I think it is important to reiterate again--especially in light of testimony from actual insiders who have put their name to their comments--that the section of the SPEP Guide on "The Climate for Women" is worse than preposterous, it is irresponsible and destructive.
On its face, it is obviously suspicious that, of the 21 programs "strongly recommended" for their "climate for women," only one is a top 50 PGR department (MIT), while 75% have strong SPEP ties. (MIT does have, by all accounts and evidence, a good climate for women, but it's not the only department of which that is true, and it is plainly absurd to suggest that only MIT and a large number of SPEP departments are suitable for women.) Even more bizarrely, the list includes one SPEP department that has been sued for discrimination and another that imploded over unaddressed sexual harassment scandals a few years ago. This is such obviously self-serving bullshit by the SPEP crowd that it deserves ridicule.
Add to all this the fact that the four departments singled out--on the basis of no evidence (not even any indication of who provided information: faculty or students at these programs? at competitor programs? former faculty or students? others?)--for "need[ing] improvement" are all non-SPEP departments, and include three of the top four departments in the PGR, two of which (as Fritz Warfield noted) graduate a steady stream of women who have fared extremely well on the job market. Moreover, non-SPEP dartments that have significant numbers of female faculty and graduate students, and which are regularly reported (by current and former students) to have an excellent climate for women (North Carolina and Arizona come to mind as the most obvious examples, but there are many others) are nowhere mentioned.
The explanation for these bizarre inclusions and exclusions must surely lie first, in the fact that this is, as noted previously, the SPEP Guide to philosophy programs, not a pluralist guide, and so is meant to deliver the message that if you're a woman, you should gravitate towards the SPEP universe of programs; and second, that if they in fact surveyed faculty and students, they did so so selectively as to make the results worse than worthless.
So what is the response of those responsible for this travesty to the criticism? The Feminist Philosophers blog reports the following response from Linda Alcoff (who is the current SPEP candidate to be the next President fo the Eastern APA, by the way):
Much of the criticism is going to the climate for women report, which reports problems at a few top depts. I knew this would generate heat, but what are we to do when we get very negative reports on these depts? Ignore them? I felt a responsibility to report the information we received when it was numerous enough to warrant concern. We will update at least every other year, so depts have a chance to change their rating. That’s the best we can do. The responses are confidential—I don’t even know who reported what, though I know who I asked and who sent in a response.
"That's the best we can do"??? A commenter, fortunately, calls out this absurd response:
Alcoff sets up a false dichotomy: either the Guide must brand the departments (without any sort of transparency) or ignore very negative reports on those departments. Since ignoring would violate a responsibility, branding the departments (with annual updates) is “the best we can do.” This is exactly what people are objecting to, that branding the departments, without any transparency as to who were the responders or to which specific questions they were responding to, is “the best” that could be done. To me, anyway, it seems like if we follow Alcoff’s line of reasoning, the Guide should name not just departments but also individuals. After all, “What are we to do when we get very negative reports on these sexists? Ignore them?”
The good news is that the earlier thread has generated a lot of constructive ideas about how to collect information on the "climate for women" that might be meaningful, as opposed to obviously nonsensical. If responsible parties--i.e., not the SPEP Guide folks--want to try to initiate a process, I will be happy to publicize it on the blog. I am afraid I am stretched too thin to undertake, however, another massive data gathering project. But I will be glad to facilitate, whether that means links to surveys or other announcements.