Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Did Not Attend" Grades

A friend of mine teaches at a university where one of your grade-assignment options is "DNA," which stands for "did not attend." If you assign a student a grade of DNA, you have to specify the last date on which they attended class. If that date is early enough in the term, the student is retroactively withdrawn from the class. I don't know how common this is, but I don't think this is an option at my school. At least, nobody told me it was at the bullshit new faculty orientation thing I had to attend.

One immediate drawback to the DNA grade is that you have to know that the student never attended, and you have to know when the student stopped. For a number of reasons, I don't collect that information in any detailed or rigorous way.

Why would you assign this grade? Apparently, the DNA grade can fuck up the student's financial aid. You have to maintain a certain credit load in oder to get certain scholarships or student loans. A grade of DNA retroactively reduces the student's courseload. This can make the student retroactively ineligible for financial aid for that semester. Obviously, this can cause all sorts of problems for the student. The DNA grade can be worse than an F in profound ways.

I guess the logic is that Fs are for people who try and fail; DNAs are for people who blow off the entire class. It is, apparently, much, much worse to blow off the class than it is to make a failing attempt to complete it.

I kind of have a problem with this. I see why you'd want a complete failure to attend class to have certain consequences for the student.* I see why you'd want there to be a failing grade on the transcript. I see why you'd want the medical school or the nursing school or whoever to know it's there. I see why you'd want it to be academically troublesome for the student, and insofar as these academic troubles cause personal troubles, it seems to me that the personal troubles are sort of warranted. You didn't attend class all semester and now your parents are upset with you? That seems right to me. You didn't attend class all semester and now you're not getting into nursing school? That seems right to me, too. These things don't seem to me to count against assigning the F. They seem like the negative consequences rightfully associated with earning an F.

But I guess I think getting the student's financial aid yanked is going too far. That consequence seems far worse than what is deserved.

What do the Smokers think?

--Mr. Zero

* I am assuming that there are no mitigating or extenuating circumstances.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Crito: What Really Happened.

via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

--Mr. Zero

Are There Academics Who are Satisfied with the Way Their Discipline is Portrayed in the Media?

Every so often, something will show up in the news, such as last week's Slate piece on Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia, or anything that is ever on the New York Times's Stone blog, and people get all pissed off about how any writing for the general public that has any philosophical content whatsoever guaranteed to be absolutely terrible. How we need to change this. How if the APA knew what it was doing we wouldn't be in this mess. Or whatever. Maybe I just made that last one up.

But I was thinking about the time last year when they found "arsenic-based" life-forms. Or earlier in 2010 when they found evidence of life on Mars. Or this Ph.D. comic. And it seems to me that scientists are usually pretty annoyed with the quality of science reporting. And engineers, too. So I was kind of wondering if there is any academic field whose practitioners are generally content with the level of quality of the media reports involving its area of study or making use of its results.

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Inbox: Community College Career Poison?

An anonymous correspondent asks:

I've heard several times through the grapevine that accepting a position at a community college is career death poison. Is that right? Right now I have a part-time position at a well-ranked university, but the pay is shite and the possibility of advancement nonexistent. I look at the pay at some community colleges and see that it is double what I make now. Would accepting one of these positions be career suicide, even if only temporary?

My sense of this is that 1. community college jobs involve more teaching and fewer research responsibilities than jobs at four-year colleges, and are a good choice for someone with corresponding career goals; and 2. search committees at four-year colleges will (probably unfairly) hold an employment history at community colleges against you.

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

A Former Dick Speaks Out

In comments here, Former Dick writes,

A little relevant background: I'm a male analytic philosopher and an activist, even a "hard core" analytic philosopher. I'm now a few years post-PhD in a TT job. I have always thought of myself as very liberal and progressive, particularly with respect to gender and feminist causes.

But here's the thing: in my youth, particularly right at the beginning of grad school, I used to be kind of a dick about it. (I'm using that gendered insult on purpose.)

