Tooley on the Colorado Site Visit

Bravo to Michael Tooley for bravely stating his case against the Colorado Site Visit Team. For far too long, no important philosopher has been willing to speak out against this disturbing trend of anti-intellectualism and irresponsibility in the profession, or to question the received dogmas. Not only has Professor Tooley argued forcefully against the legitimacy of Site Visit Report, but he has also at last made it legitimate to question whether ‘climate’ problems in the profession are the cause of few women in the profession and whether there is, indeed, a widespread sexism problem in philosophy.

Moreover, the documents he has collected and published regarding the Site Visit Team’s release of confidential information to the Dean and Provost at Colorado, and the Team’s apparently duplicitous claims on this topic, are a smoking gun that should at the very least stop the depredations of the Committee on the Status of Women and should also, in my opinion, open the door to some serious professional repercussions against the members of the Site Visit Team. To act as irresponsibly as the Team members seem to have acted, with such harmful consequences, should not be allowed to go unchecked. The rude and cavalier attitude of some Site Visit Team members in response to Tooley’s straightforward requests provided, for me, an important insight into their characters.

All these materials can be found here:

Professor Tooley has made it clear that he wishes to get back to his work now rather than become imbroiled in ongoing debates on the subject. I welcome all discussion of the matter here.

7 thoughts on “Tooley on the Colorado Site Visit

  1. I made a comment at the Smoker which I’d like to repost here, since I believe it’s relevant. Here it is:

    I personally found Tooley’s reaction, since the beginning of this mess, a little bit confusing. This website that he created only compounds my confusion. I’ll try to explain why I’m confused.

    Suppose the administration had decided not to release the report. What would have happened? Presumably, they would have met with the department and tried to negotiate some measures. Worst case scenario, there would be no negotiation and the administration would implement the recommendations they saw fit, without consulting the department. In this scenario, supposing that the report is to blame for the chain of events, it’s clear (to me at least) that the largest responsibility should fall on the administration’s shoulders, as it was the administration decision to implement its decision unilaterally. Be it as it may, since the report would not have become public (in this scenario!), there would have been, presumably, no reputation damaged, no public shaming, etc.

    Obviously, that’s not what happened. However, it seems clear to me that it was not the committee’s decision to leak the report to the press — the administration itself took that decision. So why are we concentrating on attacking the committee, if the administration is equally, if not more, responsible for the problem?

    Now, about the harassment problem. Let us grant that harassment is probably not the case why women are leaving philosophy. How does that make harassment not a problem? Tooley himself admitted that there was at least one known harasser in his department, who received some (mild or severe) punishment. Unfortunately, he does not comment further on the impact of this person’s action on the department, and how he (Tooley) dealt with the problem. Particular amiss is an account of how the victim dealt with the problem and if the harasser stopped his activities (there were more than one case, according to Tooley himself). Without this further information, it becomes hard to judge if there was need of further intervention or not. In any case, it hardly supports the case that women are not treated differently in academia (I don’t think that women being treated equally bad in philosophy as they are in other departments is a comforting thought).

    • Good morning, Daniel. Thanks for your comment.

      You say you find Tooley’s reaction confusing, and perhaps the reason is the sheer volume of background information he’s had to set out in order to make his point. However, there are simple answers to all your questions. Taking them one at a time:

      1) You point out that the *proximate* cause of the leaking of the report to the media, which was the cause of the damage to the reputations of the faculty, grad students, alumni, and all the families thereof at Colorado, was a decision by the administration, and so you wonder why the administration shouldn’t be the body taking all (or most) of the blame.

      Certainly, the administration has dealt with the department very harshly, and we also know that the administration at one point threatened to dissolve the department. I don’t know what the reason was in that case, though other testimony we have about that administration suggests that they could be particularly vindictive to members of various departments. But did the administration breach a promise with the department by releasing the document? I’m not sure that they did.

      On the other hand, Tooley has provided clear evidence that the CSW site visit team made a written agreement with the department that they would not release any information they learned through the co-operation of the department, and that they then violated that agreement. He explains this evidence here:

      So: the department invites the site visit team to make a site visit; having been assured in writing by the team that everything the team learns will be kept confidential and *in particular* that the team will not turn over its report to the administration, they disclose sensitive information and the site visit team is even allowed, for some reason, to look at confidential files held by the Office of Discrimination and Harassment — files that even the department members were not able to see — and then, in blatant violation of their promise, the site visit team members send copies of their report to the administration. They then follow this up by changing the wording of their policy online in a way that makes it seem that they violated their agreement somewhat less egregiously than they actually did.

      Given all this, they are at least as guilty as the administration in the release of the report; but surely they are even more so, since the administration never made a false promise to the department, obtained sensitive information through that false promise, then immediately turned around and violated that trust and followed up by an apparent attempt at a cover-up of the initial promise.

      It’s also relevant, surely, for attention to be directed at the site visit team because we are all philosophy faculty and the site visit team members are our peers; because nobody in our discipline that I know of makes a habit of defending administrators, while several of us make a habit of defending groups like the Committee for the Status of Women; and because, unlike the Colorado administration, there is a very real chance that other departments might have dealings with CSW site visit teams after blithely inviting them in.

    • Continuing:

      2) Now for your final paragraph, Daniel. What Tooley seems to be saying in the passage you’re referring to is the fact that the CSW site visit program appears to be operating on the assumption that the rate of sexual harassment in philosophy *must* be extremely high, as nothing else would explain the low ratio of women to men in the discipline. And that assumption, in turn, predisposes those team members not just to assume that more harassment is going on than actually is, but also to think that radical measures are needed to curtail the problem everywhere. Quite possibly, that attitude is what led the team members to think they were justified in violating their clear agreement with the department in turning over their scathing but unsubstantiated report to the administration. That doesn’t entail that harassment is not a problem, and Tooley doesn’t say that it isn’t: as I understand it, he’s just pointing out a problem with a very common reason for thinking that it is a problem of such a scale that judgments and actions such as the site visit team made are justified.

      3) You criticize Tooley for not saying anything in his response to the site visit team about what impact the one harasser in the department from years before had on the department, and “how the victim dealt with the problem and if the harasser stopped his activities (there were more than one case, according to Tooley himself).” You go on to say that, “[w]ithout this further information, it becomes hard to judge if there was need of further intervention or not.”

      First of all, I’m not sure I understand why Tooley needs to talk about the impact of the harasser in the department when he criticizes the actions of the site visit team. The site visit team gave a report to the administration despite a clear promise that they would not do so, and were not only unapologetic but also extremely rude and self-righteous about it. But your questions are answered by information in Tooley’s documents:

      – Owing to the strict confidentiality maintained by the Office of Discrimination and Harassment at Colorado, most of the department members didn’t know anything about the harassment complaints against the department member until long after it happened, and then they only knew bits and pieces; and

      – The department had actually put in place policies against inappropriate contact between faculty and students that went beyond the university’s guidelines, and the department also undertook several other anti-harassment initiatives in light of the revelation that one of their colleagues (who may or may not still be in the department) had sexually harassed one or more students between 2007 and the present. In fact, the department’s decision to invite in the site visit team appears to have been one of those initiatives.

      4) You write: “In any case, it hardly supports the case that women are not treated differently in academia (I don’t think that women being treated equally bad in philosophy as they are in other departments is a comforting thought).”

      I think the point there is that many people might be apt to dismiss the excesses and duplicity of the site visit team on the grounds that (as folklore has it) philosophy is a hotbed of sexual harassment and hence that absolutely any action against sexual harassment, no matter how extreme, dishonest or reckless, is to be applauded. Without that attitude, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would condone the site visit team’s actions.

      • I still don’t follow your reasoning re the administration’s share of responsibility. Let us grant that the situation is as bad as you described. Then, obviously, the committee acted in bad faith, and there is a strong ground to call for their dissolution, or at least to review its proceedings. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the committee has a greater share of responsibility than the administration in how the case was handled. After all, if the report had remained confidential, it seems clear that this whole mess wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. So, it seems (and perhaps here we disagree), the problem is not so much the alleged inaccuracy of the report, but the breach of confidentiality. Now suppose the committee had handled the document to the administration and, instead of making it public, the administration had decided to negotiate with the department. There would still be grounds for complaints, but it seems clear that the damage to the department could have been much less.

        You claim that the administration was under no promise to the department. I frankly don’t see how this matters to our assessment of the administration’s share of responsibility. Even if the administration was under no explicit duty to be reasonable towards the department, we can agree that there was at least an implicit duty to act so. Yet it seems that each one of their actions and inaction was unreasonable and ineffectual. In fact, if there is something that is uncontroversial in this whole affair is that the administration acted wrongly towards the department. So why are there so many cries to dissolve the committee, and not as many calling, say, for the resignation of the dean? Your claim that this is because most of us won’t probably be subjected to this administration in the future, but may be subjected to the committee, doesn’t help much. First, because we’re not talking about reasonable ways to make the committee more effective/ethical, but of cries of indignation, which I think should also be directed at this administration. Secondly, because I’d like to think that people are not acting merely out of fear of the committee (??), but rather, at least in part, out of sympathy to the people at Boulder. And thirdly, considering that Tooley is a professor at Boulder, I think he has a good interest in fighting this administration. Yet, I don’t see this happening.

        Finally, on the issue of harassment. I find it extremely implausible that the committee, or pretty much anyone, thinks that the only possible explanation for the low ration of women to men in the discipline is the harassment issue. More likely, I think most people cite as one factor, perhaps an important factor, into why this is so. And it seems plausible to me that, if there are strong levels of harassment in the discipline (in comparison or not to other disciplines), this is an obvious causal factor for women to drop out. I don’t see how this conditional can be controversial. The only point left is to establish the antecedent, and here we must appeal to empirical evidence. I personally don’t have the statics, but I don’t think Tooley has either (he seems to appeal to anecdotal evidence), so the claim is still open.

        But this is beside the point. As I said, even if people are not leaving the profession because of harassment, this does not entail that there is no climate problem (whether this is something peculiar to philosophy or not seems also beside the point). Specifically, it tells us nothing about the particular climate at Boulder. Tooley apparently thinks there was none, but I’m not sure that he’s authoritative here. It seems that, among the department itself, there is a clear lack of unanimity about what the climate there was, though it does seem equally clear that the climate was indeed bad (the controversy is how bad).

  2. As I think you’ll agree after reading my overview of the history of the Colorado invitation to the site visit committee, the department is indeed at odds with the administration. And that administration appears to be a very bad one.

    I admit that, in addition to the site visit committee, the dean and provost at Colorado appear to have acted very unethically and that there should at least be an investigation into their actions.

    Do you, in turn, admit that the site visit committee appears to have acted very unethically and that they should at least be an investigation into their actions?

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