Most of us know about efforts to sort philosophy programs according to placement rate or prestige, but what of the percentage of PhD graduates from each program who are women or other underrepresented minorities? Thanks to Eric Schwitzgebel's efforts in contacting the National Center for Science Engineering Statistics (see here and here), we have access to some numbers on this issue. Specifically, the NCSES supplied the number of women and minority graduates from doctoral philosophy programs in the United States between the years 1973 and 2014 (but not broken down by year). Below, I provide the top programs in the United States from this list of 96 programs in terms of % of women graduates in this period, as well as the top programs in terms of % of non-white graduates, where for "non-white" I am aggregating the NCSES categories of "Hispanic," "Asian," "Asian or Pacific Islander," "Black" and "two or more races." (I omitted institutions from the NCSES data that no longer offer doctoral degrees in philosophy.) One striking feature of these lists is how many of the programs show up on Brian Leiter's list of PhD programs "whose existence is not easy to explain." A provocative rhetorical question follows: Should we be closing PhD programs that better serve women and minorities in philosophy? I welcome discussion below.
This evening I had an opportunity to get together with the other women in my philosophy department at UC Davis, and it caused me to reflect on how far we have come - when I joined the department in 2006, I was the only woman. Elaine Landry (front center) joined in 2008, followed by Marina Oshana (back right) in 2009. We stayed that while for awhile, until a recent spate of hires gave us Tina Rulli (front left) in 2014 and Zoe Drayson (back center) and Alyssa Ney (front right) starting just this fall. We are now 6 full-time women faculty out of 15! So, I just wanted to take this moment to celebrate, hoping that others have similar stories to tell and that they will share them here. Please do!
Nominations are OPEN for the PSA Women's Caucus new Highlighted PhilosopHer feature, recognizing the work of the Caucus's membership. Nominations need not be from Caucus members (although nominees do), so this is your chance to crow about some of your outstanding colleagues! Maybe you saw a great talk from a woman philosopher of science during this summer conference season?
The nomination form is here. Highlighted PhilosopHers will be featured on the Caucus's blog, Science Visions.
It is encouraging to see that the percentage of women in PSA is higher among more junior members, reflecting trends in other fields of philosophy and in academia generally. I am surprised, however, that there has been no statistically significant increase in the percentage of women in PSA over the last 8 years.
Just as Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions sought to expand our view of women and primate research, Science Visions seeks to expand our view of women in philosophy of science. The goal is to gather the best of the web on issues of interest to its readers, from research and teaching issues in philosophy of science and the experience of minorities in the academy to conference announcements, news briefs, and career advice. Its editors will draw on their own perspectives and interests and those of their peers to lend philosophy of science a new set of voices. It will host their original content, as well as items of interest to our readers from elsewhere on the web, calls for fellowships and conferences, and other special features.
Check out Science Vision's first editorial, from editor Soazig Le Bihan, who argues that our moral obligation towards our students goes beyond providing them with good critical and analytical skills. (And while you're there, there's some other good stuff posted, so please browse around!)
This past Monday, on 20th April, Christia Mercer, the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, delivered the Philosophy Department's annual Sprague and Taylor lecture at Brooklyn College. The title of her talk was 'How Women Changed The Course of Philosophy'. Here is the abstract:
The story we tell about the development of early modern philosophy was invented by German Neo-Kantians about 150 years ago. Created to justify its proponents’ version of philosophy, it is a story that ignores the complications of seventeenth-century philosophy and its sources. In this lecture, Professor Christia Mercer uncovers the real story behind early modern rationalism and shows that many of its most original components have roots in the philosophical contributions made by women. [link added]
At one point during the talk, in referring to the contributions made by Julian of Norwich, Professor Mercer began by saying, "Julian does not offer an argument here, but rather an analysis...". During the question and answer session, focusing on this remark, I offered some brief comments.
I've written before about the question of boundary policing in philosophy, occasioned at the time by a remarkable essay of Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman's. It's a question, and a habitual tendency within the discipline, that certainly continues to deserve our attention.
