Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bad letters

This was posted by Anonymous on the previous thread, and warrants attention:


Wow. So I just read a letter of rec for a job candidate (I'm on a SC). Absolutely brutal. It wasn't just unenthusiastic; it outright insulted the candidate along numerous dimensions. Why would you agree to write a letter if you are going to go out of your way to say that the person is bad? I understand not going in for hyperbolic praise. I read tons of letters like those where it is clear that the letter writer isn't giving full support. But a letter this damning is a rare find.
Obviously, pretty scary.

I have questions:

  • Were the other letters equally bad? Was this just one rotten letter from someone who really did not like the student? (One must wonder, as well, why the student didn't know this person thought so poorly of him/her. Was s/he being set up? Was this a personal vendetta? Sexism/racism/bias?)
  • What moral/legal/professional duties do SC members have in such matters? Are they prohibited from writing to a candidate and saying, e.g. "One of your letters really stinks -- maybe you should ask someone to look into that." Or some such.
  • What moral/legal/professional duties do letter writers have to the persons for whom they write letters? If you are asked for a "letter of recommendation," that seems, to me, to imply that, at minimum, you are going to recommend the subject of the letter. Insulting, demeaning, trashing, and not recommending would seem to be excluded from the mission of the letter of recommendation. Which is not to say that you have to offer a complete and unqualified endorsement of the student, but you have to endorse them to some extent. It would seem that this letter writer engaged in deceit and intentionally undermined the student under the guise of "recommending" them, unless they actually told the student that they could not and would recommend him/her. But then why write the letter at all?

So, this also points to the value of having someone look at your letters before they're sent out. My school/dept did not do this (the placement help was pretty lousy). I was tempted, a few times, to use Interfolio to send my letters to myself or a friend. But I couldn't convince myself that it was ethical to break the confidentiality, so I never did it. I'm curious though, to know from those who have had their letters evaluated by a third party, whether there were bad letters among them, and what happened.

~zombie


105 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes it's unethical. It's also a great way to get sued.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't letting a candidate go on unaware of the bad letter, when you already have the knowledge that he or she has a bad letter, be a bit like letting someone drive around when you know their brakes are bad? This person's career options are likely dashed by this letter.

Anonymous said...

My second year on the market our placement director reviewed our letters. My first year the placement director (a different person) didn't. When the letters were reviewed, the placement director invited me to his office and suggested that I drop one of my five letters. He didn't give specifics, but told me that my dossier was stronger with four than it was with five. I did 10 times better in interviews that year and got a TT job. Other things changed as well (PhD in hand, one year of experience, etc.), but I really think one bad letter can sink you.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely morally repugnant. Letter writers clearly have a duty non-malfeasance to those for whom they write letters. The applicant absolutely should be informed, so that they can have another professor (whom they trust) or perhaps a union steward or university ombudsman vet their letters, determine the culprit, and pursue a course of rectification and punishment of the wrongdoer. It may perhaps, as 8:29 mentions, be grounds for a lawsuit (for libel).

My heart goes out to the victim of this crime (and that is NOT too strong a word for it, this is someone's livelihood and future happiness the letter writer is fucking with).

If there is any lesson here it is that you have to be careful to cultivate great relationships of trust with your letter writers. I know my letter writers well enough to know that they are people of good moral standing, whose advice I can trust, and whose unwavering support I can take to the bank. If I found out that they were torpedoing me, I would just be utterly devastated. What a horrible and immoral act.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, it's not clear that the placement officer is always on your side. Or rather, in cases of ambiguity, I can see the placement officer lean on the side of their colleague (who, after all, they may be friends with and will deal with for years to come) and not the graduate student.

Through clerical errors on the part of a department I applied to, I came across my letters. One of them was bad. Not as disastrous as the one here, but pretty bad. Even when I asked the placement officer specifically about it, they insisted that it was perfectly fine.

I, for one, would appreciate someone telling me that somewhere along the way. Though I certainly don't think the search committee has a duty to do so.

Anonymous said...

How about the old school trick of submitting the dossier to an acquaintance and asking them to review the letters?

I don't understand the legalities of reference letters in this context. It is fully craptastic of the letter writer, but I'd be very very wary of informing the subject of the letter.

At least, in high-end administrative searches, the comments during reference checks are entirely confidential, and to breach that confidentiality would be a very bad move on the part of the SC.

But, perhaps there is no presumption or explicit promise of confidentiality of letters of reference at this level.

For graduate admissions, the student waives the right in 99.99% of the cases in order that readers can presume honesty. Even though this isn't explicit in job refs, I'd have thought it was understood. Maybe the subject is a really crappy person/philosopher/colleague etc. I've had some colleagues that I've honestly wondered what I would say if someone called asking me for info about (s)he is to work with--do I lie to get rid of them, or do I tell the truth and perhaps damn their chances? (Well, there's probably a third option of discretion.)

Anonymous said...

Passing one’s dossier by a chairperson or someone in a similar position before sending it out is the way to go.

Not just critical letters can harm a candidate. Some letter writers have perfectly good intentions, but say things that wind up having harmful consequences for the candidate. For example, consider this (true) case:

A certain (very eccentric) professor P I know wrote a letter for a student S. P and S worked very closely, and P thought S was among P’s top-five best students ever (and P has a long and distinguished career). S had a well-deserved reputation for being a very smart and promising student among other profs, too, and everyone thought S would end up at a Leiter top 10.

S was accepted by a Leiter top 30. I spoke to a prof who was on the review committee for that school. This prof said that P’s letter for S was so odd (consisting of strange, irrelevant stories about S’s likable character) that the committee first rejected S entirely because of P’s letter. This school reneged and accepted S only after another reputable professor called and vouched for S’s promise. So, what S justifiably thought was his strongest letter probably wound up hurting him the most.

Granted, P is very eccentric, and so may have been cause for concern all by itself. But this could have been easily corrected by passing the letters by a chair.

Anonymous said...

How about emailing the person's adviser and recommending that they take a peak at the letters in the file (without reference to which one)? Would this still be a legal breach, anon 8:29AM? Ethical?

Mr. Reticent said...

I know that academia is different than the real word but...

How is doing something like writing a sandbag of a letter considered anything but a s**tty thing to do. I mean, why not just decline? In the "real" world, HR departments are only allowed to verify dates of employment, salary, and rehire eligibility. To do otherwise would risk a lawsuit.

Is it different in the academic world?

Anonymous said...

My partner (like me, a philosopher) went on the market twice. The first time she got no interviews. A couple of professors on search committees privately contacted her to let her know that one of her letters was weak. The letter writer had basically said: "This student is good, but another student in our program is even better, so hire this other student instead."

She dropped that letter and found a new letter writer. Her second year on the market, she had several excellent interviews and landed her dream job.

Moral of the story: contact the person! You can be discrete about it; you don't need to name names or say what exactly is wrong with the letter. They might be able to guess. You can call them if you don't want a paper trail. But like Anonymous 9:40 AM said, this can change lives. You'll rack up some good karma.

Fritz Allhoff said...

I think the burden falls at least partially on the candidate; i.e., if the candidate asks for a letter of reference--the more standard locution than letter of *recommendation*--it's not obvious that the writer is morally obligated to be positive.

