Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Strongly Recommended" for What, Again?

The University of Oregon is on the "strongly recommended" list on the Pluralist's Guide's Climate for Women page. But by now it is well-known that this department's climate for women shows clear signs of being terrible: their undergraduate program director is alleged to have made sexual advances toward female undergraduates and to have groped female undergraduates in his office, and another, "feminist" faculty member is alleged to have orchestrated a coverup of this information so as not to interfere with their being recognized for their friendliness to women. As far as I can see, these charges have not been disputed. (If they have, please let me know.) Why hasn't this school been removed from the list? The "Pluralists" removed Oklahoma from the "needs improvement" list almost immediately when it became clear that they had been working to improve the climate. I mean, if there was ever evidence of a chilly and inhospitable climate for women, that's gotta be it.

But as of this morning, it's still up.

--Mr. Zero

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very excellent question, and well put, sir!

Matt said...

Given the fast-paced nature of the debate and the number of issues to work through, I think it's fair to give them a week or two to work out something more comprehensive. Things would perhaps be more urgent if we were quickly approaching "grad school app" season (roughly November through February), but we're still in the summer.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Matt,

I think that makes sense, and patience is a virtue. But a "we're looking into it" would be appropriate. As far as I know, that's all the SWIP has done.

Ben said...

If Oklahoma is currently under investigation then surely it's not appropriate to be recommending them. Presumably the appropriate thing to do would be to remove Oklahoma immediately, to be reinstated on the strongly recommended list if appropriate.

This policy may seem a little harsh, but strongly recommended isn't the same as good. I'd only recommend a programme if I was sure it was good.

Anonymous said...

I think U of O can be excused for this environment, since it is clearly a cultural phenomenon native to the state of Oregon as a whole: http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/07/26/wu.resigns/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

(of course, I am totally tongue-in-cheek)

the smoker touched me said...

Both statements concerning the undergraduate director and the feminist philosopher indicate that their actions have simply been alleged. By whom? Has there been a formal complaint made? Has there been any form of formal investigation? If not, then this is merely hearsay, which should not be treated as fact. Academia is one of the only places where an allegation seems to equal immediate guilt. Also, the department is correct in their policy if they do not make statements to the public about hearsay.

Mr. Zero said...

Jenny Saul reports here that the SWIP is reevaluating its "women-friendliness" award in light of a recent reason to believe that its procedures are ineffective. Leiter reports here that a graduate student from this department contacted him with the allegations, and that he was able to confirm them with a faculty member at Oregon as well as confirm that Oregon, who won the SWIP women-friendliness award this year, is the department Prof. Saul mentioned. And Rebecca Kukla who claims to have independent knowledge of the case confirms here that it is Oregon.

This could all be false, which is why I say 'alleged' in a couple of places in the OP. But it seems to me to be worth taking seriously. And it seems to me to be no less serious than the data that led to Oklahoma being taken off the "needs improvement" list. If you're the kind of person (and I'm not saying you are, I'm saying that the editors of the PG seem to be) who thinks that this is evidence that the climate at Oklahoma no longer needs improvement, you must also think that we are no longer in an environment in which Oregon can be strongly recommended. (And you'd probably be the kind of person who thinks that this would be a reason to take Rutgers off the "needs improvement" list.

Adam said...

There is an update to this situation at Feminist Philosophers:
http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/oregon-a-different-side-of-the-story/

not a mann fan said...

A kind of reply from Bonnie Mann (U Oregon) is now up at Feminist Philosophers.
In my opinion, it is a very disturbing reply. But see what you think.

Anonymous said...

While I'm not a faculty member at U of O, I know a few of them, have been to conferences with them (particularly ones in which their female grad students came along) and I can vouch that boundaries between students and faculty are a little lax. I'm not surprised that one faculty member has crossed the line. I'm honestly surprised that more have not. The fact that more have not attests to the moral fortitude of their faculty members (with the possible exception of this one). That's just the departmental culture at U of O. Student-faculty relationships are fairly informal. But I don't get the sense that the culture is one that condones sexual harassment, sexism or misogynistic behavior.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:28: That's not what's at issue in this case at all. As the letter that BL posted said, it's about the undergraduate director.

Anonymous said...

How did the undergrad director get tenure with a CV like that? This department is ridiculous. Check out his picture!

Adam said...

Anon 5:28: wait, so the fact that there is an informal atmosphere in the department means that it is unsurprising that there is sexual harassment? Is your next comment going to be that "she was asking for it"?

Anonymous said...

Adam gets the straw person argument of the year award. Certain departmental cultures are breeding grounds for such loathsome behavior, but having a culture that's tolerant of informal student-professor relationships is not the same as having a culture that condones sexual harassment or always assigns blame to the student when allegations arise. The guy does look like a swinger from the 1970s though!

