Amy Ferrer is not a philosopher (she has a BA in Women’s Studies and a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration and appears to have a history of advocacy on social issues rather than of academic work), but she has served as Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association since 2012.
On December 4th, 2012, shortly after taking on her leadership role at the APA, she had the following to say on Leiter Reports: “Improving the climate for women and LGBT people in philosophy also means addressing the very serious problem of sexual harassment. The APA board of officers has recently charged an ad hoc committee on sexual harassment to focus specifically on this issue, and we strongly encourage individual departments to investigate and address sexual harassment as it affects them. One excellent resource for departments will be the APA Committee on the Status of Women’s forthcoming site visit program (loosely modeled on a similar program by the American Physical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Physics), which will be piloted in 2013.”
Despite taking pride in the fact that the APA board of officers recently formed this committee and endorsing the APA Committee on the Status of Women’s (CSW’s) forthcoming site visit program, Ms. Ferrer later attempted to put some distance between the APA and the APA CSW. In a letter to Michael Tooley on January 28th, Ms. Ferrer writes “The site visit program is a project of the APA’s committee on the status of women, which is somewhat different than being a project of the association. It is more like a sponsorship relationship, wherein the program is not overseen by the national office, the board of officers, or any division, and thus the site visitors cannot be considered employees or representatives of the association.”
Read in the context of the very brief and friendly letter from Professor Tooley that precedes it, the legalistic phrasing “cannot be considered employees or representatives of the association” seems surprising. One might be excused for wondering whether a desire for a legal firewall between the APA and the APA CSW, prompted by the outrageous actions of the site visit team in Colorado, motivated the wording.
On March 8th, however, Ms. Ferrer posted the following announcement on the APA website:
This International Women’s Day, help us improve the climate for women in philosophy
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Posted by: Amy Ferrer
Today, on International Women’s Day, we are reminded of the high-profile cases of women treated badly in philosophy that have recently grabbed headlines. These cases have prompted many philosophers to ask what they can do to make the discipline more hospitable to underrepresented people in the profession, including women, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ people. One thing you can do is to donate to efforts that aim to improve the climate for women in philosophy.
To celebrate this day, the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women offers a challenge: help us raise $10,000 to support the work of the committee.
Any funds we raise will go to support initiatives such as training workshops for the Site Visit Program founded by the committee and the next Diversity in Philosophy Conference, to be held in late May 2015 at Villanova University. These projects and others like them need funding if they are to help change the status quo. The money we raise today will go not only to support the programs themselves but also to help to provide access to those who might not be able to participate without travel assistance.
And thank you for everything you do to help make philosophy the welcoming, equitable, and inclusive discipline we know it can be.
Chair, Committee on the Status of Women
Amy E. Ferrer
To summarize: Ms. Ferrer, a feminist activist with a background in women’s studies but no degree in philosophy, becomes executive director of the APA and a repeated guest blogger on the most widely-read blog in the discipline, giving her considerable sway over the direction of our profession. Upon being invested with those powers, she makes clear that she sees the upcoming APA CSW’s site visit program as instrumental in her goal to improve our discipline. In what seems to be the site visit program’s first outing, everything goes wrong: the site visit team discloses confidential information to a rather hostile administration despite getting that information on the basis of a written guarantee that they will not do so… and so on. The site visit team then refuses even to apologize; and its members appear to show no remorse as they stonewall, on what we now see to be specious grounds, a member of the department they trashed asking a simple, relevant and polite question of them in the wake of the disaster they left behind. Amy Ferrer’s response to this is to distance herself and the APA from the APA CSW, and to wash her hands of the matter.
A charitable observer might have assumed Ms. Ferrer to have privately expressed her unhappiness with the site visit team and their actions and to have had strong words with the APA CSW for allowing things to go so badly wrong. Leaving aside the moral question, it is clearly prudent for the APA and, for that matter, the CSW to distance themselves from the site visit project in the face of the shocking behavior of the team on its first outing. But instead, here we have Ms. Ferrer, in her official capacity, writing an open letter with the chair of the APA CSW, for the purpose of raising ten thousand dollars for the site visit project, as though none of this had ever happened.
Now, that’s some nerve! But in Ms. Ferrer’s defense, I can’t be sure she won’t get away with this audacity. Perhaps she’s just very good at reading the signs of the times and understanding which forms of hypocrisy and injustice the profession will abide today.
- Update, March 24/2014: Amy Ferrer has now been invited to guest blog at NewAPPS for the next week. John Protevi and Eric Winsberg will be
censoringmoderating comments along the way.