Rather, the candidate should say something like "would you be able to write me a strong letter" or somesuch, thus giving the writer a more obvious chance to say no. If the person instead just asks for a "letter" instead of a "strong letter", people might miss the point. Sure, maybe it's implied that the letter's supposed to be strong--why else would s/he want it?--but always better to make things clear.

Had the candidate asked this simple question, I doubt his/her market hopes would be trashed this cycle.

FWIW, having been on search committee's, I've sometimes tried to navigate this situation--not remotely uncommon--by writing the candidate and asking for *additional* letters without implying that there's a problem; such an implication, I think, violates confidentiality. Placement chairs should really step up and catch this stuff, though, too.

Anonymous said...

@11:38

That's the kind of case that worries me the most. I find it unlikely that someone INTENTIONALLY writes a bad letter. However, in the conversational-implicature-laden world of recommendation letters, people can write bad letters without intending to. Maybe they don't understand how to write such letters. Maybe they don't care. Maybe they're busy.

Anonymous said...

I posted the original comment. I'm sorry that it made some of you anxious. That was certainly not my intent. I tried to indicate how rare these sorts of letters are. This is the third committee I've been on and I've only encountered one other letter like this before. So just statistically speaking, it probably isn't you.

It didn't strike me as a case of bias. The letter writer just made clear that he didn't like the conclusions of the dissertation, didn't like the general philosophical method employed in the dissertation, and that he didn't think the candidate had the minimum philosophical skills needed to do anything significant with the texts he was studying. The letter writer was quite cold in giving these assessments. They were assessments not only of the work but of the candidate and his skills/capacities (I think I was right to describe the letter as making insults). But the letter struck me as a case of someone just being brutally honest.

The other letters were not glowing. Even without this letter, the candidate would not have made it through. But this letter was from the most well known (to me) member of his committee. I can't imagine him getting a job with it in there.

I'm not, by the way, going to contact the candidate. There are dozens of candidates who don't make it through because their letters are not good enough. This is an exceptional case. But it is a difference in degree, not kind, from the position in which many candidates find themselves. It is ultimately the responsibility of the candidate and his home institution to put a dossier together. I'm not going to break laws and the trust of letter writers.

Anonymous said...

An anonymous email to the candidate from an anonymous email address letting them know about the weak letter is all that is needed. I would be very wary of contacting the candidate by any other means - if somehow word were to get out that you were the source of the information, it could potentially create a very difficult situation.

Anonymous said...

It seems like some people here are assuming that a bad letter is unwarranted, and we just can't assume that. Perhaps the letter was a more honest assessment of the applicant's merits than the glowing ones, especially given the current situation where SCs see an overabundance of letters that overstate the qualities of applicants. (For one recent search, we had three applicants who all worked with the same primary advisor. The advisor wrote three glowing letters, and in each one noted how that particular student was the single best student he had ever worked with.) We can't assume that a bad letter is dishonest in its assessment, or that it's evidence of some conspiracy to sink an otherwise qualified applicant.

That said, I think it's still a shitty thing to do. If one cannot recommend someone for a job, one should decline to write that person a letter. And while that seems pretty simple, it's really not. Because many grad students think they are entitled to letters of reference, and argue that writing such letters is part of the faculty's job description. I know of one case where a student complained to a department chair and a dean when multiple faculty members refused to write letters of reference, and told him that they could not recommend him for jobs. (The student later left without finishing his dissertation, which he had largely stalled out on anyway.) I wonder, if I had posted about a situation where a student couldn't find anyone to write him letters of support, how many here would complain on his behalf and demand that the faculty write letters of reference? Should the faculty have written letters, because it's their job? Should they have written bad letters, because doing so would have been honest? Should they have just followed the general trend and written glowing praise regardless?

One more thing to keep in mind. There's a reason why it's standard to ask for multiple letters. They shouldn't all be identical. It's become that way, as many people churn out form letters that glowingly and profusely recommend the applicant. And often, I see three variations on the same theme; I basically read the same letter three times for some applicants. SCs want multiple letters to get a fuller picture of the applicant. And to be honest, if there are faculty in his program who have doubts about his preparation, his qualifications, or his work, I want to know that.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit surprised by many of the reactions here. write the guy, send him a cryptic message, do it anonymously from an anonymous account...

How about this: you have tacitly agreed to a system in which letters are confidential. To break that confidentiality is wrong and undermines the entire framework of trust that allows letters to be in any way meaningful.

Forget about the law and the consequences of getting caught. It is simply wrong to let the guy know.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends found out (after the APA) that one of his letters said "there's no way this student will be finished with her dissertation by the fall."

The letter writer wasn't even on her committee, and was way wrong --- the student finished in plenty of time.

This wasn't screened out because the letter writer in question *was* the placement director that year.

Lesson: don't go baldly asserting something that could wreck someone's chances at getting any job unless you're absolutely certain it is true. The stakes are incredibly high, people.

Anonymous said...

Another one bites the dust, and another gone, and another gone, another bites the dust...

But seriously, I don't know whether this is wrong or not. There are so many conflicting motivations when writing a letter of recommendation. You certainly don't want to recommend someone and have them get a job that you don't believe they deserve.

In honour of my first years, I here present the google definition of recommend: Put forward (someone or something) with approval as being suitable for a particular purpose or role.

I guess I'll have to be careful to ask for letters of recommendation, rather than letters of reference.

Maybe we can also refer our letter writers to the following: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/writing-a-reference-letter-with-examples/

Anonymous said...

for what it's worth, i know of two instances (and a third from a distance) in which job candidates have been notified by someone on a search committee that one of their letters was weak or that they should leave a certain letter out of future job applications.

i do not see how this breaks confidentiality. the content of these letters was never exposed.

but, for the three cases i have in mind, it certainly helped to have friends who already had jobs and who were members of search committees.

Anonymous said...

@6:48
No.

@Prof. Alhoff
Really? I guess so, but Jesus.

@Everyone
I guess many of y'all are worried about the ethics of all this. Silly, I think. Even if not, though: take care of yourself if you can, especially when it doesn't do much harm (with apologies to the dignity of all those tacit agreements and all those folks wise enough to know what is 'simply wrong').

Anonymous said...

6:53.

Yes they have exposed the content of the letters. Saying that a letter is weak is exposing content. The idea that the only way to break confidentiality is through direct quotation is silly.

When I write a letter, I expect its contents to be kept in confidence. It should not get back to the student that it is great, neutral, or weak.

Anonymous said...

I've served on 3 SCs. By the third, I stopped reading letters of reference. I find them to be almost as useless as student evaluations. And this discussion reminds me why. If letter writers should never say bad things, and if doing so is (as some people mistakenly claim) a crime, then what's the point?

How about from here on in, we call them what they are, and allow SCs to start asking for "letters of uncritical praise." "Please attach with your CV a writing sample, your graduate transcripts, and letters from three people who will only say nice things."

Anonymous said...

"How about this: you have tacitly agreed to a system in which letters are confidential. To break that confidentiality is wrong and undermines the entire framework of trust that allows letters to be in any way meaningful."

Does confidentiality extend all the way down to the general nature of the letter? If we classify letters as glowing, positive, indifferent, negative, and condemning, would it really violate confidentiality to tell someone that one of their letters--not even saying which one--was condemning?