In the same spirit, I want to call readers' attention to an essay that Adriel Trott has published today on her blog. The piece is subtle and quite complex, beginning with four anecdotes and developing from there into a meditation on what it would mean to stop policing the borders of philosophy—but also engaging a series of related—and urgent—questions. How can philosophy remain attentive to the singularity of different sorts of experiences? How can philosophy embrace the insights of intersectionality? What, especially in light of these first two questions, might it mean to do philosophy while resisting the drive to universalize or ontologize? And how do we deal with the ever present danger of appropriation or colonization involved in our attempts to theorize or conceptualize what is at stake in lives at the border, even if we have given up attempting to police those borders?
The essay is carefully composed and deserves to be read on its own terms. But as a teaser, I will leave readers with this short section from Trott's conclusion, about which I will add a few remarks below the fold.
I am only just now coming to see that changing the way we think about philosophy in order to make it more inclusive means making those of us who are happy with the way the thinking in philosophy currently operates uncomfortable and not-quite-at-home with philosophy.
There are two important posts up today elsewhere in the philosophical blogopshere that deserve your attention—both of which raise the question of how those of us in the profession at large can support those members who, because of activism or simply their social position, are vulnerable to various official and non-official forms of retaliation.
Above the fold, I will simply point readers to the Open Letter of Support for "for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims" published on DailyNous by John Greco, Don Howard, Michael Rea, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Mark Murphy: and to NewAPPS emeritus blogger Eric Schliesser's more concrete suggestion about how to address the retaliatory deployment of legal means against complainants. Both pieces deserve to be read and reflected upon.
In what follows, I'll say a bit more about my sense of the importance of both pieces, and the larger phenomenon of retaliation against those contesting the inequitable state of the profession.
I just got back from the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Chicago, held in conjunction with the History of Science Society. My co-chair Holly Andersen and I knew we had better-than-ever attendance for the 5th PSA Women's Caucus Breakfast, but after counting the names on the sign-in sheet, I can report that we had 83 attendees! (mostly women, plus a few welcome supporters). We didn't get to all of the items on our packed agenda, but there was some serious energy in the room, and hopefully we can really get things done in the next two years. Thanks again to the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science and individual donors for sponsoring.
I don't know if anyone else noticed (and maybe I shouldn't point it out), but Saturday was a good day for philosophy of biology. Helen Longino is finishing her term as PSA President, to be succeeded by Ken Waters; Helen also won the PSA Women's Caucus Prize for Feminist Philosophy for her recent book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality, while Elliott Sober won the Hempel Award. Congrats to all.
My own session, "Beyond the Lab Experiment," with Sharon Crasnow, Eric Desjardins, and Emily Parke (ably chaired by Chris Eliot) was one of the best I've ever participated in. At the end of it, I realized that all four papers sought to make positive contributions; none was a critique (not that I am against critique -- I think critique is important and have done it myself -- but sometimes it's nice to make forward progress without having to trash what came before). We had a half hour at the end for general discussion, and the audience used it appropriately, probing connections between the four talks that I was certainly too bleary-eyed to see. And speakers responded thoughtfully and openly to suggestions. It was a really positive experience and I got a lot out of it.
It was also announced that this was the largest PSA meeting ever. I think we still have work to do to increase the diversity of topics and attendees, but I know that work has been done in that area and that more is planned. The PSA is looking healthy.
A few years ago, I was going through airport security at Schiphol for a short European flight (to Munich, if I remember correctly), with hand-luggage only. As I was struggling with some lower back pain at the time, I was bringing an electric massager with me; sure enough, when my trolley went through the x-ray, the massager caught the guard’s attention. He made me open the trolley, and asked: ‘what is this?’ I said: ‘it’s an electric massager’. His reply (salacious voice): ‘oh, but isn’t it better if someone else does the massaging on you?’ (Wink, wink…) I am usually rather short-tempered, and normally would have made quite a fuss about it, but I didn’t want to risk missing my flight so I simply moved on.
