A few days after I published this post, a tenured member of UC Boulder's philosophy department wrote me (in strict confidence) to complain about (in his words) "the hatchet job" performed by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in its report on the site visit to Boulder (hereafter 'the report'). I was a bit surprised by his note because in that post I had written about my experience of meeting another tenured member of the philosophy department at Boulder at a conference a year ago, who had shared with me testimony about the culture of sexual harassment at Boulder. The otherwise unfruitful exchange between us made clear something that is also very clear from the report itself (and from subsequent news accounts--see, especially, this piece by Annaleigh Curtis): Boulder's administration is not a trusted partner and almost certainly part of the problem (see also this earlier account of how it deals with sexual harassment in engineering).
The report itself does not name names nor does it offer statistical evidence of the climate problems at Boulder; it's not a document prepared either to prosecute or exonerate individuals. It's also not a brief in preparation for a lawsuit. Rather, it makes a lot of detailed, context-specific suggestions on how to move the department forward. The lack of specificity on the offenders and offenses has caused the men in the department obvious reputational damage; it’s no surprise that they would fear that they are viewed as active or complicit sexual aggressors. In fact, this prompted six senior female faculty to release a statement that "none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues)." It does not take an advanced degree in logic to understand that it follows from this letter that some of the tenured folk at Boulder are seen by their very colleagues as a source of grave problems.
But not according to Michael Tooley [HT Leiterreports]. Tooley is incapable of even acknowledging this minimal fact. I have never met Tooley, but I have read some of his papers (on laws and (ahum) on infanticide) and I know that he is a distinguished senior, professional philosopher. If we are going to make professional philosophy, a welcoming, inclusive place to all, it's folk like him that are going to have to be part of the solution. Here's what he writes:
I have been in half a dozen philosophy departments over the course of my career, and it does not seem to me that female members of those departments were treated differently in any way than male members. I did not, for example, see any differences between, on the one hand, the way in which male philosophers interacted with female philosophers and, on the other, the way in which they interacted with each other. Nor did I see any prejudice against women faculty when it came to decisions to hire, to tenure, or to promote, or against female students when it came to admission to graduate school. Indeed, in recent years, I have seen cases involving bias in the opposite direction, both as regards hiring, and with respect to graduate admissions.--Michael Tooley.
Tooley has spent a life-time in professional philosophy, and all he is capable of acknowledging about our climate problems is that (recently) there is affirmative action in favor of women! This change of topic is more appropriate for a politician running for, say the Tea Party's endorsement than for a professional trying to address the perceptions of his peers.
Now buried in Tooley's website, which is largely devoted to discrediting the report, is this nugget:
Only one tenured or tenure-track member of the Philosophy Department has been found guilty of sexual harassment, and that in two cases. That person was punished both times, and in the second case, the punishment was not one that could plausibly be perceived, contrary to what the Site Visit Report tends to suggest, as “a slap on the wrist” (page 9): it involved, among other things, one semester’s suspension without pay.--Tooley.*
So, in fact, Tooley knows that there is a serious problem with at least one repeat offender in Boulder's department. I have been unable to find a single statement on Tooley's website that acknowledges the costs of having a colleague with a predilection for sexual harassment. Given his experience and status, I would love to learn from him how he has managed to deal with the psychological and moral complexities of such situations; how he has reached out to the victims and how he and his colleagues have reflected on shared complicity. Instead, on his website, Tooley now offers his pet theory on the socialization of young women in society and what one can charitably describe as talking points to folk that would wish to circle the wagons.
Boulder's departments struggles are not unique in the profession. I have spent my adult life in professional philosophy; I have seen boorish behavior (often involving alcohol) that might well qualify as harassment; I have witnessed sexism in the class room; I have been close to situations where professors slept with their (undergraduate and graduate) students (and even been told this in a job-interview as a way to recruit me to a rural university); I have friends that were accused of sexual harassment; I have seen senior men advance the careers of (otherwise unremarkable) junior versions of themselves with little regard to more talented women nearby; I have seen outright hostility toward alternative ways of doing philosophy based on the flimsiest knowledge and engagement.** (I have come to fear that some such hostility is woven into the DNA of how we do professional business.) In most cases my bystander behavior can be described as unheroic and pragmatic.
In fact, my self-identity is tied up with the idea of being a philosopher, even a successful professional philosopher. I would love to emulate professor Tooley’s career. It's clear that my own, current department is not the most welcoming place to study philosophical feminism. Does it point to a deeper problems with gender? I hope not, but I don't feel very confident (and I recognize that there are huge cultural differences between academia Stateside and in Flanders). I know that in professional contexts I have engaged in behavior toward other philosophers that can only be described as bullying, without apparent professional cost. All of us routinely experience unreceptive professional philosophers that do not wish to see the best in each other's attempts. It can't be enjoyable to have colleagues that belittle the worth of one's work (another issue mentioned in the report).
So, the Boulder report and responses to it hits close to home. Prof. Tooley, all of us in professional philosophy need to do better. In a better world somebody with his status would be at the center of attempts to improve the situation. I understand that he is irritated because he apparently feels shafted (correctly, I think) by Boulder's administration and (incorrectly, I think) by his peers in the profession who wrote the report. Even so, as a profession, we have honored him with distinctions and recognition. His response does not reflect well on us. I am stating this in public because I hope more of our colleagues will let him know this. I have come to expect little moral courage from the senior members of our profession (we're all humans, after all), but Tooley's inability to "see" is, well, a disgrace.
*University administrators routinely use concerns over privacy to hush up problems on their campuses; one consequence is that professional peers rarely learn of the punishments received by their colleagues elsewhere.
**I mention this because the report is not just about sexual aggression. It’s also about work-place bullying and lack of civility toward alternative philosophical projects.