Archive for the ‘Bad news’ Category

I’m a male, but as far as I can tell my graduate education has been rather free of sexism, and usually when it occurs it comes from people outside the department or the occasional graduate student. I am sadden to realize how much of an anomaly my program is. Though I figured it might because of my undergrad experience (which took place in the last decade).

First, my undergraduate department was composed of three male philosophy professors. In the four years I was there, I don’t once remember a work of a female ever being assigned in any class taught by these men. When I brought this up to the attention of the professors, one told me that because he mostly taught ancient and early modern philosophy he shouldn’t be expected to teach women. The other two professors explained they had taught women before I was there, and planned to do so in the future (I guess just not in the four years I was there).

However, these last two professors were single and occasionally hit on or slept with female students. I don’t think they realized how toxic this made the department for *everyone*, but particularly for women. More than one woman experience anxiety about seeing these professors alone in office hours or generally socializing with them. And while none of these women had been hit on by these professors (I’m not sure they ever gave unwanted attention to students), it still created a climate that made it hard for women to interact with them in the same way that men could. I cannot emphasize enough the damage done to the trusts of all students by sleeping with only a few students. I also know the administration was informed, and no obvious actions were taken.

I had brought together a very interdisciplinary group, combining neuroscientists and philosophers in a way less common, perhaps, in 1996. Several years later, our wonderfully supportive female dean was replaced by a male dean. I went to talk to him about developing the program. He said, inter alia, “When I think of you, I think first of your charm, and then your jewelry, and so far there’s not much else.”

As you might guess, it was downhill after that. Eventually he was fired, but he did a lot of damage to me and others. In particular, he worked to convince my chair – and through him other members of the department – that I was tricky and deceitful, “with not much else”. One consequence was that I could not get anything in the college approved. I was stopped, and the damage lasted well after his departure.

A succession of chancellors and provosts took steps to protect me; I could not be more grateful to them. The members of my group – scientists, psychologists, and so on – were amazingly supportive. I was very fortunate.

Plus ca change…

Posted: October 12, 2010 by Jender in Bad news, Good news

It is quite depressing to read these stories. I’m nearing retirement age, and when I was a graduate student in philosophy (at a top-ranked university), most of the women had stories like the ones I’m reading now. Male professors and TAs often exchanged crude comments about female undergraduates. Male students could go out with professors for beers, and had the benefit of informal conversation. If we did that, we got hit on. When the women students bonded through a discussion group, the men were terribly threatened. I had hoped that things were better now. Don’t get me wrong. I have had a great career in a department that developed into one that is non-sexist and very supportive. But it is depressing to think that today’s female grad students are still going through what we went through in the late 60’s and early 70’s.