense is that pure math shares two gender problems with philosophy:
1. (some) male scholars not taking female scholars in the discipline seriously, in a sort of general way (my sense is this might be more true in some sub-fields than other)
2. female students leave the discipline before getting to grad school for a variety of reasons

Math doesn't seem to share as much:
3. undervaluing female scholars because of nebulous perceptions about their "brilliance" (harder to deny that someone has proved something novel in math) - this might be part of #1, not sure.
4. having areas that are "female" areas and which thus are less prestigious or seen as less hard/core (some parts of ethics suffer from this in philosophy, for example)

I don't know of overt harassment cases in math in the current generation; I do know of a few in philosophy (though I have better access to gossip networks in philosophy).

I also think, weirdly, that math is able to face its gender problems more directly because you have so many senior figures who are involved in pedagogical research. There's funding for research on pedagogy and trying to increase the representation of women; and there's disciplinary prestige associated with it - it's a recognized thing that senior people do when they become eminence grises. Neither of these is true of philosophy - there's no money, and there's negative prestige associated with a focus on pedagogy (which is INSANE). It's plain on its face that math had a gender problem for a long time, nobody disputes it, so there's less built-in resistance to facing it? Maybe. Mathematicians can probably address this better than I can.


About philosophy vs other humanities:
There are a LOT fewer women in philosophy than in other humanities. Again, look at the graphs I linked to above about earned doctorates. The influence of feminism has been very mixed in philosophy, there are some individuals who take it very seriously and others who are in full backlash against it; in many prestigious departments it's treated as a ghetto area where the damned are condemned to toil. (And if you're hired as the sole woman in a department you'll be expected to teach a desultory class on it once every few years.) Maybe that's too dark a picture; this varies a lot by department. But the point is that it's not a discipline where post-colonialism, feminism, etc have anything like the traction they have in other humanities.

fourcheesemac, I think it's not so helpful to be dismissive. To acknowledge that there are some profs in philosophy who have acted in this way, and that there's no existing mechanism that seems to stop them, doesn't mean that we need to think the situation is like it was 30 years ago. It's a LOT better than it was 30 years ago and yet some problems remain. To say "you people don't know about academia" is inexplicable - a lot of the people in this thread are in or have been in academia. It's fair to say that things look different from where you sit, but why be insulting?

About the suggestion that grad students should unionize - there have been a lot of efforts in that direction in the last 10 or 15 years, a few successes and a few spectacular failures.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


And to clarify: what I said about gender problems in math and philosophy is just about a few places or individuals, not the disciplines as a whole. It's about "where there IS still a problem about this, the problem takes these forms". There are tons of people in both disciplines who are very eqalitarian, eager to get more women into the field, working hard with good will toward this goal, etc. The situation in both fields is WAY better than it was.

Female students in either field should not be discouraged - the situation is largely good and getting better all the time. We're just talking here about ways we could improve it, which doesn't imply that it's a terrible situation now, just that there is room for improvement in some areas.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


USR, the whole point is that it's a situation where it is (or feels?) hugely, take-your-career-in-your-hands risky to name names. These names are floating in the sotto voce information networks but people won't put them in writing - even in private emails, people will say "let's talk in person". (This is why - again - prospective students need to visit campus and talk to grad students off the record.) Where the power difference is so great, the proof so much "just her word", and the consequences to great - ending the accused or the accuser's career -- it's hard to know what solutions there are. It's not surprising at all that people aren't naming names.

Thank you, I got that already. But I were a philosopher who actually actually wanted to shun people (as opposed to making empty threats about shunning people), I would have worked through private channels, building up support for the idea, talked to libel and slander lawyers, and then made a public pronouncement and named names. That open letter that Lance, Protevi, and Schliesser signed is a declaration of helplessness.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:34 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am a philosophy graduate of the institution that fourcheesemac is affiliated with.

My thesis adviser, a rising star in academia, was a woman. The chair of the philosophy department is a woman. MacKinnon is requisite reading for most second year students.

I cannot imagine any sexual harassment going without due punishment at this institution, in any department. And it can very much seem like a boy's club kind of place - but harassment just wouldn't be tolerated. I agree that this article seems to describe perhaps philosophy departments in 1975.

Their project seems to be to somehow correlate the sort of anachronistic nature of academic philosophy with similarly archaic rules of peer-to-peer engagement within the academy. In my experience as a philosophy student, I just don't see it. Does it happen? Of course. But in philosophy departments ubiquitously or on a scale larger than in any academic department (or society in general, for that matter)? No, probably not.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:09 PM on March 31, 2011


The Yale Herald Yale Students File Title IX Suit Against the University The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today it will open an investigation to review Yale’s policies for dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault.
posted by psyche7 at 2:43 PM on March 31, 2011


You were a male (?) undergrad (?) at a department with star feminist philosophers, and didn't know of harassment in your department. That is great, and I think there are a lot of departments where this is just not a problem. But your super-feminist department is not necessarily representative across the field, and as a male undergrad you might be insulated from the scuttlebutt among female grad students or profs about current or recent incidents of this type.

I totally agree that the evidence doesn't say anything about whether this is more true in philosophy than in other fields. But I don't think it's fair to generalize from "it wasn't a problem in my department" to "it's not a problem in the way people are reporting it is in departments at other schools."

