Diversity at Undergraduate-Oriented Departments
In the 50-plus years of its existence, the philosophy department has offered only one tenure-track position to a woman, and zero positions to people of color.
So writes undergraduate Emily Beszhak, about the Department of Philosophy at Western Washington University, in a letter to the editor of the school paper. The occasion of the letter was a recent hire by the department of one of its own graduates, which continued the trend described above.
Ms. Beszhak, a senior philosophy major, said that she and other students have no objections to the professional qualifications of the person hired (Neal Tognazzini, currently at William & Mary), nor do they include him when they describe their “faculty’s irresponsibility.” Rather, they object to the fact that the hire was not used as an opportunity to add diversity to the department, which Beszhak says is rather homogenous not just in race and gender, but also in philosophical interests and religion. She adds: “Students consider the deficit of diversity among majors, minors and faculty to be to the detriment of underrepresented individuals and groups, the objectivity of our philosophical education and the quality of our academic and human experience.”
The letter, Beszhak reported in a conversation with me, was not well received by the university, and she was asked to meet with the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Science, Dr. LeaAnn Martin, and philosophy department chair Ryan Wasserman. At the meeting, the dean, while sympathetic with Beszhak’s position, expressed “disappointment” that she had written the letter. Wasserman said that the department had taken “every measure” to make sure that the hiring process was not biased.
As a way of responding to the concerns of the students, Wasserman organized a forum this past Monday for students to ask the faculty questions about diversity in the department and the hiring process. Beszhak says that the meeting was fairly superficial and diplomatic, and seemed like a “political response as opposed to a discussion to spearhead change.” At the meeting, Beszhak says, Wasserman claimed that Western Washington’s philosophy department is “quite normal” in its lack of diversity. Of course, normalcy is not itself exculpatory, but perhaps more was said on that point.
In any event, is Wasserman right that his department is normal in this regard? Western Washington is one of nine undergraduate-only departments that is recommended by name in the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Obviously there are other very good undergraduate-only departments, but to keep things simple let’s look at just those nine, and, again for simplicty, just at gender. (Feel free to provide other relevant information in the comments.)
Excluding visiting faculty, adjuncts, and emeriti, here are the number of women faculty in these departments:
Amherst College: 1 out of 6
Caltech: 1 out of 5
Claremont-McKenna: 2 out of 8, will be 3 out of 9 next year*
Dartmouth: 3 out of 10
Pomona: 3 out of 8
Reed College: 1 out of 6
University of Vermont 2 out of 10
Wellesley: 5 out of 8
Western Washington: 1 out of 6, will be 1 out of 7 next year
Of these departments, four have just one woman, and three have similar ratios (1:6-7) of women to total faculty.
There has been a lot of discussion about the lack of women in philosophy, yet a lot of this seems to have focused on departments with graduate programs. If Eddy Nahmias is correct about the role of introductory undergraduate philosophy courses in generating the gender disparity, then we should be discussing all types of undergraduate institutions.
At this point, Beszhak, who had considered graduate school in philosophy as a possible option for herself, is rather discouraged. “Given the present state of the discipline, I’m not sure I want to go into philosophy.”
Discussion welcome (though please refrain from commenting on the qualifications of particular philosophers for particular jobs).
*Claremont-McKenna numbers updated, thanks to the reminder from an anonymous commentator.
Claremont-McKenna is adding Adrienne Martin, which will bring their ratio to 3/9.Report
Just want to share Carleton College’s numbers. 2 of 5 of our faculty are women, but perhaps more striking is that a little over half of our current crop of senior, junior and just-declared sophomore majors are women (with about half of the majors each year being women), which has been typical for the past few years (at least. I don’t know numbers prior to the previous 5 years).
It would be interesting to know the number of majors that are women in the programs listed above (and others).Report
The issue highlighted by the student in that passage seems to be more with the long term trend – only 1 offer to a female candidate in 50 years? – rather than with the current numbers alone. Did the meeting with the department include any info on what those measures were that were taken to ensure a fair search?Report
“Did the meeting with the department include any info on what those measures were that were taken to ensure a fair search?
I tried asking about such measures during the forum. They took some university-required steps to eliminate bias (the effectiveness of these steps is something the students are currently discussing) but avoided saying that they made diversifying their faculty a goal in the hiring process. I feel that in an environment of deplorable diversity such a distinction is an important one. However, what that distinction looks like in practice is a mystery to me.Report
“Students would like to acknowledge that there was no faculty consultation of student needs or desires regarding a new professor, many students were not aware the department was hiring. ”
Diversity questions aside, if this is true, it seems to me to be shameful. I have been in several departments as an undergrad and grad during job searches. In each case the students were invited/required to attend job talks, informal conversations, and teaching demos with the candidates. At the very least search committees ought to give the appearance that the search is for a person that will be beneficial for students.Report
I’m (genuinely) not trying to offer a view about the gender imbalance in these departments in this comment (though I have views about this), but did this undergraduate really have access (when she wrote the letter, before the meeting with the faculty) to data about who jobs had been offered to? And not just data about who had accepted jobs? At least in my department, I doubt whether there are even records of such things.Report
HK Andersen: I am afraid that 50-year statistic is accurate. (The student who wrote the letter, as well as a number of other people at Western, asked me about the history. I then did some research, and reported to them what I had found.) And that is obviously not something we can be proud of. (But I hasten to point out the obvious: the person we just hired is not in any way responsible for the department’s deplorable history in hiring. (In fact, he is now the only person in the department who is not responsible for any part of that history!) Also, he has a stellar CV that would clearly put him in the very top group of any pool of candidates for a job like ours.)
