Saturday, December 3, 2011

Zachary Ernst's Accusation of Sexism

As you may have heard, there has been some discussion of a piece written Zachary Ernst of Missouri, in which he vocalizes his frustration with the fact that his wife has been subject to an unfavorable tenure vote by his department, and in which he suggests that sexism was a major contributing factor in this vote, and which you can find here.

I spent some time poking around the Mizzou philosophy department webpage the other day, and I think 3 things are clear: 1. Prof. Ernst is understandably very frustrated and upset; 2. This is not at all a case in which a denial of tenure was warranted on the basis of insufficient research--her record would have gotten her tenure where I now teach and at every place I've interviewed where they told me what I'd need to do to get tenure; 3. There are a bunch of facts we don't have, such as: the tenure procedures and criteria employed at Mizzou; how tough it is generally to get tenure there; the content of her reference letters; details about teaching; etc. So although the charge of sexism does not seem implausible, neither is it obviously true in light of what we don't know.

This is a sensitive issue, obviously, so let's try harder than usual to stay cool. I'm going to exercise more discretion than usual in comment-moderation in this one.

--Mr. Zero

140 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am far more curious as to why the post on the Feminist Philosophers blog was taken down, and why commenting is suspended on NewAPPS.

Anonymous said...

Zac just posted the following message on Facebook:

Just found out that "an MU scholar" has been contacting blogs and telling them to take down the discussion on my little essay about sex discrimination at the University of Missouri. Which, by the way, is here: http://db.tt/nDgNJgkz

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:32
Because for all that we (youngish philosophers and oldish graduate students) like to complain about things in the abstract, nowhere does anyone take the step of naming names. It is always 'at the department at which I teach' or 'an older philosopher I once worked with' or 'one of my interviews in an unspecified year'. We are fine with discussions that have no chance of actually impacting anything. We content ourselves that providing a set of anonymous anecdotes is going to slowly change the attitudes of all the members of the profession. Ernst named an institution, accused members of the department of sexism, and the response has been very different from the response to the 'What its like' blog. We all make our pious declarations of horror and disgust when we don't actually have to direct that horror and disgust at a colleague. But when chips are on the table, we demand that nothing be done, or even said, until all the facts are in. We use evidentiary standards completely inappropriate to the issue being discussed and to the forum in which it is being discussed. The reasons for this tendency are probably very complicated, but the effects are not. The effects are that nothing gets done about sexism in the profession, but we all get to pat ourselves on the back because we are aware that there is a problem.

As far as I am concerned the burden of proof is now on the senior faculty of the University of Missouri. Either show that they didn't do something wrong, or accept being thought of as sexists. I think a lot of people are going to join me in that sentiment. I think most people are going to be unwilling to join me in this next one. Unless some new evidence comes to light militating against Ernst's position, then the senior faculty of the University of Missouri ought to suffer social exclusion. No invitations to give lectures, no invitations to submit articles to edited collections, no directing our undergraduates to their institution.

Sexism in this field isn't going to change unless the careers of people we have good reason to believe are sexists are broken, or unless there is a plausible threat that they will be broken. I think a lot of people have the idea that we can effectively wait out the good old boys network, let them die off or retire and then we will enter a paradise of gender and sex equity (at least in philosophy departments). I see no reason to think that will happen. I don't see any reason these habits will not get passed on to the next generation, unless we make people afraid. Maybe I have been reading too much Hobbes.

Anonymous said...

Here is what I find curious.

1. There has been growing recognition of sexism in the discipline.
2. There has been growing recognition that discussion of sexism--where this amounts to anonymous members of the discipline accusing anonymous offenders--is not going to change anything.
3. There has been growing recognition that in order to change something we need a concrete and public case.
4. As far as I know, the Zachary Ernst piece is the single most concrete and public case available to members of the discipline.
5. Therefore this should matter and, at the very least, this should be discussed.

Anonymous said...

The following post has appeared here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/12/01/interdisciplinarity/

(The issue of sexism is not discussed. But breadth of research is!)

19. Andrew Melnyk Says:
December 3rd, 2011 at 10:48 am
I am the department chair whose views my colleague Zac Ernst purports to represent in the passage quoted above. I would like to correct a factual error. When Zac was hired, before I was department chair, his CV showed forthcoming or published papers in action theory, game theory, logic, and philosophy of science; and his job talk to the department was a paper in ethics. Far from being unhappy with Zac’s research record, I was an enthusiastic supporter of hiring him (together with his wife) and was delighted when they accepted our offer. In light of my strong support for hiring Zac, it would have been bizarre if, after I became department chair a year later, I had said that “it would be very difficult for [him] to get tenure with such research breadth”. And in fact I told him no such thing, explicitly or otherwise. What I did tell him, since it is my view, is that some tenure evaluators are looking for evidence of a focused research program, but are also looking for evidence of breadth; the ideal research record would have both focus and breadth.

Anonymous said...

My initial impressions were these:

(a) The professors publishing record was good. Was it so good that there couldn't be some reasonable debate as to whether to tenure her at a research university? Maybe not. But, that's probably true of most cases where people are awarded tenure.

(b) While I'd be inclined to support the professor's tenure case on the grounds of her publication record (assuming there weren't any further factors that counted against her) the reasons offered for denying tenure just seemed really, really stupid. If the department had just said that there was an expectation that the candidate publishes n articles in the top ten journals, fine. To say that she didn't develop new courses and that she co-authored some of her papers struck me as absurd.

I don't think the members of the department can comment, but I have a hard time seeing this as a fair decision.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to compare the sudden blogging wall of silence on the Missouri case with the extensive discussion of Oregon a few months back, which went gleefully on and on and on. Is there some substantial difference between the two cases that I'm missing?

Anonymous said...

11:05 and 11:36,

I think part of the issue is that I suspect the department legally can't respond. In fairness to Sara (Zac's wife), it also seems like they may have a moral obligation not to respond. (Though, of course, you may question how committed to such fairness the department is.) That makes debating the issue somewhat difficult. I think it's also worth noting that -- understandably -- though we've heard from Zac, we've heard nothing from Sara. It would seem morally inappropriate for the department to cite weak aspects of Sara's case, when Sara herself has not publicly accused the department of anything.

I don't know what should be done as a result of all this, though I think it makes the situation more delicate than some other charges of sexism that have been debated on this blog. I suppose that there might be some value in Sara waiving her right to confidentiality, so that the department could respond, and we could then evaluate Zac's charges more fairly. If the department still refused to reply, or gave an unsatisfactory reply, then it could become clear that Zac's charges are accurate. But of course if Sara doesn't want to expose her own case to such debate, then she has every right not to. (In her position, I know I wouldn't want my case aired in public in that way.) In the end, while I'm quite certain that there is frequently terrible sexism in tenure decisions, I'm not comfortable in assuming that this is one of those cases. I just don't have enough information, and this is a case where it seems like I *can't* get the information right now.

Anonymous said...

@11:36:

One obvious difference is that Missouri is an almost exclusively "analytic" program and is ranked (albeit very low) in the PGR, whereas Oregon is an unranked program with a much larger emphasis on "Continental" philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Also worth noting is that Zac Ernst has openly (and quite effectively) criticized the PGR, which means that he is an enemy of Leiter and the Leiteroids. Do not expect this to be covered on the Report.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:06 this is Anon 11:05,

Your reasonableness is getting in the way of my self-congratulatory anger.

So let me be a bit more measured. U of M has already commented on a part of Ernst's case, the part where he communicated personal conversations with his chair. Melnyk said the conversation was not as Ernst described it. So they can comment on some parts of his accusation. I suspect that they can comment on those aspects that dont cover the tenure report on Ernst's wife. So they could, if they chose contradict his claim that teaching was not a focus of his tenure report. If there was some confidentiality involved, it has surely been effectively waived by his discussing his own tenure report. Melnyk didn't contradict that part. Given that the whole case for sexism is based on her being held to a higher teaching standard than him, if we can reasonably conclude that his description of his own tenure review process is accurate, then the only question is whether he lied about what is in his wife's tenure denial.

And I think the relative positions of power and the relative costs facing the Ernsts and the faculty of U of M are such that it is reasonable to assume he is telling the truth. What reason does he have to make this up and publish the falsehood? What is the attraction of becoming a pariah in his own department, and of becoming seen as a loose cannon when he and his wife try to find a different place to live and work?

We do have information here, and I think we have enough to come to, an obviously defeasible, conviction that sexist discrimination occurred. And I think it is clear how we ought to respond.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been following this very well, but I'll take it as established that Zach's wife should have received tenure and that the reasons given by the senior faculty were farcical.

However, there are lots of reasons why tenure might be denied in such a case. While sexism is certainly a problem in academic philosophy (one which I have witnessed first hand), there is a tendency in cases like this to argue from a single data point, viz. that the person in question is female.

Maybe the senior faculty just didn't like her personally, or maybe they didn't like Zach Ernst and were taking it out on his wife. Petty bullshit like this goes on ALL THE TIME in departmental politics; and, as was vividly evident in the last thread, there are plenty of garden variety assholes in our field. Sometimes assholes are just assholes, not sexists.

Of course the faculty would never admit to this as a reason for denying tenure, and it is clearly in Zach Ernst's interest to present the denial as due to sexism regardless...so here we are.

Again, I'm not denying the problem, I'm just saying that stuff like this does not seem likely to go away, even if progress is made in addressing the problem.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:05 here again.

It is certainly possible that this case of injustice in the tenure process is not due to sexism, but I think there is good reason to adopt as a regulative principle in these cases that we not admit the kinds of explanations that Anon 12:53 suggests.

This is a regulative/methodological principle. I am not ruling out the potential truth of such explanations a priori, I am not even denying they are sometimes true. But if our goal is fight sexism in our corner of academia then we need to move on cases. We will never move on individual cases if we admit such potential explanations. Just as with naturalism as a regulative/methodological principle in scientific inquiry, we have enough of a historical record of the success of the assumption of sexism to be justified in adopting a regulative principle that we know will lead us astray in a minority of cases.

Anonymous said...

Updated link to the discussion of the Zachary Ernst piece on the Discover Magazine blog. The link from Anon 11:17 is not working.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/12/01/interdisciplinarity/

Anonymous said...

@12:53

Fair enough, but how do you account for the chair's idiotic attempt to put Dr. Chant in an office in the Women's Studies department instead of in the Philosophy Department?

Also, even if it is just a case of garden-variety assholery, I don't think we can just throw up our hands and say "oh well, our profession is filled with assholes and there's nothing we can do about it." Really? Can we really do nothing to prevent people from being sandbagged on tenure review because of assholes and their irrelevant personal and/or political vendettas?

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that this is part of a much larger problem: unclear expectations for tenure.

At my university - and at many other universities where friends of mine work - tenure expectations are very, very unclear. "Superior research," "demonstrated teaching excellence," "appropriate commitment to university service," and other like phrases are given as the expectations for tenure, but nowhere are they clearly defined or consistently applied.

I'm convinced that unclear tenure guidelines exist not because we are incapable of clarity and precision. Rather, it's an effort to create that precious "wiggle room" that allows those in power to exercise that power inappropriately. Many times, sexism, racism, ageism, discrimination based on ability, etc., can creep into that "wiggle room" and allow someone to claim that the research is good, but not superior, or that the teaching is solid, but not excellent.

I have no knowledge of the tenure expectations at Mizzou, and no nothing about this particular tenure case. However, I do find it disturbing that people in that department could be confused as to what a successful tenure application should look like, and whether or not her application was in fact strong enough. Last year, someone in my department was denied tenure. Many people in the department were surprised. We had a very long meting discussing our department expectations, and we had very different ideas as to what we should expect of a tenure application. This should never happen.

Anonymous said...

Well, that link doesn't work either. I'm going to give up if this doesn't work:

link

Anonymous said...

12:53: I'm not sure whether your "taking it as established" is something you're granting for the sake of argument or whether you kind of think it has been established. But it seems far from established to me. I don't even see why we should think the reasons given for denying tenure are bad ones or even that we know what the reasons are. We can even grant that the department asked questions about teaching that weren't asked of Ernst, but that wouldn't show that claims about teaching were part of the reasons for denying tenure. It would only show that the department didn't think other parts of the application warranted tenure and so were looking to see if there might be teaching elements that made up the difference.

As far as the research goes: 2 single-authored peer refereed articles, only one of which was in a "name" journal (and not a top-tier one), plus 3 co-authored peer reviewed articles does not make an obvious "yes" to me at a school ranked anywhere near Mizzou with a PhD program. If that were my record and I was going up for tenure, I'd be very worried, and I'd tell any prospective colleague in that situation that he or she would need some more single-authored publications to assure faculty members that he or she could publish consistently -- which really is assurance that author's contribution to the co-authored publications were significant. Especially when compared to Ernst's publication record, it seems very thin. And since the allegations of different standards are what seem to me to form the basis of the allegations of sexism, I really don't see that there's very much basis for the complaint at all.

Anonymous said...

(12:06 again)

11:05,

Good points, which have led me to partially, but not completely, change my mind. I think the legal issues may be stickier than the moral ones here. Even if Zac has morally waived any rights to confidentiality in his own case, I suspect that legally he hasn't. (Witness Herman Cain's calling out those who accused him of sexual harassment, when the victims' lawyers at least apparently thought they were still (unjustly) bound by their confidentiality agreements.)

As to the higher-standard-in-teaching thing, that issue requires knowing more about the research side. As others have pointed out elsewhere, if it were true that Sara's research record wasn't as impressive as Zac's, then it might be fair to hold her to a higher teaching/service standard. (That's what we all want, right? That a phenomenal teaching record should be able to at least partially compensate for other defects in a tenure case?) I've only read one of Sara's articles -- which I thought was really, really good, though it was outside my area -- so I don't feel comfortable evaluating that side of the decision. (Maybe others are more familiar with her work.)

As for Zac's motivations, I don't care to speculate. I know that if my spouse were denied something he/she really wanted, had worked hard for, and (in my opinion) deserved, I'd be angry as hell, and might do things that didn't make the most sense from a long-term perspective.

Okay -- all that sounds much more negative than I feel. I think I agree with you that it seems reasonable to believe that an injustice was done here, and that that injustice likely has a sexist element. (I may hold that conclusion to be more defeasible than you, but let's set that aside.) I'm wondering what you mean when you say it is "clear how we ought to respond." If you mean what you said in your earlier post (including social exclusion, no speaker invites, no publication invites, etc.) I'm not on board yet, though I'm willing to listen. I hold the conclusion only defeasibly, and I also don't know how the vote went and who voted what way. Maybe it was a very close vote, with nearly half the department in favor of tenure. Departmental politics can suck. I'm not ready to deny invites to the whole department in a case like that. Now, if you are only talking about warning undergrads (or job candidate with multiple offers) about heading there, I'm with you. I might also take the occasion to more carefully evaluate any (hypothetical, as it turns out) relationships I have with tenured faculty there, and no longer give them the benefit of the doubt in certain contexts. Thoughts?

RexII said...

I'll take it as established that Zach's wife should have received tenure

You should not take this as established. Even Ernst says this at NewAPPS:

"However, I would never expect anyone to come to a conclusion about the tenure decision without having access to the entire dossier, department policies, and so on (and I'd note here that her online CV is way out of date anyway)."

that she co-authored some of her papers struck me as absurd

Not me. I don't know enough to make this call. One poster elsewhere said Ernst was tenured when he co-authored the papers with his wife. I'm not sure if this is true, or even what value to assign this without more information, but it is certainly relevant to this discussion. There are always questions about relative contributions when it comes to co-authored papers.

What reason does he have to make this up and publish the falsehood?

It's his wife. Ernst says he feels her denial was unjust, but he also says that "I'm not exactly unbiased!"

None of what I say here is meant to excuse what happened. But we need to be clear about exactly what went wrong if we are going to say anything useful.

