Archive for the ‘Bad news’ Category

One of my classmates chose a particularly obnoxious faculty member to sit on her dissertation committee. I asked her what she was thinking. She told me that it was only my relationship with him that was strained. He failed her defense, and placed a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in her school mailbox with a note, “Maybe you should consider a change of career.”

She did reconfigure her committee, and pass her defense six months later…

There’s a seminar this afternoon in my department on the topic of child welfare. Although I am interested in this topic, and have written relevant papers, I’m not going. Why not? Because it’s in the early evening, and my own daughter is very stressed at the moment, I am a single parent, and I do not want to leave her on her own. Deepening irony is that this weekend, sick of observing the stress I’m under by trying to work in substandard conditions, cope with very difficult student welfare issues, etc, she begged me to give up my lecturing job. So, as I’m REALLY interested in child welfare, I won’t be at the seminar on it. Not that anyone there will ever know or care.

Wanting to love my university

Posted: November 11, 2013 by Jender in Bad news

I’m a graduate student in philosophy. I’ve given quite a lot of thought in the past about how my experiences as a woman in philosophy may ultimately impact my career, my work, my ability to learn—but the effects are more far-reaching than that. Recently, I went to a sporting event at my university because the visiting team is from my home state, and it’s one I grew up watching. Being at the game was an extremely odd experience. It made salient to me something that has been latent for a while: I want to love my university. I want to feel like I am part of this community. I want to be proud of where I go to school. I want to feel the urge to cheer my school on.

On the whole I’m quite proud of my undergraduate institution. Not because it’s perfect (it’s certainly not), and not because it’s an Ivy League sort of school (again, it’s not)—but because in my experience when problems arose, the university community banded together to solve them. People disagreed, sometimes sharply and painfully, but they engaged together in civil discourse. Differing ideas were taken seriously. A very strong sense of the importance of service to the community (both the university community and the surrounding city) was always present. There was a wide-spread perception that discrimination was not to be tolerated.

Every institution has its problems to be sure, but the good and the bad come in different degrees, and the balance in my experiences here is such that we are very quickly approaching the point at which it will never be possible for me to feel proud of having been a member of my current university community. It’s an odd, unpleasant, and surprisingly painful feeling.

I am a bearded white male with a PhD in philosophy who stopped working in philosophy departments per se some years ago. I left in part because of what I saw as the discipline’s shoddy treatment of feminist philosophy in general and my female colleagues in particular. Since then I have become a research scientist respected in another field.

Ironically, the fact that I did graduate work in feminist epistemology as well as in analytic epistemology has proved an asset in doing science. I oftentimes acknowledge my philosophical background in my professional talks, crediting it for my theoretical range and ability to write clearly.

Recently I had a female undergraduate student come up to me after a talk I gave. She asked me for advice as to whether to go to graduate school in philosophy or in my adopted field, and told me that she had been accepted to top programs in each. However, and when I enquired as to which schools she was considering, the philosophy departments she mentioned were programs known to me as programs intolerant of pluralism.

I looked her in the eye and told her that while I believed the situation in philosophy graduate programs had gotten better over the years, I said that based on my experience she would be likely to encounter a systemic tradition of sexism within the discipline and might well even experience sexual harassment in those programs.

I could see how crushing my snap reaction was for her to hear, and it made me instantly second guess whether I had in fact told her right thing. I felt this even more acutely when, on reflection, I realized I probably would not have offered the same snap advice to a male student.

She and I did manage to have a little more hurried conversation about the relative advantages and disadvantages of a philosophic education versus a scientific one, but in the end I am afraid I may have discouraged a bright young woman from entering–and perhaps helping to change–my old profession.

I hope she has the guts to enter it anyway; frankly, all sorts of people discouraged me from entering graduate work in philosophy on practical grounds as well–though never on grounds that had to do with my being male.

A few years ago, I left my university’s philosophy department. I had been there about 20 years, hired with tenure and assuming that I would be able to participate as an equal in its affairs. I forgot I was the only tenured woman. One of the first things my new chair told me was that he liked my skirts as short as possible. The second thing he told me was that I was making less than a man who had been hired with tenure at the same time as I had because the man had “a family to support.” Things did not improve. When the department was audited, it told the Dean that the mistakes were my fault, even though they originated before I arrived on campus. When I engaged in free-ranging departmental debate, I was told that I was overly emotional. When I was passed over as chair it was because, the out-going chair said, I made him feel stupid. When I applied for an administrative position at the university, a member of the department told the search committee I was power-hungry. I could go on (and on). I have not had these problems in my new department.

I was referred to your interesting website recently and it revived unpleasant memories from my time as a graduate student in philosophy several years ago. I was in my second year of studies at a top philosophy department in the US. I took a course in X that was offered by a very prominent male philosopher who also happened to be quite active and outspoken in attempts to improve the position of women in philosophy. Once after class I mentioned to him that I was considering the possibility of writing a dissertation under his supervision, and he seemed supportive as I was among the best students in his course. One evening toward the end of the term we discussed possible topics for my thesis in his office. At one point during that conversation he stood up, looked at me in a strange way and said that he had an irresistible desire to touch my breasts. As he approached me I recoiled in disgust and rushed outside. When I later told some of my friends what happened they wondered why I was so shocked about the incident because they said this professor hitting on female students was common knowledge in the department. This was too much for me. It obviously meant that this behavior was tolerated and that none of my other teachers in that department felt any obligation to do anything about it. I left the program after a few weeks for good and never returned to philosophy studies again. I am telling you this story mainly because I would like your readers to know that sexual harassment is sometimes practiced even by those who nominally subscribe to feminism and who pose as advocates of women’s rights and equality.

Here’s the picture they paint of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy: I’m sexually harassed by my professor in grad school. I somehow manage to get a job anyhow (probably as a “token” woman). I do twice as much service as my male colleagues. My students hold me to higher standards than my male colleagues. Somehow I manage to publish in good journals anyhow. But I am not invited to conferences (though some organizers might lie and say they invited me). My work is not cited, never anthologized, and not included on any syllabi.

It’s a wonder there are any of us left.