I applaud the move to end sexual harassment seriously in the discipline. However, there are many ways in which the APA committee’s report seems extremely problematic. While I don’t know the nature of the alleged harassment or alleged inappropriate sexualization at Colorado, I find it very hard to believe that many of the report’s recommendations are necessary to prevent such behavior even if the report were factually accurate. Following those recommendations will, however, almost certainly damage the department and put it under the control of the administration in precisely the way Benjamin Ginsberg has warned us about in his must-read book, The Fall of the Faculty. In particular:
1. The report is overtly hostile to the dialectical/democractic model and demands that it be replaced with blatant dictatorship. The department is told to “[d]issolve all departmental listservs. Emails should be used for announcements only, as one-way, purely informational, communication. Any replies need to be made in person” (p.6). Since the department chair has now been ousted and replaced at the administration’s discretion for an indefinite period with no apparent opportunity for review at any point in the future (as urged by the report), this effectively cedes all departmental autonomy, in perpetuity, to the administration. There will be no clear avenues for discussion or dissent, and the restrictions on department members meeting outside of working hours helps to limit the ability of any faculty or students in the department to formulate dissenting views together: they may not meet to do so in the evenings or on weekends, and they may not do so via email. Moreover, the very act of reasoning or deliberating about policy is taken by the report as a sign of inappropriate resistance, according to the anti-philosophical views of the report (“Their faculty discussions… spend too much time articulating (or trying to articulate) the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior… they spend significant time debating footnotes and “what if” scenarios…” – p.7)
2. The report uses terms like ‘family friendly’ in bizarre ways to restrict productive and innocuous department activities whose elimination would significantly harm collegiality, departmental morale and the learning experience of graduate students. In a ‘Special Note’ on p.12, the report discusses and prohibits the department’s planned spring retreat. This retreat was to involve a combination of philosophical talks and ‘unscheduled time’ in a scenic mountain area over a weekend. It is difficult for me at least to imagine an event I would more like to bring my children to — what family wouldn’t love some unscheduled time outdoors in a beautiful natural area? But bizarrely enough, the very fact that this event was to take place on the weekend makes it “an examplar for a family-unfriendly event,” according to the report. The justification for this absurd claim is that “Under no circumstances should this department (or any other) be organizing the social calendars of its members.”3. The report claims that no philosophy department should, under any circumstances, ask its members to attend events outside of the hours of 9-5, Monday to Friday. On p.12 of the report, we are told that “If there are going to be social events, then they need to be managed such that members of the department can opt out easily and without any penalty. (Please note that best practices for family-friendly speaker events include taking the speaker out to lunch instead of dinner so that participants may have their evenings free to attend to other obligations)”. In particular, we are told that “all events, including retreats, need to be held during business hours (9-5) and on campus or near campus in public venues.” Please try to imagine what departmental life would be like under such a rule.
4. The report categorically prohibits all critical discussion of feminist philosophy by all members of the department, even in a private, off-campus conversation between two graduate or undergraduate students. ”Realize that there is plurality in the discipline. If some department members have a problem with people doing non-‐feminist philosophy or doing feminist philosophy (or being engaged in any other sort of intellectual or other type of pursuit), they should gain more appreciation of and tolerance for plurality in the discipline. Even if they are unable to reach a level of appreciation for other approaches to the discipline, it is totally unacceptable for them to denigrate these approaches in front of faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, in formal or informal settings on or off campus.”BV: This (the quoted statement) is unbelievably obtuse and an excellent example of political correctness gone wild. First of all, critical discussion is not the same as denigration even if the critical discussion is trenchant and leads to rejection of the approach criticized. To take but one example, academic philosophers rightly criticize Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Much of that criticism is harsh but on target. It is not the same as denigration or dismissal. Of course, some do denigrate and dismiss it. Well, it is their considered opinion that it ought to be denigrated and dismissed. Surely they have a right to their view, as offensive as it is to Objectivists.Second, while there is a plurality of approaches and views in philosophy, that fact does not insulate any view from examination and criticism. Toleration is not to be confused with approval. I can tolerate your view while rejecting it.Third, a plurality of views is not to be confused with a plurality of equally tenable views.Fourth, toleration is not to be confused with appreciation. I tolerate the views of eliminative materialists but I don't appreciate them. Note also the confusion in the quoted statement of appreciation of plurality with appreciation of the different views constituting the plurality. One can appreciate that there is plurality in the discipline both in the sense of acknowledging it, and in the sense of thinking it a good thing; but this is obviously distinct from approving of each of the views that constitute the plurality.Finally, what the authors say is "totally unacceptable" must be accepted. Some views deserve denigration, as should be obvious. Suppose someone were to maintain that no woman should be allowed to study philosophy beyond the undergraduate level. That is a view that deserves denigration. So denigrate it, and give your reasons.5. The report relies in part on clearly biased survey findings. On p.15, for instance, we find that subjects were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statement: “I am confident that if I were to raise a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination, the judicial process at my university would be fair.” 38% of respondents felt confident about this, which seems very high for any department! Most members of most departments would have no good grounds for confidence either way. Why doesn’t the survey ask instead whether subjects are confident that the process would be unfair? More tellingly, why doesn’t it simply ask whether subjects agree or disagree with the statement, “If I were to raise a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination, the judicial process would be fair,” and allow the responses ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’ and ‘Not sure’? Particularly among philosophers, ‘confident’ entails a very high epistemic standard. While it isn’t clear whether the committee intended to skew the results by asking such questions or whether they simply didn’t take care to prepare a fair survey, the survey is misleading at best and politically motivated at worst.
6. The report mentions, and then completely ignores, very serious graduate student concerns about damage to the department’s reputation; and in the process, it reduces the likelihood of future reporting of sexual harassment. “They [some graduate students] are worried that they will be tainted by the national reputation of the department as being hostile to women.” (pp.3-4). As a result of this, it was essential for the report to take steps to ensure that word about the department’s problems be carefully managed while steps are taken to eliminate the problem. At the very least, the report needed to ensure that the release of the report not be made into a worldwide media event. However, the report contains nothing of the sort and, as a result, the worst fears of the graduate students have now been realized (I, for one, had never heard a single negative thing about this department). This merits serious attention: if the price of reporting sexual harrassment is the destruction of one’s department’s reputation worldwide and the blackening of one’s own name by association with it, how many departmental members (student or faculty) would ever take the suicidal step of reporting it? By mindlessly neglecting these concerns, the committee’s report has surely had a dampening effect on reports of sexual harassment in departments around the world.7. The report’s standards of ‘family friendliness’, while tangentially connected with sexual harassment, show a complete lack of understanding of philosophical work and culture. On p.6 of the report, the committee’s view on best practices is expanded upon: we are told that “[e]vents should be held during normal business hours (9-5) and should be such that you would feel comfortable with your children or parents being present.” Indeed, as we are told on p.12, children should be positively welcome at departmental events. I’m not concerned here with the disruptions that would be caused by young children at colloquia, but rather with how this might affect the content of philosophical talks. I, for one, would not feel comfortable discussing abortion, circumcision, sexual harassment and rape, cruelty to animals, pornography, torture, or the existence of God in front of someone else’s children. Should it follow from this that I should not present a colloquium paper on such a topic? What if my philosophical work deals entirely with such issues: should I never present my philosophical work in an open forum?
While we should all applaud genuine, careful and viable efforts to eliminate sexual harassment, my view (unless persuaded otherwise) is that we should certainly not endorse the actions of this committee. Instead, I think, we should quickly work out ways to prevent this from ever happening again. But I anticipate disagreement and would love to hear and engage opposing reasons.