Anonymous said...

It is hard, as a faculty member, to say "no" to writing a letter, particularly when you have reason to think that the student doesn't have better options but needs three letters.

And students do assume that their advisors or dissertation committee members will write them letters; that is the norm.

For this reason I have sometimes said "no" to being on someone's committee because I didn't want to be put in the position of having to write a letter later. (When I thought the student was too untalented.)

Anonymous said...

"Does confidentiality extend all the way down to the general nature of the letter? If we classify letters as glowing, positive, indifferent, negative, and condemning, would it really violate confidentiality to tell someone that one of their letters--not even saying which one--was condemning?"

I agree with this. Not interviewing the candidate is already giving them some small bit of evidence that their letters aren't great. There's nothing wrong with letting the student know which part of the dossier is harmful: work sample, teaching, *letters*.

Another thing to factor in: taking part in a convention of confidentiality and secrecy is not obviously morally defensible either. For my part, I think reliance on letters of recommendation introduces major distortions into the hiring process. If you come to the profession knowing you love philosophy of X and you don't learn until later that the philosopher of X in your department has some sort of bias against or indifference to you, what are you supposed to do? The answer should be: do good work and get hired on your own merits. But in fact, that's not how things work for a lot of students. And this institution of secretive letters determining whether you can get employed is genuinely right. Transparency matters. I don't think that maintaining some weirdly absolutist confidentiality about letters is likely to be morally best.

Anonymous said...

Alright, this is boring already. I hereby hi-jack this thread: what does it mean to be invited to apply for a job in this market? I am told it means virtually nothing because it is done mostly to recruit women to apply, of which I am one.

Are there any other women out there sick of being asked whether it is an "advantage" in this market to be a woman? I sure as shit am.

Hey, asshole, an advantage is a condition that puts a person in a favourable position relative to others. If I'm in a favourable fucking position given the stats and empirical evidence on women in philosophy, then fuck me, I don't know what an advantage is!

Seriously, do people still believe that putting someone in a equitable position = an advantage? If so, are their heads up their asses with respect to the data on this, or what? Or am I just bitter, or angry, or hysterical?

I was recently told that, after a long search to get women involved in a certain philosophical activity after being presented with a list of men, that the quality of participants in said activity actually got higher. So, WTF?

YFNA

Anonymous said...

ps: it has also been a gas being addressed as a "he" on this blog from time to time. I guess ladies don't get rowdy. And certainly not academic ladies, right? Since academic men are pretty much wusses, by stereotypical standards, half the time already, academic women must, I guess, almost whisper their opinions, so as not to drown out the men.

YFNA

pps: A picture of a fucking horseshoe for the bot-test? For reals?

Anonymous said...

To be even cruder: I'm also tired of being made to feel like a dog that's pissed on the rug every time I'm asked the question.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

The case reported, I think, illustrates very well why the letters system that is in place in philosophy should be changed.

I discovered about a year ago that in at least one other field (psychology) it is common practice to allow job candidates to read their own letters. The advantages should be obvious: for example, job candidates are able to make more informed decisions about their letters, have more evidence about their prospects on the market, and the kind of backstabbing that is described in the post is just ruled out.

People will protest that, without confidentiality, recommenders won't be able to speak from their heart of hearts in their letters. But why? What do they have to say that is so potentially shocking? Do they think that their thirty year old students can't take reading that their advisor considers them "really excellent", though not one of his "very best students", or something of that sort? If psychologists survive such traumas (as mature thirty year olds should), maybe philosophers can too.

(There would be much more to say, of course, but blog comments are best kept short...)

James said...

YFNA,

I think you've been misinformed. It definitely means something to be invited to apply, especially in this market. (The people telling you it means nothing think that this position would otherwise have no women applicants? That strikes me as... out of touch.)

At least, it would in the US. Are you in the UK? Maybe it's different there. (You wrote 'favourable'.)

Anonymous said...

12:05

"Do they think that their thirty year old students can't take reading that their advisor considers them "really excellent", though not one of his "very best students", or something of that sort?"

Given what I read on this blog? Yes. I don't think very many of you can take it.

Anonymous said...

"Given what I read on this blog? Yes. I don't think very many of you can take it."

Nut up. It costs you a slight awkward feeling. It costs the candidate their job prospects for at least a year, which is a huge financial and emotional toll.

Anonymous said...

YFNA,

Shut the fuck up and earn your stripes like everyone else--by doing good work. Stop looking for excuses to justify your ridiculous victim mentality.

Sincerely,

EVERYONE

Anonymous said...

BULLSHIT I CAN'T TAKE IT

Anonymous said...

Dear privileged white male, aka: EVERYONE: Like I was pointing out, I have earned my stripes, and then some. I wish I was in your "disadvantaged" position.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

Awww, does sumbudy need a diaper change? A nap?

This thread was boring to YFNA because it wasn't all about how philosophers should work exclusively on the problem of how to save her from her illusory disadvantaged position.

We better henceforth give her our full attention, or else we'd be behaving like the sexist privileged white males we are.

Anonymous said...

Right. I'm whining about real injustice...for a change on this blog. I'm not whining, merely pointing out facts, and I'm justifiably pissed about them. And, if you can't take it, well you can't take it. See, I can take it even when things are not equitable, and you can take it that way too, but can you take it the other way 'round? From what I hear on this blog, people 'round here can't even the degree of meritocracy that might actually be present, let alone anything else. Pathetic, yes. I am just suggesting we talk about some real problems, and you can't even face that without defensiveness. Just what I would expect from someone who hasn't truly been faced with bootstrapping.

Anonymous said...

If a student is really that bad (as in the initial letter) would it not be incumbent on the faculty to gently ween said student from the program. Presumably anyone deserving such a really bad recommendation could not write an acceptable dissertation.
and why would such a student still be in the program at all?

People who get Ph.D's should be of two categories--Excellent and very good.

If a program is not keeping up to that standard, its a problem.

Anonymous said...

YFNA,

1) It is generally quite meaningful to be asked to apply for a job. The only cases of this occurring about which I have any knowledge are instances in which the inviting institution was pretty serious about the invited candidate.

2) Yes, being a woman in philosophy does put one at a disadvantage and white males are certainly advantaged. Most of us here know that. You'd have to be as dumb as a post not to recognize that the culture of academic philosophy is jaw-droppingly sexist.

3) I had no firm opinion about whether you were a man or a woman before now, but I had always thought, since re-identifying your handle, that you were kind of a dick. I still think that.

Anonymous said...

"EVERYONE" is an ass.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, being a woman in philosophy does put one at a disadvantage and white males are certainly advantaged. Most of us here know that."

I've been a professional philosopher for seven years. I just don't see this. Maybe I've just been privileged to be a part of excellent and egalitarian institutions.

But the evidence of my experience and the amount of concern about this just doesn't match. Do people think that just because women are a minority in philosophy, they are disadvantaged and the majority advantaged? If so, why is that? Does the common use of the generic pronoun "he" merit this much attention?

If anything, my experience has indicated the opposite is true. Our review committee, for example, will privilege ethnic and gender minorities when making final decisions among applicants (who may not be equally strong). Is that fair?