The Ernst quotes come from post #25 on this thread:

http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/11/sexism-and-herd-mentality-in-philosophy.html

Anonymous said...

To 12:06 from 11:05

It does seem reasonable to follow saying the less sure you are of the truth of Ernst's claims, the less far you ought to be willing to go in responding to the situation. Perhaps steering undergraduates away from the place is the most reasonable course for the time being. I feel like the more extreme measures I mentioned were justified, in large part because you could take the allegations of sexism as a tie breaker for decisions about inviting the senior faculty there to contribute or to deliver a lecture. No one there, as far as I can tell, is head and shoulders above other people in their area as far as quality of work. If you have to choose between equally good scholars, one who you have decent reason to think was engaged in, or allowed sexism of the kind alleged, and the other who did not, always choose the one who did not. And of course be willing to change your mind if someone not accused by Ernst of sexism attests to other personal difficulties that might have motivated what looks like, at the least, a deeply silly tenure decision.

Anonymous said...

The whole incident is curious. I do not know any of the parties involved and if we really do have all the relevant facts, something is amis. Either the school's tenure standards suddenly shot way up or the committee is simply sexist (or something that I can't think of happened).

But do we have all the relevant facts?

(1) I (apparently with the chair) find it odd that breadth of interest is considered a negative. There must have been some misunderstanding here.

(2) It is possible that his wife is a horrible colleague and the horribleness is compounded by the fact that her husband is in the department. The note suggested as much when he bragged about how "strong-willed" his wife is. I have no idea what "strong-willed" means in this case, but it could be code for "someone who tends to piss off everyone she interacts with". If that is the case it is understandable that the department does not want her around either and used whatever contrived means to do it.

Publishing can't be everything. Isn't collegiality relevant to tenure? A department shouldn't be forced to put up with someone who does not get along with anyone, especially if doing so means that everytime she pisses someone off, it is really two people who are now insufferable to be around.

If this is the case then it would be unfair to everyone involved to force the committee to articulate in public that this is the reason she was denied tenure.

(3) For all we know, the administration is putting a lot of pressure, for financial reasons, on the department not to give tenure. This seems quite wrong given the assumptions she was hired under. But it is not sexism and it is wrong to accuse the department in that way. The fact that Prof Ernst was not charitable enough to think along these lines seems pretty mean-spirited, though given his anger, understandable.

Again, since I know none of the parties involved I may be way off, but in all fairness to the other philosophers in the department who voted, can't we speculate that there is some legitimate reason beside sexism behind this decision? Discounting all other explanations because we want to fight sexism is strikes me as a bad idea. If there really does end up being another reason for her having been denied tenure, it would set the cause back to have her being the anti-sexism poster-girl.

Anonymous said...

The Missouri faculty and administration are not likely to defend themselves in blogs for obvious legal reasons. She will have her day in court if she wants it. Melnyk will probably never be able to discuss this matter in the level of detail that it would take to satisfy readers of this blog.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:58,

It is important to note that we cannot judge Chant's productivity as a researcher by looking at the CV that is currently available on her MU site. Ernst has said that this CV is "way out of date" in his comment on New APPS.

Ernst has assumed all along that her research could not have detracted from her tenure case. Has Ernst's admitted "bias" shaped his judgments about this? It is not clear. However, as has been pointed out above (by Anon 12:39), what is clear is that Ernst has staked an awful lot on this judgment. And perhaps that is reason enough to grant its truth.

Zachary Ernst said...

I've been watching some of the online discussions about this essay (which has spread a lot more than I had predicted), and I've tried not to chime in too much. But I'd like to emphasize some of the most moderate points that have been made here (and elsewhere).

First, my essay criticizes the institution -- I'm not in a position to say of any particular faculty member that they were intentionally or unintentionally sexist. Tenure votes are contentious for perfectly professional reasons, and virtually no tenure decision is a "slam dunk". But when the standards for the decision were given, they were arbitrary and sexist for exactly the reasons I gave.

I'd also like to agree with Prof. Melnyk's comment above -- with one change. He did tell me that I might have difficulty getting tenure because of the breadth of my research. He did *not* say that *he* was anything but supportive of my research. In fact, Prof. Melnyk has been supportive of my research. His advice was that the institution might prefer depth over breadth -- which, in my opinion, is not only reasonable, but true. I didn't intend for that part of my essay to be critical of him or the department; indeed, I might give a junior faculty member exactly the same advice.

Last, and most importantly, not even I have seen the entire tenure dossier in question. As far as I know, there is something truly awful in there (although I SERIOUSLY doubt it). So an outsider cannot determine with any confidence whether Sara (my wife) deserved tenure or not. But the larger point is that the standards for tenure, as they were stated after the vote, and in writing, had shifted arbitrarily in a way that reflects sexist stereotypes.

-Z

Anonymous said...

Going back to the first post on the thread, I think it's outrageous that Feminist Philosophers took down their post on this issue. First, their capitulation to "an MU scholar" who contacted them is cowardly and speaks to a lack of real commitment to freedom of expression. Second, if they felt compelled to respond to "an MU scholar," then intellectual honesty requires that they explain their actions, as Schliesser did at New APPS. To delete posts without any acknowledgement shows a lack of integrity.

Anonymous said...

Given how much is unknown about this case, I think the best solution is clearly to add Mizzou to the "Strongly Recommended" list of the Pluralist's Guide's Climate for Women section.

Zachary Ernst said...

I'd like to encourage us not to be too hard on the people who run the feminist philosophers site. We don't know what the communications were like, either with the "MU scholar" or amongst themselves. I'm disappointed it was taken down. But I, for one, am going to withhold judgment. I've had some very positive discussions with them (publicly and privately), and I'm grateful for that.

Anonymous said...

To 3:50:

Feminist Philosophers have a history of both making problematic threads simply disappear (and then blocking any mention of them later), and of editing comments in ways that may significantly change the meaning of what was written without indicating in any way that the comment had been edited. So this sort of thing doesn't surprise me at all.

Anonymous said...

The CV in question dates from April 2010, which everyone should know since that's in the document's title.

Today is December 03, 2011, so I think it's safe to assume the current CV contains a few new items.

Chamomile said...

"When the standards for the decision were given, they were arbitrary and sexist..."

Z, Could you clarify? Are you talking about standards stated in advance of the decision? Or standards stated in a decision letter? Or standards stated in emails in response to queries from your wife? (You mentioned email at New Apps.) If the last, what was the query? (How can we understand an answer without knowing what the question was?)

Also, did the different expectations, teaching-wise, have to do with one of you being stronger in research than the other? Given everything else you know (since you've read the letters or emails in question), could the difference be construed that way? Or is that out of the question?

Given the response you're getting here (people talking about ostracizing the department, etc.) it really seems like you ought to be giving people a more complete run down of the evidence on the basis of which you've drawn your conclusion that the decision was sexist.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, 3:50.

2:57, I, too, wonder how helpful it is to throw around sexism charges here without knowing enough about the issue. It really seems to raise the heat but not the light, in this context.

It seems to me that there's something important that may lie behind it: the person in question, as her husband suggests, is a bit of a shit disturber and isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes in. If that's right, then I think the discipline needs more people like her.

However, people of that description _do_ tend to be drummed out of the profession by mediocrities. That happened to me. It also happened to many people I know who aren't women. It might be happening to her. And that's worth discussing. How disappointing, therefore, to see the coverage of the incident turn into yet another alleged sexism incident, only this time with even less adequate grounds for that allegation.

Can we please, just for once, discuss the evil things that academics do to one another _without_ trying to make it into a trite morality play about sexism and feminism?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

On the difference between the Missouri and Oregon cases--aren't they obvious? In Oregon, we have at least two faculty as well as graduate students testifying as to one faculty member being a serial sexual harasser. In Missouri, we have the testimony of the spouse of a candidate denied tenure, and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, the post on Feminist Philosophers is still in Google's cache here, so one can judge for oneself: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/gripping-criticism-re-mizzou-denial-of-womans-tenure/

Anonymous said...

If Chant had any single authored, blind refereed, papers accepted which are not mentioned in the online CV then surely they would have been added to it, or mentioned by Ernst. They would not be kept private in the current situation.

So, as mentioned above, we have a CV with two single authored, blind refereed papers, only one of which is in a mid-ranking journal.

These are coupled with invited papers - that one would have to read to judge - and papers written with her husband, who has a good publication record, and who for all anyone knows, may have done most of the work.

I don't see how the tenure decision is so obvious that a failure to award tenure is indicative of cupability (eg sexism, narrow mindedness, arbitrariness or whatever) on the part of those making the decision.

Anonymous said...

speaking of things that may appear sexist, and even be sexist (even if they're not intended to be)...

papers written with her husband, who has a good publication record, and who for all anyone knows, may have done most of the work.

Zachary Ernst said...

A number of quite reasonable issues are being raised here, so let me do my best to respond concisely.

First, I do not expect anyone to come to a conclusion about whether tenure was deserved in this case or not. Not even I have all the relevant facts. And if people are concerned about my bias, all I can say is, "Of course I'm biased!" No argument, there.

The essay has two parts: the first is a set of general claims about the profession. It's meant to answer the question, "how on earth can sexism survive among -- of all people! -- philosophers?". Personally, I think that's actually more interesting (and contentious) than the single tenure case.

The second part is, of course, my description of the tenure decision. My allegation isn't that she deserved tenure (although of course I think she did). Rather, I allege that a set of arbitrary standards was applied and that those standards are motivated by sexist stereotypes.

To answer Chamomile's perfectly reasonable question, the decision was justified post hoc by standards that were never applied to me. I would clearly not have met those standards. I enumerated them in my essay, and they are taken directly from emails that purported to justify the decision after it was made.

As we know, women are held to different standards than men. The same evidence will support a man's credentials, but may be deemed insufficient when applied to a woman. My allegation is that this is a glaring example of one such case.

Anyone can, of course, find a number of things in any tenure dossier or CV to take issue with. It is entirely possible for a reasonable person to argue that in this case, tenure was not deserved (predictably, I don't think so, but I admit to being biased). My point isn't that she deserved tenure. My point is that the standards applied were unreasonable, arbitrary, not in line with precedent or departmental policy, and sexist.

To beat a dead horse for a moment, I want to distinguish between the justification for the decision and the decision itself. I'm not trying to convince anyone of the wrongness of the decision -- the internet is certainly not the right forum for that! I'm merely trying to make a general point about the persistence of sexism in the profession, and I'm using this concrete case to illustrate it. (and I'm also grinding a huge, bloody axe)

Anonymous said...

As the person who I think is being referred to here:

"Again, since I know none of the parties involved I may be way off, but in all fairness to the other philosophers in the department who voted, can't we speculate that there is some legitimate reason beside sexism behind this decision? Discounting all other explanations because we want to fight sexism is strikes me as a bad idea. If there really does end up being another reason for her having been denied tenure, it would set the cause back to have her being the anti-sexism poster-girl."

and here:

"I, too, wonder how helpful it is to throw around sexism charges here without knowing enough about the issue. It really seems to raise the heat but not the light, in this context."

I think I owe it to everyone to explain what I think. I certainly do not think that we should throw around sexism charges without knowing enough about the issue. I think we know enough about the issue to throw around sexism charges. I do not think we know for certain that sexism motivated the change in tenure standards. I do not even think we know for certain that there was a change in tenure standards. But of course certainty is rarely a standard for practical decision making, because for anything you must make a practical decision about, certainty is unavailable. Nor do I think we know enough to know that certain explanations are not true, explanations having to do with Chant's potentially being hard to work with (although it is also quite possible that she is thought hard to work with because she is thought of as an uppity woman). I am making a claim about what evidentiary standards we ought to use here, given the well known historical and sociological facts. We know there is persistent and systemic sexism in academia (and in most other places in our society). We also know that people who actually are guilty of sexual discrimination can always hide that fact by claiming that they just don't feel the person is a good fit, or they just don't get along with them, or they just don't feel like other people in the institution will get along with them, and it is just coincidence that this person is a woman. If we refuse to respond to cases of possible sexism because the accused is claiming, or could claim, that it was one of those alternative reasons which motivated their actions, then we will never move against sexism. Given the fact of persistent and systemic sexism, that means we are going to fail to respond to adequately to a great many cases of sexism.

My key empirical claim, and it is pure guesswork, is that we are more likely to get the correct answer in cases of sexism accusations if we simply disregard alternative explanations, if all that can be said in their favor is that they might be true. Disregarding those alternate explanations will involve accusing some people of sexism who are not guilty of it, but I think we will get fewer wrong answers this way.

It is worth keeping in mind that I am only suggesting this rule for personal decision making (who to be on good social terms with) and for professional decision making in which you have wide latitude to decide as you wish (inviting people to give lectures, etc.). I am not suggesting this regulative principle of assuming sexism as the default as a legal principle, or even as a principle to be used by Deans or college/university presidents.

All I am claiming is that I am justified in treating the senior faculty at the University of Missouri as though they discriminated against Chant because of her sex until some other evidence arises. That I cannot be certain that this is true strikes me as irrelevant. The claim that I ought to withhold judgment because a certain range of alternative explanations have not been ruled out strikes me as a bad personal policy. It strikes me as bad because it would make me impotent in the struggle to reform my profession.

P.S. I don't think you are sexists for not going along with me.

Anonymous said...

But, 6:53, other evidence has arisen, and was around from the beginning: the CV in question does not contain enough single-authored refereed work to, nor enough breadth of co-authored refereed work to be a shoo-in for tenure at a ranked PhD granting institution. This is not an "arbitrary standard" (in Ernst's phrase) except to the extent that all tenure decisions involve some threshold of acceptable publication-record, and it's not like God handed down the correct standard. It would be absurd to complain that Mizzou's tenure standard was too high. What wouldn't be absurd was to complain that a higher standard was used for women than for men. But there is absolutely no evidence in this case for that complaint: Chant's CV is demonstrably worse than Ernst's. I wait to hear specific evidence of articles that are on Chant's current CV that don't appear online. There is nothing showing up on Google. Aside from Ernst's _claim_ of sexism, what's the actual evidence of any sexist decision in this case?

Mr. Zero said...

what's the actual evidence of any sexist decision in this case?

I guess you didn't read the article. If you had, you'd know that Ernst isn't saying that the standards are too high; he's saying the standards were applied in an inconsistent and ad hoc manner. You'd know that the article contains a bunch of examples of things that were cited as reasons for denying her tenure but which didn't come up at all for him. Such as providing insufficient evidence of teaching quality; not providing enough sample exams; not designing new courses; not teaching a wide enough variety of courses; having a bunch of co-authored papers; and being a pain in the ass. You'll find the relevant passages on pages 5 - 7.

In the future, I'm going to decline to publish ill-informed comments like this one.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

8:02, here. I did read the whole article. And Zac never said anything about poor teaching being cited as a reason for being denied tenure. He said she was "faulted" for not providing certain kinds of teaching documents - like syllabi, new course development, etc. "Faulted" struck me as a fairly cagey word. It might mean that was a reason for denying tenure. Or it might mean that the department didn't see an obvious case for tenure in the research production, so wanted to see the other documents, and then didn't see it there either. The issue didn't arise for Zac because he had an obvious case for tenure in his publication portfolio. They didn't need to look elsewhere. The evidence seems neutral with regard to this and the "different standards" explanation. And that's the sense in which I implicated that there is no evidence for a sexist decision in this case.

Obviously Zac was not complaining initially that the standards were too high. Initially he was quite clear the issue was the possibility of different standards. But in this thread he used the expression "arbitrary standards", so I just wanted to clarify that no one should be tempted to think that "arbitrary" meant "too high."

Mr. Zero said...

Zac never said anything about poor teaching being cited as a reason for being denied tenure.

Neither did I.