One question I am especially interested in going forward is what departments like mine can do to reverse the awful trend that we currently see: roughly half of our intro-level students are women, but only about 18% of our majors are women. Those statistics alone make it obvious to me that we are doing something terribly wrong. And presumably everyone in every department like mine wants to correct this trend. So I would love to hear more ideas about strategies for making that correction. We’re working on it, but departments like mine need all the help we can get.Report
We’re a small undergraduate department (6 tenured faculty members: 3 women, 3 men, one member is African American). We have around 50% women majors & minors. Two of the three students placed in graduate philosophy programs have been women. Our faculty hiring over the past decade has been diverse, but it nevertheless requires efforts to increase diversity in majors & minors.
An effective method for us has been sending letters of accomplishment to students that have excelled in our introductory level courses. These letters congratulate students on their outstanding coursework and encourage them to consider continuing taking philosophy courses. We provide some information about the minor, major and, especially crucial, double-major. (You need to avoid coming off as “poaching students” from other majors in this sort of letter.) We invite them to attend on of the weekly meetings of our Philosophy Club. Contact information is provided. Letters like this may be effective because many students simply do not see themselves as nearly as intelligent as they truly are — the way we see them! Recognition is a very powerful experience.
I also recommend building a strong Philosophy Club. I’ve been faculty advisor for ours for nine years. Meeting each week at a set time, consistently, over years enables the department to have a community base. The club is open to all students, staff and faculty, bringing in more people interested in philosophy. Students take charge and plan events, inviting faculty to give talks, inviting guest speakers (with the help of faculty) and plan charity events, road trips, student conferences (we teamed with Coastal Carolina this AY for the Online Undergraduate Philosophy Conference), debates, study groups, etc. The “field of dreams” principle works for this — consistently meeting no matter how many students show up eventually arrives at critical mass. This community space is something I feel can provide additional social support for first-generation college students.
I hope these suggestions help!Report
Thank you, Maureen!Report
I understand the need for simplicity, but let’s not ignore the general plea for diversity in the discipline. There are an order of magnitude less black and Latino philosophy professors than the national average. Only about 6.6 percent of philosophy Ph.D.s were black or Latino in 2012 (Table 22 here).
It seems to me that while the discipline has made progress on gender issues, we aren’t even having a conversation with regard to ethnicity, sexuality, and disability issues.Report
By my quick count:
Western Washington’s school counseling program faculty has 5 women, 2 men.
Western Washington’s women’s studies program has an affiliated faculty that includes 45 women, 5 men.
Western Washington’s elementary education program faculty has 19 women, 5 men.
Western Washington’s RN-to-BSN program faculty has 6 women, 0 men.
Does anyone care? Should anyone care?
[Reply from Justin Weinberg: I am posting the comment from “OC Cather” and including the following as a way of trying to avoid both (a) derailing the thread and (b) giving the impression that I am moderating comments according to some notion of political correctness. So here goes:
OC Cather, the figures you cite are interesting, and I think most people who care about the gender disparities in philosophy also would care about the gender disparities in other fields, too. So consider your tollens ponen’d.
Since this is a philosophy blog, we’ll mainly stick to discussing the philosophy profession, though.
For many people concerned about gender disparities, it isn’t the numbers themselves that are the real problem, but what the numbers reflect. There is a real concern that there is unfairness or badness in the institutions and practices of our discipline, along with some overtly sexist (or worse) attitudes and behavior, not to mention the sexist background culture in which this all takes place. We have, at this point, plenty of evidence of sexism at all of these levels (please do not play the silly game of asking for such evidence to be reproduced here) and it is highly plausible to take such sexism as a contributing factor in the production of the gender disparities under discussion.
Are there other, non-social factors that we can’t do anything about that also contribute somewhat to the gender disparities in philosophy? It is possible, but that is not what we are discussing here. We are discussing the things we can do something about, and there is plenty there to discuss.]Report
We should care! These gender imbalances are the product of precisely the same sexist stereotypes (partially) responsible for the gender imbalance in philosophy. The stereotype that women are more empathic, which may play a role in their overrepresentation in counselling, harms women. It plays a role in their being expected to do the overwhelming majority of the care work in the home and outside it, often unpaid or badly paid. The assumption that women care about children, which may play a role in their overrepresentation in education, harms women: it ensures the transmission of implicit attitudes associating women with childcare. If we are to alter implicit biases, then we need a higher proportion of women in traditionally masculine roles, and in prestigious positions, and of men in caring roles.Report
I’d like to reiterate Carlos’ remark. Both discussion and progress about race and disability issues lag far behind gender issues. However, to correct Carlos numbers since the race of temporary visa holders were not listed. 8.4 percent of philosophy Ph.Ds were black or Latino in 2012 and if we include asians and those of more than one race, then we get 14.87 percent.