Adam said...

"I'm not surprised that one faculty member has crossed the line. I'm honestly surprised that more have not. The fact that more have not attests to the moral fortitude of their faculty members (with the possible exception of this one). That's just the departmental culture at U of O."

That statement equates to saying that sexual harassment is understandable because of the informal relationships among the faculty and students. I'm not saying that it is the same thing as condoning it. But I don't understand how a certain context makes harassment understandable. Is the assumption that professors and grad students can't coexist informally without something like this happening?

Anonymous said...

While the picture is absolutely hilarious (and fucking creepy at the same time...), maybe we can at least *try* not to judge him a swinger based solely on his pic? And, hey, there's nothing wrong with being a swinger. You just can't be a swinger who gropes his undergraduate students during office hours.

Ben said...

Sorry, my above comment (#4) should have referred to Oregon, not Oklahoma. Getting my U of Os mixed up!

Anonymous said...

Let's not judge Oregon on the basis of some incidental misconduct. Let's give the alleged women-unfriendly faculty members a second chance.

Anonymous said...

I find Prof. Mann's reply really upsetting. First, she seems to think that because sexism is rampant, so is sexual harassment that consists of (if the allegations are correct) physically groping young, vulnerable undergrads. That's just a wild equivocation, and I'll take a department that marginalizes feminist theory over one that gropes women any day of the week. Second, she seems to think that Oregon should get some kind of bonus points for being friendly to feminist philosophy and good to many of their female grad students. Again, I don't give a crap what your politics are if in practice some member of the faculty is physically harassing undergrads- you've got to not physically violate people before you can get cred for your good politics. A physically safe setting is the sine qua non for a female-friendly climate. Third, I get this sense that Mann, or maybe others think, that since the incident doesn't involve grad students, it isn't relevant to the discussion of whether U of O is a good place for female grad students. Maybe it's possible for the prof. to stick to a "I'll grope you until you're a bona fide member of the profession" policy- but I really hope the department is not resorting to that kind of justification.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:13's interpretation seems to be particularly ungenerous. It seems to me that questions isn't whether there are incidents of sexual harassment but how these incidents are addressed when the do happen.

The fact that there have been allegations is serious but not damning. More important is how the allegations are addressed. How is the climate otherwise (given my own experience in grad school as a woman, the existence of sexual harassers does not, by itself, make an environment inhospitable to women).

How others respond, whether the behavior is tacitly approved of insofar as no one in power addressed the issue, whether the vulnerable in the department have folks who stand up for and actively support them. These are all important factors.

My sense is that Mann was getting at these other
aspects of a community being at least as important.

It's bad if you live in the southwest and there's been longstanding policy and practice that makes forest fires more likely and, yes, the policies and practices ought to be changed. But, sometimes, even with the adoption of new policies and the earnest effort to change practices, fires happen. In these cases, it's the existence of a really good fire department, alternative housing, emotional support, etc. that becomes important.

Overall, there is no graduate program that is Xanadu for women and all women going into philosophy should be aware of this. But, this doesn't mean that there aren't programs tenured faculty aren't doing their best to improve things as much as they can.

If I'm going to be helping a woman figure out where to go to grad school, it's not going to be because I can guarantee that nothing sexist will happen to her, but because I can reasonably predict that if something does happen that she'll have the support to voice her concern, be heard and taken seriously. And, as far as I can tell, Oregon may, in fact, be such a place.

Mr. Zero said...

I have had a chance to read Prof. Mann's comment carefully and digest it, and I find it pretty disappointing. For one thing, and this is understandable under the circumstances, she seems to be angry beyond the ability to express herself clearly.

She makes the point that although there is an official investigation underway, the results of this investigation are not known and it would be premature to rush to judgment. And it seems to me that this point is right. But it's not as though the fact of an official investigation into whether your undergraduate program director engages in unwanted sexual behavior including sexual contact with undergraduates is an irrelevant detail. If I were considering enrolling in a department with such an investigation, I would want to know about it. If I were compiling advice to graduate students about the women-friendliness of the climate of the department, I would want to know about it. The idea that it is possible to "strongly recommend" a department, by which you mean (in part) "that there are no causes for general concern about gender parity," when it has an ongoing investigation of this nature is absurd. Even if the allegations are ultimately untrue or exaggerated, it is worth knowing that they exist. And she seems to think the allegations are basically true, anyway.

But anon 12:54 is correct that the presence of allegations of sexual harassment and indeed harassment itself is not incompatible with a department that is on-balance friendly to women. A lot depends on how the allegations are addressed--how the faculty responds to apparent instances of harassment.

