Colorado’s Troubles in The Chronicle (several updates)


Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a long article (may be paywalled) on the University of Colorado Department of Philosophy’s issues with sexual misconduct and climate for women, with remarks from people inside and outside the department.

They wanted to help solve their field’s longstanding problems over the treatment of women and find ways to improve the climate on their own campus. But instead, the philosophy department’s decision to invite an outside review has left it struggling to survive after the investigators concluded it was rife with “inappropriate, sexualized unprofessional behavior.”…

Philosophy professors worry that the reaction to the review—completed last fall by a panel of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women—may now destroy the department. Even the head of that national committee says Boulder’s philosophers are right to be concerned. “I don’t expect a department that has a deeply cold climate for women, and has had for years, to be able to clean it up in a year and without a fair amount of pain,” says Hilde Lindemann, a philosophy professor at Michigan State University. “But I dare say they are fighting for their lives.”…

The three female philosophers who visited Boulder early last fall as part of the review interviewed professors, students, and administrators. The committee issued its scathing 15-page report in November. It said that women had filed 15 complaints with the university’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment since 2007 and that female graduate students reported feeling anxious and demoralized. Many incidents of alleged harassment, the report said, occurred off campus and after hours while faculty members and graduate students socialized over alcohol. Female faculty members reported working from home to avoid their male colleagues.

Almost no one here recognized the portrait of the department.

Six women with ties to the department, including the tenured female philosophers, issued a statement earlier this year saying that harassment and discrimination were the exception at Boulder, not the rule. “We are all distressed,” they said, “that the report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct.”

Now, almost a year after the site visit, the department still feels like it is “in the fog of war,” says Michael E. Zimmerman, a professor of philosophy who came here eight years ago from Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina. The tension and stress of working here is one of the reasons Mr. Zimmerman says he plans to retire at the end of this academic year.

The article recounts several key events over the past year or so.

First, last fall, the university suspended Robert Hanna for a semester without pay after he was accused of sending sexually explicit emails propositioning both a female faculty member and a female graduate student, professors here say….  Then last winter, [Dan] Kaufman told the department’s interim chairman, J. Andrew Cowell, a joke that university officials considered threatening…. This academic year, the university has targeted two associate professors of philosophy: David Barnett and Bradley Monton. It is investigating Mr. Monton for allegations that he violated the university’s policy prohibiting faculty members from having romantic relationships with students they supervise…. The university has charged Mr. Barnett with retaliating against a female graduate student in the department who said a male graduate student sexually assaulted her.

There has been controversy over how some of the cases have been handled by the University’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH). Barnett was looking into the way that the ODH was handling sexual assault charges against one of the department’s students:

“It is a case of egregious, widespread, and systematic misrepresentation of evidence in order to bias an investigation in favor of a conclusion that is clearly not supported by the totality of evidence,” Mr. Barnett said in an email message to university officials.

The article also details some of the measures the department has taken to address these matters, including an articulation of “best practices,” as well as some of the consequences of those measures. Just recently the university announced that graduate admissions in philosophy would resume.

UPDATE: Robert Hanna, who was named in the article as being “accused of sending sexually explicit emails propositioning both a female faculty member and a female graduate student” has posted a reply on his Academia.edu website. He accuses those who revealed his name to the Chronicle’s reporter as “in violation of CU confidentiality rules.” Among other things, he adds: 

I want to say something about genuine free speech, i.e., telling the unvarnished moral truth about the things that really matter to us, as opposed to bogus “free speech,”  i.e., politically correct bullshit, i.e., saying only what the people who possess coercive power want to you to say.Over the last several years, genuine free speech on certain topics of great cultural, political, &moral importance has been almost entirely suppressed in the CU Philosophy Department & at CU more generally, by those who possess coercive power, which I think is a very bad thing for all of us. Indeed, it’s highly reminiscent of what happened during the infamous McCarthy era. I won’t go into the Ward Churchill or Patti Adler cases, although they’re good examples of what I’m talking about. Instead, I’m thinking specifically about the CU administration’s clearly arbitrary & immoral treatment of three of my CU Philosophy Department colleagues, Dan Kaufman, Brad Monton, & Dave Barnett, just because they said some joking, true, or rationally critical things that people in the CU administration didn’t want to hear, or have said out loud. Good news about re-opening graduate admissions does not erase the wrongs done to Kaufman, Monton, & Barnett. 

As for me, well, even though I’ve been sent to the wall by good old CU, I’ve also got two bigger things on my mind:(i) how North American universities, with the help of scandal-mongering media, arbitrarily & immorally regulate the love-lives of academic people; & (ii) the deeply flawed conception of social & political life presupposed by this.

UPDATE 2: Philodaria at Feminist Philosophers has a post replying to part of Hanna’s essay. Some of these issues have been discussed here, before. See, for example, “What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do?

UPDATE 3: In his reply, Hanna directs readers to a piece he authored entitled “Sexual McCarthyism, Polyamory, and the First Amendment,” in which he claims that sexual harassment policies are being used as “weapons” by universities against the polyamorous. The Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance responds to Hanna here.

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