He said she was "faulted" for not providing certain kinds of teaching documents...

I know. I pointed that out. The thing that was interesting about it is that he was not asked to provide any such documents.

Or it might mean that the department didn't see an obvious case for tenure in the research production, so wanted to see the other documents, and then didn't see it there either.

Somebody else made a similar point, and it's not a crazy or ill-informed point. But Ernst doesn't say they looked at the documents and found them wanting; he says that she was faulted for not providing the teaching documents, and that if they'd seen them they'd have found them to be better than his.

The issue didn't arise for Zac because he had an obvious case for tenure in his publication portfolio. They didn't need to look elsewhere.

I'd have thought that there would be some set of standardized procedures for this sort of thing: here are the documents the tenure candidate must provide; here is the (approximate) weight each one has; here are the (approximate) standards. It would be weird if they looked at your research and only then decided whether it was necessary to look at your teaching. I never heard of that, anyway.

The evidence seems neutral with regard to this and the "different standards" explanation. And that's the sense in which I implicated that there is no evidence for a sexist decision in this case.

I don't see you making that point in your comment at 8:02. You say that there's no evidence that Chant was held to a higher standard than Ernst because her (almost two years out of date CV) is demonstrably worse than Ernst's is. But that ignores the facts that (a) Ernst admits that there are clear ways in which his research has gone better than hers, and (b) she was evaluated against a bunch of extra criteria that didn't come up at all for him.

Point (a) is just a caveat. Point (b), however, is the heart of his case, and your comment at 8:02 ignored it. You implied that he had provided no evidence whatsoever to support the claim of sexism. This implication is incorrect, and that's why I described your comment as "ill-informed."

Initially he was quite clear the issue was the possibility of different standards. But in this thread he used the expression "arbitrary standards", so I just wanted to clarify that no one should be tempted to think that "arbitrary" meant "too high."

Is that a natural reading of the word 'arbitrary'? It doesn't seem to me to be. And even if it was, Chamomile asked him to clarify, and he did so in a comment at 6:37: "the decision was justified post hoc by standards that were never applied to me. I would clearly not have met those standards. I enumerated them in my essay, and they are taken directly from emails that purported to justify the decision after it was made."

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:02

The questions of how well you read the article, how well you showed that you had read the article, and to what extent you know what the word 'arbitrary' means are all irrelevant.

Chant's publication list is not relevant to the charge of sexism. The case for the tenure decision expressing sexism would be just as strong even if it were obvious, which it is not, that she did not deserve tenure because of a weak publication record. The entire case has to with Ernst having the decision explained to him as being made because she failed to live up to teaching standards that he did not have to live up to.

Even if they made the right decision, the question is whether they did so for the right reasons. The reason why this is relevant because if we know that they made a decision for the wrong reasons, even if it accidentally was the same as the correct decision, they are going to go wrong in the future unless there is a change.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:05, etc.

Even if you think the evidence of sexism and injustice is clear, I don't get why you think its so clear how to respond. This is because I don't see how we know (other than the Head who offered the office in Women's studies) who the guilty are.

My point is this: it often only takes something along the lines of a split vote or even bare majority in favor at the Department level to sink a tenure case at the next level. So do we know who the faculty are (or how many) that didn't support her case for tenure?

I can see if you think the department if full of sexism not recommending undergraduates go there for graduate school, but I don't see how you can implement your plan of not inviting the senior members of MU to conferences, to submit to anthologies, etc. without knowing who voted for and who voted against.

magicalersatz said...

Just a brief not about what happened to the post at Feminist Philosophers. It hasn't - as yet, anyway - been permanently taken down. It's been taken offline while we (the various bloggers at FP) try to decide what to do with it.

I think most anyone can grant that public, blogsplosion discussion of a case like this (especially when some parties involved cannot respond) is tricky. There were (there are) divergent viewpoints among the various bloggers about how to handle this trickiness, and we're all busy with non-blog demands. So we removed the post until we could discuss with one another more fully what we should do.

Blogging, especially about sensitive topics, can be hard sometimes. And group blogging is particularly hard. I'm sure we don't always get things right. But we do try our best, and we take these decisions very seriously. You may not think we've acted correctly in this case, but we're doing our best to act conscientiously.

And Mr Zero: keep being awesome.

Anonymous said...

Here's what we do seem to have some anecdotal evidence for:

1. Mizzou gives really lax tenure reviews to people it likes and wants to keep.

2. Mizzou gives pretty rigorous and harsh tenure reviews to people it doesn't like and wants to get rid of.

Bad practice? Yes. Unusual? Probably not.

I don't see any evidence (even anecdotal evidence) for the claim that the lax tenure reviews are systematically directed at men and the rigorous tenure reviews are systematically directed at women.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

The standardized procedure you ask for probably asks for a disjunction of things: something like, "Provide evidence of teaching quality, including evaluations, syllabi, evidence of new course development, etc." It shouldn't be too strict, because different people will have different things to provide. So, the applicant submits a complete package. What should a committee do if it's found lacking? Just stop there? Or should the committee go back to the candidate and say, "It's lacking as is. Do you have anything else you can add?" To the extent the committee is on the candidate's side, I would expect the latter. I would want the committee to do it for me. Suppose the candidate then submits nothing else or submits something else that is lacking. The committee might say, "I'm sorry, the publication record wasn't good enough and you didn't submit any of this extra stuff." This might look in some ways like the candidate is being faulted for not providing the extra material or as if lack of extra material is being "cited as a reason". But it's not a higher standard. Disjunctive standards don't apply differently. They're just lower standards. And if Zac met the first disjunct, that's fine.

This might not have been what happened. But there is no evidence in Zac's article that this isn't exactly the sort of thing that happened. So I still don't see the evidence that there were higher standards in Sara's case.

Chamomile said...

"I'd have thought that there would be some set of standardized procedures for this sort of thing: here are the documents the tenure candidate must provide; here is the (approximate) weight each one has; here are the (approximate) standards. It would be weird if they looked at your research and only then decided whether it was necessary to look at your teaching. I never heard of that, anyway."

Standardized procedures, yes, but standardized weighting, no. In many research-focused departments, teaching is a minor factor in a great researcher, but a bigger factor in a less good researcher. A tenure evaluation is not like a multiple choice test, where a given question has the same weight, whoever's taking the test.

Anonymous said...

8:02, yes, what Zero said. You might try reflecting on your reasons for being so resistant to the explanation that sexism might have been involved.

RexII said...

Only tangentially related, but interesting nonetheless:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/dec/22/how-dispel-your-illusions/

Claims that we are often subject to the "illusion of validity," "a false belief in the reliability of our own judgment" when it comes to, e.g., future performance of recruits in various occupations.

Holds that "Predictions based on simple statistical scoring were generally more accurate than predictions based on expert judgment."

Relevant to this discussion and to the question of the value of interviews more generally.

Anonymous said...

@6:53 ane Zero:

As far as we know, these are (all or some of) our best guesses as to why she was denied tenure:

1) Maybe it's because she was a woman and the committee was sexist.

2) Maybe it's because she was a shit-disturber and the committee preferred to swat the gadfly than endure questions of conscience, etc.

3) Maybe it's because her work was less conventional and the committee didn't gave that less value.

4) Maybe there's some other reason (to do with research or other legitimate aspect of the review process) that the committee deemed her -- rightly or wrongly, but sincerely -- not to have achieved.

There is certainly a precedent for people being denied tenure for any of these individual reasons in the absence of any other. So none of them should be particularly surprising.

Also, aside from members of the tenure committee in those cases, outsiders will almost never have adequate grounds for determining which it is when more than one of these is present (as in this case, where the candidate is admittedly a shit disturber, etc., ("stubborn and confrontational", as Ernst himself claims).

But now comes the controversial part: 6:53, you claim that, in the absence of any further information (which will characterize nearly all of our epistemic states in nearly all tenure decisions), we are warranted in assuming that sexism is the cause.

And if we're warranted in assuming that, we're presumably warranted in assuming that some or all of the committee members are sexists, on this same basis.

Why are we warranted in believing these things on clearly inadequate evidence? Well, because we know that there is such thing as sexism in academia.

But don't we also know that there's intolerance of shit-disturbers, disrespect for interdisciplinary work, and purely merit-based decisions in academia?

Well, there's excellent evidence that sexism exists to a high degree in tenure decisions. How high? Well, look at all these samples, compared with the samples of other instances!

How do we know what the motivation was in these cases, given that the deliberation was largely private? Well, we are always entitled to assume that sexism was a factor if it's a woman, according to 6:53.

And so on.

See the problem?

Anonymous said...

It's a side issue, but nevertheless: The Women's Studies Department at Missouri is composed exclusively of women. Has anyone considered whether the Philosophy Chair's suggestion that Sara, not Zac, use an office there might be due to the (correct or incorrect) assumption that Women's Studies would have been underenthusiastic about housing a man from a foreign department on their floor?

Jack Samuel said...

"And if we're warranted in assuming that, we're presumably warranted in assuming that some or all of the committee members are sexists, on this same basis."

Sexist behaviors/actions do not entail sexist people, if by "sexist" you mean something like "harboring conscious malice or prejudice towards women." Modus tollens on this particular straw man is often used to deflect accusations of shitty behavior, e.g. "I couldn't have said something racist because I'm not a racist."

Though there are straight up bigots around, and more commonly than one might want to admit, sexism is pernicious precisely because its ontology is social/institutional/cultural rather than straightforwardly doxastic. People are not held accountable for sexist behavior because the burden of proof on someone claiming that someone else is sexist is too high a bar.

Take Harvard's IAT test for implicit bias, and then decide whether or not being a genuine bigot is a necessary condition of doing something sexist.

I make no comment on the substantive issues of the case, only on the terms of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say that I very much admire Zachary's gutsy decision to write this essay and post it for anyone to read. As someone already said here, it is one thing to post anonymous stories on "What It Is Like" and another thing altogether to expose particular people, particular departments. Sex discrimination cases are almost never straight-forward, and those on the other side of the fence always have their own "justifying" story to tell. What guts, Zachary! I wonder how many of us would have done the same...

Anonymous said...

@Jack Samuel:

8:09 here.

I accept all that you say about implicit bias (it's an open question whether having such a bias warrants calling someone a sexist or racist).

However, that doesn't threaten my argument at all. Nothing turns on the ninth paragraph of my post.

Even if Zero, previous posters, and Ernst limited their charge to one of being biased against women and left aside the term 'sexism' (which is in the title of the thread, I should remind you), their charge would still be unwarranted, given the evidence.

Also, the line of thought I attacked in the post you quote from -- that if there are several reasons why someone might plausibly have been denied tenure, and one of them is sexism, then any private individual can rightly assume that it was sexism -- is still completely fallacious, for the same reason I indicated previously.

The Cynic said...

I, too, can see the merits of coming forward and naming names as Ernst did; and also of fighting sexist discrimination in all its subtle forms.

However, there is something about all this that troubles me. It's the same thing that troubled me about the smearing of Oregon, etc., previously.

What I find so ugly about it is not the accusations themselves, but the grotesque obsession that so many have with it. I'm no sociologist, but I can't help but think that these accusations play the same sort of role in highbrow philosophical culture that obsession with child molestation accusations have in lowbrow culture.

In both cases, we have some target that is so odious, we can all put aside our differences and join together in hating it. It's very easy to hate these things, and it takes astonishingly little intelligence to speak about and against them. So hating them and devoting space to discussing them is a great leveller.

Moreover, there really are people out there (child molesters and sexist philosophy professors) who do the evil things that make them worthy objects of our hatred. So there are always new cases to express collective horror about.
And some perps are unrepentant, which makes hating them even more delicious.

But sometimes, we hit a slow patch, and we don't have a red-handed child molester or sexist to spit on. At times like that, our hate gets hungry. So we turn to two related pastimes:

First, if there's a whiff of child molester/sexist blood out there, we can do our own 'investigating' to see whether we can track down the next specimen for our common entertainment. At times like that, we all have to be careful: if you doubt that the individual in question is a genuine specimen, then your doubts can be used to cast suspicion on your own status.

Or, if there's been a recent spectacle, there will be plenty of blood left in the environs, and it can be interesting to ask suggestive and probing questions about who else must have known.

In both cases, we can ask: why this, in particular? Why the obsessive focus on child molesters and child killers, when horrible things happen to people of all types? Why the constant focus on sexism, when we all know that racial disparity in philosophy is much worse, and class disparity probably much worse than that? Why have the recent race cases got so much less play?

The answer that has been suggested for the child molestation/murder cases is that they are just so much more appealing. Allowing innocents abroad to die is boring: no nasty perpetrator. Killing adults is more interesting, but still not as scrumptious: we don't know much about those adults, and they might have been jerks. But causing harm to an _innocent_ _child_ -- that hits all the right notes. We can bask in the horror of it all without interruption: our genetic imperative to protect the innocent does our work for us. We can just sit back and mainline it.

Something similar appears to be going on with sexism. Discrimination based on being a shit disturber? We don't always like shit disturbers. Discrimination based on social class or race? Well, members of other social classes and races are important in theory, but who knows what they've been up to?

But women are _innocent_, and it's the natural reaction of males to protect them. That's instinctual, and also reinforced by memes that have been around for centuries longer than racial or class equality (the institution of chivalry enshrined it in a form that lives today). So all of us, men and women, can join in with gusto. It's just that the men join in in a spirit of chivalry, while the women typically do not.

The holiday season is upon us. We have a new beast to carve up and lay on the holiday table: Mizzou. O come, let us adore it.

Anonymous said...

"Foolhardy" seems more apt than "gutsy." Unless the adverse tenure decision is overturned, Ernst and his spouse will need to find work elsewhere, and this entire display may be held against them. Particularly worrisome is Ernst's frank admission that both he and his wife are difficult colleagues. Certainly the opening of the essay suggests as much:

"I have had a number of disagreements with my colleagues
over the past several years, some of them heated. Whenever I felt
it was appropriate, I didn’t hesitate to call a decision into question or call someone out if I felt they were being dishonest. Often, I felt that there was
a genuine disagreement, and that reasonable people could disagree on the issue. But on plenty of other occasions, I felt that others were consciously hypocritical, bullying, or dishonest. This has happened more often than I would have hoped."

Does anyone want a colleague who is so ready to appoint himself judge and jury of the behavior of his colleagues? I really hope no one else thinks to emulate this behavior, which is unfortunately self-destructive (even if his accusations have some merit).

Jack Samuel said...

@8:09

The wording of my original post was a bit vague. My point was not that implicit bias warrants identifying a person as a Sexist, but rather the opposite: you don't have to be a sexist person to do sexist things or participate in sexism. So if you want to apply my point directly to the case, one might argue that "sexism" is an appropriate charge without thereby implying that anyone in particular is a Sexist, or is somehow "biased towards women" but not a Sexist.

To be completely clear, then, my point is not that we should abandon the label "sexism" (thanks for reminding me that it was in the title; I had forgotten) but rather that it should be applied to actions, attitudes, behaviors, institutions and cultures -- perhaps even somewhat liberally -- but that that should not entail that we are accusing people of being Sexists (having a sexist character).

Mr. Zero said...

The standardized procedure you ask for probably asks for a disjunction of things: something like, "Provide evidence of teaching quality, including evaluations, syllabi, evidence of new course development, etc." ... So, the applicant submits a complete package. What should a committee do if it's found lacking? Just stop there? Or should the committee go back to the candidate and say, "It's lacking as is. Do you have anything else you can add?" To the extent the committee is on the candidate's side, I would expect the latter.

and

the decision was justified post hoc by standards that were never applied to me. I would clearly not have met those standards. I enumerated them in my essay, and they are taken directly from emails that purported to justify the decision after it was made.