Now, this is only one of many similar episodes I and every single woman in the world have experienced in our lives – nothing very extraordinary about it. But when I told my friendly, well-meaning male friends about this episode, they just couldn’t believe their ears: yes, there it was, a male airport security guard making entirely inappropriate remarks to a female traveler.
This episode illustrates a well-known phenomenon: the invisibility of harassment to those who do not experience it (and similarly for racism, ableism etc.). The ‘nicer’ guys who do not engage in overt harassment often think it is so inconceivable that anyone could be so grotesque that they fail to see it when it happens near them (and in fact, it often does not even happen near them; I doubt that the security guard would have made his remark had I been accompanied by a male travel companion). This tends to lead to an under-appreciation of the problem among these well-meaning men. Moreover, the men who do engage in such behavior often think there’s nothing wrong with it (‘hey, it’s just a joke!’), and so also fail to appreciate the gravity of the problem.
Folks, there is a new initiative underway to 'change the face of philosophy.' (It was brought to my attention by my Brooklyn College colleague, Serene Khader.) I urge all of us to get behind it.
For nine years, PIKSI, or the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, has been helping students from underrepresented groups develop the skills, confidence, and community needed to pursue graduate study in philosophy. Our students include women, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and people from economically disadvantaged communities.
PIKSI aims to change philosophy's status as the least diverse in the humanities. Only 16% of full-time academic philosophers are women. Of the 13,000 professional philosophers in the United States, only 156 are black. The experiences of members of diverse groups can cast new light on traditional philosophical questions as well as raise new ones.
PIKSI needs funding:
PIKSI has traditionally received two sources of funding. The program is housed at the Pennsylvania State University’s Rock Ethics Institute, who together with Pennsylvania State University School of Liberal Arts, have pledged to continue their partial financing of PIKSI, conditional upon funding from a partner organization. Until recently the American Philosophical Association (APA) has co-funded PIKSI, but beginning 2014, this is no longer funding we can count on.
My association with her goes back some twenty years, when I first began my graduate studies in philosophy as a non-matriculate student at the CUNY Graduate Center [in the fall of 1992]. My first class was ‘Social and Political Philosophy,’ taught by Professor Held. [During our first class meeting] on her reading list, I saw four unfamiliar names: Carole Pateman, Susan Okin, Catherine MacKinnon and Patricia Smith. Who were these, I wondered, and what did they have to do with the ‘public-private distinction’ (the subtitle Virginia had added to ‘Social and Political Philosophy’)? As we were introduced to the syllabus, Professor Held skillfully handled some questions: Why were these readings on the list? Why not the usual suspects? I was impressed, of course, by her deft location of feminist philosophy in our canon and its importance in exploring the public-private distinction, but I was even more impressed by the grace and firmness that she displayed in dealing with contentious student interlocutors.
I want to add a little more detail to this story--as well as a little follow-up; your mileage may vary with regards to your assessment of the topicality or relevance of these embellishments.
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
An excellent article about Mary Beard, the famous classicist, is in this week's New Yorker. It is informative to have a prominent academic give an account of her life experiences like this. I want to encourage others to read the original article, but will pull out one salient and topical point. Beard is not only a very capable scholar, she is also "an avid user of social media," including regular postings at a blog. Despite the sexist reactions to her online presence, Beard has reacted with surprising generosity and patience: "In another highly publicized incident, Beard retweeted a message that she had received from a twenty-year-old university student: 'You filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting.'...The university student, after apologizing online, came to Cambridge and took Beard out to lunch; she has remained in touch with him, and is even writing letters of reference for him. 'He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,' she said. 'And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.'" Beard is an admirable and remarkable person, and learning about this new side of her makes her all the more so, in my mind. Check it out!
I have long believed the conventional wisdom that women are not proportionately distributed through every subfield in philosophy. In my field of theoretical ethics, in particular, it is often said that more women in philosophy seem to be found here than are in the profession more widely.
I believe it a little less today, though it may still turn out to be true. Trent University student Cole Murdoch undertook a short summer research project for me, looking at the ratio of male to female authors in two leading journals of moral philosophy.