I am aware of other departments hiring to reflect gender and ethnic diversity, sometimes at the expense of more qualified candidates. Is this fair, or paranoia resulting from a really loud group of lobbying for an exaggerated cause?

I always felt that I wasn't as smart as my colleagues, but I never suspected I could be as dumb as a post.

Anonymous said...

There is a analog to Godwin's law that applies to The Philosophy Smoker.

YFNA's Law: As a Philosophy Smoker discussion grows longer, the probability of a discussion about women in philosophy breaking out approaches 1.

Thanks YFNA for derailing another perfectly fine discussion that many people were interested in. What's that? You were bored? Well, heavens! Let's talk about women in philosophy. There isn't anywhere else where that sort of discussion could take place. What's that you say? There is more than one blog dedicated to just this topic? ...

Anonymous said...

"People who get Ph.D's should be of two categories--Excellent and very good.

If a program is not keeping up to that standard, its a problem."

Should be? Maybe. Are? Not at all! You would be amazed (or would you?) with how simply god-awful about 1/3 of the dossiers I look through are.

Anonymous said...

"If a student is really that bad (as in the initial letter) would it not be incumbent on the faculty to gently ween said student from the program."

The faculty may not agree on someone's qualifications. For instance, during my defense one member of the faculty called my work fraudulent and without merit. Another told me I was doing important work. Should I have been weened out of my program because one person was unimpressed by my work?

And how would such weening work? Should grad students be reviewed annually? How many faculty members would be needed to cut a grad student from the program?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of woman-in-philosophy thread derailment, I wonder when "West Coast Feminist" might show up again and bless us with her unique combination of sociopathic classism and feminist outrage.

That thread with her and Rodolfo last December was fucking epic.

Anonymous said...

If you think the letter accurately describes the candidate, you should use the information it contains. If you do not think the letter is accurate, you should ignore the letter (and maybe request an additional letter from the candidate). In neither case is there any reason to contact the candidate about it.

Anonymous said...

@6:45PM: Well, at least someone here is sane. Ummm...and yeah, I am kind of a dick :)

Sorry all for the hi-jack, I've just recently had a lot of experiences that have been very undermining in certain ways. And having my accomplishments diminished repeatedly in the profession is starting to gnaw at me.

@7:30PM: You are just embarrassingly mis-informed about the facts about sexism in philosophy and in general.

I had my head up my ass about it all at one point too though. I ignored the comments for a long time and for a while I was resilient and able to maintain a form of self-deception about it. But after a while, it begins to take its toll. And the more successful you threaten to become, the worse it seems to get.

I sincerely hope that any of you who have accused me of whining, don't EVER complain about anything on here.

One of the advantages I do have is that I've had to overcome certain obstacles and still am overcoming certain obstacles that not everyone faces (not only as a woman, but personally as well). That's made me in certain ways more equipped to "take it."

As you were all. Clearly, this is a sore issue with many of you. I was indeed bored with the thread and I had an axe to grind from my latest experiences.

If you're truly sick of hearing women complain about sexism in the profession, maybe you should heed the alarm, look in the mirror, and do something about it. Then, maybe, some of us will stop whining.



Anonymous said...

@Alhoff: The responsibility to secure good writers falls on the candidate, but you can't always choose your letter writers.
I was adjunct at a department, and applied for a job which required a LoR of the current employer, as well as the advisor, and a third person. For various reasons nothing to do with my abilities as a philosopher, I was not well liked at this department, and did not like the prospect of asking my dpt chair, but it was not to be helped I asked him. He said "sure, but since you know yourself best, you should write it and I'll then "fine-tune" it."
I wonder how common this practice is? So very much against my better inclinations, I wrote my own LoR. He then indeed fine-tuned it, as I found out later from a concerned member of the SC (who did not identify the person but did speak about the letter in such a way that I knew it was that letter - after all, I wrote it), saying that the person wrote all sorts of doubt raisers in my letter! The most serious one was 'we really like candidate x, but due to financial cuts, we will probably have to let x go soon. Therefore, I warmly recommend x'. Fine-tuning indeed.

Anonymous said...

Not from UK, but I would say the site originates from there given its spell checker.

And on the letter issue: many places do have placement officers that read the letters and make suggestions to candidates without letting them know the content of said letters. Of course, ought doesn't follow from is, but if an institution does have such procedures in place, letter writers know this, and therefore, they are tacitly agreeing with at least having their confidentiality violated to some degree if they write a terrible letter.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

Does somebody know if there is any risk involved in sending letters of recommendation to a friend through Interfolfio? I mean, I know it is unethical, but can the recommender or Interfolio know somehow that the applicant is doing this?

Anonymous said...

Attention Ethics / Meta-ethics candidates. In case you have not seen it, the Phylo wiki indicates that the Northern IL search is canceled:

http://phylo.info/jobs/wiki

doris said...

While placement directors should evaluate letters as part of developing the candidate's file, it is important that this primary dissertation director do so as well.

Candidates: your dissertation director is your advocate (short of that, probably the closest thing to an advocate you've got), and you need to communicate with her about the contents of your file. This can be awkward, but there are lots of tactful workarounds, such as, "Do you think Dr. Underminer has sufficient familiarity with my project?", "Do I really need that 6th letter in my file?", etc., that will not put anyone on the spot.

This can create some tension between dissertation directors and their colleagues, since some colleagues may not want to share their letters. But in my estimation, the director needs to know every sentence, word, and comma in the candidate's file; if a writer is not willing to share his letter, that is reason for dropping the letter (regardless of differences in tone, there may be damaging factual errors).

Obviously, some dissertation directors are more engaged than others, and it may fall to the candidate to nudge her director along. If you don't, who will?

Good luck to everyone!

Anonymous said...

@7:30

What do you mean by "more qualified"? Are you sure your implicit biases are not involved in your judgment of the matter? If you aren't sure, then given all the literature on this, shouldn't you try to correct for your implicit biases through the use of explicit procedures? In which case, what do you mean by "privilege"?

Anonymous said...

So I guess the comments are no longer being moderated?

Anonymous said...

So... to those of you who complain that the job market is difficult, that there is a bias in favor of prestige, that search committees are arbitrary or unreasonable, or that your advisor or someone else in the profession treated you unfairly: why do you then turn around and dismiss the complaints of female philosophers as "whining"?

Reflect: are you imposing a double standard on what counts as legitimate complaining? Or are you assuming that these "whining" women just suck at philosophy and don't deserve to be treated any better?

Anonymous said...

@doris

do you think that's still necessary if the department has a placement advisor?

Anonymous said...

All the way back to 11:26:

Are you seriously claiming that if a candidate fails to secure an interview at any given place, there must automatically be something wrong with the candidate's file? (Bad letters, for example.) Because, of course, all excellent and qualified candidates get twenty interviews a year, and SC _never_ obsess about such things as "fit."
Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

So... to those of you who complain that the job market is difficult, that there is a bias in favor of prestige, that search committees are arbitrary or unreasonable, or that your advisor or someone else in the profession treated you unfairly: why do you then turn around and dismiss the complaints of female philosophers as "whining"?

What makes you think that those who dismiss such "whining" are also among those who complain about the job market? Maybe they are, but I don't see that we know this.