One thing I would do is uncharitably assume that everybody else was on the wrong course with their activism (perhaps because I had just learned about the problem, and the problem still existed despite some people having worked on it a long time already.). But many of these problems are very hard to solve, and there are no easy or silver bullet solutions. Also, as you learn more about the problem, you come to see greater complexity regarding the possible solutions.

Another thing I would do is start out as if (or perhaps genuinely) in sympathy with my interlocutor's cause, but I would be a total jerk in how I participated in discussions. I would get all "analytic philosopher" on people, but in the bad sense, not in the good (clear argumentation) sense. I would think that I was just trying to be clear, but what I was trying to do was win an argument, rather than have a discussion. So I would uncharitably construe what people were saying; I would trot out straw men; I would whine about how people hadn't actually *responded* to my pages long argument; I would use aggressive rhetoric (calling ideas "terrible" or "ridiculous" or "stupid" and starting sentences with "Look,..."); and I would spend a lot of time numbering premises and claims while missing the most important points, or while missing what people were really getting at (even if they hadn't said *precisely* that).

Another thing I would do is act as if I knew more than I did. (The discussion of how conferences come up with their non-keynote speakers--this fantastic world of pure blind review!--was particularly glaring in this regard.) Sometimes you have to hang out in a world for a while before you know how things work, and before you know how they might be changed.

The end result of all this: I was a "good guy" or so I thought, but I found that people would tire of talking to me about these things.

I wish I could go back and be less of a dick. One thing I've realized is that most people in this philosophy world are *very* smart. Maybe in high school and college you could assume that you were right and they were wrong (you were thinking clearly and they were muddled and misguided), but you can probably stop with that implicit assumption. Or at least assume that the other person is more of a peer than (just) a person who can learn from your brilliance.

I know, I know, you'll deny that you've done anything wrong. PB will say things like "I was interested in thinking through new, creative, and sometimes subtle ways of making professional philosophy more hospitable for women." But were you really? Why did you assume that others weren't? Even when they have spent years--real years!--of their lives doing exactly that?

Just FYI, calling out someone like Sally Haslanger in this context, in the way you did, just highlights all of the obvious dickishness. I don't think anyone is into hero worship here, but she's someone who has *obviously* done a ton for women in philosophy, so even if you think another direction is the way forward, have some respect!

It seems to me that this sort of thing happens a lot. I see some of this in myself. Worth thinking about.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, June 24, 2011


via Toothpaste for Dinner. Bummer, dude.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Do You Do?

In comments here, Philosophical Boyfriend mentions some concerns his girlfriend, Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend, had about discussions of sexism in philosophy. He writes:

First, she felt that any discussion of sexist incidents in philosophy should focus on _solutions_, not simply on endless, depressing reports of problems. For instance, there was the story of the woman who, after presenting a paper, had a male audience member apologize to her for asking such difficult questions and then _kiss her ear_(!!). If that sort of thing is going on, then (my girlfriend said) what is most important is for people to sort out good methods for _dealing with_ that sort of thing. What should one do if that happens? What sorts of ways of acting and presenting would make it least likely for that to happen? How should other people present react? Discussions of these things would be extremely useful; but she finds them almost nowhere. And that, she said, seems really defeatist: it's as though people are saying 'hey, this crap happens, so I guess it's better to leave the profession', which of course plays into the hands of the truly sexist.

Second, she really wanted to see more dialogue between those who believe that there are problems facing women and those who don't. Part of the reason was that she wanted to know whether all the negativity she was feeling was really justified; but much of her motivation was so that strategies could be developed for dealing with doubters if there are good grounds for despair in the present climate. She felt that a closer engagement with these doubters would have the dual function of helping to persuade them of the extent of the problem and of removing their ability to feel their views are being censored or attacked merely in the name of political correctness.

And third, as I mentioned before, she thought a positive way to move forward would be to break the association in people's minds between philosophers who are feminists, women philosophers, and people doing so-called 'feminist philosophy'.

I pointed out that the What It's Like blog has a sister blog about What We're Doing About It, which has been far less successful. They've had a much harder time getting people post constructive strategies for dealing with the kind of shit on display in the what it's like blog.