Although we've still data to wade through, it is interesting to me that in looking at a five-year window of publications in Ethics and Journal of Moral Philosophy, the student did not find that women-authored articles appeared in much greater numbers than our number in the profession. I tasked him with this merely to find out who and what the journals in my field publish, for self-interested reasons, but I also expected that, as we regularly hear women in philosophy disproportionately specialize in ethics, he'd find much more parity in JMP and Ethics, or at least, higher numbers of women's names than one might find in the profession. [see below for a report of the analysis]
I'm spinning out a series of posts at The Splintered Mind, based on a new citation database my son built for me, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Maybe it will be of interest to some NewAPPS readers.
When the NewAPPS bloggers first invited me to submit a guest post on my attention research as a graduate student, I decided to submit a post on the term "genius" instead. In the case that it was the only post I would write, I wanted the post to have maximum utility. After some thought, I decided to target the obsession with genius, thinking it a pernicious problem easily deflated. I am not alone in finding it to be a problem. In fact, I may well have been alerted to the problem by Eric Schwitzgebel's blog post on "seeming smart." Commentators on the problem have looked at everything from its impact on women and racial/ethnic minorities to its impact on child prodigies, some of whom have written against it in favor of work-based praise (and for good reason). So, I was half-right: I was right to think it is a problem, but I was wrong, of course, in thinking the problem could be easily deflated. I am going to give it another stab, this time aiming closer to the heart of what I find to be the problem--the way that the terms "genius" and "smart" are used to silence minorities. I know about this first hand--just last week Brian Leiter implied that I was not smart enough to understand a particular distinction that he felt I had overlooked.
Update (6/9/2014): I urge skeptical readers to examine these much more respectful posts, where there is no mention of intelligence, for sake of comparison: on David Marshall Miller, on Andy Carson, and again on Andy Carson. These job market analyses were perfomed after my first analysis in April 2012 and have many similar elements. Furthermore, the content of Brian Leiter's criticisms to these analyses is much the same, but without the damaging remarks about mental capacity, intention, etc.
I have data on 715 candidates who have been placed in tenure-track, postdoctoral, VAP, or instructor positions between late 2011 and mid 2014 (ending today), drawn from ProPhilosophy (2011-2012 and 2012-2013) and PhilAppointments (2013-2014). I aim to make the spreadsheet with this data available by around July 1st (I will add any new data available by that date). Until then, I will report some initial findings, starting with gender.
Over at Feminist Philosophers, they've posted the CFP for a conference on Diversity in Philosophy that, I'm proud to say, is being hosted and co-sposored by my alma mater, Villanova University, along with Hypatia and the APA's Committee for the Status of Women.
The conference will be held at Villanova on May 28-30, 2015 and the deadline for submissions of 250-500 word proposals is January 1, 2015.
More info and the full CFP follows after the break.
Some years ago, at the end of an evening that probably involved more alcoholic beverages than it should have, I found myself as a member of a small party of four, composed of two colleagues (and incidentally, good friends) and one PhD student (all three male). As the conversation progressed, I ended up saying things that were somewhat sexually explicit (as some readers may recall, I don’t shy away from talking about matters pertaining to sexuality – see a recent lecture of mine on the science of female orgasm). To be clear, what I said could not have been construed as ‘flirtatious’ in any way, but the next day I came to deeply regret the whole episode. My reasoning was as follows: had I been a male individual, and had the student in question been a female individual, what I said would have been undoubtedly inappropriate, by my own lights. (Similar considerations could be offered concerning interactions with colleagues, but I was particularly concerned with the asymmetry between me and the student).
This episode led me to formulate and since then apply a principle of parity to regulate my behavior in professional situations: not to say or do anything that would be construed or viewed as problematic, had I been a man dealing with (especially more junior) women, be they colleagues, students etc. Until then, I would on occasion make remarks during class (e.g. ‘here, size does matter’ when talking about some issue pertaining to model-theory) which seemed to me to be ok (and in a sense, even a ‘political statement’ in some way), but which would not have been appropriate if uttered by a man. I do not make such remarks in class anymore.
