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04 April 2011


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In the original post you said that
“there are many important figures in the profession whom their colleagues and students know to have engaged in various forms of sexual harassment on multiple occasions.”

Can you say how widespread you think the knowledge is of who these “important figures” are? I asked a total of 20 senior colleagues at 4 different major departments including my own if any of them knew of important figures in the profession who had engaged in sexual harassment on multiple occasions. 16 said they did not. 3 mentioned the same person with all 3 saying they had heard stories of past misconduct by this philosopher but had no direct knowledge of the reported incidents. 1 mentioned a different philosopher and said that this philosopher had dated several graduate students. I don’t take this small sample of responses to show anything. It simply leads me to ask the question I opened with. All 20 people I asked are the sort of people well placed to invite people to conferences, to invite people to publish papers and those sorts of things. I'm confident the one person mentioned by 3 people won't be invited to many events. Beyond that, these prominent philosophers have no knowledge that would lead them to exclude anyone from invitations. I wonder how many do?

Let me also ask about one final issue related to the latter response I received. I was surprised that a philosopher was identified as having engaged in sexual harassment on multiple occasions because of who he had dated. Do you think that faculty/ dating students is part of the harassment problem in philosophy? Or if it's not part of that problem, is it a separate significant problem for women in the profession? One top department has produced a striking number of faculty/student marriages. It’s safe to assume that not every faculty/student relationship there has ended in marriage and so there must be or at least must have been quite a lot of faculty/student dating at that department. Is this a part of the problem you think the profession needs to address?

Mark Lance

I certainly have done no surveys here. Personally I know of one very serious case first-hand, and have heard multiple first and second-hand stories about 4 others. One other case I have heard about recently but only via second hand accounts, and there seems to be a semi-formal investigation underway on that case. And there is one case of someone whom I have witnessed engaging in behavior that I consider highly problematic with multiple graduate students, and whom I've heard multiple second hand stories of worse about. So that is 5 fairly paradigm cases and two others. (Each of these is an at least relatively prominent full professor.) Before we wrote this, Eric and I compared notes and had heard about most of the same cases, with different levels of evidence. How many in the profession know anything about such cases? I don't know. I wouldn't assume my experience is representative. I certainly am widely known for being vocal and involved in feminist and related issues, and I have tried to be widely helpful to younger academics throughout my career, including women. So I might be sought out on such matters more than others who either avoid the issue or simply don't seek it out. In any event I can say that I also know of quite a lot of folks who I am sure know about each of the cases I do. So upshot: there is certainly a fairly widespread range of knowledge about at least a few, but I have no idea how widely this knowledge is shared.

Are faculty-graduate student relationships a problem? Well, and I don't know if the others here agree, but I think this is something where it is very hard to offer any hard and fast answers. (That is, of course, independent of the question of whether one should make hard and fast rules, which might be called for on act-utilitarian grounds.) There are obviously cases of relationships that turned out well. One could argue that the power dynamic almost always introduces complications, but so do many things. But it is also a kind of relationship that is obviously easily capable of, and one that often does lead to, abuse. And if someone is dating a large number of graduate students, I would certainly worry. At a minimum such things puts a strain on the social-professional culture of a department, introduces jealousy, raises in the minds of many questions about whether students are deserving of various credits, and could easily be a sign of worse abuse. I would certainly advise any friend or colleague against serial dating of graduate students, and be very suspicious if they ignored that advice. So not automatically harassment, but a big red flag in my view.

As for whether this sort of thing is a problem for women in the profession I'll not hazard a guess. But it would sure be good to have a proper survey done.

And should the woman "shunned" be an ex-wife--what then? How do you institute a system of shunning and social punishment that has a filter? What if an ex-wife simply wants to harass--how will your system discern the innocent?

John Protevi

It's neither ours, nor is it a system. Please read the paragraph beginning "Second."


I am male, though that particular is irrelevant here, and a graduate of Oberlin.
When it comes to the "pipeline" issue, as you call it, I have an interesting anecdote to relate. A professor at a top 10 graduate program told me when I was investigating graduate schools that Oberlin was below the level of the schools they generally looked at for graduate students. This leaves an awfully small standard 'recruiting pool,' and excludes some really excellent schools, like my alma mater -Quine's - especially some top-notch, progressive liberal arts colleges, that do a lot more work in helping to develop their students, especially women. The recommendations from faculty there don't carry the weight of those more established schools, as I was told. But there has to be some measure of sanity and balance brought to this. Because that's where you're going to get good female candidates.

The application process, the GREs, grad school, job presented is presented in chilling ways. "College is fun," said one of my undergrad profs, "Grad school is not fun." They did their best to impress upon us that grad school, if we went, was an ordeal to be endured, a trial of passage.

Mark Lance

The idea that one would discount a student from Oberlin for grad school is utterly irrational. There are dozens of students that I know of personally who have been successful at top ten institutions after UG at schools with much smaller and overall less impressive philosophy faculties than Oberlin. I know of a few who teach at top ten schools. I am, happily, pretty confident that this view is not widespread

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