After the Kipnis fiasco several weeks ago, one in which, unfortunately, philosophers played a starring role, a law colleague asked me "Are all philosophers nuts?" Well, not all, but certainly plenty of them lack professional judgment, as we have had occasion to note before. Still, given the awful publicity for academic philosophy, one might hope that philosophers would think twice before providing further evidence to an unflattering narrative about the field. But, as Sartre said, one must live without hope.
Toronto's Joseph Heath wrote an insightful and sensible piece about the overblown rhetoric in the media about "political correctness," but then identified a more serious problem with one current of academic work:
Often when journalists talk about [political correctness], what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing. Now I must admit, it is still possible to find this sort of thing in the nooks and crannies of academia. For example, one academic reviewer took exception to a line on the dust-jacket of my recent book: “Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the Western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy,” condemning my use of the term “crazy.” Apparently it is “ableist.”
So yeah, this sort of thing still exists. What’s important is that it is no longer taken very seriously. This sort of verbal policing is the academic equivalent of a stupid pet trick – one that everyone knows how to do, and most people get over by end of undergraduate. In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.
There is, however, a deeper problem that has not gone away. This is the phenomenon that we refer to as “me” studies....
[S]ome people take the advice, to “follow your passion,” as an invitation to choose a thesis project that is essentially about themselves. For example, an old friend of mine in Montreal studying anthropology wrote her Master’s thesis on, I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “Negotiations of difference in Quebecois-Jewish couples on the Montreal Plateau.” At the time, she was living with a Jewish guy on – you guessed it – the Plateau. So she basically wrote an MA thesis about issues in her own relationship. This is classic “me” studies....
Where “me” studies can easily become more problematic is when people decide to study, not their own lives per se, but rather their own oppression. Now of course oppression, in its various forms, is a perfectly legitimate topic of inquiry. Indeed, many of the forms of social inequality that we tried to eliminate, over the course of the 20th 1century, have proven remarkably recalcitrant in the face of our efforts....
[W]ho is best positioned to study these various forms of oppression. After all, we all live in the same world that we are studying. So who is best positioned – those who suffer from it, or those who do not? The inevitable conclusion is that neither are particularly well-positioned, since both will be biased in the direction of producing theories that are, at some level, self-serving, or self-exculpatory. Thus the best arrangement will be one in which lots of different people study these questions, then challenge one another to robust debate, which will tend to correct the various biases. This is, unfortunately, not how things usually play out. Instead, the field of study tends to attract, sometimes overwhelmingly, people who suffer from the relevant form of oppression – partly just for the obvious “me” studies reason, that the issue is greater interest to them, because it speaks to their personal ambitions and frustrations. But it can also set in motion a dynamic that can crowd out everyone who does not suffer from that particular form of oppression.
In terms of the quality of academic work, the results of this can be really disastrous. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, who specialize in some form or another of “critical studies,” who are among the worst critical thinkers I’ve met. It’s because they lack the most important skill in critical thinking, which is self-criticism – the capacity to question one’s own view, and correct one’s own biases. And the reason that they’re so bad at it is that they have never had their views seriously challenged....
The problem is that, when you’re studying your own oppression, and you’re obviously a member of the oppressed group in question, people who are basically sympathetic to your situation, but who disagree with your specific claims, are going to be extremely hesitant to challenge you, because they don’t want to appear unsympathetic.....So you are only going to hear from two types of people – those who are sympathetic but want to take a more radical stance, and those who we might label, for convenience, “jerks,” which is to say, people who are both unsympathetic and who are, for one reason or another, immune to any consideration of what others think of them....
I don’t know how many talks I’ve been to where the question period goes this way. Someone presents a view that a solid majority of people in the room think is totally wrong-headed. But no one is willing to say things like: “I don’t think that what you are saying makes any sense” or “you have no evidence to support this contention” or “the policies you are promoting are excessively self-serving.” The questions that will be asked come in only two flavours: “I’m concerned that your analysis is unable to sustain a truly emancipatory social praxis” (i.e. “I don’t think you’re left-wing enough”), or else “you people are always whingeing about your problems” (i.e. “I’m a huge, insensitive jerk”).
Then of course, out in the hallway after the talk, people say what they really thought of the presentation – at this point, a whole bunch of entirely reasonable criticisms will get made, points that probably would have been really helpful to the presenter had they been communicated. The end result is a perfect example of what Timur Kuran refers to as belief falsification (not a great term, but Kuran’s work on this is very interesting). So basically, practitioners of “me” studies suffer from a huge handicap, when it comes to improving the quality of their work, which is that only people who are extremists of one sort or another are willing to give them honest feedback....