However, the evidence is equivocal as to whether the faculty behaved responsibly here. Prof. Mann seems to say that the department chair requested the investigation, but she admits that she was out of the loop until the investigation had been underway for months.

In contrast, Leiter's anonymous correspondent claims that the faculty failed to act at all and that the investigation was launched at the request of the graduate students. And in this comment, Oregon faculty member CK seems to confirm this version of the events, adding that this was because of ignorance.

Prof. Mann also points out that the problem of sexual harassment is widespread, saying, "Please name one department in which there is not a single male faculty member who behaves inappropriately toward women, ever." This is to profoundly miss the point. I could be wrong, obviously, but I think I am in a department where the undergraduate program director has not engaged in unwanted sexual contact with female undergraduates in his office. And if I were to discover that I am wrong, I would not be willing to say that my department has a friendly climate toward women. I would not be willing to "strongly recommend" my department to women on the basis of this climate.

Finally, she claims that to publicize these problems at Oregon is to work against the interests of women in philosophy or to fail to value what feminists & women have accomplished. I think it is obvious that this is not the case.

And it sort of seems like both Prof. Mann and CK have failed to distinguish between being a feminist and doing feminist philosophy.

P.S. Does anybody remember how George Bush became the feminist president for a moment when he invaded Afghanistan to save the women? I thought he invaded Afganistan because of Osama bin Laden.

beward of ducks said...

12:54, I agree that for all we know, Oregon could be a good place for a woman to study philosophy. Is that really the issue?

Look, as you say, the Oregon department had a problem, and the way they addressed it might be a good way. (There's disagreement about this.) The Rutgers philosophy department also had some problems in the past, of a rather different sort, and by all reports the way they addressed it has been admirable. Has either department managed to perfect its atmosphere? Obviously not.

But here's an interesting thing. The Climate Report says that Rutgers "needs improvement". But it doesn't say the same about Oregon; it strongly recommends Oregon. This contrast, given (a) the facts we actually have, and (b) our (and pretty nearly everybody's) lack of knowledge of lots of relevant details, is a glaring contrast. It's exactly what a lot of us (including Mr. Zero, I believe) found alarming about the Climate Report.

Contrary to what Mann says, nobody is out to lynch her. That's just overheated rhetoric. The point (or anyway, the point that seemed most important and salient to me) is that the PG guide was not constructed in a responsible way, and ought to be changed.

(I am not among the critics who is trying to excoriate Linda Alcoff, Sally Haslanger, or anyone else; I am willing to give them all the benefit of the doubt since I know from other experience that their goals are admirable and their efforts genuine.)

Anonymous said...

"If I'm going to be helping a woman figure out where to go to grad school, it's not going to be because I can guarantee that nothing sexist will happen to her, but because I can reasonably predict that if something does happen that she'll have the support to voice her concern, be heard and taken seriously. And, as far as I can tell, Oregon may, in fact, be such a place."

Unless you want to talk about it to SWIP UK when they ask around, in which case the great feminist Bonnie Mann will tell you to shut up and call you "wildly misinformed" and accuse you of slander. And she shamelessly admits as much! If you don't agree, you're just giving aid and comfort to the enemy (Brian Leiter, of course, who is as we all know the source of all evil in the profession).

Also, you get extra points for conflating nothing sexist happening to someone and not being sexually assaulted by a faculty member.

The creepiness of the Haslanger stuff here is by far outcreepified by Mann and Koopman on the Feminist Philosophers thread (and their occasional cheerleaders elsewhere).

Anonymous said...

Adam, tolerance for lax or informal relations between students and faculty does not make sexual harassment "understandable" in the sense of more appropriate, accepted or acceptable, but in the sense of more tempting, feasible or easier to get away with for those with weak moral characters. Moral of the story: If you want to have a departmental culture like Oregon's, it's advisable to hire eunuchs or saints!

Mr. Zero said...

This comment contains further information about the manner in which the sexual harassment investigation at Oregon was launched [using italics in lieu of blockquoting, as usual]:

Second, it is the case that most of the graduate student population knew about the allegations before most of the faculty. This is because this information was disseminated by a professor to grad students (which falls outside of standards of due process), and also because grad students (and not faculty members or undergrad students) were in the process of being interviewed by OAAEO regarding a request for an informal investigation (which was within the bounds of due process), though in the latter case we were asked to hold this matter in confidence (and many of us did, which incurred great distress and was, in my opinion, the cause of a great amount of distrust within our department, leading many of us grad students to believe that the faculty were possessed of information and were doing nothing about it). The upshot of these facts is that, in my opinion, it is inaccurate to accuse the faculty of inaction and thus to make the claim that it was “up to the grad students to do something.”