These seem like fair points. But it seems to me that Ernst's essay rules them out as prima facie explanations. According to him, some of the things she was faulted for not doing--teaching a wide variety of courses and developing new ones--were literally not under her control at all. And with respect to the aspects of her teaching she did have control over, her performances were among the best in their department (again, according to him).

This is not to say that I think we should regard these allegations as proven. We have not been provided with conclusive or even a preponderance of evidence to support the charge of sexism. But what we lack is corroboration. We lack the independent evidence that would confirm Ernst's version of the events. We do not lack a version of the events that, if substantially true as written, would constitute a fairly clear instance of sexism. Because what we have in Ernst's account is a woman who was denied tenure for a set of reasons that were (a) intrinsically unfair, (b) not consistently applied to other members of her department, and (c) high enough that had they been applied to Ernst himself, he thinks he would have been on the wrong side of the line. Holding women to higher and/or less fair standards than men is sexism, whether you mean it to be or not.

Again, there is a bunch of stuff we don't know. We don't know what the tenure standards are at Mizzou--at least I don't; we don't know what was in the communications between Chant and the tenure committee; we don't know how the standards were applied to other members of the department who were recently tenured; and our source of information has a clear rooting interest. These are all things Ernst has acknowledged. We don't have all the facts--we don't have all the evidence. But we do have some of the facts.

So anyways, and maybe we're getting into hair-splitting territory here, but it seems to me that what we have is inconclusive evidence of sexism that is flawed in a number of irreparable ways. It would be unwise to adopt the attitude of belief of Ernst's charge on the basis of the available evidence. But that doesn't mean Ernst has produced no evidence.

Anonymous said...

@Mr. Zero:

"It seems to me that what we have is inconclusive evidence of sexism that is flawed in a number of irreparable ways. It would be unwise to adopt the attitude of belief of Ernst's charge on the basis of the available evidence. But that doesn't mean Ernst has produced no evidence."

That seems right. We have no way of knowing whether sexism was a factor in this case, and that lack of evidence is "irreparable," as you put it: we will never have good grounds for saying that it was or wasn't, since that information will not be released.

What, then, is there for any of us to say about it that isn't just idle and probably hurtful speculation against one side or the other?

And if the answer to that question is 'Nothing', then why post it?

Dr. Killjoy said...

Though normally I pop up to scatter truth caltrops coated in caustic wit, I must say that this issue has ol' Doc Killjoy plum duffed. Here's where I am at this point:

In cases of tenure denial, especially when it occurs at the level of the department, the committee must provide the precise and robust explanation as to why tenure was in fact denied. So, I assume that just such an explanation, or the reporting thereof, has been made available to Dr. Ernst, and as such, I take it as implicit in Dr. Ernst's original piece that the committee expressed little to no concern over quality or quantity of published research, as either assessed internally or externally. So, I suppose that we are justified in endorsing accusations of sexism (or even just general claims of unfairness and injustice) only insofar as we assume Dr. Ernst to be accurately reporting all, and omitting none, of the relevant facts. To the extent we think it may be otherwise (i.e., that certain relevant information is for whatever being withheld or omitted) is the extent to which I suppose we must ourselves withhold judgment: certainly with respect to the tenure denial itself if not also the presence or absence of any implicit or explicit sexist biases or motivations therein.

Most tenure denials notoriously involve nightmarish legal, moral, political, and personal issues, and surely this one is no exception. In one case of which I am aware, though the candidate had what appeared to be a relatively strong publication record, more than one external reviewer had strongly negative opinions of the work submitted. To those with access only to the candidate's CV, that case likely would have looked suspicious, if not outright mistaken and unfair. So, although I do think Dr. Ernst raises some very important general issues about the transparency, consistency, reasonableness, and fairness of tenure standards (and how a dearth of any of these may provide fertile ground for sexism, racism, or any other -ism based on entirely irrelevant features of the candidate), as to the rest, I think the only responsible choice is to withhold judgment.

Anonymous said...

"my point is not that we should abandon the label "sexism"...but rather that it should be applied to actions, attitudes, behaviors, institutions and cultures -- perhaps even somewhat liberally -- but that that should not entail that we are accusing people of being Sexists (having a sexist character)."

This is a common claim, often taken with racism as well, and not without reason. However it also has the tendency to backfire by diluting the charge.

I do work in the philosophy of race, and one of my biggest complaints against certain philosophers who apply the notion of "institutional racism" with a broad brush, is that they conflate (often intentionally) this form of racism with other much more vivid forms.

Clearly institutional racism exists, but certain philosophers (e.g. Yancy) effectively claim that minor (and disputable) instances of it are functionally and morally equivalent to the most egregious form of racism historically.

While this has a certain rhetorical force, it is also a dangerous and counterproductive tendency, at least to my mind; and has done much to lessen the value and impact of the charge itself.

Anonymous said...

oh god, cynic, that's just ridiculous. we are supposed to believe that all of this ultra-defensive analysis designed to dismiss the merest possibility that sexism exists is evidence of men's instinctual chivalrous defense of women's honor? bizarre.

10:45 here said...

11:35, gutsy because he has so much to loose. So, yeah, self-interest was pushed aside. That I think is gutsy. And few of us can do what Zachary did, I think.
I disagree that Zachary's self-described willingness to disagree is evidence of his less than collegial behavior. My spouse (also a philosopher) is quite forthright too, very much so, but he is a valued member of his department, very much so in fact. To speak up, especially when speaking up is difficult, is to show that one cares about one's department. Well, it can be a sign of care and decency. Of course, look, there are assholes out there, who "speak up" in judgmental assholish ways, but Zachary is miles away from that this sort of mind-set.

The Stoic said...

I think the Cynic is spot on in his/her comments. Though those comments are mostly unsupported observations, they strike me as true.

I've often privately wondered why class-based discrimination in philosophy gets less press in philosophy circles than, say, sex- or gender-based discrimination when (I think) it causes more harm. Do others (privately) share this intuition?

Anonymous said...

"I've often privately wondered why class-based discrimination in philosophy gets less press in philosophy circles than, say, sex- or gender-based discrimination when (I think) it causes more harm. Do others (privately) share this intuition?"

The reason class discrimination (which, as Marx notes, is the fons et origio of all bigotry) does not get attention is because so many people in philosophy love to indulge in it.

See the comments in the last thread for all the evidence you need.

Mr. Zero said...

What, then, is there for any of us to say about it that isn't just idle and probably hurtful speculation against one side or the other? And if the answer to that question is 'Nothing', then why post it?

For one thing, I thought whether there was anything to say about this other than idle and probably hurtful speculation was an empirical question.

For another thing, I think there has been a substantial amount of non-idle, not hurtful speculation in this thread. I think it's been a pretty interesting discussion that has been conducted in a highly civil manner.

But I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I thought about what I wanted to say about Ernst's essay for a long time, and I was worried that it was going to end up being a mistake. But as of right now, I don't think it was.

The Cynic said...

12:20, I never denied that sexism exists and that, when we are aware of it, we must fight it. For all I know, the Ernst case is a case of sexism, and some people (though not I) presently have adequate grounds for fighting it on that basis.

What I _was_ saying in my post, which you'll see if you read it carefully, is that there seems to be a perverse and ugly sort of fascination in our discipline with observing and cheering on such accusations, etc.

It is all done under the veneer of safeguarding the innocent and promoting morality, just as when concerned lowbrows stay rivited to their television screens and the tabloids when there are reports on very, very bad serial killers/pedophiles/what have you and what they have done (and all the better if they are merely _accused_, since that invites them to take part in the fun speculation and ongoing, jaw-dropping revalations for them to enjoy with their friends.

But doesn't some of this activity serve some more wholesome role of actually ferreting out sexism/child molestation/what have you? Sure, some of it does. Not much of it, but some.

That's part of the joy of it all: you never know when the smear you're engaged in perpetrating might prevent a worse outcome somewhere else. So, you can engage in destroying an individual or a department while feeling great about yourself and making friends.

Anonymous said...

"I've often privately wondered why class-based discrimination in philosophy gets less press in philosophy circles than, say, sex- or gender-based discrimination when (I think) it causes more harm."

Maybe because most philosophy professors are Nation-reading, Prius-driving, latte-liberal bourgeois fuckwits who have no sense of "class consciousness" and for whom politics is a matter of voting for spineless reformists and buying "fair trade" coffee at Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

Tenure decisions come in different forms. Since Dr. Chant isn't a star researcher, perhaps the case for her tenure was going to rest on her teaching and service UNLIKE Dr. Ernst.

If this is the case, and she was lacking in curriculum development and other service areas, then it makes sense that she be denied tenure for standards that didn't apply to her husband given that he is a much better research philosopher than she is.

There is nothing wrong with what she does, it's just that at a research department trying to get ahead, you cannot have people who cannot really produce research to the level expected and not do other things well: foster the major, be a colleague who is helpful and the like.

I don't know if this is what happened, but that is a reasonable explanation as to why a denial occurred give the truth of Zach's claims and the data we have averrable.

To go to sexism when women are highly desired in departments is just a bit much for me to believe.

Anonymous said...

I've often privately wondered why class-based discrimination in philosophy gets less press in philosophy circles than, say, sex- or gender-based discrimination when (I think) it causes more harm.

Also, because many of the folks hurt by class-based discrimination do everything in their power not to reveal their socio-economic roots.

There was a Leiter post a while back on the undergraduate departments who succeed in place their students in top 10 PhD programs. It's a pretty vivid depiction of how deep-seated class-based discrimination is in our profession.

Anonymous said...

yes, cynic, i'm well aware of the logic of moral panics. but moral panics (as in sensationalised media coverage of pedophiles etc) are predicated on the idea that the response is an overblown reaction to a rather slight problem, and that the reaction is often worse than the original problem (i.e., pedophiles are paradoxically 'produced' by the panicked response to pedophilia, through charging children with sex crimes for texting nude photos of each other).

so by this account, the reaction to charges of sexism is characterised by moral panic, an overblown response. you say that this is due to men's instinctual desire to protect the innocence of women (to which, simply, snort).

i think a much likelier explanation is the desire for moral purity, therefore these long mansplainations about how this probably isn't sexism, and this is way overblown, and anyway we should take charges such as these *very seriously,* and so forth.

either way, the underlying condition is that 1) sexism isn't that big a deal and 2) the response is worse than the thing itself. being accused of being a sexist is worse than sexism. just as being accused of racism comes out to be more important than *actually combatting racism.*

i mean, i agree that racism and classism are also rampant in philosophy, and i agree that there is some kind of nietzschean ressentiment thing often going down in these analyses. while the chatterati go on worrying about whether this or that accusation is merited, and sling around legal jargon, women and folks of color are making mental note of the folks who won't be at our side when the shit goes down.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Zach is still reading this comment thread, but I am having a hard time understanding how the denial of tenure was built at the level of the department--it is very rare that there aren't at least one or two Contract Renewals prior to tenure. In State Universities there can even be Annual Faculty Evaluations that are independent of and addition to Contract Renewal dossier submission.

Your article is silent about any prior pre-tenure review. Was there none at all? If it's the case that a faculty member was positively evaluated in prior review, and once up for tenure new, never before voiced demands are added, this is a huge problem for the department. The next levels of review, the Humanities Council and then Dean would/should typically raise serious problems for, if not override, the departmental evaluation. Having served on and chaired a Humanities Academic council, I have to ask if the Academic Council at Mizzou is asleep at the wheel. I realize that I'm expressing a concern that does not speak to the matter of a department imposing arbitrary standards for tenure post hoc, but if there is a discrepancy between pre-tenure review documentation and tenure review, you (a) have a stronger case for claiming sexism motivated the arbitrary demands and (b) there's a strong case for rejecting the department level evaluation as it goes up. (Yes, too often other levels see the departmental level as sacrosanct, and that is wrong. It is precisely instances in which there are discrepancies between pre-promotion reviews and a promotion decision that higher levels are supposed to catch, question and sometimes override when they occur.)

The Cynic said...

Thanks for the laugh, 2:55. I particularly liked your use of 'mansplainations'. Up to that point, I wasn't sure whether you were writing a satire.

I didn't say anything about this being a 'moral panic', or about the result of discussing it being worse than the thing itself.

I actually had nothing at all to say about whether this was a case of sexism or not, or about what to do about sexism in general. I don't know why you think otherwise, but I can guess.

Here's my guess: when the people are ready for a scandal, and one seems to be on its way, everyone is required to express horror about what has happened. People without the right facial expressions and appropriate comments of disbelief, outrage and moral fatigue are immediately suspect. I, in my long comment, didn't follow the social ritual here. Hence, the name 'Cynic' will be on the list you and your friends plan to keep for the revolution.

OK then. And by the way, there seems to be something amiss with your shift key.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi The Cynic,

I'm not saying you can't make your point, but take it a little easier, please.

Quite Possibly Relevant said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/dont-just-ask-why-women-dont-negotiate/249368/

Jack Samuel said...

@12:18

I'm not sure to what extent you are arguing against me and to what extent you are proposing a friendly amendment to my point, but if the former, I should further clarify a few things.

1. Saying that racism/sexism/transphobia is institutional does not exonerate people that play into it. If actions can be sexist (as I said they could), then actors can and should be held morally responsible for them.

2. I also didn't mean to suggest that we can never accuse a person of being sexist, but that since prima facie the burden of proof seems higher for proving that a person has a certain kind of character than that an action/behavior/attitude plays into oppressive structures (or oppressive micro-power, or whatever). Sometimes it makes more sense to examine a discrete case and leave aside the implications it might have for judging a the person or people involved. This may or may not be one of those times.

And as for one of the other major discussions here...
If we accept the premise that sexism gets attention disproportionately compared with other forms of discrimination or oppression, it seems that there are at least two obvious conclusions available to us:
1. We should stop caring about sexism so much.
2. We should care about the other issues more.

No one is coming out and claiming (1), but it doesn't seem like the issue is being raised with (2) in mind (and if anyone making or backing that point or a similar one does in fact have (2) in mind, then this is not about you; I'm not claiming to read anyone's mind). Thanks to 2:55, who makes a similar point, assuming you weren't, as The Cynic suggests, being satirical.

The Stoic said...

Mr. Zero, respectfully, I believe that Cynic's tone matched that of Anon 2:55. Using 'mansplaination' to silence Cynic's dissent employs precisely one of the violent rhetorical techniques that Feminist Philosophers (the blog) has been railing against for a while.

(Cf. http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/jason-stanley-on-silencing-and-political-speech/ )

Beware when fighting monsters, lest you become one and all that.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi The Stoic,

I was referring to a comment left by The Cynic that was unpublishable as written.

The Stoic said...

Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

@5:48

I agree. I wasn't criticizing you, only providing something of a caution.

Pest said...

This is Anon 11:05 AND Anon 6:53 responding to Anon 8:09 (this is getting a little confusing with the anons, so I will refer to myself as Pest from here on out)

I see what you are trying to say, but I don't see a problem. You point out that there are alternative explanations of the tenure denial. Agreed. And we almost certainly will not get sufficient evidence about this case to rule out those alternatives.

From then on I think you go significantly off the rails. You say that I claim we can conclude that the Ernst case is a case of sexism because we know there is significant institutional sexism in philosophy. That is an incomplete presentation of my position. So let try to yet again make it clear what I am saying.

I am assuming that we have a duty to take steps to fight institutional sexism in philosophy. If you disagree then I don't think I am interesting in debating the issue with you. So given that we have this duty, we have a duty to pursue the best means towards satisfying that duty as long as we do not, in the process, fail in another duty of ours.

