Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Education, before re-education

(UPDATE: Absolutely LOVING the comments that are now up at Leiter. I think comments 5 - 9 hit the nail on the head. They say most of what I want to say, and obviously better. Read 'em!)

I wanted to highlight more on the criticisms of site visit program, at Leiter, if only again to call out remarks that I see as wrongheaded. (You can see more of my reactions to the worries that keep coming up about "pluralism," here.) Leiter's correspondent, Jane Brownstein, worries that the visitors to CU were biased because they all have expertise in feminist philosophy (emphasis added):
The CSW website boasts that "Those trained to be site visit team members are diverse with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and other social categories." However, they are clearly not diverse with regard to the most important factors of all: philosophical and political ideology.
Aside from neglecting that diversity in terms of "social categories" will also overlap with (and help foster) diversity in terms of philosophical "ideology," Brownstein fails to note that self-identified feminist philosophers or philosophers with interests in diversity embody a wide array of philosophical approaches and methodologies (a quick and obviously non-exhaustive list; for one, it leaves out moral philosophy): Philosophy of Language (Jennifer Saul), Philosophy of Science (Alison Wylie, Elisabeth Lloyd), Metaphysics (Sally Haslanger). This diversity of philosophical approaches includes the CSW visitors.

We shouldn't understand feminist philosophers as some monolithic entity with a shared methodology and agenda any more than we should understand people working in philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, history of philosophy, and so on as sharing a uniform philosophical and political ideology. Just as epistemology can embody a wide variety of disparate and perhaps competing "philosophical [ideologies]" so can feminist philosophy. Indeed, beyond the fact that the site visitors are committed to diversity, they needn't even necessarily share the same political views. There are many ways to be committed to diversity and many views about the ways to promote it, not all of which overlap with one another.

Brownstein also says:
The CSW Site Visit Program website makes clear that, to become a team member, one needs three days' training, tenure in the profession, and "a demonstrated commitment to diversity through service work and/or research." It's this third condition that must be stricken or clarified, since as it stands it can be used to politicize the site visit teams. There are plenty who wish to end sexual harassment in the profession despite having a very low opinion of 'feminist philosophy': I am one of them. Departments bringing in a CSW team deserve to have at least one team member whose ideological commitments will not be furthered by making a finding against the department.
First, note again that 'feminist philosophy' is not a monolithic entity; Brownstein's blanket dismissal makes no sense in terms of just how many different philosophical approaches are used and explored in the field. Second, I want people who know their shit about diversity - either through service work or research - to be conducting my site visits that are explicitly concerned with those sorts of issues.

Let me draw my own analogy: Suppose we have a big collection of sand out in the desert and we are unsure of whether that big collection constitutes a heap or a pile or whatever. Who will we send to study that heap? We will send people who are interested in, understand, and have been studying the sorites paradox or heaps or vagueness. Why? Because they are experts; because they understand the problem. As experts, they needn't share the same views or approaches, just a commitment to solving the problem they are faced with. Moreover, note that they are experts in the field because they think their field is important; as such, it's only natural for experts to care about demonstrating that importance when it comes to addressing some problem affecting their discipline, in this case, the collection of sand in the desert.

If you don't like my analogy, then Amy Olberding has a definitive takedown of the worries:
The problems they were asked to assess went far beyond what was expected to be typical. It is precisely because of this that the evaluators needed to be those most trained, with the greatest background, and with the longest experience. That this group was constituted by researchers in feminist philosophy should not be that surprising, nor does it indicate a conspiracy of sorts. Where else in philosophy at present does one find people with deep background training on institutional issues, climate, and so forth? In STEM, you might find myriad such folks because the STEM disciplines have simply been addressing this longer, but in philosophy, that’s just not the case. The reluctance to recognize that these site visitors have a relevant expertise – not because they are feminist philosophers, but because the issues in play are ones they (unlike most of the rest of us!) have spent careers investigating – seems very counterproductive.
Suffice to say, I'm not convinced that we there is a vast conspiracy on the part of all feminist philosophers and pluralists to advance their agenda.

(Comments are closed here, you can take it over to Leiter, since it was his post to begin with.)

-- Jaded, Ph.D. 

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