I am a junior member of a Philosophy department. Recently at a faculty meeting we were discussing the application of a philosopher to teach at our program for a short term. The applicant crashed a party I threw a while ago, arrived somewhat drunk, and hit on me incessantly even as I tried to maintain a professional distance (and I wear a wedding ring.) I explained this, including how uncomfortable I felt. A senior male professor said, ‘I don’t understand…is this positive or negative?” That was followed by heartfelt chuckles from some of my other colleagues. Somehow I found it in me to respond to that and say that it was negative, and that I did not appreciate the remark at all, since I had already stated it had been uncomfortable. To this the response of the senior member was, “I see.” After which, a senior female member of the department went on to tell me that not everyone, e.g. not her, would find it wrong to flirt with a married woman.
Archive for the ‘sexual harassment’ Category
I am a man who saw several cases of sexual harassment during my time in academia. The worst one (other than the case where I was sexually harassed, which obviously wouldn’t fit here) involves a high profile visiting professor from Europe. He was a flashy, well dressed “continental” philosopher who exuded old school European charm.
On the last day of the grad seminar he was teaching he took us all out for wine at a nearby cafe – including the one undergraduate student who took the course. At the end of the night, she complained of not feeling well. He lured her into his apartment under the pretext of getting her some aspirin and as she was lying down dealing with her headache, he crawled next to her naked. She got up and quickly left.
The worst part is that when she brought up his behavior to another (male) professor, he explained that this was simply how it was done in Europe and she shouldn’t make a fuss about it.
By far, not the worst story I have to tell, but the one most easily made anonymous.
As an undergraduate, a professor called me into his office to tell me that he had heard there were “rumors” that he and I were romantically involved. For a variety of reasons, I found this so untenable that I burst out laughing. I don’t think he knew how to interpret the laughter, and I was so unnerved and mystified by the whole thing that all I could think to do was excuse myself from the office.
At my undergraduate institution, faculty sometimes ate dinner in the dorms. One night, shortly after the office incident, he did. After dinner, he found me in the ‘kitchenette’ after dinner, pinned me against the refrigerator with his body, leaned in and said “maybe we should just make those rumors true.” I was terrified, and have no idea what would have happened had someone not come in the room at just that moment (they left immediately).
I avoided him thereafter, in every way I could, and he in turn made it very clear–explicitly– that he would do what he could to keep me out of a top graduate program.
I got into a good enough program anyway. Years later. I’m now tenured. The recent story that has been all in the press starts discussion in various formats. I’m contacted –just as part of a general conversation– by not one, but two different women who, it turns out, were harassed by this same guy. I’d always heard rumors, but the truth is, until those two women told me, there was a small party of me that wondered if it was just me.
Word to the wise: it’s never just you.
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.
After being notified of [...] scandal, I was disturbed at how similar this story was to one of my own experiences. This is a brief description of what it was like to be the boyfriend of a harassment victim.
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend took a couple philosophy classes at her university. Her 50-something instructor [...] sexually harassed her both in person and via email and Facebook. He would give books under the pretense of helping a young scholar, but his true intentions were revealed when he treated her to lunch and put his hand on her thigh. She declined any more lunch offers, but remained in terse contact with him via email. He eventually began questioning her about her relationship with myself and about how I was clearly a dumb jock out to oppress her. To the both of us, this was strange because I am a really bookish historian and while definitely not a genius, I am pretty far from an athletic he-man from an 80s movie. The only thing this instructor knew about me was that I had attended a Southern university and that I was his student’s boyfriend. What began as teasing turned into him openly denouncing me on Facebook as being unfit and a protofascist. He then emailed me directly in order to denounce me as some kind of caricature of a southern republican misogynist with a penchant for violence in some kind of desperate attempt( on his part) at being a white knight. Apparently this is foreplay in his world. At the time of this incident, I was not yet attending this university, so I didn’t think that I could file a complaint.
My girlfriend was highly intimidated and threatened by his behavior and mentioned it in passing to another faculty member. She was too afraid of repercussions and failed to pursue the matter further. The instructor is still teaching at this university and has a reputation for groping other students.
I no longer work at college level but when I did the professor of Philosophy quite explicitly told me that if I slept with him he would ensure I was looked after as far as my career went. I did not but I know others who did and he did keep his word, they received a lot of help establishing their careers. I am ambivalent about their behaviour since they were, as I was, mostly very capable anyway but I am somewhat cynical when they speak at conferences as representative feminists.
After my Phd was published, and the postgrad supervisor (a woman with whom I refused a relationship when we were both students, simply because I am straight, not gay) as well as my supervisor were ‘too busy’ to provide comments for the dust jacket I realised there was no point asking for the references necessary to enter the book for the relevant philosophy prize for publications in my area that year.
I wrote a letter to the university which awarded the prize tactfully mentioning the difficulty of finding overworked academics to write the necessary reviews and several names were suggested but they all were ‘too busy’ as well so I simply gave up. (The prize is no longer offered).