So we have a pro tanto duty to take the best means to fight institutional sexism in philosophy. I think our best efforts to fight sexism in philosophy will include disregarding certain alternative explanations of behaviors that have been accused of being sexist. I do not think it will include disregarding all alternatives. So, for example, this disjunctive approach to tenure evaluation is the kind of thing that could explain the appearance of the application of different tenure standards. It is also the kind of thing we could get independent evidence of (if it were an institution wide policy to handle tenure in this way, we could find out from a third party that it is the common approach). Importantly, it does not leave us in the position of having to do nothing about alleged sexism because the alleged sexist(s) have claimed that their real motivations were non-sexist, and we can’t prove that they are lying. Alternative explanations that can be verified in some practical way should not be excluded from consideration. But explanations like ‘We just didn’t think she was appropriately collegial’ should be excluded. It is too easy to hide behind such explanations, and the persistence of sexism even after it has become generally condemned suggests that this happens quite a bit.

So I think our duty to fight institutional sexism makes it at least acceptable to ignore explanations that must be taken entirely on the word of the alleged sexists. The reason is that I think it is likely that we will do better in weeding out sexism this way. (I also think it is quite likely that the majority of the time such explanations are offered of allegedly sexist behavior they are not accurate, though perhaps sometimes the person offering them is unaware of this. I cannot back this up, it is a guess) Further the things I have suggested doing are all forms of denying the senior faculty of the University of Missouri things that make them more successful professionally, but that they do not deserve or have a right to (like invitations to give talks, write articles, and access to promising undergraduates). So following through on this regulative principle does not involve denying anyone something they have a right to.

Pest said...

continued response
Now you say:
“Why are we warranted in believing these things on clearly inadequate evidence? Well, because we know that there is such thing as sexism in academia.

But don't we also know that there's intolerance of shit-disturbers, disrespect for interdisciplinary work, and purely merit-based decisions in academia?”

I hope it is not clear how your getting wrong my case for declaring them sexists has stripped your argument of force. We do not have a duty to fight intolerance of shit-disturbers, purely merit-based decisions in academia, and it is not obvious to me we have a duty to fight intolerance of interdisciplinary work. Without the moral duty in play the same case for assuming intolerance of shit-disturbing or interdisciplinary work is not present. So the case for each is not on par, so I am not forced to use cases where I have assumed sexism to back up the case for assuming sexism.

Also, the strictly evidential case for sexism being a wide-spread problem seems to me tremendously stronger than the case for intolerance of shit-disturbing and interdisciplinarity. We can count the number of female undergraduates, undergraduate majors, grad students, junior faculty, senior faculty, and so on. We can show trends for female representation going down, and we can show that being a woman doesn’t actually make you a worse philosopher. We can’t do anything like that for shit-disturbers. How do we count them? We can’t do that for interdisciplinary work, partly because there is a case to be made that interdisciplinarity will increase the odds that someone is going to end up a jack of all trades, master of none.

The Cynic said...

@ Jack Samuel:

You write, "If we accept the premise that sexism gets attention disproportionately compared with other forms of discrimination or oppression, it seems that there are at least two obvious conclusions available to us:
1. We should stop caring about sexism so much.
2. We should care about the other issues more.
No one is coming out and claiming (1), but it doesn't seem like the issue is being raised with (2) in mind
"

First off, I wasn't doing either of the above in my post: I was discussing what I take to be an unhealthy and unhelpful public (among philosophers/academics) fascination with such cases, not discussing what we ought to do.

But, since you raise the point...

Let me first say something I think is completely uncontroversial: _if_ the decision to deny tenure in this (or any other) case only arose as a result of sexism, then the decision should be reversed. Moreover, even if there _were_ independent grounds for denying her tenure, the committee -- if allowed sexist bias to influence its deliberations -- ought not to have done so, and steps should be taken to ensure that those biases be eliminated in the future.

Again, I take it that this is so obvious that nobody denies it.

So, where do we go from that very obvious and uncontroversial general claim? I don't know what else we can profitably say in this case, unless we are to make an assessment of whether sexism was a factor in this _particular_ decision.

And the problem there -- as in more or less every similar case, and also as in all the cases of alleged sexual harrassment -- is that we simply don't have access to all the facts we need to make a fair decision. They were not disclosed to us, since they are controversial. That's why, other than slinging mud around, there's nothing we can accomplish by saying that she did or didn't get sexist treatment.

Now, it's true that things don't need to be that way. It is, admittedly, a merely contingent fact that the tenure committee (and any committee that might be appealed to now) will be given access to information that we don't have, on both sides. It's also a merely contingent fact that, in cases of alleged sexual harrassment, the testimony of the parties involved are kept confidential.

Perhaps, though we can't _now_ deliberate usefully on these matters, that should be changed. Perhaps the deliberations of tenure committees should be documented in full and made public (or, if you wish, only in cases where the tenure candidate is a woman, or where questions are subsequently asked about the propriety of the decision). Perhaps, also, the testimony of all parties in sexual harrassment cases should be made public to all of us so that informed decisions can be made in the court of public opinion.

I'm not ruling that out, and would be glad to discuss the proposal. But I suspect you might not really want to put that in place. In the case of tenure decisions, there do seem to be excellent reasons (avoidance of acrimony against committee members, avoidance of bad decisions by committee members afraid of such acrimony, etc.) for not making public the deliberations of tenure committees. And in the case of harrassment, I can only imagine that far fewer victims would come forward if they knew that every detail of their harrassment allegation would be discussed and scrutinized publicly, plus the harm done by a very public accusation that later turns out to be false is impossible to undo.

So: there seem to be excellent reasons for not making the grounds for decisions in both types of cases more public; and in the absence of such reasons, it is idle and quite possibly hurtful for the rest of us to comment or form opinions.

But I do think, as before, that it's worthwhile looking at why so many of us persist in dishing this stuff up and crowding around it in spite of these fairly obvious facts.

Anonymous said...

Give the charge by Dr. Ernst, how many smokers won't apply for a job in the department at Missouri? I am willing to bet that both Dr. Ernst and Dr. Chant will be looking to solve the two body problem for a third time, and if successful, this will leave a two faculty member vacancy there.

Anonymous said...

This case reminds me of something that occurred at Cal State Long Beach's Phil Dept a few years ago. There was a coup among faculty against the sitting chair, a very accomplished female philosopher. She was the first female to serve as chair. The coup was led by a faculty member who was upset that the chair was pressing faculty to be more research productive. The coup created a bitter feud in the department. The outgoing chair publicly claimed that it was a case of sexism, citing statistics about the low representation of women in the profession generally and her department specifically. She was accused of producing an irrelevant reason for her dismissal from the chair position: sexism. Actually, her critics claimed, the coup occurred because faculty were tired of her pushing them to be more research productive. The question these critics overlooked in their haste to dismiss the charge of sexism was: Would they have responded in the same manner if the chair was male?

Carolyn Dicey Jennings said...

Dear Cynic,

The reason that I am still reading these posts is to hear arguments on the evidence presented and available, since I think that will improve my first pass reading of Zachary's paper. Further, I think we can do this by abstracting from the situation whatever evidence is salvageable (say that someone had this record and this teaching portfolio, would such a response be reasonable?). I thought Cora Diamond, for example, made a good point on New Apps about how tenure criteria can change unofficially, which I find to be relevant in assessing the details I have. In any case, I think concentration on particular sets of details is helpful for thinking about how one might do better in trying to avoid the impact of bias. I come here for ideas and advice, rather than to watch a train wreck. I think the explosion of discussion on this issue has more to do with a lack of relevant, believable, publicly available facts (thanks to Zachary, we have some in this case) and the widespread belief that there is a difficult problem in the field that needs to be addressed, together with a topic sensitive enough that people normally do not wish to discuss it openly. I think all of this is reasonable and thus hope that you are a Cynic of the facts of the case rather than the purity of our motivation in discussing them.

Anonymous said...

Pest,

You say we have a moral duty to ensure that the careers of people who make sexist tenure decisions, etc. be 'broken'. Since that is a very serious consequence, we need to hold ourselves to very high epistemic standards before attempting to bring it about.

Then, you say that we are epistemically permitted to assume sexism as the reason why someone was denied tenure so long as it is one of the available reasons and we are entitled to reject the rest.

Finally, you say that we are entitled not only to reject, but to "ignore", claims of there being some other reason so long as we can plausibly imagine that the reason was, in fact, sexism.

That conjunction of commitments is is insane.

Look: we all know that bad tenure decisions get made. Sometimes the reasons have to do with sexism, I'm sure; other times, they don't.

We have a duty to help ensure that bad tenure denials not get made. A denial is bad if it stops someone from getting tenure for any reason at all that isn't germane to his/her ability to do his/her job well. That's it. No need to go off half-cocked with your own brand of vigilante justice while rationalizing away your/our inability to know what kind of mess you could be making by meddling in matters we don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Echoing Anon 6:55, a number of posts in this thread insinuate that because of the grievous levels of sexism in our profession, the burden of proof is on those who withhold judgment or who are sceptical of the charge of sexism in particular cases. This also strikes me as, to use 6:55's word, insane.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:11

You are right. Drop the first conjunct. Written in an angry mindset. The third is not something I think, at least not in as unrestricted a way as you put it. I think we can and ought to ignore explanations of alleged sexist behavior for which no other evidence can be given besides the alleged sexist's testimony. Other explanations are fine. In fact some of this discussion has made me aware of potential explanations (like the disjunctive tenure approach thing from earlier) which are making me less sure that this is sexism, and much more willing to see what comes of Ernst's accusations before making up my mind. The initial set of potential alternative explanations that were floating about included things like 'maybe they just don't like her personally' or 'maybe there were concerns about long term collegiality' and those explanations strike me as not worth considering, since they are so easy to use to cover one's ass. But I never meant, and hope I never said, that we can rule out all potential alternative explanations. But my explanation of my own views has not been terribly precise, so I get why someone would think otherwise.

The Cynic said...

@ Anon 6:02:

You wrote, "Actually, her critics claimed, the coup occurred because faculty were tired of her pushing them to be more research productive. The question these critics overlooked in their haste to dismiss the charge of sexism was: Would they have responded in the same manner if the chair was male?"

First of all, how do you know -- or even have grounds for believing, that your mundane question was "overlooked" by those who weren't persuaded by the charge of sexism? Did they say something, collectively or individually, that entailed or in any other way implied that they hadn't considered that question? Or are you just engaging in pure guesswork?

I've seen that question posed over and over again in different contexts, always with the same 'Let's be for real' sort of finality. And yet, the question seems to advance matters very little, if at all. Any fair-minded judge will have already asked him/herself that question and considered it carefully before you ask it, particularly given that it's now impossible to miss the endless discussions of sexist (etc.) influence in decision-making. And those who are so biased are almost certain to say "Yes" in answer to your question even if they would have treated a man differently: they either don't understand their own biases or don't care and are willing to lie about it (though much more probably the former.)

And yet, the question keeps getting asked with this air of profundity and finality. Why? Well, the only reason I can see is that it puts the accused discriminator in an awkward position. If he/she says 'yes', then that should be taken as a sign of naivete or dishonesty. Then, you can follow up your original question with a 'come on!' If the person then admits to being biased, then you win. And if not, then that's evidence that the person is not only biased, but arrogant and in denial. So the only legitimate answer is to say, "I guess I might not have treated a man the same way", after which the healing can begin. But we have to know the witch will float in water before we can exorcize the demons.

The Cynic said...

@ Carolyn: I am cynical of the motivations of many people who want to keep discussing these particular cases. I am also doubtful of the merits of approaching the matter in this way.

Look: we all know that unconscious bias is a real and hurtful phenomenon. And there seems to be general agreement here that people can engage in it without being bad people or even being conscious of it. Even members of disadvantaged groups can have unconscious biases against themselves.

What should be done about it? That's tricky. Certainly, something should. I'm not counselling doing nothing. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to promote affirmative action hires (and maybe some affirmative action grad school admissions), if the research shows that promoting diversity in that way will be effective in reducing sex-based bias.

However, it seems that on any well-informed account of unconscious bias, it won't be legitimate to make inferences to blameworthiness in the same way we're used to if someone is guilty of it. Certainly, it is disturbing to have people running around talking about 'breaking' people's careers for being possibly unconsciously biased, as someone recently suggested.

It seems as though you're keen to put yourself in the business of determining guilt in the case, and are looking for a smoking gun. Was basic protocol followed in this case? But the fact is, there is no such basic protocol. As you say, the standards for tenure might change; and more important, these sorts of decisions are matters of fine judgment, not the application of an algorithm. People who make the fine judgments could be right or wrong, and could be biased or not. And the sad fact is, there's no way for us to tell in any particular case unless the bias was so extreme that it had to be deliberate. In that case, senate or some other body would discover the smoking gun before we did. But that seems unlikely, particularly if the bias was unconscious.

So again, I'm not sure what the point of dragging another program through the mud is. Tell me, please, what positive result you envision arising from doing this that would be less likely to arise otherwise. I remain... cynical.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings said...

Dear Cynic,

Putting aside any cases of anonymous zealotry, let's say that we don't drag Mizzou through the mud and instead use this as an opportunity to discuss a particular form of a discipline-wide problem. That is, if anything amiss happened at Mizzou, surely it could happen at any institution, which I take it was the point of Zachary's letter. Even if one grants that implicit bias is a problem one might not realize how it might impact decisions in a particular case, such as this one. In my mind, up for debate is:

1. Do we have reason to believe something went wrong here? Namely, do we have reason to believe that the gender of the candidate could have made it more difficult for her to get tenure?

2. What was it about the process that brought about this possibility for error of judgment?

We might not have reason to think anything went wrong (in 1) and so there is not a problem that needs to be addressed. (I mean, it is possible that there is not a specific problem in the tenure process separate from the more general problems of implicit bias.)

It strikes me that if there is a problem (from 1) then the looseness of rule application is a possible candidate for the focus of our attention (from 2). This makes me think that the rules for tenure need to be made more clear and to be applied more consistently, to avoid personal feelings and biases from being part of the equation.

Affirmative action and other such moves may be solutions to the problem of minorities in the discipline, in general, but I think the problem raised by this case calls for something extra. Otherwise it may be that the only women who make it through tenure are those who are compliant, rather than "difficult," or whatever personality feature we think compounded with the candidate's gender in this case.

One reason that I am passionate about understanding these cases and in determining the best changes to make is that I have noticed these biases in myself and I am concerned about the impact those biases would have if left unchecked. Thus, far be it for me to criticize Mizzou or any other program, especially based on limited data, for something that is a problem for all of us and that is a mistake, I am presuming, any one of us could make.

The Cynic said...

Thanks for your response, Carolyn.

I fear my cynic-ism may have left it unclear to what extent I may actually be on your side.

For starters, I agree that the important thing is not only to make it easier (to the extent of being entirely fair) for women to enter the higher ranks of the profession, but also to ensure that a suitable number of those women are pushy and trouble-making in all the right (and perhaps sometimes wrong) ways. At least, being that way should no more be a hindrance to women in the profession than it is to men.

You suggest the possibility of making the tenure decision process more transparent, as a means to the various ends it seems we both share. Well, I think that would be difficult, but perhaps it is the right way to go. Certainly, it would help many men as well as women if it were revised in that way.

Finally, I should add that I'm not cynical about _your_ motivations: you seem to be the level here. I can't say that about some of the zealots who have commented previously.

So after all that making-nice, where, if anywhere, do I disagree with you?

Well, oddly enough, it's in the attention to particulars. I think that analyzing these cases in the abstract, general sense is the only key to figuring out how to improve things in particular cases.

This might seem paradoxical, but the reason is hardly obscure. If the stuff about unconscious bias is correct, which it seems we both think it is, then I think two things follow:

1) We are warranted in thinking that implicit, sexist bias is a factor in some, and perhaps many, cases; and

2) There may be few or no particular cases in which we are adequately warranted in thinking that implicit, sexist bias is a factor.