In my role as intructional faculty, I aim to grade everything anonymously, which is a provision I enjoyed as an undergraduate. My current method is to ask students to write their names on the back of their papers and exams, which also helps me to return them. One of my students remarked that I must do this because I am particularly biased. She may be right. But there is reason to believe that we are all biased against minority groups in our grading practices. Take this publication on the perception of grammatical and spelling errors by partners at 22 law firms: "The exact same memo averaged a 3.2/5.0 rating under our hypothetical 'African American' Thomas Meyer and a 4.1/5.0 rating under hypothetical 'Caucasian' Thomas Meyer. The qualitative comments on memos, consistently, were also more positive for the 'Caucasian' Thomas Meyer than our 'African American' Thomas Meyer." It seems obvious to me that these effects could have an impact on the grading of philosophy papers and exams. (It may be worth noting that the gender/race/ethnicity of the partner did not affect these findings, although "female partners generally found more errors and wrote longer narratives"). And take this publication on faculty assessment of a student applicant, mentioned a couple of years ago here at NewAPPS: "Our results revealed that both male and female faculty judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male student, and also offered her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring." The difference in mean rated competence, hireability, and mentor-worthiness was of the order of 10%. Again, it seems obvious to me that these effects could have an impact on the grading of philosophy papers and exams, which could be a grade-letter difference (i.e. the difference between a B and a C). Since perceived differences in grading standards could have an impact on whether students choose to stay in philosophy, it seems to me that anonymous grading would both be more just and would encourage a more diverse range of participants in philosophy (see other suggestions on this over at Daily Nous). What does everyone else think? Do you grade anonymously? If not, why not?
Update: Other posts on this topic are here and here.
This blog officially has 16 authors, 6 of whom are women. A quick glance to the category cloud will show you that one of the most prolific authors is a woman. So then why does a commentator at Philosophy MetaBlog characterize the blog as run by men? This is the comment linked to by Brian Leiter:
“Anonymous May 4, 2014 at 8:48 AM I can't speak for others' use of the term, but in my case the behavior over the last few years of Protevi, Schliesser, Matthen, Lance, Kazarian, et al. is what makes the term 'Nudechapps' so fitting. The boys have made a habit of prancing around in condescending moral superiority over so many things that one is reminded of a person engaging in a shameless display of self-aggrandizement. What's worse, the Nudechapps consistently treat dissenters with derision and disgust. So the echochamber these nincompoops have created for themselves has allowed them to spread a view within their little clique that is grotesque in many of its details. And the handful of hangers-on that support their shenanigans are like nothing so much as the stupefied populace trying so hard to convince themselves that the emperor is wearing the glorious raiment of moral superiority. But of course the emperor is wearing no clothes, and he is shameless about how good he looks. Thus, Nudechapps.”
This description, and others in the comments at Philosophers’ Anonymous, seems to me an ignoble attempt to take down individuals without recourse to evidence or argument. For the most part, I do not find such expressions worthy of consideration. But this one is interesting, I think, because of what is left out. Is it the case that the commentator thinks that none of the women at NewAPPS fit the description he or she finds so apt for its men? I doubt it. A more reasonable reading of this comment is that the author has simply forgotten the women of NewAPPS, or finds them relatively unimportant. Such forgetting, together with so much vitriol about feminism in the comment stream at that blog is striking, if not all that surprising. As one recent study found, "hostile sexists and feminists were more and less likely, respectively, to show implicit prejudice against female authorities." In this case, gender bias serves to spare our blushes, but not without reminding us that we have to work harder to be heard, especially by those who start from further away.
Update: I added text above to distance the gender bias claim for the comment in question from the claim about vitriol toward feminism found in the overall comment stream.
I noted in another post the apparent difference in impact of the Philosophical Gourmet ranking of one's PhD granting institution on tenure-track placement according to gender, following up on posts elsewhere (here, here, and here). In this post I want to follow up on a speculation that I made in comments that the apparent difference in impact is due not to a difference in the way prestige impacts women and men on the job market, but due to a difference in the way that the Philosophical Gourmet tracks prestige for areas that have a higher proportion of men versus areas that have a higher proportion of women.