Fritz Allhoff said...

Btw, I second Doris's comments about placement advisors. So many placement advisors don't do much (or anything) and it's a huge disservice. A lot of them came on the market with degrees from Princeton 20 years ago when the market was completely different. So definitely--as candidates--get on your placement advisors to be active, and that's not just at the smoker. Review files, contact places you've applied, etc. When I'm on search committees, I routinely get personal phone calls from advisors; don't know if it helps, but it certainly makes you pick up the file.

As John said, too, good luck to everyone on the market.

Glaucon said...

It really was, wasn't it? I can't think of Rodolfo without smiling. He's probably banging Emma Bovary in a curtain-drawn coach at this very moment.

Anonymous said...

9:55am, 8:37am here. There is a general tendency of some readers on this blog to accept the sorts of complaints I listed as legitimate, even if those readers don't explicitly post complaints. (Except, of course, for the complaints coming from female philosophers about how they are treated by the field, which are not accepted as legitimate.) Simply accepting the first sort of complaints as legitimate is good enough to make my my point.

CTS said...

What a vile thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I've been a professional philosopher for seven years. I just don't see this. Maybe I've just been privileged to be a part of excellent and egalitarian institutions.

Good lord. Maybe. Or maybe you just aren't looking carefully enough. (Forget for the moment the issue of whatever implicit biases you may have, and just look around.) Have you not read 'What It is Like To Be A Woman in Philosophy'? If you can spend on hour on that blog and walk away feeling confident that academic philosophy does not have a problem with sexist, then, yes, I stand by what I said: You are dumb as a post.

Anonymous said...

Is it okay to link approvingly to a list of "best-looking" academics while also inviting readers to peruse pictures of "contenders?" Is there nothing inappropriate in inviting us to judge philosophers for their looks?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of the guy either, but I doubt that it was "linked approvingly."

Anonymous said...

Are there a shit load of post docs this year, or is it just me? I know the norm in math is to do a post-doc before getting a good job. Are we headed in that direction?

Anonymous said...

If you feel that you ought to break confidentialy, then I suppose you will just go ahead and do it. But why ask a bunch of philosophers anonymously on the internet to make you feel better about it?

I can't believe how stupid so many of the responses are on here. It's depressing.

Small Fish said...

[i] But why ask a bunch of philosophers anonymously on the internet to make you feel better about it?[/i]

But why complain anonymously on the internet about what others are doing? It's one thing to feel this conversation was unnecessary, it's a whole other thing to post, anonymously as you say, about it just to tell us how you feel. I realize the regress this post represents but seriously, someone asked for moral guidance and received a lot of different views. Isn't that what we should want everyone to do when they have a dilemma?

Anonymous said...

8:30

"If you feel that you ought to break confidentialy, then I suppose you will just go ahead and do it. But why ask a bunch of philosophers anonymously on the internet to make you feel better about it?"

What's depressing is your reading comprehension. The original commenter wasn't trying to feel better about doing anything. he was just noting a letter he read and later wrote to say that he wasn't breaking confidentiality. Zombie raised some questions in the abstract. But again, that has nothing to do with an actual decision that someone is writing about here in order for them to feel better about anyting.

I've actually found this exchange interesting. There is a serious question about what a letter is for. Is it written to get someone a job or is it written to inform a committee about a candidate. Often these aims coincide, but they needn't. And when they don't difficult issues arise. If you don't like reading about this you are free to stop anytime.

zombie said...

Anon 4:50: I do not know, but I doubt Interfolio is policing the sending of LORs. I guess if you sent them to yourself, or a home address or something they might auto-flag it. But given a proper academic address, there's probably nothing to stop you from sending them to a friend. (Except that ethics thing.)

zombie said...

I was asked by a student applying to medical schools if I could write him a "strong letter of recommendation." He was no doubt coached by an advisor to ask his references in just this way. No one ever advised me to do that.

Anonymous said...

Zombie:

I was even told the opposite, by a quite seasoned philosopher. I was told: 'Don't ask for a 'strong' letter, because some people will be offended by it. Just ask for a letter. If they say yes, it means they can write you a strong letter.'

This is untrue, and this case and a few others I know about illustrate.

Mountain Feminist said...

Anyone who doubts for a minute that women are extremely disadvantaged in the profession should have his (yes, his) head kicked in.

If you aren't happy with your petty male conversations being derailed, then join in at "What it's like..." and do some work for fucking change.

Until there is complete and total sexual equality in the profession, we will derail every single privileged male discussion on every blog. Suck it up. Then work for change.

Anonymous said...

8:35

This must be a guy just making a joke? right?

I would like to know the nec/suf conditions for a conversation being "male" or "privileged male". It sounds like it's all and only conversations not about the disadvantaged status of women. If so, that is pretty sad (for the category of female discussions, that is).

This is all just embarrassing to me (a woman in philosophy).

Anonymous said...

Getting back on thread, I have a few comments/observations.

1. Is it true that Interfolio letters can be sent to friends/yourself? If so, I find that deeply distressing. I write letters with the presumption of confidentiality. If Interfolio is that easy to hack, that badly undermines the process and it should not be used.

2. Whenever anyone asks me for a letter of reference, recommendation, etc., I always require them to meet with me. I give them a very frank account of what my letter will include. I will advise them against using a letter from me if appropriate, but sometimes students are desperate for letters. Even in those cases I avoid negative claims (and especially outright hostility). The letter is just highly muted in praise and honest, and anyone who reads a bunch of these will know it is a weak endorsement.

3. If a student were so weak that I did not feel I could write even a mildly strong endorsement, I would refuse to write them a letter. I don't want to torpedo their shot at a job, but I also don't want to ruin (what is hopefully) my reputation for honest assessments in my letters. If my letters weren't taken as trust-worthy, that would harm my good students. I'm always a bit suspicious of any candidate who is missing a letter from an advisor or member of a committee.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:55:

Leiter had a thread on #1 recently. Anyway, the short answer from Interfolio is "no."

https://www.interfolio.com/helpcenter/index.cfm/210

Anonymous said...

@9:29 Thanks! Interfolio only addresses sending letters to oneself, not having it sent to friends. Leiter does contain a broader discussion: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/10/is-interfolio-protecting-the-confidentiality-of-letters-of-recommendation.html

I'm still a little worried about breaching confidentiality, but not as much as before (and realize this has always been an issue).

To the original question, I would not tell the candidate. There is an explicit promise of maintaining confidentiality in most of these cases, and that promise should not be broken. (Okay, maybe I'm just a naive deontologist.)

This is not a comment on whether or not confidentiality ought to be part of the system; it is an observation that it currently is, and people are acting on that presumption in both reading and writing letters. That should be respected.

Anonymous said...

A related question: How do people going back on the market handle the vetting of letters? As a PhD student my department took care of letters and vetted them in the process. Now it goes through Interfolio. Is it a breach of confidentiality to have the letters sent to a friend to vet them? (Does Interfolio allow this?) To have them sent to an advisor? How have ya'all handled this?

Mountain Feminist said...

7:46,

You claim to be "a woman in philosophy" who somehow doesn't understand that men and women applying for jobs are living in completely different worlds. Trust me, if you were a woman in philosophy, you'd know the difference. That, or you're a statistical anomaly.