I also mentioned that I suspect that these difficulties are, at least in part, a result of the fact that the kinds of sexism that seem to be most commonly experienced nowadays is subtle rather than overt, and this makes it especially difficult to combat. People do a bunch of little things that serve to belittle and exclude, where the individual impact of each thing is potentially minuscule, but where the overall impact of them, taken as a whole, can be very significant.

I also admitted that I don't have what I would regard as a concrete helpful suggestion.

CrabbyAbby posted a helpful list:

Philosophical boyfriend (and affiliated philosopher) -- I think there has been some really fantastic things spring out of the discussions of the sexism that is rampant in our discipline. A few things off the top of my head include:

(a) the proposal that philosophers known to be sexist be shunned from participating in conferences. (An Inside Higher Ed article here)

(b) an on-going campaign on the Feminist Philosophers blog to call out conferences and anthologies that under-represent women in the discipline. This is, I take it, meant not only to show how women are under-represented but is also meant to be an act of social shaming for those organizing those conferences and anthologies. (Here's one such blog entry)

(c) A discussion, again on Feminist Philosophers, about how to make conferences parent-friendly. (Here's one such blog entry about it)

(d) A new mentoring program in place for untenured women in philosophy.

And I think there is also a renewed awareness that we need to come up with other solutions to the sexism. While I'm a young philosopher, it seems like the discipline is, more than ever, recognizing that there is a problem and thinking, collectively, about how to respond. Which is itself an important development. (Actually, I worry that I'm being overly optimistic about this.)

But all of this needs to happen alongside the accounts that we see on 'What it's Like' and other such blogs. We can't stop telling our stories of sexism and being open to hearing the stories of others. Why? Well, (1) because there are still people who doubt that the discipline is sexist at all; (2) because those sorts of stories offer a level of solidarity and support to other women (and men) in the discipline; (3) because they can be cathartic for those who submit stories, as an important way to work through traumatic events is discussing it with others; (4) because the accounts also help us think about new ways to combat the sexism in our discipline. Indeed, it is also useful so that those who think about going into philosophy have a clear idea of the state of the discipline.

What would you add, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Is What I'm Talking About

I received an email last night from the author of an article in a forthcoming issue of the APA's newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, about the changes to the comment policy. She writes:

In light of Mr. Zero's change to the comment policy, I thought I'd point out that an article I have written for the APA's Feminism and Philosophy newsletter references some comments that were posted to an old entry in The Philosophy Smoker. I tell the story about my first year on the job market: I turned to your blog for advice about interview attire, and was shaken by some extremely sexist comments posted on your blog -- I lost all my confidence and saw the profession in an extremely different light, due to those comments. In the article, I focus on how the anonymity of the internet relates to our identities as professional philosophers. I thought my experience with anonymous commenters on your blog was a valuable story to tell.

I was planning on alerting you guys to the article once it was published, but I bring it up now to highlight how valuable this recent comment policy change may be. (I also hope you're not upset to see your blog publicized as hosting some really sexist comments. Sorry about that. If it's any consolation, I also point out some really sexist comments on Leiter's blog, too.) Thank you for taking seriously the effect comments on your blog can have. I really enjoy reading (and occasionally commenting in) The Philosophy Smoker, and I think you generally do a really good job dealing with sexism and related issues.

This is exactly what I want to avoid. The thought that someone would come to this blog for help and be hurt by what she found here makes me sick. I believed then and I believe now that there was, at that time, a legitimate reason to permit those comments to be published, in spite of the obvious and serious drawbacks. But things are different now, and there is no longer any legitimate reason to do this. This blog is part of the solution, not part of the problem. This has always been our goal, and the recent change to the comment policy is designed to better accomplish this.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wacky Student Time: I Demand an Explanation!

Since the semester ended, I've had the usual number of student emails about grades. One student in particular got his report card and saw that I had assigned him a failing grade, and wrote to demand an explanation. He literally said, "I demand an explanation."

So I looked at the gradebook and saw that he had failed every assignment. Every one.

