Female graduate students in philosophy at Rutgers have shared with me the following "open letter" to Professors Alcoff et al. regarding the "Pluralist [sic] Guide" section on the "Climate for Women," which singled out originally four departments (now only three, since Oklahoma made enough "improvement" in the space of last week to be removed from the list!) as "needing improvement," including Rutgers. We now know, of course, that the "methodology" for evaluating programs in this category was wholly unreliable to the point of being irresponsible, and this letter certainly drives the point home. The open letter follows:
We, female graduate students at Rutgers, were surprised and disappointed to see Rutgers singled out in your assessment of department climates for women as one of only four philosophy departments initially classified as “Need Improvement”, and one of only three remaining on the list. While every department has room for improvement--for example we would love to see a higher percentage of female faculty--we think that this special treatment is unwarranted.
We believe that Rutgers is an excellent place to be a female graduate student. Although we do not know the details of the basis for the assessment, you have informed us that according to your survey results there were numerous negative comments and few positive ones. We feel that our experiences as graduate students here have been overwhelmingly positive, and so we would like to share some of what it is like to be a female graduate student at Rutgers with you.
We are fully integrated members of the Rutgers community. We are active participants in seminars, reading groups, colloquia, our graduate talk series, and conferences. We are also full members of the Rutgers graduate student social life. In numbers we are still the minority (36% in 2010-2011), although it does not feel that way. Many of us remember visiting Rutgers as prospectives, expecting what is evidently still the perceived climate for women here, only to be amazed by the strong female presence in Rutgers’ intellectual and social life. For many of us, our decision to come to Rutgers was in no small part a decision to be in a place with other motivated, involved women, where we did not have to be the only woman in the room asking a question, or still talking about the week’s colloquium late into the evening. Rutgers is the kind of place we were looking for.
We and our work are taken seriously. We receive the same generous support from our faculty as our male peers. Our faculty encourage us and give us the criticism that is vital to becoming good philosophers. We know that their efforts are out of respect for us and our work, and their conviction that we can contribute to our fields. We hope to prove them right. Many of us are well on our way to doing so. Of the nine current Rutgers students who received either a post-doc or a teaching position in 2011, five were women, one of whom received a tenure-track position at USC, and one of whom received a tenure-track position at Notre Dame. One woman, who will move on to a tenure-track faculty position next year, was pregnant and had a baby during her time as a graduate student, and another graduate student is currently pregnant. The department has been extremely supportive of these women and their decisions, offering encouragement and advice, while continuing to treat them as full members of the philosophical community.
We have equal access to all of the sub-fields represented at Rutgers. No department is strong in all sub-fields of philosophy. While it is true that feminist philosophy is not well-represented here, we do not think that in order for a philosophy department to be a good department for women it must be a good department for feminist philosophy. What is important is not what area of philosophy is practiced, but that women in any area of philosophy have equal opportunity to contribute, and to take advantage of the institution’s resources. We feel that at Rutgers all areas of philosophy are equally available to us, and we are respected and valued for our philosophical contributions regardless of subject matter.
We support each other. We are proud of the vibrant community of women that we have here, and take care to sustain and develop it. Every year we organize a welcoming event so that new female graduate students can get to know the other female graduate students, and we get together periodically throughout the year. Most of the time, however, we do not have to do anything official. We are just friends, and we support each other as friends, both intellectually and personally.
We support our undergraduates. We are proud to be visible role models for women and minority students. Besides being active in our normal teaching responsibilities, many of us are involved in other ways to support undergraduates, such as participating in Rutgers’ Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy or presenting our work to the undergraduate philosophy club. Also, this year we organized a women-in-philosophy community dinner for undergraduate women at Rutgers, so that they could get to know female graduate students and faculty. We received enthusiastic support from the department and plan to have more such events in the future.
Hopefully it will be evident to you by now why we are so surprised at your assessment of the climate for women in the Rutgers philosophy department, and disappointed at the apparently still widespread misconceptions about our department. We feel that the assessment is quite inaccurate, and are puzzled as to how you could have received the survey responses that you did.
As you write in your FAQ (#5), one of the main purposes of the guide is to inform prospective Ph.D. students about good and bad environments in which to pursue philosophical study. However, as you also write in your FAQ, the advisory board for the Climate for Women in Philosophy guide was the same as the board for the Feminist Philosophy guide. Not a single female graduate student was contacted to provide her opinion about the climate for women graduate students at her department. As those who actually inhabit Rutgers’ climate, we believe we are valuable sources of information about it and do not understand why our perspective was not taken into consideration.
It would be very sad, and against the mission of the guide, if prospective students did not apply to our department or visit it as prospectives because they had the erroneous conception that this is not a good place for women. We hope that in order to counteract misperception of our department you will consider removing Rutgers from the “Needs Improvement” list, or at least post a disclaimer on the report’s page indicating that many of the female graduate students strongly disagree with the assessment.
Lee-Sun Choi, eighth-year
Heather Demarest, fifth-year
Allison Hepola, Ph.D. 2011
Lucy Jordan, second-year
Stephanie Leary, second-year
Karen Lewis, Ph.D. 2011
Katy Meadows, 2009-2011 (transferred with Alan Code to Stanford)
Lisa Miracchi, third-year
Jenny Nado, Ph.D. 2011
Carlotta Pavese, fourth-year
Mary Salvaggio, fourth-year
Meghan Sullivan, Ph.D. 2011
Carrie Swanson, Ph.D. 2011
Una Stojnic, second-year
Jenn Wang, sixth-year
UPDATE: A senior female philosopher elsewhere writes: "I must say, in the end I kind of think this whole thing might have turned out to be productive, insofar as it eroded the credibility of a certain clique of people and gave people a forum to have productive conversations and to advertise some programs that are doing well by women. We will see. It is kind of amazing to me that there's been no formal retraction or anything even close at this point."