This dynamic may help to explain why the reaction that so many “me” studies practitioners have to criticism becomes so highly moralized. They begin to think that all criticism of their views arises from some morally suspect motive. This is what then gets referred to as “political correctness,” namely, the tendency to moralize all disagreement, so that, instead of engaging with intellectual criticism intellectually, they respond to it punitively.
At the FP blog, Jenny Saul (Sheffield) then called attention to a "great piece" by philosopher Audrey Yap (Victoria) responding to Heath; Saul singled out this passage in particular as evidence of the "greatness":
Western philosophy in general has too much in the way of “me” studies, namely straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men studying other straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men. This, as far as I can tell, has narrowed the discipline in general, much to its detriment.
This was such an obvious non-sequitur on Heath's argument, that I originally thought it had to be misquotation, but, alas, it was not. Apparently the author thinks that the philosophical systems of Descartes, Hume, and Kant are usefully explained as being about their own experience as "straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men." This kind of mindless identity politics is not the face that philosophy should put before the world.
UPDATE: Reader S. Wallerstein writes:
In fact, contrary to what Audrey Yap claims, traditional philosophy does not represent the point of view of heterosexual males, because so many famous philosophers were probably gay (if that term has any meaning before the mid 20th century) or did not marry (were they asexual or homosexual?). Philosophy begins with Plato, who seems not to have been heterosexual. The term "upper middle class" refers to mid 20th century and early 21th century social conditions and I doubt that anyone would call Plato "upper middle class" nor could they call Hume "upper middle class" nor Descartes nor Nietzsche nor Marx nor Engels nor Spinoza. Professor Yap should study some history and she would learn that "white, heterosexual upper-middle-class" is a category that only makes sense within the context of contemporary U.S. and Western European societies.
By the way, it's Foucault, whom I always thought was beloved by the "me studies" crowd, who points out that the term "gay" (and hence, the term "heterosexual") has no meaning before the late 19th century, that's there a history of sexuality, of how we categorize these things. I don't know if Foucault's research can always be relied on, but it's obvious that the Greeks had no idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" in our sense and it seems that in Shakespeare's time, in England at least, they didn't see things that way either.
...in The Guardian. I was astonished that Baggini asserts that, "Another priority is to make philosophers understand better the psychological effects which interfere with their supposedly clear, rational thinking. They should all know, for example, about Sally Haslanger and Jennifer Saul’s work on how psychological phenomena such as implicit bias and stereotype threat might be at work in their subject." But as we saw in an earlier discussion, it's not clear stereotype threat in the gender case is even real (there have been failures to replicate, and worries about publication bias in the results that are out there); implicit bias, by contrast, is real, but the scope of the effect is also quite unclear. It seems well-established that implicit bias influences superficial evaluations (e.g., skimming CVs and evaluating them), less clear that it influences careful reading and scholarly assessment. That some philosophers have effectively misrepresented the state of the psychological research is now fairly clear, but that should not lead the community to ignore more obvious problems affecting the number of women in philosophy, like explicit bias and sexism, as well as sexual harassment.
A philosopher in the University of Wisconsin sytem writes:
I'm writing to ask if you'd be willing to host a thread focused specifically on the question about strategy, raised by harry b in a comment on The Republican war on public higher education: it's now the law in Wisconsin, concerning "what we [who want to protect public higher education] should be doing to change the minds of voters so that they put the break on the politicians." I'd be very interested to see discussion of this pressing issue, which should be of broad interest and concern.
This case from California. Unfortunately, we'll no doubt be seeing more such cases once professional jurists with some regard for process are increasingly asked to scrutinize how universities (mis)handle these matters.
Via the FP blog, I learn of this new study involving undergraduates at the University of Sydney, which found that from their very first philosophy class, men were better disposed towards the subject than women, and that this did not change over the course of the term. As Prof. Saul notes, this effect may be culture-specific.
Signatories include, besides Sarkar, John Dupre (Exeter), Paul Griffiths (Sydney), Samir Okasha (Bristol), Alex Rosenberg (Duke), and Rob Wilson (Alberta), among others. The letter offers a variety of considerations, some political, some practical/logistical. I am opening this for (substantive) discussion.
UPDATE: The composition of the current Committee on the Status of Women is different than what is reported below: see here.
Michael Tooley (Colorado) writes (regarding the data below the fold):
I was looking over the membership of the Board of the APA, and of their "Current Initiatives and Task Forces" committees. These committees look to me to be very unbalanced.
Are men less able to discuss "best practices", or to formulate a code of conduct?!
Is anyone speaking out about this?
