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Looks like all that “sexual harassment” in the U. of Colorado philosophy department was a myth

February 21, 2014

First there was this report, characterizing the tweedy philosophers of UC-Boulder as a rabid wolf-pack of “bullying” and “sexist” skirt-chasers whose very presence in classrooms terrorized trembling female students into inchoate muteness. The report, from the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women, so terrified the UC-Boulder administration that it promptly fired the the department chairman and ordered the entire philosophy faculty to attend mandatory re-education sexual harassment awareness classes.

The University of Colorado at Boulder on Friday announced that it was changing the leadership of its philosophy department and requiring mandatory training for all faculty in an effort to change a culture that is hostile to women.

The university also released an outside report that found that the department “maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior.” The report found the department lacking the professionalism to handle alcohol or faculty-graduate student interaction at social events, saying that drunken behavior was linked to many incidents of harassment.

Further, the report found that many faculty members work at home to avoid the department. Departmental email has become so uncivil that the report urges the elimination of all departmental listservs except for those that could be used to make basic announcements to which people cannot reply.

Women in the department — faculty members and graduate students — are described as the primary victims of the situation. A disproportionate number of female faculty are currently trying to leave. Efforts to recruit new women to the department, which many see as essential to improving the environment for women, are hampered because of its reputation (worldwide, the report says) for sexism and harassment. In addition, the report says that “some male faculty have been observed ogling undergraduate women students.”

“Ogling”! Horrors!

Then Slate‘s resident higher-education feminist attack dog, Rebecca Schuman, got into the act:

For anyone familiar with the discipline of philosophy, the CU report does not come as a surprise—or, rather, the only surprise should be that there weren’t also detailed allegations of racism and homophobia (although, not to worry, the report also references “divisive” and “bullying” behavior to members of “various” underrepresented groups). The ugly truth is that the situation at CU is far from unique in philosophy, which among the humanities is perhaps the last relic of the good old days of academe, before the feminazis and the ethnics ruined everything.

When proud philosophers like Duke’s Alex Rosenberg laud “the canon’s” tenacious preservation, what they forget (or, perhaps, ignore) is that those good old days also depended upon a culture of total white male domination, both on the syllabus and behind the podium. In this culture, professor meant man, and it was often that man’s prerogative to seek out the affections of female inferiors—grad students, and oh, those “co-eds,” impressionable, nubile, and smart (you know, for girls).

When, in the 1980s, much of the humanities decided, gasp, that women and people of color were worthy of inclusion and study—and, simultaneously, most American universities began instating sexual and racial harassment and discrimination policies—philosophy largely managed to hold out, and today it remains one of the whitest, malest fields in all of academia (worse, in fact, than most of the sausage-fest sciences).

I’ll bet you had no idea that philosophy was so exciting!

I always had my suspicions about that report, because, at least in the summary form issued by UC-Boulder, it didn’t allege a single specific incident of sexual harassment, even a dirty joke in class. My theory was that the report was more about departmental politics than any conceivable wrongdoing.

And now, this has emerged:

Six women with ties to the department released a joint statement Tuesday that describes the negative impact the report’s release has had on male philosophy faculty members and graduate students.

“We are all distressed that the report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct,” the statement’s authors wrote. “It could also harm the prospects of our male graduate students currently on the market.”

***

The women who co-wrote the statement are Sheralee Brindell, senior instructor and associate chairwoman for undergraduate studies; Carol Cleland, professor; Alison Jaggar, professor of distinction for philosophy and women and gender studies; Mitzi Lee, associate professor; Diane Mayer, senior instructor emerita; and Claudia Mills, associate professor.

The six women write that they believe a small number of men in the department are responsible for the sexual harassment or unprofessional sexualized behavior described in the report.

“We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues),” the women write. “We believe that many have heard about the problems, if at all, only through the rumor mill.”

The statement also points out that the women in the department have “different takes on the content of the report.”

My guess is the “number of men in the department responsible for the sexual harassment or unprofessional sexualized behavior” is exactly one. Kudos to the six women who stood up for their male colleagues in a climate of palpable hysteria.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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One Comment
  1. Lastango permalink

    It’s also possible that “number of men in the department responsible for the sexual harassment or unprofessional sexualized behavior” is zero.

    Imagine the uproar if the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women had discovered that the women of the philosophy department were NOT victims.

    Within the Committee, PoMo careers are at stake. There are papers to write, chairs to compete for, conferences to be invited to, books to publish, professional accolades to horsetrade. That mill demands grist, and — one way or another — the UC-Boulder philosophy department was going to supply some. The Committee wins, the Administration is seen putting on its white hat and riding to the rescue, and the complainants get their Victim Card stamped.

    Well, maybe the department Chairman didn’t win. But maybe that was the goal. What a great way for a coven to get rid of the chairman and put in one of their own.

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