You may already be familiar with work by Kieren Healy that shows that the Philosophical Gourmet ranking especially favors particular specialties: "It's clear that not all specialty areas count equally for overall reputation... Amongst the top twenty departments in 2006, MIT and the ANU had the narrowest range, relatively speaking, but their strength was concentrated in areas that are very strongly associated with overall reputation---in particular, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Language, and Philosophy of Mind."
Marcus Arvan at the Philosophers' Cocoon posted sample data from the new appointments site at PhilJobs, which is discussed in a great post by Helen de Cruz here at New APPS. In comments at de Cruz's post and in a new post Arvan discusses the impact of Gourmet ranking on women and men seeking tenure-track jobs. I wanted to follow up on Arvan's post by looking at the full set of data currently available at PhilJobs. I did this in part because I knew that the sample Arvan collected was skewed on gender, due to an earlier analysis on gender I performed for a comment on a post at the Philosophy Smoker. With that convoluted introduction aside, here is a summary of the findings, in keeping with the findings by Arvan: the gourmet rank of one's PhD granting institution appears to have a greater impact on men seeking tenure-track jobs than on women seeking tenure-track jobs. Although I cannot yet speak to the source of this discrepancy, I (like Arvan) find the difference troubling. I welcome comments on the source of the difference below, although any comments will be subject to moderation. Let's look more closely at the data (Note: the linked spreadsheet was updated on May 14th):
I have been thinking about an analogy to the Bechdel test for philosophy papers - this in the light of recent observations that women get fewer citations even if they publish in the "top" general philosophy journals (see also here). To briefly recall: a movie passes the Bechdel test if (1) there are at least 2 women in it, (2) they talk to each other, (3) about something other than a man.
A paper passes the philosophy Bechdel test if
It cites at least two female authors
At least one of these citations engages seriously with a female author's work (not just "but see" [followed by a long list of citations])
At least one of the female authors is not cited because she discusses a man (thanks to David Chalmers for suggesting #3).
The usual cautionary notes about the Bechdel test apply here too. A paper that doesn't meet these standards is not necessarily deliberately overlooking women's work (it could be ultra-short, it might be on a highly specialized topic that has no female authors in the field - is this common?), but on the whole, it seems like a good rule of thumb to make sure women authors in one's field are not implicitly overlooked when citing.
Relatedly, a truly sexist and essentialist view of women's abilities in philosophy has reared its head on the blogosphere, and Showalter seems unable to respond to it effectively. Hope someone here can nip this in the bud. It's in the comments section.
Tara is referring to comments by commenter "Highly Adequate"--comments which include this one:
The news has just been released that Rev. Fred Phelps, founder and lifelong shepherd of the Westboro Baptist Church (in Topeka, Kansas) has died at the age of 84. I find it difficult, I confess, to summon the normal human compassion that usually accompanies news of another's death in this case, largely because Phelps dedicated his life to broadcasting his rejection of-- not to mention enlisting others, including children, to stage carnival-like circuses around his rejection of-- what most people would consider even the most minimally-decent exhibitions of human compassion. Fred Phelps was one of the most infamous, outrageous, dishonorable and genuinely despicable hatemongers of my generation. And, what is more, Fred Phelps' hate was as ferocious and vicious as it was blind. Through the prism of his delusional and evangelical abhorrence, the Westboro congregants en masse considered themselves justified in casting an unjustifiably wide net of Judgment. Caught in that net were many: ranging from bona fide innocents against whom no reasonable person could or ought cast aspersions, like Matthew Shepard, to a whole host of other "collateral-damage" victims of Phelps' quasi-political positions who found themselves the inadvertent and inauspicious targets of his his flock's detestation.
I say again: I find it very, very difficult to summon the normal human compassion that ought to accompany the news of Fred Phelps' passing.
Nevertheless, these are the moments when our inclination toward Schadenfreude, however deeply affirming and deeply satisfactory indulging that sentiment may feel, ought to be on principle squelched.
Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. To celebrate this day, the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women offers a challenge: you can help to raise $10,000 to support the work of the committee. More information here: