4. The report categorically prohibits all critical discussion of feminist philosophy by all members of the department, even in a private, off-campus conversation between two graduate or undergraduate students. “Realize that there is plurality in the discipline. If some department members have a problem with people doing non-‐feminist philosophy or doing feminist philosophy (or being engaged in any other sort of intellectual or other type of pursuit), they should gain more appreciation of and tolerance for plurality in the discipline. Even if they are unable to reach a level of appreciation for other approaches to the discipline, it is totally unacceptable for them to denigrate these approaches in front of faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, in formal or informal settings on or off campus.”
5. The report relies in part on clearly biased survey findings. On p.15, for instance, we find that subjects were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statement: “I am confident that if I were to raise a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination, the judicial process at my university would be fair.” 38% of respondents felt confident about this, which seems very high for any department! Most members of most departments would have no good grounds for confidence either way. Why doesn’t the survey ask instead whether subjects are confident that the process would be unfair? More tellingly, why doesn’t it simply ask whether subjects agree or disagree with the statement, “If I were to raise a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination, the judicial process would be fair,” and allow the responses ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’ and ‘Not sure’? Particularly among philosophers, ‘confident’ entails a very high epistemic standard. While it isn’t clear whether the committee intended to skew the results by asking such questions or whether they simply didn’t take care to prepare a fair survey, the survey is misleading at best and politically motivated at worst.
6. The report mentions, and then completely ignores, very serious graduate student concerns about damage to the department’s reputation; and in the process, it reduces the likelihood of future reporting of sexual harassment. “They [some graduate students] are worried that they will be tainted by the national reputation of the department as being hostile to women.” (pp.3-4). As a result of this, it was essential for the report to take steps to ensure that word about the department’s problems be carefully managed while steps are taken to eliminate the problem. At the very least, the report needed to ensure that the release of the report not be made into a worldwide media event. However, the report contains nothing of the sort and, as a result, the worst fears of the graduate students have now been realized (I, for one, had never heard a single negative thing about this department). This merits serious attention: if the price of reporting sexual harrassment is the destruction of one’s department’s reputation worldwide and the blackening of one’s own name by association with it, how many departmental members (student or faculty) would ever take the suicidal step of reporting it? By mindlessly neglecting these concerns, the committee’s report has surely had a dampening effect on reports of sexual harassment in departments around the world.
7. The report’s standards of ‘family friendliness’, while tangentially connected with sexual harassment, show a complete lack of understanding of philosophical work and culture. On p.6 of the report, the committee’s view on best practices is expanded upon: we are told that “[e]vents should be held during normal business hours (9-5) and should be such that you would feel comfortable with your children or parents being present.” Indeed, as we are told on p.12, children should be positively welcome at departmental events. I’m not concerned here with the disruptions that would be caused by young children at colloquia, but rather with how this might affect the content of philosophical talks. I, for one, would not feel comfortable discussing abortion, circumcision, sexual harassment and rape, cruelty to animals, pornography, torture, or the existence of God in front of someone else’s children. Should it follow from this that I should not present a colloquium paper on such a topic? What if my philosophical work deals entirely with such issues: should I never present my philosophical work in an open forum?
While we should all applaud genuine, careful and viable efforts to eliminate sexual harassment, my view (unless persuaded otherwise) is that we should certainly not endorse the actions of this committee. Instead, I think, we should quickly work out ways to prevent this from ever happening again. But I anticipate disagreement and would love to hear and engage opposing reasons.
Addendum: My position here has been attacked on a couple of blogs due to a misreading of 3 — some readers mistakenly think that I am opposed to the restrictions on non-business hours activities because they are too harsh a punishment for the harassers. But that’s not my objection at all. I agree that sexual harassment, which we know has been substantiated in at least two cases at Colorado, should be dealt with seriously. But the restrictions advocated by the report don’t seem to be intended punitively. They appear to be intended as a preventative measure.
Now, I don’t deny that having such restrictions in place might work. And that would be a good thing. But there are also other, surer ways of preventing sexual harassment. Here’s a fairly sure-fire one: members of the department may only communicate in person, during official classes or meetings or office hours. All these events must be attended by trained anti-harassment officers, and all communication must be done through them (you have to whisper your words to the officers and, if they’re appropriate, they report them to your audience). All students and faculty are prohibited on pain of expulsion/automatic firing from coming within 20 yards of all other department members outside of class, and this is monitored by temporarily bio-implanted GPS devices. And so on.
I would agree that such extreme measures would be very effective in curbing sexual harassment. And no doubt, the case might convincingly be made that good philosophical work could be done under those conditions. But I would nevertheless be opposed to them, and not just for reasons of expense.
I take a similar view to the much less extreme measures recommended by the report (I emphasize this to ensure that no sincere reader will think I am saying that the report is as extreme as the counterfactual scenario I’m using to illustrate my point). Yes, they would probably prevent some potential harassment; yes, it might still be possible to do philosophy within those confines (and some department members might even like it). And I can vaguely imagine some extraordinary conditions in which I might even advocate what the report recommends. But from the picture I’m getting, it’s difficult to imagine that the measures are warranted as a professional measure. I invite the chance to stand corrected if I’m wrong about this.