Finally, one examiner of the Phd which became the book, a professor at a prestigious US college, had offered to write a good review when it was published but was unable to be contacted either by the publishers or me when the time arrived. Nonetheless, when the university which had offered the prize for which I could not enter invited a well-known international scholar based at the same college as my examiner to give its annual ‘prestige’ public lecture the synopsis sounded suspiciously like my book. I wrote to him as well as the institution mentioning this and asking for a transcript of the lecture. Neither he nor the college replied but the international scholar’s first announcement at the lecture was that he had changed the topic and it would no longer correspond to the abstract that had been published.
So,sexual harrassment, attempted plagiarism of junior researchers and brushing it all under the carpet. If nothing else I no longer believe that well-known scholars are the best philosophers, merely the most ruthless and amoral.
The philosophy prof was foul-mouthed, twice my age and expected his female TAs to solve his social problems. It had worked with my predecessor and it worked with my successor, so he wondered what was wrong with me. After fending him off for a whole term I then discovered that my next job was to work for a prof about three times my age. His Lady-Godiva party invitation I posted to my mother, just to show that I wasn’t making it up. She aptly called him a “corset salesman”. I had had enough and left the university.
I just read the piece about the philosopher in Miami. It is an old, old story. I was a graduate student in philosophy at [University of X] from 1961-63, at which time I left the school, having been chased around the desk and propositioned by a now-long-deceased philosopher. I went home for a weekend to explain the situation to my father and obtain advice. He told me to go back and inform the philosopher that I would detail the situation to the President of the University. I did so. The philosopher’s response? He laughed. He pointed out that he was a valued faculty member whereas I was a lowly graduate student (though I did have a Du Pont Fellowship and was doing research for my dissertation). There seemed no solution but to quit. I loved philosophy, including analytic philosophy, including the arguments, including the times when I was on the losing (but plucky!) side. I also wanted to write, and maybe if I’d stuck with philosophy I wouldn’t have got around to writing. I often deal with philosophical questions or issues in my writing, and I love to write, so I’m not crying about what happened to me. But I am sad to learn that other women have been dealing with sexism and professors who prey on them, or try to. Such behavior is, or should be, archaic by now. I’m startled to learn that it isn’t.
This is in response to the call for stories of sexism being taken seriously. I’ve posted about this story here before so I won’t get into the details of the harassment. I will say that it was so extreme, I thought everybody must a) know about it, and so b) not care, given that it had been going on for so long. After a year and a half of kind of unbelievable harassment, which you’re fairly confident your colleagues are more or less indifferent to, you’re pretty despondent. But, about midway through my second year, my MA advisor, we’ll call him A, asked me to stay a minute after one of our meetings. A told me that another professor with whom I was close had relayed to him some concerns about my wellbeing, and did I want to talk to him? I was really surprised when he asked about it, to be honest. But I was close enough with A, and I knew that he definitely wasn’t close with my harasser, so I explained what had happened and how things were now. A was aghast when I gave him the details, and promptly thereafter things started to get fairly serious. I forwarded a swath of emails to A and to the dean, and over the next couple of weeks A accompanied me to a handful of meetings with the dean, in which we discussed my options. I was withdrawn from all of my classes with my harasser and he was basically given a university wide restraining order. In the aftermath I worried about what the Ws would look like on my transcripts (I was applying to PhD programs at the time) and about what my harasser might say to people about me. As for him, I don’t think the issue followed him around professionally in any way, or in any way affected his standing in the dept. I think the seriousness with which the matter was treated was a mater of protecting me from any more harm, and not directed at preventing this person from perpetrating these abuses again. It did come to my attention, in talks with A and the dean throughout this process, that my harasser was not a first time offender. So on the one hand, I think my department really let me down. On the other hand, I think A really stepped up and stood by me. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.
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.
I’ve faced two large-scale gender-related events in my time as a grad student: the first involved explicit bigotry, and the second involved sexual harassment. While they were extremely different kinds of problems, dealing with both experiences was quite similar: it was incredibly disruptive to my life and made me question whether I wanted to stay in the profession. In both cases, though, an amazing support network materialized to help me through these experiences. I had personal and robust support and mentorship from specific professors, and the overwhelming support of my department as a whole – both the faculty and the grad students.
In addressing both problems my complaints were taken seriously, I was treated with respect, and I was actively empowered in how both cases proceeded. While neither problematic behavior has been fully curtailed, I believe the philosophy department did all it could to intervene and to cordon off the impact of those behaviors. In neither case do I wish something else had been done by any of the people in my department who had power over these things.
Were these cases successful? My department did all the appropriate things, both formal and informal, to intervene. I’ve walked away with a robust understanding of university processes for dealing with these sorts of things, and I have real first-personal knowledge of the amazing support system I have. I’m still angry though – both at the professors themselves, and that I had to spend so much time and emotional energy dealing with this while my peers were developing their work and off giving conference talks. I’m not displeased that I gained this knowledge – I believe I am in a much better position now to be an advocate for myself, colleagues, or students who face similar situations – and I think this is important knowledge given the state of the profession. But it’s not knowledge that I can ever list on a CV or mention in a job interview, and it won’t help me in any official way. So, in many ways I believe these cases were successful, but it’s still a success that came with a cost.