If I might draw an analogy: suppose there is a huge vat of white stones and a huge vat of black stones. There are also a thousand machines that are programmed to pick white stones and black stones out of the vat, ending up with 10-20 stones in total. Some of the machines are programmed in such a way that they will pick white and black stones entirely at random. Others are programmed with a bias: they are more likely to pick white stones than black stones, but they still pick black stones sometimes.

Now, we look at the stones that the machines have picked. Sixty, seventy, maybe eighty percent of the stones are white. Since there are a thousand machines, we have excellent reason to believe that there is a bias somewhere.

However, consider one machine in particular: call it Machine X. Machine X already has way more white stones than black stones, and is right next to the black bin. But it suddenly veers straight over to the white bin, and picks yet another white stone. In the scenario I have described, are we awarranted in thinking that _that_ machine is biased? No.

Moreover, it seems that, in figuring out the extent of the bias and how to repair it, focusing on Machine X will be worthless. It can destroy the reputation of the machine, though.

Does this make my position clearer?

Carolyn Dicey Jennings said...

Dear Cynic,

It sure does, and it is a nice analogy. I think you are right that the singular nature of the case prevents us from fully assessing it. However, the factual nature of the case (that it includes particulars) I think helps us to see the kinds of things that could go wrong, which we might not guess a priori. So I guess that I agree with you that we should not use this case to cast suspicion on Mizzou, but that we should nonetheless be thankful that Zachary has provided us with some could-have-beens that might help us to prevent some could-bes.

Anonymous said...

http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/a-list-of-worries/

This post seems timely and relevant. Indeed, things like "Do not coauthor, you will not get credit for your work like a male colleague would." have already been manifested in this forum.

However, I'm puzzled about some claims. I thought *no one* got credit for invited publications, not only for tenure review but also for job searches. Is this not true? Shouldn't it be true, in the interest of broader fairness?

Certainly, whether Prof. Chant got credit for her invited publications--and whether other people in the department got credit for theirs--seems highly relevant to the discussion here.

The Cynic said...

OK, Carolyn. Provided that it's clear that we're just using this case as a sort of exploratory jumping off point ('Leaving aside what happened at Mizzou, which we don't know, let's fill in some details about a hypothetical university, Schmizzou, and figure out what should be done in _that_ case'), I'm in agreement.

Thanks for your patience with my cynical ways.

Safe Behind a Screen 1 said...

Here's an (extensive) contribution to think about, a comment in four parts. That contribution requires that I give you some things that have happened to me. I am not making an argument by anecdote, but the experiences recounted in the following anecdotes are what led me to the argument I'm going to make. It's relevant background to all of them I'm a non-white woman.

1. Once, while working as a mid-rank student affairs administrator at an astonishingly white-washed university, I was placed on a committee that was called the Social Justice & Diversity Committee. The committee was large, probably 3 dozen people, evenly split between men and women, and represented various levels of administration and faculty, including several students and student-employees. There were two non-white persons on the committee, myself and a recently hired "Dean of Diversity" who was an older black woman with a background at a well-known HBC. The responsibility of setting the biweekly agenda was determined by putting all the names in a hat, and drawing out two-three names at random to set up "Agenda teams". Each "team" of 2-3 persons then had the responsibility for proposing an agenda at the end of the present meeting that would be approved for the next meeting by the entire committee. By chance, the two non-whites -- myself and the aforementioned Dean -- ended up on the same agenda team.

The calendar for the semester put our team's meeting towards the end of term. The semester proceeded uneventfully. The discussions and topics at each meeting had repetitive and uninteresting themes of discussion; the focus frequently fell on historical instances of racism, sexism, and classism; abstract case studies that were completely unrelated to the concrete race/class/gender issues facing the university and its surrounding community; discussions of global-level issues wrt to RCG; uninformed debate over whether or not some fictitious policy would reduce discrimination; discussion of well-known work on "white privilege", and so on.

When it was my team's turn to present, we set up an agenda that would have actually taken all of the preceding discussion and applied it to the concrete situations of our institution, which the committee was explicitly designed to address. The agenda would have taken all of these concerns and asked about our division (Student Affairs): to what extent to our policies, programs, activities, and choices fail to prevent, or promote, RCG discrimination? The Dean opted to do so, because her new job was ostensibly created precisely to address these questions. I did so because I had a background in philosophical study of these issues, and wanted to apply that to a real case .

We were, of course, immediately vetoed by the head of the Student Affairs Division -- an older white male, who happened to have a Ph.D. in Philosophy but went for an administrative rather than academic career -- who interrupted us half way through our proposal. He said that he understood where we were going, but that point of the committee was not to actually do anything about any of these issues but to raise "awareness" as a precursor to passing down of new policies developed by "higher administration" intended to deal with these issues. No vote had been taken regarding our proposal, as had been done in the past. Our meeting was cancelled, and next semester, so was the entire committee. At the end of the academic year, the Dean of Diversity was let go due to "poor fit." No mention of the new policies ever occurred, in remainder of my time at that institution.

Safe Behind a Screen 2 said...

2. While doing my Master's degree at a top-50 Ph.D. program, sexual harassment of female graduate students was rampant, as were in-class displays of undeniably misogynistic behavior by both faculty and grad students. (Remarks were made, for instance, "Only a woman would take this objection seriously" or "No, [female student], that's wrong. Women obviously can't do [logic/metaphysics/whatever].") I myself was victim of this on many occasions. Male graduate students may have started out with relatively benign temperaments, but ended up emulating their misogynist role models, our star professors.

In due time, a meeting was called by the Assistant Vice President of something (an older white woman) to discuss the "situation" in our department, one for the men, and one for the women. The women's meeting lasted about 3 hours, and consisted in the administrator nit-picking and rationalizing every sexist experience every graduate student tried to report (neither of our female faculty members attended), after being asked directly to report them. After a couple of attempts, we gave up, and the administrator proceeded to give us an extensive lecture on how to avoid sexual harassment, explicit details of what could and could not be reported to the requisite offices on the basis of 'legal evidentiary standards', and empty assurances that the university was doing everything in their power to repair the situation.

An insider informed me that the men's meeting lasted about 20 minutes, and consisted of the chair telling the administrator that there was absolutely no problem with sexual harassment and discrimination in our department, and that "the women" were poorly socialized and thus misread normal human behavior. Everyone else agreed with him, except the aforementioned insider, and his refusal to agree later cost him. The administrator took notes, and nodded, and then told the men to make sure they reviewed the university's Sexual Harassment Policy, and thanked them for their time.

A few months later, it was revealed that a female grad student had anonymous complained regarding the departmental environment, and that this prompted the aforementioned meetings. The adminstrators discovered her identity, which was leaked to the faculty. She was railroaded out of the department.

During the rest of my time there, the harassment continued and nothing changed.
----
What do you think about these cases? What do you think about any of the cases posted anonymously on "What It's like to be a woman in philosophy"? Chances are, you are sympathetic and think these descriptions are examples of The Awful, both at individual and institutional levels. The individuals seem blameworthy, as do the institutions that sanction their behavior.

What if I were to repost these stories, clearly identified every party involved -- institutions, administrators, faculty, graduate students? What if I added more and more instances, identifying every time I **know** I have been treated unjustly because of my race or gender, in a more or less direct way, as well as identifying all of the responsible parties? Or every instance of such treatment I witnessed? How would you feel about it then? You'd probably think that I acted "inappropriately" or made claims for which I had little/no/inadequate evidence. You'd probably think I was hurting the people whose actions I was calling out.

Safe Behind a Screen 3 said...

Yet, as pointed out early in this thread by Anon 11:05, the extent to which anonymous reports of The Awful and the extent to which we all anonymously agree The Awful is awful, **does absolutely nothing to prevent or change The Awful** and, even worse, it creates a situation in which because The Awful is only ever discussed is abstract, anonymous, and unrelated TO YOU or PEOPLE YOU KNOW or ANYTHING CONCRETE, you get the impression that The Awful is far and away, and probably not something you should worry about.

The risk of experiencing epistemic violence for a marginalized individual reporting sexism or racism (or other discrimination) is inversely proportional to the degree to which the report requires non-marginalized persons (who, knowingly or unknowingly, benefit from the status quo) to acknowledge the reality of the discrimination and do something about it. An anonymous or abstract report rarely generates dismissive criticism, inappropriate dissection, and widespread assassination of the individuals involved since an anonymous report cannot require anything be done, and can be dismissed as a "sad" story. (How many threads on this or other blogs have been devoted to analyzing/debunking/dismissing -- oh, I'm sorry "discussing" -- specific reports from the What It's Like blog? Every one of those cases “could be explained” by appeal to something other than sexism.)

On the other hand, a report which DEMANDS acknowledgement and action almost always begets all of those things. Even if it is earmarked under the label "Productive Discussion Within the Discipline", threads responding to topics as this (and the Oregon problem, and the Race discussion from awhile back, etc.) almost always degenerate to discussion about "how we can't know what's really going on!" The degeneration always takes place at the epistemic expense of those specific individuals making the claims, and at larger cost to the marginalized groups they represent. We lose, and the status quo is maintained.

Safe Behind a Screen 4 said...

If there is a widespread acknowledgement that mistreatment of socially marginalized groups is rampant in our discipline, and the risks of making a non-anonymous report are so fucking high, then why think its likely that Prof. Ernst's judgment of "Sexism!" is more likely to be false than true?

Sexism in philosophy is prolific. Period. It infiltrates everything. I'm sorry if you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Whatever its genealogy (implicit bias, the rest of academia, whatever), it is prolific, and it is instantiated both in institutional and individual ways.

Given this prevalence, you have prima facie reasons to think that women up for tenure in philosophy will be treated badly, unless they are lucky enough not to be.

In this case, we are provided **not only** with an instance of the prevalent problem, but it is **especially** evident given the contrastive evidence of Ersnt's tenure as contrasted with his wife's?

Add to all of this is the fact that the risk of epistemic violence accompanying this kind of public announcement is off the chart. No person would undertake that unless s/he had good reasons to believe in the importance of the announcement. Neither party -- Ernst or Chant -- stands to gain anything by this; what's the most plausible explanation for Ernst's public announcement of this? All the praise he's likely to get for sticking up for his wife? That he just wants to stir up shit? That he’s a compulsive liar? That he suffers from an odd sort of histrionic paranoid hysteria by proxy? That he suffers from a bias so strong that he can’t separate his love from his wife from a reasonable view of the situation? That he wants vengeance for her so badly he’s willing to risk his name and reputation? Or, does he think something bad happened here, and want to use it to address the larger problem it is an instance of?

So there are good reasons for thinking things are as Ersnt says they are, but they are admittedly defeasible. I haven’t heard any yet. So far, the defeaters presented are:

1. That one or the other or both they are giant assholes – I happen to know, via personal experience, that they are not, FWIW. I've met both of them, and though I do not know them well, they are both pleasant enough as people. Ernst himself has shown excellent, non-asshole conduct commenting on this and other related threads. The essay itself is written in a pretty non-asshole tone.

2. She genuinely did not deserve tenure, and sex had nothing to do with it – This requires dubious appeals to the idea that there is some objective notion of merit-based desert where tenure is concerned. I doubt there is some universally applicable formula that can be used to calculate this. There is not even, perhaps, a locally applicable formula on an institutional or departmental basis. Unless there are clearly articulated standards of tenure with specific delineation of requirements and expectations, as well as details explications of what constitutes failure to meet them which are consistently enforced, such appeals seem inadequate to defeat the aforementioned reasons.

Did I miss any possible defeaters? Are there any others that have been presented in this discussion?

Anonymous said...

Did Donald Davidson ever publish a piece that wasn't invited?

Chairephon said...

A quick visit to PhilPapers should answer your question, 3:03.

April said...

Safe Behind, there's a lot there (and some I agree with), but a few things you said seem really badly wrong to me.

If there is a widespread acknowledgement that mistreatment of socially marginalized groups is rampant in our discipline, and the risks of making a non-anonymous report are so fucking high, then why think its likely that Prof. Ernst's judgment of "Sexism!" is more likely to be false than true?

Who said it's more likely to be false than true?
There is no way to make a judgment like that without knowing something (or making assumptions) about the Missouri philosophy department.



Given this prevalence, you have prima facie reasons to think that women up for tenure in philosophy will be treated badly, unless they are lucky enough not to be.


Uh, yeah. I'd say there is much more than prima facie reason to believe that. It's a tautology. (So I guess I don't think this one is wrong!)

She genuinely did not deserve tenure, and sex had nothing to do with it – This requires dubious appeals to the idea that there is some objective notion of merit-based desert where tenure is concerned.

What is this supposed to mean? Different departments have different standards. Everybody here knows that. Whatever the department's standards are, they might change over time. Everybody knows that too. And whatever they are, they might be applied differentially because of sex or they might be applied differentially for some other reason. In the last case, the explanation would, obviously, not be sexism. It's completely incredible that you mean to be denying this, but (ignoring the mumbo jumbo about objectivity and merit and desert) I can't see how else to read you.

I don't know what epistemic violence is, by the way, but I'd like to hear about how much of it Zac Ernst suffered for his forthrightness. I'm initially skeptical that he's suffered any harm whatsoever. But I'm open to being shown otherwise.

The Cynic said...

Safe Behind a Screen,

Thanks for saying all this. Just so you know: I held, until recently, a tenured position. Certain of my colleagues acted in a very unethical way toward some of our students, and I was the lone voice in the department meetings who spoke against it. The department didn't like it, and they were old friends with the dean, who was originally one of them (I was the new guy).

It eventually came to the point where I had to choose between being complicit in some very unprincipled things or else have my employment slowly terminated. I gave the department and dean an ultimatum, and they called my bluff. So, I walked. I lost my career (which I'm presently trying to reconstruct), my security, my home (which I can't sell now owing to the downturn) -- everything.

So please understand that I, too, know what it is to feel 'safe behind a screen'.

I mention all that so that you know that I'm not an all talk, no action kind of guy. What you describe is terrible, and something certainly ought to be done.

I also agree with you 100% that 'raising awareness' is more or less always a bullshit exercise whose point is to make the participants and others feel as though they're doing something productive when they're just getting in the way.

Still, I don't think any of this warrants what you seem to endorse. I'm sorry to say it, but it is simply unfair and crazy to assume the truth of accusations of some wrongdoing merely on the grounds that that wrongdoing is commonplace. Do you actually deny this? It sounds as though you do.

I get that things are really bad. I get that things need to change, and that that will require some real action being taken, not more 'raising awareness' meetings and idle chit-chat. But that does not for one second license any of us to jump to conclusions of guilt merely on the basis that it seems plausible to us and that we can't think of a good reason why the claimant would invent the charge. Have you thought about what the world would be like if the legal system worked this way?

Those who knowingly commit sexual harrassment are contemptible. So are those who would use that as a basis to 'break' the careers of those we have inadequate grounds to believe guilty.

But isn't it difficult to find an effective way to solve the problem without risking harm to the innocent? You bet it is. That's why we have to use our heads and work out a sensible solution that isn't as bad as what it's meant to cure. I don't know what the next step is, but I'd love to sort it out with you or anyone else who cares to put in the time. And trust me, I will devote all my energies to implementing it once we've worked it out.

But if you want to say, "Fuck this" and eliminate the difference between 'accused' and 'guilty', I and every other decent person will fight you with everything we've got. We don't get to throw away our principles just because we've got the short end of the stick.

Pest said...

Pest here, otherwise known as Anon 11:05

The responses to Safe behind a screen are exactly the kind of thing that me over the top angry before. So lets go through it:

"Who said it's more likely to be false than true?
There is no way to make a judgment like that without knowing something (or making assumptions) about the Missouri philosophy department."