Anonymous said...

With self-declared feminist UO grad students now coming out of the woodwork to defend their department's good name over at Feminist Philosophers, one wonders if jj is going to intervene to accuse them of just wanting to protect their mommies.

Anonymous said...

The guide is a train wreck. The authors should apologize, take it down, and promise an improved one in the future. But as it stands now, it's just a joke.

Anonymous said...

3:37,

jj's comment was spoken in a heated moment, but you're making a false conflation here. The reason why jj mentioned the Rutgers grad students is that they wrote the letter *non-anonymously*. That introduces some obvious power dynamics. Women at Rutgers may very well have felt pressured to sign, because doing so could have put them in better standing with the department.

This isn't an issue for the Oregon folk, because they commented anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:54 here.

To be clear, I was suggesting a different interpretation of Mann's comments. I was not endorsing the placement of Oregon on the Climate list or the list itself.

Anonymous said...

@4:47 - given all the allusions in that thread, it's pretty obvious that all the UO commenters, students and faculty alike, know who's commenting and saying what, so there's no conflation.

But maybe jj, in spite of her pseudo-apology for the first sexist comment (the I'm-sorry-you're-so-touchy-that-you-can't-focus-on-the-real-issues-because-of-a-perfectly-benign-thing-I-said), has learned her lesson and isn't attacking the UO students for that reason, rather than staying quiet now because she sees the UO "feminist" contingent as ideological allies while the Rutgers students were mere pawns of the Enemy.

Anonymous said...

4:47 here.

I guess it's possible that all the UO folk know who is saying what. Their comments didn't set off any obvious indicators of that, but it's possible I missed something. If that's the case, then the (cleaned up) version of jj's comment would apply there just as well as it would to the Rutgers folk.

That said, I wasn't quite ready to endorse my interpretation of jj as being definitive or the right view. But it does have some merit. We ought to at least consider it as one things to think about when evaluating what they have to say.

Mr. Zero said...

I guess I also sort of wonder if the Oregon faculty and graduate students who claim that the departmental climate is wonderful for women in spite of the fact that their undergraduate program director seems to serial harasser and occasional groper have forgotten that undergraduate women are women.

Mr. Zero said...

^be a

Anonymous said...

We should start a petition to fire all the faculty in U of Oregon's Philosophy Dept. and start over. It's perfect because (1) the departmental culture is all wrong there, (2) their undergraduate women are being harmed, (3) faculty are standing by and letting it happen and, (4) most importantly, many of us don't have jobs and would love to live and work in Eugene Oregon.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a great idea. And while we're at it (and in order to be consistent) we'll have to fire the senior faculty of virtually every philosophy department on the planet.

Anonymous said...

Zero, your bringing up the removal of Oklahoma seems to be a great parallel, although the editors of the PG would disagree. The line they are taking is that Oklahoma was not actually supposed to be on the needs improvement list. When we saw them up there 'test site' was still in the URL, and since the removal of 'test site' Oklahoma has not been on the needs improvement list. I call bullshit, but thats what they are going to lean on.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:14

More jobs to go around! Let's shake it up. Perhaps jobs will go to more deserving candidates rather than washed up old white men and suck-ups.

Anonymous said...

So this means that U of O's credibility is pretty much done.

This all has spilled over to other blogs and they are now defamed.

Sucks for them, but after what I know to be true of the place, they deserve it.

Here's to the downfall of U of O philosophy. Buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

How many of you people know for a fact that anyone at the U. of Oregon committed sexual harrassment?

Here's a hint: hearing something from someone who sounded really, really serious about it and reported what he or she really believed to be true on the basis of further hearsay doesn't count.

So, anyone? Didn't think so.

Now, how many of you judged in your hearts that the guy pretty well for sure did it, anyway?

If you did, you need some serious work on basic ethics and critical thinking. Shame on you.

What's happened here doesn't seem too hard to figure out. It's summertime, people are bored, and so we might as well destroy the reputation of a colleague we don't really know on the basis of hearsay. It's such a sweet bit of entertainment, isn't it? We get to be gallant and stand up for a good cause while we watch someone's career and reputation go down the toilet for good as we wag our tongues.

Everyone who made snide comments about the U. of O and its professor (even including vewy witty discussions of his photograph!) ought to be ashamed. This is disgusting.

And Mr. Zero, I must question your choice to allow whatever inflammatory posts happened to come your way to sink this poor guy's reputation. Are we to take away from this that, for all your sensitivity to intangible harms to feminist women, it is enough for a man to be accused in a public, unofficial forum in order for you to think nothing of destroying him?

Mr. Zero said...