I've opened comments, in any case anyone does want to comment. One possibility, of course, is that men are less interested in volunteering for these committees. More worrisome, to my mind, is not the gender imbalance, but that some of the people on these committees have, through their past actions and words, demonstrated poor judgment and contempt for other important professional values. (Not being an APA member, I do not, however, get too exercised about these things, but APA members may feel differently.)
Here is the breakdown and analysis Professor Tooley sent along:
Behind a paywall, alas, but very detailed, with extensive quotes from Ludlow and the student.
UPDATE: A philosopher elsewhere writes: "Why don’t you open comments? Much of what has been posted has been shown to be wrong. People should face up to that. FP hasn’t linked to it and Justin W is trying to bury it." I haven't really followed coverage on other blogs (though it would not be surprising if my correspondent's allegation were accurate), but I will open comments. No naming names of students and I will edit for relevance.
...she had asked if I wanted to post more about this, and I declined (she found a taker, needless to say). Kipnis was wronged by the frivolous Title IX retaliation complaint. The students responsible are suffering for their unfortunate decision. No good will come of prolonging this. The comments on Kipnis's response are mostly and predictably stupid (though there are a few adult responses later on, see, e.g., "DC" and "Andy Metz"). (ADDENDUM: Just to be clear, I fully understand why Prof. Kipnis wanted to reply, given the misleading accusations being made against her.)
UPDATE: Philippe Lemoine writes:
While I understand why you didn't want to publish Kipnis's reply to the student who filed a complaint against her, I wish you had and had opened comment for people to discuss it, for the way in which Prof. Weinberg has been moderating this discussion is quite scandalous. Several of my comments have been censored and, when asked why by email, Prof. Weinberg gave me reasons that were patently fallacious.
I was in particular noting that, despite what many people assume (including apparently Kipnis), nothing in the public record indicate that the graduate student who accused Ludlow of rape denied that she had previously been dating him. Not even Pogin, in the ridiculous letter that she sent to Kipnis, said that. Yet, if the graduate student had denied that she had at some point been dating Ludlow, Pogin would presumably be in a position to know that.
In fact, in his complaint against Northwestern and the graduate student in question, Ludlow claims not just that he was in a relationship with her, but that she admitted as much both in her complaint against him and in answering the questions of the private investigator hired by the university to investigate it. Of course, he could lie about that, but it strikes me as rather unlikely given how easily this could be verified.
Prof. Weinberg justified his decision of censoring the comment where I was making this point by claiming that I was suggesting that the graduate student was lying about the nature of her relationship with Ludlow, when it's clear that I did nothing of the sort, since the central point I was making is that nothing in the public record indicates that she denied that she had previously been dating him.
When I read so many established philosophers defending the anonymous graduate student who justified the frivolous complaint that s/he filed against Kipnis on Daily Nous, I have to assume that they only do so out of a misguided desire to protect a student and not because they actually agree with the complete nonsense s/he wrote, otherwise this profession is really in trouble.
One small comment: since no one has a presumptive entitlement to their comment appearing here on any other blog, I don't think "censorship" is the relevant issue. But I do think, given that I've heard from others that certain points are being excluded from the debate elsewhere, that it is worthwhile to open comments here, though I will edit and/or moderate for relevance and constructive content. Comments on either side of this issue are of course welcome.
One of the complainants apparently believes that factual errors in Kipnis's first article--which the complainant believes were significant and harmful, but which seem to Kipnis (and many other readers, myself included) minor and largely beside the point--somehow justify the filing of a Title IX "retaliation" complaint. They do not, and they should not. This student is getting terrible advice, and only digging her hole deeper. The only sensible response to events of the last week is a mea culpa for having abused Title IX by filing a frivolous retaliation complaint against lawful speech by a faculty member with no professional or other connection with the graduate student victim of sexual harassment.
...this time at CHE (behind their paywall). It does contain some new information (new to me, at least, I had not seen this previously) about the rape complaint against Peter Ludlow: it says "the university found him responsible for sexual harassment" but not rape. It also reports that, "Northwestern has banned him from the campus, [Ludlow] said, and has scheduled a hearing for next month on whether he should be fired."
The University of Wisconsin System would see $250 million in cuts and sweeping changes in its operations, under a proposal put forward by GOP lawmakers Friday that would still be less dramatic than changes proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee are poised to reduce Walker's controversial proposed cuts to the UW System from $300 million over two years to $250 million, which UW System leaders praised, but faculty members on campuses said was not nearly enough. The extra $50 million would be distributed to campuses around the state that are judged by UW leaders to be hardest hit by the cuts, according to a GOP motion.
The Joint Finance Committee would continue for another two years the freeze on tuition for undergraduate state residents that was proposed by the governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate.