I imagine a basketball coach angrily approaching the referee after having been declared the loser of the game. "I demand an explanation!" he says, and so the ref lets him know that his team was outscored in all four quarters. How do you earn a passing grade in the class when you fail everything your grade is based on? And then how do you muster the righteous indignation to demand an explanation? Does he really want me to go through all the assignments and for each one tell him how much of his grade was based on it and how much he failed it? Because that's what I did.

In fairness, I should mention that he hadn't picked up any of his exams, so he probably couldn't have been sure that he failed them all. But you have to figure that if you're not in class enough after the first exam to have heard that they had been returned, you're not going to do super awesome on the second one.

And, of course, I've been getting my annual allotment of "now that the semester is over and final grades have been submitted, what can I do to improve my grade" emails.

Happy solstice, everybody!

--Mr. Zero

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Slight Change to the Unofficial Comment Policy

About a year ago, I wrote this:

a little while ago, in a discussion thread concerning some content I lifted from some other blog, someone left an anonymous comment about the author of that other blog that was about 80% vicious invective (much of which was empirically false) and about 20% actual content. The person who was the topic of this comment wrote to me to ask why we would approve a comment like that, when it was so obviously a personal smear and made such a negligible contribution to the debate.

I told this person that I published the comment mostly because of the 20% of it that I thought was worthwhile. I also said that I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I think that there is a huge value in letting the dickheads have their say. I think there is no value at all in maintaining a public illusion that there are no dickheads, and I think there is a tremendous value in allowing the dickheads themselves to demonstrate once and for all that they have nothing of value to contribute to the discussion.

I still think that at the time, that was the right policy, although there were certain things I was not in love with about it, even then. While it seems to me that at that time the advantages involved with demonstrating the existence of sexism and racism in the profession and the demolition of these sexist and racist views outweighed the disadvantages, I never liked publishing those comments, and I never liked the idea that this blog was a place where a person could come to express those views.

Since that time, my views about the value of these comments and the role this blog should play in publicizing these issues have changed. A primary reason is that the What It's Like blog has come along and provides far more compelling evidence of the existence of sexism in our profession than the small number of douchey anonymous comments left here could ever hope to be. A secondary reason is that dickheads have a way of taking the fun out of things. I would rather have a more fun blog with a more restrictive comments policy than a less fun blog with a less restrictive comments policy.

As a result, my comment-approval philosophy has changed. I will not approve douchey comments. I will not approve trollish or needlessly quarrelsome comments. I will not approve comments that make unfounded claims about how easy it is to be a woman in philosophy, or how hard it is to be a white man in philosophy. I will not approve comments that, in my judgement, do not meaningfully add to the discussion or move it forward. I will not approve comments whose purpose is for some anonymous dickhead to piss on other people's good time.

Unless it's funny. Funny comments will get more leeway.

I will try not to be as heavy-handed as the moderators at some other blogs. I will allow people to be mean to each other, as long as they are mean in a way that is on topic and advances the discussion. I will not shut down comments overnight to give people a chance to cool off. But I am going to keep the assholes on a shorter leash.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, June 17, 2011

#1 Loser

The Philosophy Smoker came in second in a "favorite philosophy blog" poll Leiter conducted over the past few days. Thanks to all the Smokers who voted; thanks to the anonymous commenter who read Leiter's post more carefully than I did and pointed out that the post I posted linking to the poll and encouraging Smokers to vote for us was against the rules and carried a penalty of disqualification; thanks to Leiter for not disqualifying us; thanks to my teammates and the Smokers for making this the second-most-favorite blog other than Leiter's blog among people who read Leiter's blog.

Seriously, thanks, everybody.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The View From Nowhere

Our recent discussion about the value of philosophy and its relationship to other forms of inquiry made me think of this passage from the introduction of Nagel's The View From Nowhere:

It is natural to feel victimized by philosophy, but this particular defensive reaction goes too far. It is like the hatred of childhood and results in a vain effort to grow up too early, before one has gone through the essential formative confusions and exaggerated hopes that have to be experienced on the way to understanding anything. Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.