This guy has been accused of sexual harassment and groping. When somebody has been accused of that stuff, there is nothing wrong with pointing out that accusations have been made. I think everyone is aware that the results of the investigation aren't in and that he has not been convicted of any crime.

And when somebody has been accused of that, it is perfectly fine to make fun of him.

Anonymous said...

OK then, Mr. Zero. I hereby accuse you of sexual harrassment of your students. Shortly, I will say more about you that will make it a very simple exercise for anyone to learn your true identity.

Do we all get to make endless snide comments about you, as we continue to defame you, with serious risk of destroying your entire career?

Are you really happy with this consequence of your position? Have you ever thought this stuff through?

Mr. Zero said...

I think the "accusation" would be more analogous if you were to learn that the graduate students in my department had become aware of accusations that I had harassed & groped students during my office hours; that they had written and publicly posted an open letter concerning the accusations in light of what they thought was administrative and departmental inaction; and that the ombuds office at my school was conducting an actual investigation into this misconduct; and then to mention these facts publicly on a blog in the context of a discussion about how my department had been twice commended on is women-friendly climate; and in which several graduate students and faculty members in my department had publicly said that the accusations were at least worth taking very seriously.

Since none of that has happened, I don't see how your "accusation" against me is remotely similar.

Although I would say that this person's personal and professional reputation is now ruined, it is the accusations themselves that have ruined them, and not the ensuing discussions on the Philosophy Smoker and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I don't see that anyone here has accused the U of O professor of anything, actually. I see comments about what he "allegedly did", and what he "seems" to have done, but nobody has claimed to know the truth, or even said that "he pretty well for sure did it." So I think 12:03 is just making this shit up.

I know philosophers love to give lectures, but save the schoolmarmish scolding sanctimony for your own children, please.

Anonymous said...

Those people (like me) who have quite a bit of detailed evidence about what he did aren't dumb enough to f*ck up an ongoing investigation by spilling details online about it. Obviously he is innocent until proven guilty, but fact that multiple students and faculty members from UO are confirming that there is a problem ought to count for something. And face it, the photo is mockery-worthy even if he never did a thing in his life other than put that up.

Anonymous said...

@ Jul 28, 10:02am,
Has that explanation of Oklahoma's removal been publicly given?
If so, where?

BunnyHugger said...

I'm inclined to agree, in part at least, with Anon 12:03. It does seem to me that some people rushed to judgment based on accusation. And although I am often in agreement with Mr. Zero's remarks, here I do take exception to his claim that it's fine to ridicule someone because he has been accused of something.

I'm not in any way suggesting that the accusations are untrue, or that they should not be taken seriously. I'm also not suggesting that it is insufficient reason to rescind U of O's "highly recommended" standing in the Guide. (In fact, I think it is a very good reason.) I am suggesting that a better show of neutrality on the matter of his innocence or guilt would be preferable.

Mr. Zero said...

To the person who is frustrated about the way the Oregon thread at Feminist Philosophers was shut down: I'd be more willing to post your comment if you were to take it a little easier and go a little lighter on the name-calling.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero, you said: "And when somebody has been accused of that, it is perfectly fine to make fun of him."

So, now you're limiting that to cases in which most or all of the other details you now mention are in place?

More generally (to you and Anon 12:30): have you considered that the 'evidence' in the case you mention could well be no better than in the case of my frivolous accusation of you?

Consider, please, the following scenario. Some graduate student comes to believe that one or more undergraduates have been groped by a professor. He may have very little basis for believing this. But he tells other graduate students, who are hence socially forced to choose sides. The graduate students don't want to be seen (or see themselves) as lax about sexual harrassment, so they jump on the bandwagon to 'expose' the professor.

Then, the faculty members who heard about it feel compelled to take sides for the same reason, and many choose the same side as the graduate students (for the same reason, or perhaps because of other, perhaps dirtier reasons). And the original grad students variously bring the matter before the ombudsperson (who now has to look into it, and post their views on a blog.

Now, in the scenario I have outlined, none of the people involved (including the original grad student) need to have any first-hand information that harrassment occurred. And the second-hand information could in fact be extremely weak.

Yet, this fulfils all the criteria.

So, do you still think it's OK to add insult to injury by publicly ridiculing such an individual? Trust me, it could happen to you.

Also, in the original post on Leiter, the name of the institution was not mentioned. Here on the Smoker, it is. Somewhere along the line, and I haven't researched this, the identity of the school (and hence of the professor) was 'outed'.

Do you happen to know where it was? It might be good to have that information handy. If I were the professor in question, I'd be lawyering up right now. And having done that, the best path would seem to be to come after you for libel. Might be good to have this story straight.

Mr. Zero said...

Somewhere along the line... the identity of the school (and hence of the professor) was 'outed'. Do you happen to know where it was?