Assuming for charity that you really are a woman, let me ask: are you doing feminist philosophy? If so then what part of this don't you understand? If you aren't then why not?

For males there are many comparatively urbane topics to discuss from interfolio to the piddling ethics of recommendation letters. Women with their eyes open and those few men who care and get it have fewer options since we can't ignore the elephant in the room quite so easily.

There will be a time for these other discussions. That'll be when we've reached gender equality in every way and when women -- real women doing feminist philosophy, not chromosomal xxers who have learned to play a man's game -- have our slice of the pie. That hasn't nearly happened yet.

If you really are a woman and don't know what's happening, check out http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/ and http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/ .

Read them. Mourn. Then work for change.

Anonymous said...

@2:10:

You're right, Interfolio only stresses letters sent to self at the start. But then they also say they try to ensure that letters are sent only "to appropriate and verified receivers." I'm not sure what this means, what sort of verification program they might have in place, how they determine appropriate, and so on. So I'm not sure what they mean.

zombie said...

Gee, Mountain Feminist. Last time I checked, I was a real woman (hardly ideal), and a feminist, although I do not "do" feminist philosophy. Maybe that's why I don't know what a "chromosomal xxer" is.
I also don't see why one has to be ghettoized to "feminist philosophy" to be a real woman. Or why being a woman would preclude me from being interested in the ethics of letters of recommendation or interfolio. Clearly I AM interested in such things.

"Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?" (S.Truth)

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought regarding the original post question. Rather than informing the applicant that they have a bad letter in their file, why not contact the author of the bad letter directly? No confidentiality need be broken in this case.

Rather, you might consider sending an email to the author of the letter encouraging them to withdraw the letter in future cases, or to simply refuse to write the letter. This may prompt a frank discussion of the candidate and our roles as letter writers, but that surely can be a constructive one.

Mountain Feminist said...

Zombie, if you think that feminist philosophy is 'ghettoizing' then you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

There are as many areas of feminist philosophy as masculinist philosophy. Like epistemology? Do feminist epistemology. Like political philosophy? Do feminist political philosophy. This just doesn't work as an excuse for being a masculinist.

Do interfolio and letters of reference matter for women too? Sure, a miniscule amount. But those are predominantly male concerns. A man with a career in philosophy has his penis to thank. He can worry about interfolio because its his privilege. Women on the job market and at every stage of their career are in a different world.

Choosing to do 'traditional' masculinist philosophy is a selfish choice to promote sexism because it leads to a climate that is systematically worse for women than men. On the one hand you can work on the Gettier problem. On the other you can do feminist epistemology to support, for starters, strong epistemological reasons for trusting the testimony of harassment victims. Which one sounds more important to you? Gettier can wait for equality. Feminism can't. If you're not doing feminist philosophy, you're part of the problem.

Thanks for slapping all women in the face, btw, by calling feminist philosophy a 'ghetto'. How do we know you're even a (misogynistic antifeminist) woman writing against your sex, and not a man? Something feels wrong about this.

Anonymous said...

Wait, this Mountain Feminist thing is a joke, right? This can't be real. If it is real, I want to take my definitely female, feminist-but-not-doing-feminist-philosophy, over to those mountains and have a little one-on-one with her (him?).

This is the biggest bunch of bullshit I have ever heard: "Choosing to do 'traditional' masculinist philosophy is a selfish choice to promote sexism because it leads to a climate that is systematically worse for women than men. On the one hand you can work on the Gettier problem. On the other you can do feminist epistemology to support, for starters, strong epistemological reasons for trusting the testimony of harassment victims. Which one sounds more important to you? Gettier can wait for equality. Feminism can't. If you're not doing feminist philosophy, you're part of the problem."

But I'm just going to assume it's a joke, and be on my way.

Anonymous said...

What can be inferred from the fact that it's hard to determine whether Mountain Feminist is sincere or satirical?

Feminist-in-the-Fields said...

I don't get the joke if there is one, 6:17. It's the familiar argument that if you aren't doing enough to alleviate some evil, you're partly responsible for that evil.

Yes, it might be going to far to call it 'sexism'. But at least it enables sexism.

Anonymous said...

I especially loved this:

"On the other you can do feminist epistemology to support, for starters, strong epistemological reasons for trusting the testimony of harassment victims."

Doing epistemology to promote a agenda. I wonder why is a lot of philosophers write off feminist philosophy as political hackery. When someone says, "Oh, feminist philosophy, that's not really philosophy," maybe this is one reason why.

Mountain Feminist said...

I'm dismayed (not shocked sadly) to find that a prominent blog publishing unsubstantiated attacks against a feminist woman just for promoting feminist philosophy. It's a sad reminder of why feminist philosophy blogs typically disable comments. Feminist moderaters would burn out if they had to look at all the nasty antifeminist and antiwomen comments, and antifeminist moderators just let them through.

Where do I begin. Someone calls me a joke because he can't take seriously the thought that men's and women's philosophy should count as equal. Someone else(?) plays the old 'I can't tell if feminism is a satire or serious' move, which is an antifeminist classic. Someone else claims that feminist philosophy 'has an agenda' (ditto). Uh, yeah, masculinist philosophy has an agenda too. Enabling sexism. The question is which agenda is better.

And then the coup de grace: 'maybe feminist philosophy isn't real philosophy.' After decades of women's work on feminist philosophy we're still treated like this? And this remark gets published by a blog that stands up for the little guy so long as he's a guy of course. Shame! If anything should be confused with satire its that comment. I only wish. Saying that the feminist half of philosophy is not the real thing is the ultimate reductio against masculine philosophy calling itself objective and nonsexist. What can you do when your attacker beats you to that ultimate reductio and means it?

Anonymous said...

You're not simply promoting feminist philosophy. You're attacking all of us who don't do it, implicitly and explicitly calling us anti-feminist, making unwarranted assumptions about zombie's gender (and mine), which, I don't think I need to point out, is rather anti-feminist of you, and so on. If you are going to dish it out, you ought to be able to take it. You also read zombie's comment in a grossly uncharitable way. You ought to think for a second about what she meant. You also ought to think that if you go around anonymously attacking women for saying things that, interpreted correctly, are not the least bit offensive, calling them misogynists and anti-feminists and assuming they are men (which is just weird), you're likely to get anonymously attacked by people who think that your behaviour is ridiculous. It is.

Anonymous said...

Also, can I just say, I completely agree that if you aren't doing enough to alleviate evil, you are part of the evil. And I consider myself a feminist. And I'm a woman. But doing feminist epistemology strikes me as both an extremely ineffective way to alleviate evil, and wrongheaded for various other (political and intellectual) reasons. Neither Mountain Feminist nor Feminist-in-the-Fields has any idea what zombie, or anyone else in this conversation, does to alleviate evil.

Anonymous said...

"I'm dismayed (not shocked sadly) to find that a prominent blog publishing unsubstantiated attacks against a feminist woman just for promoting feminist philosophy."

I don't think so. The attacks were on some of the things you said, and they were written because some of the things you said are not true. Not everything that disagrees with your particular view of what counts as feminism is an attack "just for promoting feminist philosophy."

"Someone calls me a joke because he can't take seriously the thought that men's and women's philosophy should count as equal."