There is a persistent temptation to turn philosophy into something less difficult and more shallow than it is. It is an extremely difficult subject, and no exception to the general rule that creative efforts are rarely successful.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What is going on in Abu Dhabi?

It is widely know, I think, that NYU has had a "regional" campus in Abu Dhabi for a number of years. But I recently learned via the JFP that the Sorbonne has opened a campus there, too. What in the fuck?

--Mr. Zero

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reasons To Stay?

The following request for reasons to stay in philosophy was posted over at the What it's Like blog and Feminist Philosophers, as well as New APPS:

I am about to start my PhD at an excellent Leiter ranked program. I have a BA and and MA from excellent schools. I have worked closely with ground breaking philosophers in my field. I have published, I have an excellent teaching resume, phenomenal letters of recommendation, and moreover I love my job. I am a good philosopher, and I am thinking about leaving philosophy.

I have been a secretary and a chauffeur. I have been disingenuously promised research assistantships and letters of recommendation, in return for dinner dates and car rides. I have been asked if I was married while my colleagues have been asked what they think. I have been told that I’m both cute and idiotic. I have passed on professional opportunities because I am a woman, and no one would believe that I deserved those opportunities — accepting would make me seem like a slut, since men make it on merit, and women make it in bed. So, ironically, I have been praised as professional for having passed on professional opportunities. I have been the lone woman presenting at the conference, and I have been the woman called a bitch for declining sexual relations with one of the institutions of hosts. I think I have just about covered the gamut of truly egregiously atrocious sexist behaviour. So I just have this one question that I think I need answered: Is the choice between doing philosophy, and living under these conditions, or saving yourself, and leaving the discipline?

This is an open call for reasons to stay.

I would say that since she's just about to start a new Ph.D. program, she should give it at least a year. See how things are in the new department. I think that there's almost no chance that the problems she's experiencing will disappear, but I think there's somewhat of a chance that they'll be at least manageable. Although, I guess I don't know what the chances are that this will happen, and it depends heavily on what levels of sexism she finds "manageable."

But if, after a year or two, she still finds that she's unhappy, I would advise her to follow her instincts and get out. Philosophy is a wonderful way to make a living, but only if it makes you happy. And if the A-holes and D-bags are making you miserable, it is completely sensible to seek an environment in which they are less of a factor. I think this is the best job in the world, but if the constant hum of sexist nitwits was making me chronically miserable, I wouldn't think it was the best job in the world anymore.

So, my advice is, give the new Ph.D. program a fair shake, but if things don't get better in a year or two, get out before you've invested so much time that it'll be hard not to throw good money after bad. But (and I'm not sure I fully understand this idiom) you shouldn't be afraid to throw bad money at philosophy. Or whatever.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, June 6, 2011

Allowing Students to Use First Names

I haven't been keeping up with What's Wrong With the World as much as I used to, but this item caught my attention. In it, Jeff Culbreath passionately objects to the practice of professors allowing students to call them by their first names. He writes that

it's undeniable that an increasing number of academics in the United States prefer to be called by their first names, viewing honorifics as pretentious and arrogant. The blame for this social calamity can be placed squarely at the feet of Marxist sociology, which more or less permeates society today. For the Marxist everything is reduced to power relationships, including titles and formalities. The use of honorifics exposes power relationships that are not supposed to exist (better translated as "you're not supposed to notice") in our egalitarian society, interfering with the liberal's preferred method changing reality by ignoring it.

The first thing we know about any professor who rejects honorifics is that he defines his own position primarily in terms of power and privilege rather than knowledge or accomplishment, regarding the former as instruments of oppression. He feels embarrassed or guilty about this and prefers not to be reminded by his title. He has little respect for his own achievement, considering it something anyone else could do - which sounds deceptively humble. Behind the facade of humility there are some disturbing corollaries. It usually follows that such a man has even less respect for the achievements of others, [emphasis his] which he thinks anyone else might have easily accomplished, most especially himself. He views many of those who fail to reach his own level of achievement with either pity or contempt, as the only legitimate explanations for inequality in his egalitarian mind are: a) oppression; or b) moral fault.

