We have been asked to publish this Open Letter. Comments are open here and can also be sent directly to Ted Toadvine, Department Head (email).
It has come to our attention that false and misleading allegations about the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon have been circulated on various blogs, and we are writing with the intention of correcting this misinformation.
The claims made about our department are summarized succinctly by Brian Leiter, who alleges that they were reported to him by an anonymous graduate student at our program and subsequently confirmed by two faculty members:
- that “there is a faculty member suspected of being a serial sexual harasser”;
- that “it was graduate students who had to raise a stink about it, due to departmental and administrative lethargy on the matter”; and
- that “a feminist philosopher on the faculty urged quiet about this incident lest it cost the department an award for being ‘women-friendly.’”
Concerning (1), an administrative review was conducted by our Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (OAAEO) in response to concerns brought forward by a now-retired member of the faculty regarding a current member of the faculty. The concerns were that the faculty member in question had violated the university’s policies concerning conflict of interest and sexual harassment. After a thorough review of the allegations, including interviews with two dozen students, some faculty members, and alumni, our administration concluded that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there were policy violations as alleged. The announcement of the conclusion of this administrative review was made on 3 August 2011 by the University’s Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Prior to that time, no authoritative information concerning the review had been made public. Since Oregon administrative rules restrict public dissemination of information about personnel reviews, the details of this review are not public knowledge and have not been shared with faculty or students in our department.
Concerning (2), the claim that this review was instigated by graduate students, or that the department and administration did not respond in a timely way to the allegations, is false. The administrative review was requested by the department head in response to concerns raised by a faculty member. Graduate students learned only later that the review was in process, in many cases as a consequence of being interviewed as part of the review. Since the review process is confidential and intended to protect due process, many of our graduate students expressed frustration at the lack of public information. Unfortunately, the confidential nature of the review process has encouraged some to believe that the administration has not responded appropriately. In our view, the confidential process of such reviews is essential to protecting the privacy of those who bring concerns forward, those who are accused, and those who provide information or evidence concerning the allegations.
Concerning (3), the claim that a faculty member in our department “urged quiet about this incident” is false and misleading. Since personnel reviews are not a public matter, no public announcement or other authoritative information was disseminated to faculty or students concerning this review while it was underway. The majority of our faculty first learned of the review when graduate students expressed frustration about the lack of public information or administrative response. At that point, our department was asked by the administration to cooperate with the review process by respecting confidentiality and due process. Due process requires that hearsay and unverified allegations not become the basis for public judgment. In this spirit, many members of our department urged that the review process be allowed to take its course, so that unverified allegations not be taken as the basis for public condemnation. Unfortunately, the blog postings to which we are responding did not respect this request.
All faculty, staff, and graduate students in our department were invited (on 2 May 2011) to comment directly and confidentially to a representative of SWIP-UK concerning the department’s nomination for their “women-friendliness” award. Although many graduate students were aware of the ongoing review at that point, either by being interviewed or by way of rumor, the majority of the faculty were not. When faculty members did learn of the review, they expressed the need to respect the due process of those involved. The department also organized an informational meeting between the graduate students and representatives of the administration and OAAEO, as well as holding a department-wide meeting to increase understanding about the review process and formulate next steps for our response as a community. No faculty member made any effort to suppress information for the purpose of winning an award.
Our department takes seriously the task of fostering a positive climate for all members of our community. Our dedication to feminism and to philosophical pluralism is reflected in our academic curriculum as well as our department culture. The latest NRC assessment of research doctorate programs ranked us as the most diverse philosophy program among public AAU institutions, and the third most diverse program in the country. We are also the only philosophy doctoral program in the United States to require that students complete courses in feminist philosophy. As a department, we are committed to the safety of our women students, to fostering an environment that is healthy and appropriate between faculty and students, and to encouraging the flourishing of all women in our community, faculty as well as students. Although the administrative review is now complete, we take the recent events in our department as an invitation to work energetically and proactively toward improving the climate for women in our community even further.
Mark Johnson, Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Bonnie Mann, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Scott L. Pratt, Professor of Philosophy
Beata Stawarska, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ted Toadvine, Department Head and Associate Professor of Philosophy
Alejandro Vallega, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Rocío Zambrana, Assistant Professor of Philosophy