Yeah there is, there really really is. We make these kinds of judgments all the time, and I think we make them justifiably. When the less powerful accuse the more powerful of something which the powerful deny, the rational default position is to trust the less powerful. Assume that the parties are equally rational (an assumption, true, but if you think assumptions are somehow a bad thing, I recommend dusting off your philosophy of science book), and you get two options, the less powerful person is making it up or the more powerful person's denial is a lie. Which one is more in keeping with a rational person's approach? Well it seems to me that rational people like to cover themselves quite a bit, so the second option has a reasonably high probability. But it is straightforwardly prudentially irrational to make up an accusation against someone more powerful than you. I know some of you think it is crazy or insane to place the burden of proof on the accused in these cases, and I can't understand why you think that.

And keep in mind that in reading the Ernst piece we all got access to information about the University of Missouri philosophy department. Relative to everyone but his colleagues, he is an epistemic superior. Seems to me if we ought to change our beliefs based on the testimony of epistemic peers, we should do it with flourish when it comes from epistemic superiors.

Cynic says:

"I'm sorry to say it, but it is simply unfair and crazy to assume the truth of accusations of some wrongdoing merely on the grounds that that wrongdoing is commonplace."

He follows this up with 'do you really suggest that?' I can't speak for Safe behind, but I can speak for myself, the other anonymous zealot. And I certainly am not suggesting that. I think we should assume bad behavior when someone close to the situation points as someone and says 'Bad Behavior! Look everyone, Bad Behavior!' and when we know that this alleged bad behavior fits into a pattern of bad behavior in similar contexts that we all know exists. And we should feel free to ignore the typical bullshit excuses like 'Maybe she is just hard to get along with,' or 'Maybe it is a bad fit.'

The stubborn insistence on misconstruing those backing Ernst up is deeply frustrating. It happened on the New APPS thread too, with Matthen seemingly refusing to even read the posts of those who disagreed with him in full (his insulting response to Cora Diamond when she was obviously writing a comment in support of his position is the best example of this).

Pest said...

Now there have been some constructive suggestions concerning this case. Cora Diamond's suggestion that a de facto change in tenure policy could have taken place sounds both plausible and like the kind of thing you could check without taking the accused sexists at their word (you could ask other departments). The suggestion earlier in this thread that there is a way to apply the very same tenure standard to Ernst and Chant, while having Chant fail for reasons that Ernst was not asked about is also constructive. It means we aren't faced with the following alternatives:

Either we should tentatively accept that the department issued a sexism based tenure denial,

or

we have to accept some bullshit explanation of their behavior.

So I am backing off my previous zealotry. But please lets stop assuming silly things like that those of us who think, or thought, it likely that Ernst was correct were throwing out our principles, or coming to conclusions in the absence of evidence. We have evidence, Ernst gave some of it to us, and the rest comes from the history books. We have principles, they are common sense principles like 'don't waste time considering bullshit (non-projectible) explanations', and 'don't assume that the person with everything to lose might be courting that possibility for shits and giggles'.

Anonymous said...

One thing that strikes me as odd is that there was a negative tenure decision by people who knew that there would be consequences to the decision b/c she was married to an already tenured person.

For example:

Dr. Ernst and Dr. Chant are VERY outspoken. Look at Dr. Ernst's objection to Leiter and the Gourmet report. And he says as much about his wife that she is the most outspoken.

Given that from all I can see on her CV, that her tenure case is a slam dunk, a negative decision would have had to be fairly certain to withstand the mountain of shit that might and has blown back.

AND they knew that Dr. Ernst was a tenured member. This was going to piss people off. Him in particular.

But they judged her unworthy of being a tenured faculty member at a research 1 university.

From my point of view, you only have one job as an assistant professor, and that's to work like hell to get tenure. The fact that she didn't earn it at the department level makes me suspicious of lots of things, but sexism isn't the first.

She wasn't judged to be worthy, and we don't know why, but I am sure external letters played a part. From the letter Dr. Ernst wrote, I see nothing that smacks of sexism, and so I am unconvinced that this is why they denied her.

Remember that outside letters talk about future work and the ability to sustain research programs. Perhaps the department didn't see her being committed to that for a R1 department.

How many times on this blog have people complained about unproductive faculty in jobs they don't deserve. Perhaps this is what was prevented.

The Cynic said...

Pest, I am content to rest everything in our disagreement on this single statement you made in your most recent post:

"When the less powerful accuse the more powerful of something which the powerful deny, the rational default position is to trust the less powerful."

Wow. Let's see how this works: and mind, I'm taking care not to distort your words in any way (please tell me if I have). I'm much less powerful than most people. So, there's no shortage of people more powerful than I am.

Now, suppose I tell you (without revealing my online identity, so that I'm a stranger to you) that one of the people more powerful than I am did something wrong: threatened me, stole from me, whatever.

In that case, you say, the default position is to believe me.

In other words, the burden will always rest with the person I accuse for whatever reason to prove his/her innocence. If neither of us produce any evidence, you think it's morally and epistemically right to hold that that individual is guilty of whatever I happen to say he/she is guilty of. And you can't think of any problems with this, or any reason why anyone might abuse this astonishing privilege.

I means, seriously. Is that what you really hold, on reflection? I just want to be sure.

Anonymous said...

8:10, tenure decisions do not take into account the need to please certain members of the department. Ernst did say, repeatedly, that yes, he has never seen Chant's tenure case in its entirety. There are many possible "perhaps."
There was a shift in tenure expectations. Are you with me this far? The nature of this shift (higher teaching expectations, co-authored works frowned upon etc) suggest that sexism was at work. She was evaluated as a woman, who has to be a superb teacher, who must publish solo to be taken seriously and so on. Nobody is saying that this is exactly what happened. But in light of evidence, this is a reasonable hypothesis.

April said...

Pest, what are you talking about? I certainly didn't accuse Zac Ernst of lying. (Did someone else, or what were you thinking?)

I'm sorry what I wrote made you so angry, but it's just a logical fact. I wrote,

"Who said it's more likely to be false than true? There is no way to make a judgment like that without knowing something (or making assumptions) about the Missouri philosophy department.

You reply,
"Yeah there is, there really really is."

There isn't. The posterior probability that it's true is a function of the evidentiary value of Ernst's testimony and the prior probability, together (as Bayes taught us). There is no likelihood of truth that's independent of the prior probability.

That's why it's incredibly irresponsible (and unfair) to form a judgment about the relative likelihoods having heard nothing from the other side.

Anonymous said...

9:44 wrote:

There was a shift in tenure expectations. Are you with me this far? The nature of this shift (higher teaching expectations, co-authored works frowned upon etc) suggest that sexism was at work.

When you say 'suggest that', do you mean something like 'make it most likely that'? or 'make it one of any number of possibilities that'?

In normal usage, 'suggests that' is understood in the former sense. If I know that buses A, B, C, D, E, F, and G all stop on my street, and don't know even the rough probability of any one of those buses stopping at any one time, then it would never be correct to say "The fact that Jones caught a bus on my street suggests that it was an F bus."

So, it seems extremely careless to say what you said. So far, only three justifications have been made for jumping to a conclusion that entitles us to hold the committee responsible for sexism, which is what you want to claim. And each of those justifications is seriously inadequate.

First justification: 'Ya know, I just can't think of any other reason why she would have been denied tenure. So, the committee was sexist.' This is a wonderful example of argument-by-lack-of-imagination. I can think of several alternative explanations offhand, that I have just as much reason of believing are true: a) the department hires a man who does good work, but he's a shit disturber. They're not thrilled about this, but OK, they give him tenure and hope he'll cool down or they'll get used to it. But he doesn't. Moreover, his wife gets hired on and turns out to be even more of a shit disturber than he is. They get sick of the two of them even more than they were sick of the one guy. They just want rid of them. So, they give her a harsher tenure review, thinking that getting rid of one of them will cause both of them to leave. b) same as the above, but the bias is unconscious and the committee members don't realize what they're doing. c) the standards are not in fact any higher this time than last time; it's just that her research was inferior to his according to some measure the committee cared about for non ad-hoc reasons. d) the standards are higher, and this is owing to the fact that the department now demands more of anyone (since they are now more ambitious for any number of plausible reasons). Etc.

Second justification: 'We know that sexism is frequent. I've seen several instances of it personally, and others have compiled several other alleged instances. So, we might not know how often it happens, but it happens really, really a lot. We also don't know what the frequency is of tenure being denied for the other reasons (like people wanting to get rid of a shit-disturbing couple), but, well, it's hard to believe that that happens very often, relatively speaking. There aren't entire blogs devoted to collecting such suspected instances, which there would be if people were ever denied tenure in order to get rid of them. So, the evidence is overwhelming: the committee was sexist.' Do I really need to refute this one?

Third justification: 'P1. If tenure had not been denied for sexist reasons, there is no way that Ernst would believe and claim that it had. P2. But he does believe and claim that it had. C. Therefore, tenure was denied for sexist reasons.' I hope anyone thinking about P1 for a few seconds gets the problem. This seems to be another justification from lack of imagination.

For those of you who haven't worked out the difference yet: I am not claiming here that the decision wasn't motivated by sexism. I am claiming that we have no idea whether it was or wasn't. That's it.

Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to April

First, let me say I understand your confusion with the end of "Safe Behind's" 4th post. It wasn't immediately clear to me what point she meant to convey with her discussion of "a lack of clear standards"

Given what she said earlier, "Sexism in philosophy is prolific. Period. It infiltrates everything," I took her to be saying that without clear standards a subjective assessment is required, but our (both individual and collective) subjective assessments are more likely to express some degree of sexism than not, given the culture in which we operate.

I could be wrong, maybe "Safe Behind could correct me"

Either way I certainly understand some confusion on that point (If I'm right - it still wasn't immediately clear to me, and if I'm wrong, then we are both misunderstanding her.)

But, April, what you say earlier really troubles me. First you quote Safe Behind
"Given this prevalence, you have prima facie reasons to think that women up for tenure in philosophy will be treated badly, unless they are lucky enough not to be."

and then comment
"Uh, yeah. I'd say there is much more than prima facie reason to believe that. It's a tautology. (So I guess I don't think this one is wrong!)"

So, I get that if you translate words into first order formal logic you get something along the lines of IF ~(~D) THEN D. And I get that when we interpret sentences in polished philosophy papers we generally focus on the direct and discrete propositional and logical content rather than some implacture because we assume that the author has taken the correlate amount of care in writing it. The principle of charity also generally speaks against interpreting a sentence to express its implicature since the implacture frequently ties her to a broader claim than she may need to defend.

But, here -when there is a clear intended purpose to point out something along the lines of 'even though there are times when women in philosophy are not treated badly, such cases are the exception rather than the rule' - to mistake such a sentence with one that lacks any propositional context seems to be a serious mistake in interpretation.

But, even if it were a tautology- why bring it up? Further - why say "uh yeah" a statement that could easily be read by its target as the equivalent of "Duh!"

I understand that this kind of challenge would be appropriate against a polished philosophy paper presented at a conference or in a journal. But here, the move comes across as nit-picky, mean spirited and wholly inappropriate after "Safe Behinds" discussion.

Perhaps this particular incident is innocent mistake, I'm certainly willing to believe that on the part of April, but I have seen something similar enough times to recognize that it is not to be unexpected at the collective level. These are not merely a series of unrelated mistakes.

And any defense of "That's how we do philosophy" misapprehends the important contextual differences of what constitutes "doing philosophy." What would count as "doing philosophy" - both permissible and noble in one context - can instead constitute "being an inappropriate jack ass" in another.

I think all would agree that there exists a negative even hostile culture in our profession. Some of that has to do with the current percentages of who's in the profession currently, some surely has to do with the ... how do I say it ... lack of adroit social skills by many in our profession - and there are surely lots of other interesting factors. But, perhaps the way we take ourselves to be doing philosophy is in part to blame for that culture as well.

Anonymous said...

There isn't. The posterior probability that it's true is a function of the evidentiary value of Ernst's testimony and the prior probability, together (as Bayes taught us). There is no likelihood of truth that's independent of the prior probability.

I'm glad you brought Bayes up. Shouldn't we factor in widespread sexism in philosophy in our priors, then? In which case, Ernst's evidence doesn't need to be overwhelmingly good for us to think this is a case of sexism, implicit or explicit.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 5:18 am said:
"For those of you who haven't worked out the difference yet: I am not claiming here that the decision wasn't motivated by sexism. I am claiming that we have no idea whether it was or wasn't. That's it."

No, there is more. You also want us to act as if we believed that the decision was not motivated by sexism. Since you like to educate those who have not worked out the difference yet, what is one example of a relevant practical consequence of assuming that sexism played no role that differs from the consequences of not having any idea as to whether sexism played a role?

April said...

Dear 6:56,
I didn’t translate anything into propositional logic. What she said, in English, is a tautology. I completely agree that there are occasions on which there is a very clear implicature in stating a tautology, but I frankly do not understand how this could be one of those cases. So it’s not that I was reluctant to attribute the implicature to the author, but rather that I do not see what it is.
Apparently you think that the implicature was: it is rare that women are treated well in philosophy. But to the contrary, that would have been very easy to say, and would not have violated any other conversational rules (as far as I can see). so the fact that she didn’t say it strongly implicates that it isn’t what she meant! (I also think it’s false, but again, that isn’t why I didn’t attribute it.)

I also completely disagree with you about the conversational norms at work here. Safe Behind issued a very strong condemnation; the posting was not at all gentle or conciliatory. So, I believe, it is not at all in violation of any conversational norms to reply in a challenging way. (I don’t think it’s nit-picky at all, but I suspect it would be absurdly nit-picky to get into a dispute over whether it was nit-picky.) On the other hand, I do appreciate your point about seeing a comment (mine) in the context of the culture of comments on philosophy blogs.

Anon 7:44, “Shouldn't we factor in widespread sexism in philosophy in our priors, then?”
I think we should be a little bit careful. I agree that there are certain kinds of sexism that are widespread in philosophy. I doubt that tenure-denials on the basis of sex are widespread. But my point is that the posterior probability will be very sensitive to facts about the Missouri department in particular.

Anonymous said...

Everyone at Missouri except Chant is tenured. Two of them women. One of the women has the following honor title:

"Curators’ Professor (lifetime appointments for excellence in scholarship), University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 2004-present."

The other woman has two phil studies articles plus other solo publications of quality.

For me, I just don't think a case for sexism has been made. And to those who think sexism is widespread in philosophy is irrelevant in this case. Is it widespread in this department.

Given that Peter Markie, the chair of the APA committee on the Status and Future of the Profession is hyper aware of the issue of women in philosophy, I would think it even less likely that sexism is an issue.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:56 (Dec. 6):

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

thank you safe behind a screen. you have stated much more eloquently and powerfully the gobsmacked astonishment with which i read these threads.

Anonymous said...

"When the less powerful accuse the more powerful of something which the powerful deny, the rational default position is to trust the less powerful."

This is known as prejudice. Please do not describe it as "rational".

Anonymous said...

"I think all would agree that there exists a negative even hostile culture in our profession. Some of that has to do with the current percentages of who's in the profession currently, some surely has to do with the ... how do I say it ... lack of adroit social skills by many in our profession - and there are surely lots of other interesting factors. But, perhaps the way we take ourselves to be doing philosophy is in part to blame for that culture as well."

Of course. You don't have to be a hermenaut of suspicion to recognize the heinously masculinist, crypto-militarist/imperialist, and neoliberal capitalist implications of "philosophy as bloodsport."

That this discursive mode is so prevalent in academic (especially Anglo-American/analytic) philosophical cultures suggests that they are just one more component of the ideological superstructure of neoliberalism. Philosophers are just bourgeois functionaries that destroy each other instead of their corporate masters.

Anonymous said...

10:04 AM, thank you on behalf of colonial peoples everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:48, I'm with you: thank you Safe Behind the Screen. Great post(s). Wish I knew who you are...

Anonymous said...

Amen, 9:52!

The Cynic said...