Now, it's awfully amusing how he lays this at the feet of Marx. And then there's the bit in italics, about what usually follows this pernicious informality. These seem to be clear instances of exactly the kind of bad behavior our scientist friends were complaining about last week, where the philosopher asserts that some phenomenon is caused by or correlated with some other phenomenon, but where this relationship has not been subject to empirical scrutiny and has in fact just been made up. Examples of this in the quoted text include: that people who eschew titles view them as pretentious and arrogant; that they do this because of marxism; that they do this because they object to relationships of unequal power; that they nevertheless define the relationship in terms of unequal power, regardless of the details; that they feel embarrassment or guilt over this inequality of power; that they regard accomplishments as oppressive; that they respect the achievements of others even less than they respect their own; that they believe that just anyone could earn a doctoral degree; that the only legitimate reasons for an inequality of achievement are oppression and moral fault. Wowza.

I allow my students to use my first name. I do this not because I have no respect for my own achievements, but (in part) out of my tremendous respect for the achievements of real doctors. I do not see my role as defined by power and privilege rather than by knowledge and achievement; I see my role as involving all of these things. I have certain powers and privileges, and I am qualified to have these powers and privileges in virtue of my knowledge and accomplishments. But the most important thing about these powers and privileges is that they come with very serious responsibilities. I am competent to do this job in virtue of my qualifications, but they have little or nothing to do with the fact that I can be trusted with the responsibility of doing it.

I have these powers, privileges, and responsibilities, as well as my knowledge and achievements, whether or not I insist on being addressed in a way that accentuates them. I am inclined to suspect that this widespread trend of using first names is a result of the fact that the academic student-teacher relationship is, like a lot of things, now less formal than it was. People don't dress up the way they used to, and they don't use titles the way they used to.

I also have some experience with this practice from the perspective of an undergraduate. My undergraduate professors all permitted students to use first names--some allowed all students to do so, while others insisted on the honorific from students at the intro level while they were more relaxed with students in the upper division. This did not decrease my respect for them, their knowledge, or their accomplishments. I was, and continue to be, in awe of how smart and accomplished these people were and are. They were the smartest people I had ever met in real life, and I declared philosophy as my major, before I had any inkling that I wanted to pursue it as a career, in the hopes that a philosophical education would make me as smart as they were. I did not get the idea that just anyone could achieve what they had achieved.

And so it seems to me that if they respect you only because they call you doctor, they don't respect you. It seems to me that whether they call you doctor or not is irrelevant to whether they respect you. And it seems to me that, in an environment in which nobody else is doing it, insisting on being addressed as doctor will make them respect you less because they will think you're a jackass.

--Mr. Zero

P.S. Cullbreath is really distasteful. Here he is reprimanding a commenter for the "offensive" practice of using the feminine pronoun for a generic person.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is This What Scientists Think Philosophers Do?

Because if so, they think we are dumb assholes.

--Mr. Zero

Addendum by Jaded: This whole sausage making business is ridiculous. As if all philosophers do is sit around and do research. We also teach and sometimes make some really hard-and-critical-thinking sausages that go on to do some great things in the world in part because we've helped them become better at thinking. Sometimes we even educate scientists and they get better at thinking in virtue of thinking about non-sausage making arguments. And maybe their having thought about non-sausage making things for a while will help them go on to create sausages for whatever reason. I mean, I'm fairly new to the sausage making business, but I've probably helped to make some pretty good sausages in my time. I bet those who have been making sausages for years on end having made even more and better thinking sausages.

This is just to say, maybe we should expand what we think counts as making sausages. And, maybe we need to think more about the place of being intellectually curious in being well-rounded sausages. This isn't to license all philosophical projects, and maybe we should think harder about the types of projects we choose to pursue, but FUCK ALL THIS NOISE ABOUT PHILOSOPHERS NOT HAVING AN IMPACT ON REAL WORLD THINGS. As if students weren't things that existed in the real world. Also, sausage.