My interpretation is different. It's that the 'joke' is in thinking that, say, questions of personal identity addressed in the mainstream literature is "men's philosophy", as if women couldn't or shouldn't investigate these same questions, with the same methodology, as men. Although I'm not the person who said it, I do find this idea very offensive. (But I do not call upon the moderators to remove your very offensive comment.)

"Someone else claims that feminist philosophy 'has an agenda' (ditto). Uh, yeah, masculinist philosophy has an agenda too. Enabling sexism."

You yourself admitted that it has an agenda; even now you don't contest it. Instead you say that 'masculinist philosophy' also has an agenda. But you give no evidence for this claim.

I hope readers will remember that very bad arguments have been given in many areas of philosophy without discrediting the entire areas, and will understand that the fact that very bad arguments given from an avowedly feminist philosophical perspective do not undermine the subject in general.

Anonymous said...

Mountain feminist, I love how you put 'maybe feminist philosophy isn't real philosophy' in quotation marks, as if you were quoting. That's patently dishonest, but it's a cool trick. I admire your machiavellianism.

Anonymous said...

You were never 'attacked' MF. Rather, the vitriolic call to have men's heads kicked in, and then the accusation that the other women here 'just don't get it,' coupled with a non-sequitor about the need to do feminist philosophy, made you look to some of us like a loony.

And before you go accusing someone of making another 'antifeminist' move, take a step back and ask yourself whether you're being called out as looking like a loony because you're a feminist, or because you happen to be a feminist who looks like a loony.

And yes, the fact that this is another case where it's not clear whether the feminism is sincere or satirical makes some of us wonder how seriously we really ought to take feminists. If you find that troublesome, you might want to do a little introspection before you go accusing your colleagues of 'attacking' you when you behave like this. Sometimes we just aren't interested in putting up with the BS.

Or should I go stand in line to have my head kicked in, hm?

Mountain Feminist said...

I really feel like quitting, but I'm going to keep at this. I'm also going to put it as politely as I can so it'll be clear if you attack me again it's because of the feminist ideas I stand for. I think I deserve some credit for that please. I'm not the only one who needs to stand back and get some perspective.

Let's take this one step at a time. Harrassment and antifeminism are very real. If you don't believe that then read feministphilosophers or whatitslike. I've already given the links.

Second step: a climate (like this one, like most of philosophy) that is viciously hostile to feminist philosophy is viciously hostile to women. If you don't understand that, read Haslanger. And you can't say 'Oh, I like this feminist philosophy but not Mountain Feminist's approach.' That's how masculinist philosophy works but not feminist philosophy. We work on nurturing and consensus not ego and conflict.

Third, since most philosophers are men and most men refuse to work on feminist philosophy we don't have anything close to equality with masculinist philosophy. That's why every single woman needs to do feminist philosophy. Even then it's not equal. And at the very least, every female philosopher needs to speak out in support of feminist philosophy whenever she can.

I'm sorry I got angry but I hope you can see now that there are good reasons for my anger and saying what I did. I'm glad we've shifted the discussion here to feminism. Now it's your turn: help me convert the rest of these threads. Then if you haven't already done so start doing feminist philosophy. When we unite our voices, anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who doubts for a minute that women are extremely disadvantaged in the profession should have his (yes, his) head kicked in."

"We work on nurturing and consensus not ego and conflict."

Anonymous said...

And you can't say 'Oh, I like this feminist philosophy but not Mountain Feminist's approach.' That's how masculinist philosophy works but not feminist philosophy.

Darn, that's what I wanted to say!

The problem, for me, is that a lot of feminist philosophy I read is true and there are good arguments for the conclusions. (See, I have read Haslanger!) But then I read your comments and there are really bad arguments for conclusions I think are false. (For example, what you call the third step is such a bad argument it could be used in a textbook.)

Anonymous said...

Hi MF,

You start in your most recent post by speaking of the "antifeminist harrassment" you evidently think you are receiving. Notice that this comes after your entrance into this thread, where you called for men's heads to get kicked in (and you were explicit that it was men you were talking about).

You then proceed to move from talk of "antifeminist harrassment" to the "viciously hostile" climate that you think feminist philosophy is receiving here, and you suppose this climate is therefore also "viciously hostile" to women. In the process of making this accusation, you speak of the "masulinist philosophy" that you suppose underlies this "viciously hostile climate to feminism and women." Finally, you close with the claim that "every single woman needs to do feminist philosophy," and a call that we all support you on this mission.

The problem is that you were never, in fact, attacked. Nor were you harrassed. Your histrionic call to have men's heads kicked in, followed by your accusatory remarks about women who don't share your views, your castigation of "masculinist philosophy," and the general feeling of having been made some sort of victim, have been objected to and called out as at best nonsense, at worst an indication of the kind of mindset that feminist philosophy all too often fosters. There are real issues of harrassment and hostility that women have to face, some of them on a daily basis. You cheapen those problems when you attempt to make every criticism of feminism--particularly a feminism that has displayed itself as you have here--into a case of hostility and harrassment.

If you think that's an attack on feminist philosophy you're sorely mistaken. It's a criticism of the way some self-proclaimed feminists portray themselves. And if you think *that's* an attack on you yourself, then you're just not able to separate criticism of a view from criticism of the person holding it. But most of us who engage in spirited intellectual debate make that distinction as a matter of course. If you think that's just "masculinist philosophy," whatever that is, then I suggest you help yourself to a bit more masculinist philosophy.

As someone who recognizes that there are real problems with the way women are, in general, treated in philosophy, I find the accusations that this discussion has been "viciously hostile" to women and to feminism counterproductive. If the methods and ideologies of so-called feminists, whether women or not, cannot be subject to criticism without threat of accusations of hostility, then feminism as a movement deserves to be shunned from any healthy intellectual community.

Notice that this in no way is hostile toward women. Only someone who confuses the criticism of an intellectual position with an attack on a person would make that mistake.

Anonymous said...

"I'm also going to put it as politely as I can so it'll be clear if you attack me again it's because of the feminist ideas I stand for. I think I deserve some credit for that please."

As Chris Rock would say, you're *supposed* to be polite, you low-expectation-having MF!

Mountain Feminist said...

Wow. I thought I was hallucinating so I reread the tone of my last post and the vitriolic tone of the reactions against me. Yup, it's as bad as it looked. Thanks for proving that sexism is still alive and well in the profession.

Oh, but you say that what you're doing isn't a criticism of women, just against a big part of feminist philosophy, which you get to criticize because it's just like mainstream masculine philosophy where nothing is sacred, so you can get your hostilities out under cover of intellectual sophistication.

Wrong.

First of all the methodologies are different as I showed before. Second, given the importance of feminist philosophy to women inside and outside the profession, and given the tiny portion of philosophy departments feminist philosophy makes up, refusing to do feminist philosophy and then criticizing it (yes, any of it) is very hurtful. Women philosophers who have earned their stripes by learning and publishing in feminist philosophy can make some quiet criticisms of certain types of feminist philosophy. Publicly though they need to follow the rule, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. That's just common sense. Women who somehow can't or more likely won't do any feminist philosophy and feature it as an AOC and men in the same position (let's be for real, that's pretty well all men) don't get to criticize a feminist philosopher. They get to listen and learn. We've had enough time for masculinist philosophy going unquestioned.