In addition, the provisions of academic tenure for professors would no longer be included in state law. The UW Board of Regents could choose to retain tenure under its rules or decline to do so, which would allow it to lay off any faculty in cases of budget difficulties or changes to academic programs.
The hypocrisy is that they reduce funding but freeze tuition: they should take their own neoliberal ideology seriously. Let the University of Wisconsin be a private university, which is what it's becoming. Let it charge what the fabled "market" will bear, but don't slash its funding and freeze its tuition, that's just hypocrisy and cowardice. Let the universities raise salaries to compensate for eliminating tenure, since tenure is the single most important form of non-monetary compensation faculty receive.
Unless the Neanderthal Scott Walker and the Repugs in Wisconsin are soundly defeated, this is America's future.
UPDATE: More on the legislative attack on tenure and other mischief. Comments open for more information, insight, perspective.
...a Northwestern radio, television and film professor had a Title IX "retaliation" complaint filed against her after writing an opinion piece in CHE about sexual politics and paranoia on campus; her chilling account of this appalling Kafkaesque ordeal is behind a paywall [UPDATE: A free version, for 24 hours is here], but here is an excerpt:
When I first heard that students at my university had staged a protest over an essay I’d written in The ChronicleReview about sexual politics on campus — and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows — I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual-assault allegations, and I’d been writing about the new consensual-relations codes governing professor-student dating. Also, I’d been writing as a feminist. And I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed symbolically incoherent.
According to our campus newspaper, the mattress-carriers were marching to the university president’s office with a petition demanding "a swift, official condemnation" of my article. One student said she’d had a "very visceral reaction" to the essay; another called it "terrifying." I’d argued that the new codes infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives, and here were students demanding to be protected by university higher-ups from the affront of someone’s ideas, which seemed to prove my point....
Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and "subsequent public statements" (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints....
I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination....
I wrote back to the Title IX coordinator asking for clarification: When would I learn the specifics of these complaints, which, I pointed out, appeared to violate my academic freedom? And what about my rights — was I entitled to a lawyer? I received a polite response with a link to another website. No, I could not have an attorney present during the investigation, unless I’d been charged with sexual violence. I was, however, allowed to have a "support person" from the university community there, though that person couldn’t speak. I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators.
Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term "kangaroo court" came to mind....
I replied that I wanted to know the charges before agreeing to a meeting. They told me, cordially, that they wanted to set up a meeting during which they would inform me of the charges and pose questions. I replied, in what I hoped was a cordial tone, that I wouldn’t answer questions until I’d had time to consider the charges....
I’d plummeted into an underground world of secret tribunals and capricious, medieval rules, and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it....
Both complainants were graduate students. One turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the essay. She was bringing charges on behalf of the university community as well as on behalf of two students I’d mentioned — not by name — because the essay had a "chilling effect" on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct. I’d also made deliberate mistakes, she charged (a few small errors that hadn’t been caught in fact-checking were later corrected by the editors), and had violated the nonretaliation provision of the faculty handbook.
The other complainant was someone I’d mentioned fleetingly (again, not by name) in connection with the professor’s lawsuits. She charged that mentioning her was retaliatory and created a hostile environment (though I’d said nothing disparaging), and that I’d omitted information I should have included about her. This seemed paradoxical — should I have written more? And is what I didn’t write really the business of Title IX? She also charged that something I’d tweeted to someone else regarding the essay had actually referred to her. (It hadn’t.)
Please pause to note that a Title IX charge can now be brought against a professor over a tweet. Also that my tweets were apparently being monitored.
Much of this remains puzzling to me, including how someone can bring charges in someone else’s name, who is allowing intellectual disagreement to be redefined as retaliation, and why a professor can’t write about a legal case that’s been nationally reported, precisely because she’s employed by the university where the events took place. Wouldn’t this mean that academic freedom doesn’t extend to academics discussing matters involving their own workplaces?
As I understand it, any Title IX charge that’s filed has to be investigated, which effectively empowers anyone on campus to individually decide, and expand, what Title IX covers. Anyone with a grudge, a political agenda, or a desire for attention can quite easily leverage the system.
And there are a lot of grudges these days. The reality is that the more colleges devote themselves to creating "safe spaces" — that new watchword — for students, the more dangerous those campuses become for professors. It’s astounding how aggressive students’ assertions of vulnerability have gotten in the past few years. Emotional discomfort is regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated....
I’d been asked to keep the charges confidential, but this became moot when, shortly before my campus meeting with the investigators, a graduate student published an article on a well-trafficked site excoriating me and the essay, and announcing that two students had filed Title IX retaliation complaints against me. She didn’t identify her source for this information or specify her own relationship to the situation, though she seemed well versed on all the inside details; in fact, she knew more about the process than I did.