Yeah. It was an addendum to the same Leiter thread you mention. Then a commenter at Feminist Philosophers who claimed to have independent knowledge of the situation and who was writing under her own name, Rebecca (Kukla, of Georgetown, if I'm not mistaken), confirmed that it was Oregon. Then Bonnie Mann, associate professor at Oregon, writing under her own name at Feminist Philosophers, confirmed that it was Oregon. Then Colin Koopman, assistant professor at Oregon, writing under his initials with no intent to hide his identity also at FP, also confirmed that it was Oregon. Then a bunch of Oregon graduate students, writing pseudonymously at FP, confirmed that it was Oregon.

If I were the professor in question, I'd be lawyering up right now. And having done that, the best path would seem to be to come after you for libel.

I'm not a lawyer, so I could be wrong about this. But according to my understanding of U.S. libel law, this is very unlikely. My understanding is that the libelous statement would have to be false, damaging, and known to be false by the person who made it (or at least done without adequate research). I didn't say he harassed or groped anyone, I said he'd been accused of doing that. So I didn't say anything false. So I didn't libel him.

Anonymous said...

The blog moderator at Feminist Philosophers shut the U Oregon thread down. It is a testimony to Zero's open-mindedness that he's willing to hold open this thread, even while people attack him. I also detect some hypocrisy among those who are extremely authoritarian (e.g. shutting down threads) but profess to be against the patriarchy which is similarly authoritarian. In this respect I would venture to say that Zero is a more consistent and thoroughgoing feminist.

Anonymous said...

I admit I'm not sure of the libel issue in a US context (my experience is from the UK).

But in any event, there is a serious moral issue here. The individual in question has been accused by various individuals as having done something seriously wrong. It is for the ombudsperson to determine, on the basis of a full review of the evidence, whether that individual committed those acts. That review has not, as far as we know, been completed; and no judgment has been publicized.

There are excellent reasons why all those bringing forward evidence or testimony on these issues are told (as they were in this case) to keep such matters strictly confidential. The reason is that great damage can be caused to innocent parties, and unfair harm can even be caused to guilty parties, if word is spread in ignorance. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that continued allegations that someone is "suspected" or "accused" of X have a way of seriously harming the credibility of an individual or institution in the public's mind. Many organizations have dismissed individuals smeared in such ways for invented reasons just to avoid the taint of scandal. Such individuals, obviously, have a very difficult time finding further work, even if nothing beyond an accusation was ever made.

I appreciate that you may not be the party who chose to 'out' this individual in print. But you and others have brought these confidential charges to a much broader audience. The fact that you have done this, and that you continue to be so cavalier about it, is disturbing. Perhaps you might reconsider your approach.

Mr. Zero said...

I admit I'm not sure of the libel issue in a US context (my experience is from the UK).

I suspected that this was the case. UK libel laws are much more friendly to the plaintiff than their US counterparts.

there is a serious moral issue here.

Agreed.

There are excellent reasons why all those bringing forward evidence or testimony on these issues are told (as they were in this case) to keep such matters strictly confidential.

I agree with you. The rights of the accused are important and should not be ignored. But the toothpaste is out of the tube.

[slightly out of order] It is for the ombudsperson to determine, on the basis of a full review of the evidence, whether that individual committed those acts.

I don't disagree with this, either. If the editors of the Pluralist's Guide had issued a statement to this effect, that would have satisfied what seem to me to be the bare minimum criteria for responsible behavior under the circumstances.

And it should be emphasized that we're not discussing these charges because they are intrinsically interesting, or because the Philosophy Smoker is in the business of publicly ridiculing people people who have been accused of potentially career-ending crimes.

We are discussing these charges because the "Pluralist's" Guide has published information on the climate for women in the philosophy department at Oregon. The fact of an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against the undergraduate program director is not at all irrelevant to the question of climate; indeed, according to the question set published by Linda Alcoff here, sexual harassment is one of just four things that they considered in determining the rankings. The "Pluralists" strongly recommend this department as a place with a women-friendly climate.

But you and others have brought these confidential charges to a much broader audience.

That's because there is an important discussion to be had: now that the charges have been made public, and given that you've got a website up strongly recommending this department to women for its friendly climate, and given that part of what you mean by that strong recommendation is that there are no present or ongoing concerns regarding sexual harassment, what's the right way to react?

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to know the right way to react. But I would suggest, myself, that the right way would not involve making one's blog the vehicle for defamatory and hurtful comments about the accused party (including even comments about his photograph), and that it also would not involve the attitude that someone who has been made the subject of as-yet-unproven accusations is thereby a fit subject of ridicule (which you claimed before).