@ 7:47

You berate me for proposing a suspension of judgment in this case on the grounds that the practical effects of suspension of judgment has the same practical consequences as judging the charge to be false.

First off, I doubt whether you are correct: those who assume that a charge is false will presumably be more likely to be surprised at a revelation that the charge is true, and to be less likely to consider new evidence, etc., that it is than would those who suspend judgment.

But more troubling is the fact that this is sheer bullying. Not content with rushing to judgment yourself, you want to cast aspersions on anyone who doesn't share your zeal. We must be one of you or one of the enemy: if we don't join in under your banner and show adequate enthusiasm, then we ourselves are part of the problem and perhaps run the risk of being next.

I am reminded of the social psychology of the lynch mob, here. The accusations have been made; the defendant is right there, in our sights; but allowing the law to take its course runs the risk that bureaucracy will prove ineffective (since it's bound by rules of evidence and sober-minded reasons, and moreover, it may be corrupt) and the evildoer will go free. The time to act is now! If we don't act now, together, how will justice ever be restored?

Some people point out that there just isn't enough evidence available. But the mob makes its points:
1) There is seldom enough evidence available; we have to act NOW!
2) We know that there are many criminals in society, and many crimes have gone unpunished. So we have every reason to think that the accused is guilty. Hey, _someone_ must be! Why not this guy?
3) If you aren't ready to break into jail with us and string the man up, then your actions are identical with those who already assume that he's innocent. And what kind of person assumes that a criminal is innocent?
4) We know the accusers and judge them to be people of excellent character. People of excellent character are never mistaken in their accusations, never biased in their judgments, and never incorrect in their conclusions. Therefore, if you don't join the mob, you are calling us liars and impugning the excellent character of the accusers, who have endured too much already.

Have you noticed this?

Pest said...

The Cynic,

Perhaps you are familiar with the argument against distinguishing science from non-science using verificationist or some kind of falsifiability standard. The point is that no paradigmaticaly scientific principle, taken on its own, is verifiable or falsifiable.

I want to suggest a parallel principle, that, outside of logic or other a priori disciplines, you will never find a principle that is properly evaluated in abstraction from other principles. Or in other words, almost any non a priori principle has a ceteris paribus clause attached to it.

This is something that I normally take for granted. When philosophers don't take a principle like this for granted it leads to immature, silly arguments seemingly designed for nothing more than their rhetorical use.

The argument you offered against me strikes me as just such an argument. I was taking for granted things like 'people's trustworthiness about X goes up as their experience with X goes up', or 'random accusations are not reliable' or any number of other things. I don't even know all the things I have to take for granted for the principle I laid out to come out as true. So from now on, to take account of this silly argumentative style you seem to be using, I will put 'all things being equal' at the end of each claim I make. Now you can save yourself the time of putting together silly counterexamples like these.

Anonymous said...

The Cynic (@ 6:57 AM):

You throw out an enormous list of claims about what I think and what course of action I prefer. Every single of those claims is false. This is not surprising -- how could anyone know from my remark of two sentences to which you "respond". What is surprising (and rather disturbing) is the paranoid ease with which you construct a gigantic (as far as 400 words go), fully fleshed out, delusional scenario about people like me (you came up with the we and them talk).

Pest said...

April,

Ernst is not the first person to blow a whistle like this. (I know you know that, but Cynic has me in an attitude where I feel like being as explicit as possible is super important). I think that the extent to which we ought to trust Ernst should depend somewhat on the frequency with which people who have made similar accusations in similar cases have turned out to be telling the truth. And you can make judgments about that frequency without any knowledge of the University of Missouri philosophy department beyond general facts that are likely to hold of it given that it is an academic department in an academic institution.

I think the frequency of past X's telling the truth in situations where they stand to lose a great deal by making an accusation, and stand to make a great deal by keeping quiet is pretty high. That is the feature of Ernst's situation that I think is most salient. Now do you disagree with this? If so why?

I have to confess I do not know how to fit this claim of mine into Bayesian epistemology. I am not saying this flippantly. I accept the claim that formal methods are helpful in most areas of philosophy, so my ignorance in this area makes me a bit frustrated. I just assume that any approach which has attracted so many smart people will make room for the kind of reasoning I am using (because I think well of the reasoning I am using). Now if you can explain why it is that the reasoning I am using is faulty, I am all ready to listen. I have already backed down on my particular assessment of what to do about this case, maybe I can be made to back down on the principles I use to evaluate it.

But I find it crazy to think that we are not in a position to come to reasonable conclusion vis a vis Ernst's accusation without some prior knowledge of the University of Missouri philosophy department. I find it crazy because I cannot see how to avoid making similar claims about corporate whistelblowers, victims of persistent sexual abuse in the military, and so on. If the principles you are using to evaluate this case imply that we ought to suspend judgment about the University of Missouri, but that we ought not to have suspended judgment about Enron or the US Navy, or whatever else, then I am interested in hearing how they do this

The Cynic said...

Dear persistent interlocutors:

None of your recent attempts to maintain our being warranted in deeming Mizzou to have been sexist -- on the available evidence -- works.

There's no need for complicated discussions about whether general principles can be defended in the abstract. And it doesn't seem to the point to say that I've misinterpreted your position, if you agree that your position entails that we should assume Mizzou guilty until proven innocent.

It is wrong, always and everywhere, to hold a person or group of people to be guilty of something when you do not have adequate reason for thinking them guilty. The evidence at hand does not give us adequate reason (and there is actually good evidence against that conclusion: why, if the department's MO is to deny tenure to women and not men, would it have granted tenure to the other women in the department? That is, at least, awkward on your view). Moreover, no rational and ethical person would deem the testimony of someone who admittedly does not know all the relevant facts himself to be adequate grounds, in itself, for thinking that a wrong has been committed -- even if that wrong has definitely been committed elsewhere.

That's it!

Anonymous said...

"There was once an island in which some of the inhabitants professed a religion teaching neither the doctrine of original sin nor that of eternal punishment. A suspicion got abroad that the professors of this religion had made use of unfair means to get their doctrines taught to children. They were accused of wresting the laws of their country in such a way as to remove children from the care of their natural and legal guardians; and even of stealing them away and keeping them concealed from their friends and relations. A certain number of men formed themselves into a society for the purpose of agitating the public about this matter. They published grave accusations against individual citizens of the highest position and character, and did all in their power to injure these citizens in their exercise of their professions. So great was the noise they made, that a Commission was appointed to investigate the facts; but after the Commission had carefully inquired into all the evidence that could be got, it appeared that the accused were innocent. Not only had they been accused of insufficient evidence, but the evidence of their innocence was such as the agitators might easily have obtained, if they had attempted a fair inquiry. After these disclosures the inhabitants of that country looked upon the members of the agitating society, not only as persons whose judgment was to be distrusted, but also as no longer to be counted honourable men. For although they had sincerely and conscientiously believed in the charges they had made, yet they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them. Their sincere convictions, instead of being honestly earned by patient inquiring, were stolen by listening to the voice of prejudice and passion.

"Let us vary this case also, and suppose, other things remaining as before, that a still more accurate investigation proved the accused to have been really guilty. Would this make any difference in the guilt of the accusers? Clearly not; the question is not whether their belief was true or false, but whether they entertained it on wrong grounds. They would no doubt say, "Now you see that we were right after all; next time perhaps you will believe us." And they might be believed, but they would not thereby become honourable men. They would not be innocent, they would only be not found out. Every one of them, if he chose to examine himself in foro conscientiae, would know that he had acquired and nourished a belief, when he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him; and therein he would know that he had done a wrong thing."

April said...

Hi Pest,
I think the overall believability (likelihood of truth) is a function of both the stuff you mentioned about Zac Ernst and his situation and some view about Missouri. Here’s an intuitive example, no formalism.
Suppose someone flips a penny five times and it comes up heads each time. How likely do you think it is that the penny is unfair, loaded toward heads? Well, it depends, very sensitively, on your prior (to the flips) view about the penny. If you just got the penny in change at the bank, then I guess you’ll think it’s very unlikely that the penny is loaded – you’ll think the five heads is "just one of those things." If you got the penny from a stage magician… if I handed it to you with a funny smile on my face… if it was given to you at the beginning of a psychology experiment…
If you don’t know anything about the penny, you cannot come to a judgment of how likely it is, given the evidence, to be biased. If it’s important, you could make an assumption. But in that case, you had better keep in mind that this is an assumption, and than your consequent judgment of the likelihood that the fix is in will be very sensitive to further information about the penny.

Here endeth the analogy.

Anonymous said...

Cynic,

Bina Gupta (now Curator's Professor at MU) was also denied tenure at MU.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that was over thirty years ago. In 1991, the MU department voted her professor.

Anonymous said...

Good news for Professor Chant. Even if she gets denied tenure, she could get her job back at MU, and in 20 years get promoted to full by many of the same faculty who voted her down if history repeats itself.

Anonymous said...

So, this thread seems to be winding down, so maybe we can now sum up the cases for the prosecution and for the defense (where the prosecution is arguing that different standards were applied to Ernst and Chant):

The prosecution's case: 1) there is lots of sexism in philosophy, 2) the chair when they were first hired made an insensitive suggestion with regard to limited office space, 3) a woman got denied tenure at MU over 30 years ago, 4) Chant's husband says that different standards were applied

The defense's case: 1) Chant's husband is biased, 2) Chant's publication record is approximately half as good as Ernst's.

Then there are considerations that both parties have mentioned, for example, the differential requests for teaching materials. The prosecution interprets Ernst as saying that the department demanded such materials of her but not him. The defense thinks that the request for teaching materials was supposed to benefit Chant by allowing her the opportunity to make up for her teaching record. I don't know which way this evidence leans. My guess is that it whichever way we judge the other evidence to lean will affect which way we should judge this evidence to lean. So, that means we can just evaluate the evidence enumerated above. My verdict: the evidence we external observers have is no more indicative of differential standards than any other arbitrary tenure case in which a woman was denied tenure in a philosophy department. That fact, I would think, always constitutes some evidence that sexism was a factor. But it hardly explains the incredible scrutiny of this case. And hardly explains the initial completely one-sided remarks, expressed with such certainty, on the threads that were taken down: "Outrageous!" "Chilling!" Etc.

Anonymous said...

Uh... no, 4:05.

The good news for any woman up for tenure at UM who is worried about sexism in tenure reviews is (leaving aside the two other women on the tenure track who got tenure) that, _if_ the decision not to grant Bina Gupta tenure at once was a result of sexism, the people who would have made the sexist decisions failed to do so when she was up for tenure ten (not twenty) years later, in 1991.

Hence, if departmental sexism -- were it ever the cause -- had weakened to that point by 1991, there's no good reason to think it should affect Chant or anyone else now.

Unless, of course, you think the best explanation of the fact that one woman was granted tenure much later than expected (in 1991) and that two other women later got tenure without apparent difficulty is that the department was subtly sexist in the 80s by making a female candidate wait a decade extra, and then even more subtly granted tenure to two women on schedule in order to lull other women into a false sense of security, just so that they could make the decision not to grant tenure to Chant all the more cruelly surprising in 2011.

Sounds to me like Ernst is in a good position to know about that secret plan. Maybe he found the master document somewhere!

Zachary Ernst said...

Having watched the discussion evolve over the past several days, let me just make a few points.

1. Nobody on this blog, including myself, can make an informed judgment about any tenure case unless they have all the facts -- including the letters and the entire dossier. Honestly, I'm sort of amazed that people are willing to weigh in so strongly with opinions about this tenure case. It's just plain sloppy to do that, and I haven't even tried to argue that she deserved tenure. You'd need to read all her work, review her teaching materials, solicit outside letters, and so on. Then you may form an opinion. You know how they say that everyone is entitled to their opinion? This is not true.

2. As you know, my wife has (wisely) opted not to engage with this discussion online. So when people have made negative comments about her or her research record, she has not defended herself. Furthermore, I've consistently tried to not make this about her credentials for tenure, or about any specific person at all. So I also have not weighed in on her credentials, for fear of derailing the discussion. Of course, anyone could have predicted that she'd become the focus of attention, and this has happened. That's too bad, because her case isn't the important issue; and one can't possibly tell anything significant about a person's philosophical work by looking at a CV.

3. On a related note, I'm very surprised that people have been researching the department online and forming opinions after trying to reconstruct the history of the department. There are serious factual errors being made in this discussion about really simple facts. It's just silly to think that you can figure out anything significant about how the department operates by looking at its website.

4. Basically, I think people have been overreaching. If you take all the information on the department's website, my wife's CV, and the claims I make in my essay, you've got about 1% of the facts. Opinions about this tenure case, my wife's research record, and the functioning of the department are just plain uninformed.

5. People have wondered whether there are other incidents that support an accusation of sexism. In a word, "yes". I mentioned one extremely minor and unimportant (in isolation) incident in that essay. Although I'm willing to air some dirty laundry in public, I have to draw the line somewhere, which is why I have decided not to go into more detail in the essay. There is also an internal review process going on right now within the university. While they investigate the facts, I don't want to bias the inquiry by publicizing details. Obviously, I don't expect anyone to take my word for it (I wouldn't if I were reading this). But it's unusual for sexist incidents to occur in isolation. Of course, you've got nothing to go on except for my deliberately vague assertions, so make up your own mind -- or better yet, don't make up your mind at all.

6. The big issue is why our profession is so bad about discrimination. I've offered some general thoughts on the subject and I've tried to put some flesh on the essay by linking it to a particular case.

-Z

The Cynic said...

Thanks for your comment, Zachary. I think your comments are well-chosen (and I'm glad that you acknowledge that we have only 1% of the information in your wife's case and are not, like you, in any position to make an assessment of whether sexism was a factor, given the information you say you have but understandably cannot present).

However, this raises again a question I and others put earlier: given all this, how much light does it really cast on the phenomenon of sexism in academia for us to consider your wife's tenure case? We actually have access to much more substantive information on the general phenomenon than we do, as you yourself say, in the particular case under discussion. So I'm not sure what point there is to using a particular instance of which we know almost nothing to raise questions about a general trend of which we know quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, find it hard to believe that Ernst, having written a screed accusing his department of sexism in his wife's tenure case, professes surprise that people start discussing the merits and the evidence, based on what's available. Ernst has no one to blame but himself for putting his wife in the spotlight like this.

Sara Rachel Chant said...

We are still in the middle of this case, but I wanted to set a couple of facts straight.

I have been to several conferences now where folks are worried to talk to me because they think I have been fired from MU either because that is where we were last time it was publicly discussed on blogs or because my colleagues took every professional opportunity to claim this along the way -- including additional claims about sexual misconduct and plagiarism. So I wanted to set some facts straight.

It turns out that after the initial voting of the department 6/6 to a revote of 2/9 (down) 1 abstention, the then Chair -- who I have complained about harassment and discrimination -- wrote a negative letter (which is not available to the candidate). Then the College voted 1/6 to 3/3 split upon appeal. The Dean voted me down -- I had requested to leave after my first year because of the hostile environment. It went to our only BLIND committee -- university wide -- and I was voted up 7/1. That is the advisory committee to the Provost who overturned his own committee and voted me down, even upon appeal. It went to the Chancellor (the final decision). He voted me down.

Upon request, the Chancellor stated that his decision was partly based on the report from the Provost that I "misrepresented" information about my publications. Luckily, I had audio recorded the meeting with the Provost and could show the Chancellor that the Provost had misrepresented my words to him. I met with the Chancellor and he stated into audio tape that I am a "first-rate researcher", "excellent teacher" and had done "adequate service" for tenure.

MU denies ANY misconduct concerning the case or my claims of harassment, discrimination, or hostile work environment. The Chancellor maintains that he overturned his own decision based on the quality of my work alone. To my knowledge, no one has ever gotten the Chancellor to overturn his own decision. So I am now tenured, associate professor at MU.