It wasn’t me alone on the chopping block. She also excoriated our university’s president for his op-ed essay on academic freedom, which, she charged, was really a veiled commentary on the pending Title IX charges against me and thus subverted the process by issuing a covert advance verdict in my favor. (He’d obliquely mentioned the controversy over the essay, among other campus free-speech issues.) She didn’t seem particularly concerned that she herself was subverting the process by charging that the process had been subverted, and by revealing the complaints in the first place.
She was also surprisingly unconcerned about how effectively her article demolished its own premises about the asymmetry of institutional power. If a graduate student can publicly blast her own university’s president, mock his ideas, and fear no repercussions, then clearly the retaliatory power that university employment confers on anyone — from professors to presidents — is nil. Nor had my own essay exactly had a chilling effect on anyone’s freedom of expression....
At the end of the interrogation, the investigators asked if I wanted to file my own retaliation complaint against the student who’d revealed the charges. I said that I believed all parties involved were using the process for political purposes. I declined to press charges against anyone....
Nothing I say here is meant to suggest that sexual assault on campuses isn’t a problem. It is. My concern is that debatable and ultimately conservative notions about sex, gender, and power are becoming embedded in these procedures, without any public scrutiny or debate. But the climate on campuses is so accusatory and sanctimonious — so "chilling," in fact — that open conversations are practically impossible. It’s only when Title IX charges lead to lawsuits and the usual veil of secrecy is lifted that any of these assumptions become open for discussion — except that simply discussing one such lawsuit brought the sledgehammer of Title IX down on me, too....
What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place. With students increasingly regarded as customers and consumer satisfaction paramount, it’s imperative to avoid creating potential classroom friction with unpopular ideas if you’re on a renewable contract and wish to stay employed. Self-censorship naturally prevails. But even those with tenure fear getting caught up in some horrendous disciplinary process with ad hoc rules and outcomes; pretty much everyone now self-censors accordingly....
As of this writing, I have yet to hear the verdict on my case, though it’s well past the 60-day time frame. In the meantime, new Title IX complaints have been filed against the faculty-support person who accompanied me to the session with the investigators. As a member of the Faculty Senate, whose bylaws include the protection of academic freedom — and believing the process he’d witnessed was a clear violation of academic freedom — he’d spoken in general terms about the situation at a senate meeting. Shortly thereafter, as the attorneys investigating my case informed me by phone, retaliation complaints were filed against him for speaking publicly about the matter (even though the complaints against me had already been revealed in the graduate student’s article), and he could no longer act as my support person....
A week or so earlier, the investigators had phoned to let me know that a "mediated resolution" was possible in my case if I wished to pursue that option....The students were willing to drop their complaints in exchange for a public apology from me, the investigators said. I tried to stifle a laugh. I asked if that was all. No, they also wanted me to agree not to write about the case.
I understand that by writing these sentences, I’m risking more retaliation complaints, though I’m unclear what penalties may be in store (I suspect it’s buried somewhere in those links). But I refuse to believe that students get to dictate what professors can or can’t write about, or what we’re allowed to discuss at our Faculty Senate meetings. I don’t believe discussing Title IX cases should be verboten in the first place — the secrecy of the process invites McCarthyist abuses and overreach.
UPDATE: True to form, Justin Weinberg (South Carolina) actually comes to the defense of Northwestern's treatment of Laura Kipnis. By selectively quoting from the original Kipnis article, he obscures the fact that in the passages in question, Kipnis was clearly talking about the lawsuit by the undergraduate against Ludlow, not the graduate student. Kipnis's article says almost nothing about the allegations by the graduate student, and never names anyone, not even Ludlow. Nowhere in the article does Kipnis accuse the graduate student of lying. The only useful thing Weinberg manages to do is link to the Title IX "retaliation" provisions, which makes clear that for a "retaliation" claim to have merit, Kipnis would have to have "subjected the person [the complainant] to adverse action, treatment or conditions." If Kipnis's opinion piece about sexual paranoia on campus, in which the graduate student is not even named and barely referenced, constitutes adverse "treatment," then there is no right for any faculty member at any institution receiving federal funds to offer any opinions, however indirect, about any question surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct at the institution. Even in the Title VI context, I am aware of no decision finding that speech like that of Kipnis--who has no power over any graduate student in philosophy, or their professional situation or opportunities--could constitute "retaliation" (feel free to correct me in the comments with a citation to such a case). The quite plain answer to "what's going on" at Northwestern in this instance is that graduate students have misused Title IX, and the University, fearful as all universities are of running afoul of those currently policing Title IX, aided and abetted this abuse. Fortunately, some commenters have already called out Weinberg's misrepresentations.