I note that you have, apparently, begun to censor a number of comments that you felt cast feminist philosophers (etc.) in a bad light. You claim that your reason for doing this stems from your view that some of your female readers might feel uncomfortable reading them (though this has been contested). But since you take the view that those comments deserve censorship, you surely cannot fall back upon a general opposition to censorship as a justification for publishing much more obviously harmful comments against an accused party.

I would suggest that a principled stand would have involved at least refusing to publish any comments that discuss the accused party for the sake of sheer mirth. For instance: "While the picture is absolutely hilarious (and fucking creepy at the same time...), maybe we can at least *try* not to judge him a swinger based solely on his pic? And, hey, there's nothing wrong with being a swinger. You just can't be a swinger who gropes his undergraduate students during office hours." - Anonymous, July 26, 2011 11:56 PM

Alternatively, you could have published the comment and then rightly put the poster in his/her place. The point would not be to defend the accused party, who might after all be guilty; but to point out how utterly low it is to revel in another's misfortune while extending its boundaries simply because one finds it titillating to drag others through the mud as part of a social crusade.

I take it from other comments I've seen here that I'm not the only fellow who finds the double standard you increasingly adopt to be very unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

Oh, look, it's not a "double standard". There's one standard. Here's the standard: feel free to criticize philosophers, but when it gets to the point of berating one person over and over again, with no new content, just slamming away, then productive exchange has ended and it's time to move on.

Think of this blog more like a seminar than a newspaper. It's open to critical ideas, even if they aren't all that well supported, but when it turns into harping on some dead-end idee fixe then whoever is in charge should guide us on to the next topic. I can't believe anyone has a problem with this.

Mr. Zero said...

the right way would not involve making one's blog the vehicle for defamatory and hurtful comments about the accused party

Maybe I'm dense, but I don't see how the comment you mention is defamatory. If the comment had called him names or presumed his guilt, that would be one thing. But this comment does neither. I see why you object to it, and I thought about not letting it through. It is not a particularly constructive comment. But it's not defamation and it's not libelous.

I note that you have, apparently, begun to censor a number of comments that you felt cast feminist philosophers (etc.) in a bad light. You claim that your reason for doing this stems from your view that some of your female readers might feel uncomfortable reading them (though this has been contested).

I would say that this is not a completely accurate description of the comments policy or the reason behind it. The point of the policy is not to ensure that feminists are portrayed in a positive light. I think if you look around you will see plenty of comments in which feminists are portrayed in a negative light. The point of the policy is to avoid situations in which the discussion is derailed by trolling, name-calling, displays of prejudice, and things like that.

I have also made an effort to approach this policy with as light a touch as possible. As has been pointed out several times, there is a substantial risk of heavy-handed moderation inhibiting the free flow if ideas, causing the discussion to reflect the moderator's sensibilities at the expense of reasonable points of view he (by which I mean "I") disagrees with, or causing the discussion to shut down altogether. It seems to me that there is clear evidence of this sort of thing on other blogs with more intrusive comment moderation that what we have here. I am trying to exert a more subtle influence on the discussions here, and one ways I try to do that is by withholding comments only in extreme circumstances.

But I see your point about the comments mocking the person's photo. They are not helpful. They do not move the discussion forward. Perhaps they are over the line. I thought about withholding them, but in the end did not think they were so far over the line that it was worth holding them back. Maybe this was a mistake, and if so I apologize.

Alternatively, you could have published the comment and then rightly put the poster in his/her place.

Yeah. I could have done that. Maybe I should have. If so, I apologize for having not done it.

Anonymous said...

Good of you to apologize, Mr. Zero.

Anon. 7:24, there is good reason to believe that the censorship policy is not being applied as even-handedly as you suggest, nor that it does not have a bias toward particular causes that appear to be near and dear to Mr. Zero.

In Mr. Zero's own description of his policy, he claims: "I will not approve comments that make unfounded claims about how easy it is to be a woman in philosophy, or how hard it is to be a white man in philosophy.". Nowhere else in his description does he make any comment about any other view that will be censored, founded or unfounded. An even-handed censorship policy would equally censor unfounded claims that women have it more difficult than men do.

Of course, the question whether a view is 'unfounded' leaves considerable room for personal bias. Those who take it as obvious that women have it much more difficult than men do in philosophy (including Mr. Zero) will naturally not see any claims to this effect as 'unfounded', even if they provide no supporting evidence.

All that is theory. What about the practice? Well, I myself recently posted a comment in a thread that attempted to respond to a point another commenter made. Mr. Zero censored it. I asked why, and he claimed that it did nothing but re-hash old claims about Haslanger that had already been made. I wrote again, and pointed out that it did no such thing.

My comment to that effect was not published, either.