As for kicking men's heads in I of course didn't mean it literally. But even if I did, it's important to pay attention to context here. A feminist woman saying that about men is entirely different from a man saying it. If you missed that because you can't intuitively see the meanings of sentences or the importance of context, then uh... feminist philosophy can help.

But the prize for making any true feminist slap her forehead and cringe is the timeworn 'I'm not a sexist, I just have my doubts about feminist philosophy' move. It's pointless trying to support women in philosophy without supporting feminist philosophy. It's been tried, and it failed. You can't promote women in any meaningful way without promoting feminist philosophy. Again, if you don't understand why, Haslanger explains it very well in several places.

It's as weak as antisemites excusing themselves by saying 'I dont hate Jews -- in fact, my best friend is/ I am Jewish. What I oppose is Zionism (or 'extreme' Zionism)'. But we all know it doesn't work like that. Israel is a tiny country and the only one that stands up for the Jews come what may, and as a result it's attacked by everyone with a sublimated hatred for Jews and a desire to finish off Hitler's plan -- in other words, every country in the world except the US, and even there there have been close calls recently. And it's trendy now to let people get away with criticizing Zionism or publicly criticizing individual Zionists for their views because, hey, free debate is great! Well, on most topics it is. But when it comes to an existential threat to a race or a sex within the profession, the rules just aren't the same.

See the parallel? If so then let's work for change together and stop quibbling. Thanks.

John Turri said...

Dear Zero, Jaded, Zombie and Second Suitor,

Could you please exercise your editorial discretion and stop this thread from degenerating any further? It's far beyond embarrassing now, and veering into the positively abhorrent.

I think the tipping point came with the comparison to "Hitler's plan" and mention of "existential threats" to entire groups of people.

It really ought to stop –– if not yesterday, then definitely now, please.

Constructive and spirited discussions of feminism and the place of women in the profession should definitely still be encouraged and actively fostered, of course.

Best,
John

Anonymous said...

And it's trendy now to let people get away with criticizing Zionism or publicly criticizing individual Zionists for their views because, hey, free debate is great!

That figures.
So, unless a person has actually published feminist philosophy, she may not criticize any feminist philosopher. Check!

The moderators of this blog should be censoring all criticism of your comments. Check!

But that’s not enough. Noam Chomsky has to be muzzled, too, because he’s actually sublimating a desire to finish off the job that Hitler started. Trifecta!

In case anyone wanted to deny that feminist philosophy has a wide, bright authoritarian streak, the proof is now on the table.

zombie said...

I was foolishly under the impression that feminism encouraged me to choose a professional path that interests me, that engages me, that I want to work on. Apparently I was wrong. I'm supposed to do what some random so-called feminist tells me to do, to toe the line, to obey orders from the ubergoddess. The ad hominem attack and strawman/woman/person argument have clearly shown me the error of my ways, especially coming as they do from such a powerfully unbiased source who has also demonstrated to me that I must be a man. I must immediately write to that extremely influential and famous feminist philosopher I used to work with -- I'm sure you've all heard of her -- and ask her why the hell she never set me straight in all the years we worked literally feet away from each other, or during all those holiday parties where we dined together. Clearly she has no fucking clue what a feminist is supposed to be doing, and her entire career, nay her entire LIFE, have been FRAUDULENT.

I just have one question: since I am not a white male, but come from a group that is even more underrepresented in philosophy than women, am I also required to work exclusively on philosophy of race? How can I reconcile the mutually exclusive exclusivity of my professional obligations without remaining part of the problem? Please advise.

Anonymous said...

Mountain Feminist wrote,

"It's pointless trying to support women in philosophy without supporting feminist philosophy. It's been tried, and it failed."

I can’t begin to describe how lovely it is to watch you spit on the graves of Ruth Marcus and Margaret Wilson. Thank you for performing that truly disgusting act in public.

You really are the most vicious, virulent, nasty commenter I have ever seen at Philosophy Smoker. You’re willing to crap all over everybody outside of your anointed group.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mountain Feminist,

You write:

"refusing to do feminist philosophy and then criticizing it (yes, any of it) is very hurtful. "

We get it. You're hurt personally because someone criticized your pet discipline and the rhetoric you've used here to defend it. But this is a community of adult intellectuals, and no one gets a free pass at having their view criticized just because it "hurts" them. Either lighten up or toughen up, but don't try to silence the rest of us. Telling us to "listen and learn" to this nonsense is pointless.

And do you really think you get a free pass to call for kicking men's heads in just because you're a woman? If so, then here's the 'context' that makes it irrelevant whether you find what I say hurtful: the view you're advocating is intellectually bankrupt and socially pernicious.

Now I imagine that most people here, as I do, think there are genuine problems with how women are treated in philosophy. But the kind of 'advocacy' that you are engaging in on their behalf is not helping them. Nor is it helping to make feminism anything anyone ought to be interested in. For not only are your rhetorical moves (kicking men's heads in, talk of "masculinist" philosophy, accusing other women of not "getting it") questionable, you seem to be playing yourself as a victim in a way that isn't a fair characterization of what's happened.

It's true that your posts are now the subject of direct criticism--but that's because of what you've said here, and what we're criticizing is what you are *saying*, not *who you are*. It's part of a healthy attitude about life in general that one be able to distinguish the criticism of a person's view from a judgment that the person holding it is, as a person, defective in some way. Please try to keep that in mind before you allow how you *feel* about a response you find hurtful to dictate what you *think* about it.

Anonymous said...

Continued from above

You go on to say:

"Women philosophers who have earned their stripes by learning and publishing in feminist philosophy can make some quiet criticisms of certain types of feminist philosophy. Publicly though they need to follow the rule, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. That's just common sense."

That's not common sense. That's a call to suppress criticism unless it's the "quiet" criticism offered by "women philosophers who have earned their stripes." That's what you are calling for. And it's ridiculous MF. It's dogma pushing a political agenda masquerading as intellectual scholarship and hiding behind a victim mentality.

And it's made all the worse because feminism over the last few decades has rhetorically positioned itself behind a slew of speech acts and specialized terminological devices whose function in practice is, in part, to silence criticism and dissent. The primary speech acts are accusation, implicit accusation, and the indignant exhortation, and some of the terms in question are ‘mansplanation,’ 'masculinist,'and ‘victim blaming.’ By judicious use of these terms in accusatory and exhortative speech acts, feminists are able to silence criticism about the methods and ideologies they employ in their discipline. To the extent that feminists fail to bring these speech acts, their terms, and the contexts in which they are employed out into the open for criticism and revision, to that extent will feminism wither as a productive force for good in our society.

And no one is under any kind of obligation to coddle folks like MF when they complain of "hostility," of being "attacked," of being subject to "antifeminist harrassment," and of being "hurt" at having their views called out as the nonsense they are.

But then, MF finishes by explicitly comparing the treatment of feminism in philosophy to the treatment of Jews by Hitler, and so one begins to think that this was all, indeed, a joke.

At any rate, the fact that it's sometimes so hard to tell whether a self-proclaimed feminist is being sincere or satirical means that it's sometimes difficult to take some 'feminists' seriously.