I also agree that there's a problem of trying to extend solidarity and "taking things seriously" which means that we/people who are concerned about this can tend to lump together incidents from many years ago with incidents happening in the last 10 years, say. Things have changed a lot for the better, and I think the worst of the stories usually concern events 20 or 30 years ago, so lumping them in can tend to feel like "hey, no fair, that stuff isn't happening now". So I think we should probably set those events (more than 10 or 15 years ago, say) in their own category, and direct our focus to within the last 10 or 15 years.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:46 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chiming in from computer science to say that, yes, there are certain people who are known as creepy and prone to harass women and who apparently stay on with no consequences. For example, someone I'd been talking with at a conference pointed out a big name and told me to watch out for him, as he was known to harass grad students. And chuckled. Those around us agreed. I found out later the person I'd been talking to? Fired once for stalking a female coworker/student. Then tried to do the same to me, before I shut him down. (This was a major, top tier conference, too, not some weird little regional thing.)

Saying the people commenting just don't know anything about academia because their own university or department culture is different is extremely dismissive and rude. I'm glad y'all had such a great experience! That's spectacular! But that in no way changes my experiences, or the other experiences of the people in the thread or article that have had it happen to them. (I am not just talking about one conference experience with unsavory folks, either.) I have no idea what 1975 was like, since I wasn't born, but since I wasn't making a comparison, that really doesn't matter, does it? What matters is that there is still, to some level, systemic acceptance of harassment in some fields and little the victim can do to stop it without ruining her own career, other than try not to attract the attention of one of these jerks. That is a problem, and it does not become qualitatively less of a problem just because it apparently is not prevalent in 100% of universities in 100% of departments.
posted by wending my way at 3:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Supposing truth is a woman - what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman's heart?"

-The very first lines of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil
posted by thebestusernameever at 3:58 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


If these women are not naming names to warn other women about interactions with certain professors they are facilitating the harassment.
posted by fuq at 4:48 PM on March 31, 2011


If facilitating harassment were the cost of keeping my career, well. I would think very hard about it.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:01 PM on March 31, 2011


Fuq, I think your first targets should be the people who harassed them, followed by the people who enabled it, then the people who turned a blind eye to it. Criticising the victims can wait until the actual villains have been dealt with.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:03 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


fuq, a major part of what we are discussing is how victims and their friends and colleagues can support each other. I have disagreed with other contributors on this thread for defending what I see as a position with the potential to enable silence about harassment. I don't see what you think attacking victims could possibly add to this discussion.
posted by howfar at 5:29 PM on March 31, 2011


I am also aware of at least two senior female colleagues who have dated (and in one case married) younger male graduate students with whom they have worked. Two is not a lot (I can think of a dozen examples of male faculty members who have married former graduate students, albeit almost all of a generation 10-20 years older than me), but it does happen the other way. Anyone have a major problem with that? Should these women be shunned on the assumption that if they are married to former students, at some point the relationship had to be coercive due to the inherent power differential?

Crickets, right?


Weird response, I know, but the best thing about the (otherwise mediocre) one-season TV show Jack and Bobby was the relationship between Christine Lahti's character (a professor), and her grad student (played by Bradley Cooper), which was all about how, even when these relationships are consensual, they can have both terrible career repercussions and the inherent power differential can cause really crappy complications.

But in short, of course relationships between older female professors and male students can be problematic.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2011


If you're a grad student, to report a senior scholar for sexual harassment is to put your career in jeopardy. Your department's reputation hinges on its ability to recruit and retain respected scholars. If they discipline the faculty member, it potentially hurts the department, especially if the scholar leaves for another department (and there are many) that will let him get away with harassing students. It costs the department nothing to discredit you and force you out.

There's your problem right there. You need to be able to report problems to an authority that doesn't have a vested interest in sweeping problems under the carpet - and which will force the department to recognise that its reputation also hinges on not treating its less powerful members like shit.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:47 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Criticising the victims can wait until the actual villains have been dealt with.

Who? The actual villains can't be dealt with until we know who they are. If everyone is participating in the silence, everyone is helping this happen.

But yeah, I am sort of blaming the victim, and that is wrong. I'm typing out of the frustration of being told there is a serious problem but the victims working to protect, for whatever valid reasons, the predators. I would like to help this situation by also shunning academics who are serial harassers. I can find other people to cite, and contribute to a solution that way, but the people who are concerned with promoting action against this people are not giving anyone the tools necessary to help them. If I were given adequate information, I know that the professors at my school are just as serious about anti-sexism as fcm's faculty and they would think twice about assigning readings from people they find out are harassers or sexist. This is the sort of situation that a lot of people can take concrete steps to address but the people bringing this problem to public attention are preventing anyone from taking steps.

I'm pissed with people who want my help, who want reform, but do not want to take a risk to give anyone the tools necessary (in this case, the names of the people to be shunned) to start repairing the broken system. Anonymous people complaining about anonymous people will not correct this deep systemic sexism.

So yeah, I'm not being helpful, but there is no way that I am able to be helpful to these people. Change requires risk and if no one is willing to take any risks the situation is rather hopeless, and that's frustrating! Because of this I cannot see how this situation will improve and that's a god damn shame.
posted by fuq at 9:31 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What We're Doing About What It's Like currently soliciting.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:30 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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