So, anyone reading this blog would get the impression that nothing is being censored but comments that repeat old claims and fail to keep the conversation going. That is simply false. On the other hand, irrelevant and vindictive comments aimed at individuals facing unproven accusations are permitted, and Mr. Zero has admitted that he sees nothing wrong with poking fun at such people.

What about that doesn't imply a double standard to you?

AW said...

While there seems to be some benefit (and a lot of Schadenfreude) in pointing out the profound incompetence of the PG people, the real problem -- that grad school applicants might be misled by the PG -- has sort of been overlooked. In fact I don't see that it is such a great of a problem. Qualified applicants to graduate programs in philosophy are, hopefully, not stupid enough to make decisions based on any list on a website, let alone the PG. It's obscure, sloppily written, doesn't explain its methodology, and generally just isn't in competition with the PGR (which should be taken with a few grains of salt, anyway). It's hard to believe that, e.g., qualified Rutgers applicants are being scared off by this "needs improvement" listing. Even if they somehow don't know about the PGR (and roughly everyone knows about the PGR), presumably they'd get a second or third opinion. All this arm-twisting about removing listings from the PG seems beside the point. Leiter has already done plenty of grandstanding.

Mr. Zero said...

In Mr. Zero's own description of his policy, he claims: "I will not approve comments that make unfounded claims about how easy it is to be a woman in philosophy, or how hard it is to be a white man in philosophy.". Nowhere else in his description does he make any comment about any other view that will be censored, founded or unfounded. An even-handed censorship policy would equally censor unfounded claims that women have it more difficult than men do.

That was a clear defect in the way I formulated the policy in that post, which was addressed in comments to the (stated) satisfaction of several people who pointed out the problem.

Well, I myself recently posted a comment in a thread that attempted to respond to a point another commenter made. Mr. Zero censored it. I asked why, and he claimed that it did nothing but re-hash old claims about Haslanger that had already been made. I wrote again, and pointed out that it did no such thing.

If you're talking about the only comments I withheld in the Haslanger exchange, this description of the comments is false. The comment I withheld contained a brief defense of the practice of putting 'effing' between a person's first and last names, and then did a nearly line-by-line fisking of Haslanger's objectionable comment at Leiter. I did not publish it because it added nothing new; because we had been over and over and over that stuff.

Obviously, I can't prove this. The comment is gone. I deleted it. But I can point to the many anti-Haslanger comments I approved. I can point to the many anti-Haslanger comments I approved after I said I wouldn't approve any more anti-Haslanger comments (unless the anti-Haslanger crowd could start making new points). I didn't publish this person's anti-Haslanger comment because it was pure rehash. But if the person has new stuff to say, s/he is welcome to post it.

thatgirl said...

Why are we still discussing the commenting policy?

1. Libelous or pure smear comments aside, it's your blog and you can (dis)approve what you like. If someone doesn't like the policy, then that person can leave and post elsewhere.

2. Anonymous person pointed out what he thought were inappropriate comments, you apologized for what may have perhaps been an error of judgment. So let's move one.

Anonymous said...

AW,

I think I qualify as someone who, at the completion of his BA, would easily have taken something like the PG seriously. The reason didn't have that much to do with my native abilities, I hope (I did, after all, eventually complete a PhD and enter the profession), but rather with the fact that I had no idea what to take seriously and what to ignore.

I have since met (and I hope counselled) many students completing their undergrad degrees at good schools. They seem to be remarkably well-aware of what is going on. However, I still come upon many others who have been given misleading, outdated or flat-out false information about going to grad school.

Since such people could easily come upon the guide by themselves, or even have it recommended to them by instructors they respect, I think the problem is worth taking seriously.

Anonymous said...

Plus (outrageously) University of Oregon lists on the front page of its philosophy website that it made the 'strongly recommended' list, and I think that is just the sort of thing that will be seen by and might influence prospective students, who are perhaps less likely to dig up obscure rankings. And I'll bet other 'recommended' schools follow suit, and I am sure (word carefully chosen) that there are other schools on the 'recommended' list that deeply suck for women. Oregon has ended up at the center of the controversy but the problem is much farther reaching.

justice advances! said...

SWIPUK has withdrawn the 'woman-friendly' designation for UO! Thus (quoting for the remainder of this comment):

SWIP UK regrets to announce that we are withdrawing the Women-Friendly Department Recognition that we had awarded to the University of Oregon's Philosophy Department for 2011. It has become clear to us that our procedures were not properly followed during the canvassing of opinion prior to making the award, and as a result we were not apprised of information that might have had an impact on our decision. Because these procedures were not followed, we feel we must withdraw the recognition, despite the impressive mainstreaming of feminist philosophy at Oregon.