I am a reader of your blog and your philosohy gourmet report -and a philosophy student. I found both resources very illuminating in thinking about grad school. I have seen that people sometime email you questions. I myself have two questions that I seek some guidance with. Maybe you can give me your opinion, or if you want to post them on your blog I would be ok with that too as long as I am anonymous.
The last few years I have had to deal with quite a lot. I had a family member going through a psychosis which was very stressful, I had a chronic illness myself, my family in the Middle East is not doing very well (to say the least), and recently I have had mental health issues too. All these things happened one after another by the way, it wasn't just one bad year. As a result, my marks aren't as good as they could be. But they are also not the worst, fortunately.
My questions are the following:
(1) How do grad school admissions view highly fluctuating grades? Right now I have grades in the high 70s but also in the low 60s (UK). This must look very strange.
(2) How do I explain all of this to grad school admissions? What I have listed above kind of sounds like a lot of excuse making, and I do not want to sound like this. However, it's true. So I don't know what to say or if I should say anything at all. At the same time I feel that it would be unfair (towards myself) to not say anything at all. Thinking a bit more strategically, what would you advise?
In general, I think an explanation for uneven grades is best given by a recommender, so if there is a recommender whom you know well and trust, discuss these issues with him or her, and ask if he or she can address them in the application in a general way ("the student has had to deal with family stress, including illness, and has had his own health problems, which explains the uneven academic record").
The [Harvard Law School] committee ultimately proposed a set of procedures that closely resembled what Halley and her colleagues requested: it featured an independent adjudicatory body and attorneys guaranteed to both parties in a case, formally circumventing the central investigatory body that was then responsible for hearing complaints filed against all students at Harvard.
ADDENDUM: Because the FP blog is hosted in the United Kingdom, and this item was posted by a resident of the United Kingdom, its postings are subject to English libel law, which includes takedown provisions and is much less friendly to defamation than US law. If, in fact, the allegations by Ms. Olivarius are false, then we should expect Prof. McGinn to take legal steps to have it removed.
When Colin McGinn was forced to resign from the University of Miami, I can still recall Sally Haslanger's cry of victory on Facebook and shout-out to UM President Shalala; the lawyer for the victim does not see it that way, it turns out:
Feminist lawyer Ann Olivarius, who is representing the alleged student victim of sexual harassment in the McGinn case, says there's another side to Shalala's legacy. Olivarius compares Shalala's exit to the way the Catholic Church kept silent and moved its pedophilic priests instead of addressing the situation.
“For centuries, the standard way Catholic bishops handled child sexual abuse by priests was to move them quietly to a new job and keep mum,” she says. “Donna Shalala doesn’t quite look like a Catholic bishop, but I am astounded how much she seems to have borrowed from their playbook in steering the University of Miami after one of its graduate students.”
In 2012, after the student Olivarius is representing submitted explicit emails and text messages from her professor as part of a sexual harassment complaint, Shalala made sure the tenured and prominent professor was removed from the university. Shalala rerouted the proper firing protocol for a tenured professor by strong-arming the accused professor into resignation for “failure to report a consensual, romantic relationship” and avoiding a faculty senate hearing.
The student claims that as soon as the professor left, Shalala stopped caring about her well-being even though she had been complaining of retaliation as a series of blog posts sprouted up on the professor’s personal blog. She also says that having McGinn cop to a lesser offense allowed her alleged harasser to continue to claim that their relationship was consensual and romantic.
Olivarius contends that Shalala offered McGinn the “plea bargain” and a dignified exit to “avoid a long and ugly Faculty Senate trial that would have generated terrible headlines for UM. Shalala and other University officials threw the student under the bus knowing full well that McGinn had harassed her,” Olivarius says.
A senior philosopher at another top program (not Michigan) e-mailed an interesting question about attrition; she writes:
[Y]our most recent post raises a question that might be worth discussing, namely whether all grad school attrition is a bad thing, and how to tell good from bad if not. I think US News etc. have done a huge disservice to academe by suggesting that the higher the completion rate the better at the undergrad level, and I wouldn't like to see the same assumption become unquestioned at the graduate level. Some people are better off doing something else, especially when there are not going to be enough jobs for all qualified candidates, and it's often in everyone's interest for them to find that out before completion -- though the how and when is always tricky, and most departments don't handle it well. And of course from an applicant's point of view a high attrition rate is always reasonably taken as a bad sign.
I am inclined to agree with my correspondent. Readers?