As a female philosophy major at a small university, there were maybe 30 philosophy majors altogether. Out of those 30 or so, 9 or so were female. Only 1 female professor out of at least 10 total.
One of the creepier male philosophy majors was banned from all student housing because of a sexual harassment complaint from a female under his purview as a Resident Assistant — he was fired from his RA job and banned from all on-campus dormitories. However, not only did that fact not stop the Philosophy Department from ignoring my plea to prevent him from being a department tutor in general, but it also didn’t stop the department from allowing him to continue doing one-on-one sessions with students (both male and female, mostly younger, in-coming freshmen non-majors).
Why? The reason I was given was because the university didn’t officially alert the department, the department could not act to inhibit his “academic pursuits” — as though not being allowed to tutor freshmen girls was going to inhibit his future endeavors. MMMMM’K. Now I work in libraries and dropped philosophy completely… I wonder why?
On the question of how to know who the predators are: I cast my mind back to my undergraduate philosophy department. I was taught there by seven philosophy professors, three of them men. (It is a women’s college.)
One of those men subjected me to unwanted advances at the beginning of my graduate program, after describing to me just how important the politics and power gradients in the philosophy world were. Another was sleeping with (at least) one of my classmates in his senior seminar.
I have no positive reason to believe the third of those men engaged his students inappropriately. Yay?
Another post in response to this one.
At my department, there was this senior professor who was known to prey on young female students. His behaviour was often inappropriate. Many years ago (about 15 years) before I joined this department, one graduate student complained about it and was supported by a faculty member. The complaint was heard and the inappropriate behaviour was “punished” by lowering the merit rating of this professor for the year. Once the student graduated, he asked for the penalty to be reversed and it was. When I joined that department and was told that story, I was really appalled that the university cared so little. However, there is a happy ending to this story. Last year, this professor, now retired but still present in the department, had inappropriate behaviour with one of our graduate students. She complained about it. Luckily she did to that same colleague who, years ago, had supported the former graduate student through the process. He again did the same thing and took the case to the office that now takes care of such things. The retired professor is now banned from the building where we have our offices and cannot attend philosophy events. I take this to be a positive story because it shows that things have evolved a great deal, at least at my place.
This isn’t quite the kind of story the last post is looking for–but it is a story about sexual harassment being taken seriously by individual philosophers.
One of my professors has a standing policy that he could not in good conscience recommend some one for a teaching position if they sexually harass their colleagues, or otherwise significantly contribute to creating a hostile environment. If someone would like a recommendation letter from this professor, they should expect to have a serious conversation with him about equity issues and pedagogy.
Another of my professors has a standing policy that if multiple students make it known to him that a particular student makes them uncomfortable (by, e.g., hitting on them, regularly making sexist remarks, etc.), the offending student will not be allowed to participate in activities organized by this professor (reading groups, conferences, etc.) until the offending student is able to reconcile themselves with those they have offended.
These are relatively easy steps that individuals can take to start changing the norms of our discipline–and they are steps that have meant the world to me. Knowing that these senior, well-respected, excellent philosophers take equity issues seriously, has given me a lot of hope for the future of our discipline.
I would highly recommend that others start adopting similar policies, and make it known that they are doing so.
The recent news of a prominent philosopher having to quit his job because of accusations of sexual harassment is so radical because it seems that philosophers never get in trouble for sexual harassment. I’m a tenured woman philosopher with an excellent job. I’m very well-connected. I have heard tons of detailed stories about sexual harassment that went unpunished, either because the victims chose not to pursue (dangerous and perhaps fruitless) attempts at formal charges or because departments and administrators refused to respond in a serious manner. I have two questions for the philosophical community: do we have stories of philosophers’ harassment being taken sufficiently seriously by universities? Do we have stories of philosophers losing their jobs because of harassment? It would be useful to see anonymized versions of such stories on this blog, if such stories exist.
Send them via the “send a story” link.
On a day when the profession is all abuzz about the resignation of a senior philosopher due to allegations of sexual harassment, I find myself wondering about all the women who have been suffering in silence. Many commentators on this issue add remarks along the lines that they know of much worse cases where nothing has been done. So how are we supposed to feel safe in our professional community? I’m left with a sense of depression and dread at that the thought that there are serial sexual harassers in our midst, walking around us anonymously, ready to strike again at any time. “Oh, but everyone knows who they are,” it’s often said. Well, *I* don’t know who they are, and I’ve been around awhile and am fairly active in the profession. I don’t know whether I’ve unknowingly invited a serial sexual harasser to speak at a conference I’ve organized, or contribute to a book that I’ve edited, or … So how can the young women in our profession expect to know who these predators are?