Nancy Tuana (Penn State) had sent me this statement, asking that I post it. I told her I would, but wanted some hyperlinks for the unsubstantiated allegation that critics of the "Climate for Women" section of the Guide were guilty of "vitriol and misinformation being perpetrated against some named and some unnamed feminists." But since the statement is now in the public sphere, I might as well just link to it.
The statement is an embarrassment in my view, and in the view of several of those who comment at the FP blog. I will just quote a few reactions
"Darius Jedburgh" observes:
The charge of “misinformation” against the critics is unsubstantiated, in sharp contrast to the same charge made against the Guide by those critics. And as for “welcoming constructive input,” many highly pertinent questions have been put to the guide’s authors, usually perfectly politely, about the methods employed in composing the “climate” section in a highly instructive comment thread at the ‘Gender, Race and Philosophy’ blog. None has been answered....
Even granting, for the sake of argument, that much of the criticism has been vitriolic, I think that most feminists would suppose that the risk of putting graduate students in harm’s way is more serious than the risk of offending the sensibilities of the Guide’s authors and defenders. It is therefore surprising that the Feminist Philosophers in their statement above have focused on the tone of the criticism rather than the content (apart from an unsubstantiated charge of ‘misinformation’) and, like the authors, have said nothing whatsoever in response to the many critics, for example in the comment thread I mentioned, whose objections have been highly detailed and cogent, whether temperately expressed or not.
Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) comments:
It seems to me that from the beginning, those upset at criticism of the guide have tried very hard to turn this into an issue of feminist philosophers being attacked as such, even though several of the people who have been most visible in their concerns – me, Naomi Zack, Anita Allen – are obviously feminist philosophers, and even though every single criticism that I have seen has been from a standpoint of deep concern for the climate issue. It deeply dismays and depresses me that things have been cast this way; this rhetorical strategy has been painful, misleading, and directly harmful to the broader climate for women in philosophy. Calling this a “statement of feminist philosophers concerning…” rather than just “statement concerning…” seems an obvious attempt to reinforce this purported divide.
An anonymous philosopher comments:
I am surprised at this “Statement” for a number of related reasons.
(1) It aids in the production of an US vs THEM discourse that only hurts discussion on this topic. It encourages defensiveness rather than collaboration. This is precisely what is going on here and on other blogs.
(2) The Statement’s US vs THEM sentiment also hurts whatever disciplinary gains we have made to make feminist philosophy more mainstream and enmeshed within other philosophical fields (e.g., epistemology, metaphysics, mind…). If grad students and other philosophers see this “circling of the wagons” (as someone previously put it) without addressing any criticism, it is bound to be quite off-putting and strengthen the thought that one need not engage in feminist philosophy if its practitioners exhibit such attitudes. One can only hope that such impressionable people have experiences with other feminist philosophers who do not exhibit the US vs THEM sentiment. To make this point simply, this Statement bodes badly for the general conception of “feminist philosophy” as an inclusive, serious philosophical venture. I am already well-convinced it is, but I am not everyone....
What saddens me is that I’m afraid the damage is already done and will galvanize negative sentiments.
The comments I've seen on blogs and that I've received via e-mail certainly confirm that last worry. I hope readers will remember that the irresponsible conduct of some philosophers who are feminists is not an indictment of feminist philosophy or all feminist philosophers.
Finally, I want to add a thought about the complaint about "vitriol." Vitriol and anger are surely the warranted responses, when one recalls what the Guide actually did:
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.
The real puzzle is why so many seem to be willing to give those responsible for this travesty a "free pass" on their professional misconduct, to assume that their motives could only have been good ones, that they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and so on. Why not judge people by what they have actually done, including their complete failure to acknowledge or respond substantively to questions and criticisms?
UPDATE: Naomi Zack (Oregon) sends along some comments she has also posted at the FP blog, but which warrant notice here as well:
How does criticism of the professional behavior of individual feminists, or of departments that have members who are feminists, constitute an attack on feminism? The “Statement of Feminist Philosophers concerning the Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy” fails to take into account concrete realities in which feminist philosophers work on a daily basis and as a result, it does not separate those realities from feminism and feminists generally. Here are two examples: (a) Very good intellectual work by feminists can be done in a department that is not in its internal political governance, feminist. And (b) feminists when in charge of varied things can behave in ways that are not friendly to women. Whenever (a) or (b) are in evidence and criticized as such, that does not constitute an attack on feminism. Being a feminist does not protect a person from criticism for behavior that is unprofessional, unfriendly to other women, or not feminist. And, supporting the study of feminism, having feminists on the faculty, and having the ideal of being women-friendly as a whole unit, do not in themselves, separately, or all together, guarantee that a department as a whole unit, is in reality women-friendly. Criticism of departments that fulfill these less than sufficient requirements for being women-friendly should be welcomed by committed feminists, because if such criticism is responded to theoretically and practically, the general goals of feminism will be furthered, especially in philosophy. Keeping a cool head, taking the high road, and upholding scrupulous standards of ethical professionalism in daily academic life: these are the practices that will further the greater inclusion of women, minorities, and other under-represented groups in philosophy, as well as it will support high quality work produced by pluralist or other nontraditional philosophers.