I myself do not think on the evidence available that Prof. Barnett acted wrongfully (though without a doubt imprudently, as one of his colleagues suggested the other day), but I can certainly see how reasonable people could differ on that question. I am more astonished by the 10% who think that what Prof. Barnett did could constitute a firing offense for a faculty member with tenure.
I hope a Department looking to raise its profile in philosophy of language and mind, as well as metaphysics, will take advantage of the misconduct of Colorado's Administration in the Barnett case. In addition to having a strong publication record (papers in Mind, Philosophical Review, Nous, Australian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research and elsewhere), Barnett also got a Teaching Excellence award at Colorado a few years ago.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--COMMENTS ARE NOW OPEN, SEE THE UPDATE
Several readers sent this. The correct answer is, of course, 'yes."
UDPATE: A graduate student at a top PhD program writes:
I was wondering whether you would consider opening the thread up for discussion. I agree with you that grad students and adjuncts, and philosophy grad students and adjuncts in particular, ought to unionize. But I honestly have no idea how, and I would appreciate it if a discussion on the subject could point the way toward doing so. Which unions are grad students and adjuncts in philosophy joining if any?
Although predictable sanctimonious posturers in the bowels of cyberspace (like David Koepsell) apparently think it correct to fire a tenured professor for writing a report trying to exonerate one of his graduate students, the overwhelming response of philosophers and others appears to have been that a grave injustice was done in this case, either because Prof. Barnett did not act wrongfully in trying to defend his student or that even if Prof. Barnett was wrong to do his own investigation of the University's investigation into the allegations, what he did was not by any stretch of the imagination a firing offense. That's my impression only; I wonder what readers think about this case? If you have not followed it, please read some of the Daily Camera articles before voting.
A young philosopher in a non-tenure-stream position (and who has an extremely impressive publication record) writes:
Naturally, being non-TT faculty or an independent scholar can be trying. But I don't know if people realize how much non-TT professionals are ignored, even when their CVs are much better than some TT professors (and even though securing a TT-job is somewhat a matter of luck). I've seen recently on social media some good suggestions about how to improve things, for example, by inviting non-tenure-track philosophers to contribute to a volume you are editing, or speak as part of your department's speaker series, or speak or comment at the conference or APA session you are organizing.
Quite a distribution of reports on time spent, but the majority cluster in the 1-4 hours per week per 20 students range. It would be interesting to hear from those at the extremes what kinds of classes and/or students are involved.
They have secured the resignation of philosophy professor David Barnett, whom a faculty committee found did not commit "retatliation" against a complainant in a sexual harassment case, with a payout of $160,000 to Barnett (roughly 1 1/2 years of salary and benefits), forgiving an $80,000 loan, and payment of his legal fees. Since philosophers don't really understand how lawsuits work, let me explain what actually happened here.
The University has been under intensive Title IX scrutiny for several years; toleration of sexual harassment in the philosophy department was the tip of the iceberg (those boys, now forced into early retirement or resignation, look like "saints" compared to some of the misconduct associated with the athletics program). Serial violations of Title IX can result in loss of all federal funding for a university (the Obama Administration has been aggressive in cocking the trigger on that gun); for a school like Colorado, whose areas of academic excellence (outside Philosophy) are overwhelmingly in the natural sciences and engineering, such a loss of funding would be fatal. So the University has been keen to show that the bad 'ole days are over. To that end, they actually got rid of serial sexual harassers and, allegedly, stopped the recruitment-by-rape program for football. Good for Colorado! But so fearful are the administrators at Colorado that they've now forced out a tenured professor whose only malfeasance was to write a report that tried to exonerate one of his grad students against hotly contested accounts of sexual misconduct.
So what does the settlement mean? It's pretty simple: the university knows its case for firing Barnett is pathetically weak; it knows there is a real risk he would prevail in litigation; it also knows that the University, unlike Barnett, can afford to spend years litigating the matter; so it has offered not only a cash settlement with Barnett but it has offered to pay his legal fees hoping, reasonably, to take advantage of Barnett's prudent risk aversion (five years of litigation, lawyer fees, he loses, etc.--for just a year, his legal fees are already 50K). Just for the record: you generally don't agree to pay legal fees when you're on the side of the angels. You do so when you have a chance of getting rid of a complicated legal problem--firing a tenured professor who didn't engage in a fireable offense--that it would be to your advantage to get rid of.
In short, this settlement says: We, the University of Colorado are acting wrongfully, but we are leveraging our superior financial position, to get the result we want, to show that we are Title IX saints, despite the sordid history.
I do not know David Barnett; I do not even know his work. The only time I ever posted about him was here. Some people have told me David Barnett is an asshole; perhaps so, though his enemies would seize the moment to say so. But that isn't a firing offense, or lots of philosophers would be fired, and for worse behavior than trying to defend graduate students they believed to be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. (When the Velleman/Shulz story becomes public soon, this will be rather clear.)
As with many such cases, there is no doubt a lot that is not public. What is public suggests that Barnett has been wronged, and the terms of the settlement suggests that the University knows its position is legally dubious, but they hope to sustain it by virtue of superior resources.
In the current neoliberal environment for state universities--in which right-wing Governors like Scott Walker are eviscerating preeminent public universities, while others are privatizing their functions--this development can only be viewed with alarm.
ADDENDUM: It's indicative of Colorado's highly selective interest in alleged faculty malfeasance that it has not moved to fire Paul Campos, a law professor who is such a notorious charlatan and underperformer--one who even admitted in print that he is a fraud--that a Dean of another law school wondered in public about the case for firing him. But since there is no Title IX credibility at stake, the University, so far, isn't interested.
ANOTHER: A philosopher at Colorado writes:
Your diagnosis of the situation at Colorado was quite accurate. For the record, I can assure you that Barnett is not an asshole. It is true that he is not a terribly prudent person. He rather recklessly risked his career, and ultimately lost it, trying to defend a graduate student from an administration that became deeply invested in making an example, in the first instance, of the accused graduate student, and then of Barnett himself. Having placed an $825000 bet [the amount paid to settle the retaliation claim] on Barnett’s guilt (prior to having conducted any kind of inquiry into the accusations against him), they were never going to back down, notwithstanding the Privilege and Tenure committee’s not-guilty verdict. Barnett’s real character flaw was his rather naive faith in the willingness of administrators to respond to evidence and reason. (Some philosophers have no sense of audience.) There are a couple of assholes in the CU Philosophy Department - as there no doubt are in most large departments - but Barnett was not one of them.
AND ANOTHER: David Koepsell, a familiar noxious mediocrity to readers of this blog, tweets sarcastically, "Guess who thinks Barnett was the one wronged at Colorado." Apparently not Koepsell!
Consistent with Brennan's supposition, almost half the respondents reported an hour or less of prep time per class hour. But 30% did report spending two hours or more. I'd be particularly curious to hear from those spending 2 or 3 hours for each classroom hour to say a bit more about the kinds of classes these are, and what they do to prepare.
An issue that has arisen in the interesting discussion on the adjunct thread is how much time one typically spends outside of class preparing for a classroom hour covering material one has taught previously. So here's a poll to that effect:
Philosopher Jason Brennan (Georgetown) has been generating a lot of discussion (and some ranting and raving) with his posts about adjuncts. They're worth a read. I'm curious what readers think about these issues. Please keep it substantive.
As last week's comment threads showed, the best and most interesting discussions took place not on the "open thread" but on those with particular, focused topics. So going forward, that's probably what I'll do, though I'll try to do a couple each week, time (for moderating) permitting. I may, of course, do some future threads on some of the topics that tend to produce the more heated responses (e.g., gender and hiring), but I do fear the open threads tended to become obsessively focused on that to the exclusion of other more important topics.
[The student's] long-term boyfriend, Benjamin Yelle—a fifth-year graduate student in the department—described some of the correspondence [from McGinn], including several passages that he said were sexually explicit. Mr. Yelle, along with two professors with whom the student has worked, described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.
Mr. McGinn once wrote to the student that they should "have sex three times in my office over the summer when no one else is around," Mr. Yelle says. He also says the professor once suggested that the student should wear shorts more often because he thought her legs were attractive.
Mr. McGinn says he never suggested to the student that they should have sex. He also says he merely told the student that her legs were "muscular." He is unwilling, however, to share the e-mails he sent to the student.
"Professor McGinn harassed, stalked, and preyed upon" the student, the summary of the complaint says. The professor touched her hands and feet, told her "you are mine," and proposed they have sex, the document says. The student, it continues, felt "hounded, suffocated, and trapped by his constant barrage of communications and need."
Officials at Miami ignored the student’s complaints and charged Mr. McGinn with violating its relationship policy as a way to get him out the door fast and to avoid further fallout, the summary of the complaint says. In that way, it says, officials "hijacked" the grievance process "to save UM a public scandal, rather than provide a fair accounting of Professor McGinn’s misconduct."
And some more here regarding Prof. McGinn's propensity to attack and defame anyone who doesn't adopt his version of events in its entirety. (Addendum to the last lilnk: I'm no longer confident there aren't First Amendment issues with the way some schools are interpreting "retaliation" under Title IX.)
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)