Those are not insignificant numbers yet many departments lack any faculty of color.Report
I’m not sure that last bit surprising. I think there are some hard questions about why the PhD’s granted percentage is so low, but hiring rates in a fair process should be around the same as the PhD rate. So a little more than one-in-ten new faculty members should be in one of those groups. This will entail that a lot of programs, at those rates, will have no members from those groups just by chance, as most teaching programs have fewer than 10 members. Though I suspect the figures would be discouraging once we turned our eye to ten+ member faculties.Report
It would be a worthwhile exercise to see if the numbers add up. My guess is that they would reveal some degree of bias.Report
At Hamline University, the philosophy department has four tenure/tenure-track faculty — one woman (me) and three men (one black). Our 2014 graduating class of 10 includes three men of color, one woman of color, and three women total. (At the beginning of the 2014 cohort’s four years at Hamline, we also had a woman VAP.) Our department is also highly pluralistic, and all of us are active scholars.Report
I agree that the situation for racial/ethnic minorities in philosophy is unacceptable. Yes, this needs to be discussed. I’m not sure, however, that attention to gender is always just about simplicity. Sometimes it is worthwhile to focus on one kind of wrong even if there are other wrongs that are, in some sense, more serious. For example, sometimes there are immediate things that can be done to address the easier problem, whereas addressing the larger one requires broader and deeper change. In the case at hand, there were qualified women candidates in the final round who might have been hired, but weren’t. This raises questions about the decision making process at the final round: Was the process that ruled them out fair? Was it appropriately responsive to student needs? What are the best practices for hiring from a pool of candidates judged to be qualified? It would be interesting to know if there were minority candidates in the final round and if not why they were eliminated from the pool, for then similar questions should definitely be raised. But it is also clear in the case of minorities in philosophy that the problem has very deep roots that have affected the pipeline more profoundly than in the case of women, and much more needs to be done than calling out the final choice made by search committees over the past 50 years. The very fact that there have been more women in the pipeline for longer makes the 50 year statistic appalling. We do need constantly to raise issue of philosophy’s horrible record with respect to minorities and insist that there be discussion of the problem. Let’s discuss both problems and push together to make progress on both fronts.Report
I’m currently a student in WWU’s philosophy department and, while I don’t know how helpful it will be, I thought I’d just bring in my perspective within the department. Apologies in advance for the length, but this has bugged me for years and with my graduation soon I doubt I’ll have another forum for these thought. First off, I’m white and I’m male, so I can’t claim to have experienced anything like what some others in the department have. While I’m gay, I can’t even begin to imagine the feelings of some of my classmates, some of whom I know have experienced very direct and hateful comments from others in our classes on occasion. I’ve only ever had to bare one hateful comment against myself, and that I was lucky enough to learn of secondhand, so my experience is hardly analogous in many ways.I’m lucky in that I can hide myself and hope that no one ever notices, which is a luxury most other underrepresented groups don’t have.
However, I think there is at least one way in which the experiences are similar. So far as I know, I’m one of only three LGBT individuals in the department, which is depressingly low compared to the other departments I’m a part of. Stepping into most classes in the philosophy department means stepping into a room that is overwhelmingly white, male, and heterosexual. While I can’t speak for others in this regard, for myself this meant entering an environment where I felt alien from the get go. It’s an environment where every single interaction with another student or teacher is calculated rather than natural. The pronouns of significant others are switched, meeting with a teacher in an office means putting on a more “masculine” tone of voice so they don’t catch on, and any discussion of one’s personal life carries with it the fear of losing a classmate as a friend or possibly risking one’s grade or relationship with a teacher.
Despite loving philosophy as a topic, as someone who is gay I can’t help but want to see myself reflected more in the field. I wish I had more than just Foucault, Beauvoir, and Wittgenstein to look up to, and I wish that I could read historical works by some of my favorite philosophers without reading that I’m a moral degenerate. If I could have looked around in most of my other classes and seen even one other gay person, or in some classes even one woman or person of color, at least I wouldn’t have felt alone, or at least there would have been one other person who was in it with me. If I could look in the faculty and see more diversity, maybe graduate school wouldn’t feel so hopeless and unattainable. At the end of my junior year I was ready to drop the major entirely, and likely would have done so if it wasn’t for one of the faculty who was female offered so many classes the next year. At least in her classes I knew I could be myself to a degree, and as she slipped in as much feminist philosophy as she was able I could learn about philosophical topics more salient and important to me than yet another article of metaphysics that neither meant anything to me nor interested me in the slightest.
I love my department, and the professors have all shown nothing on kindness despite all my feelings of discomfort. However, I can’t help but be incredibly saddened by the choice of hire. Not because I fear there may be bias, but rather because it feels like a chance to make the department less intimidating and more welcoming for students who didn’t fit the typical mold had been squandered. Maybe the hiring process was completely free of bias and the person hired was truly the best qualified, but even if that is so I can’t help but feel that maybe it was still wrong, a choice made by people who don’t really get it. I want to believe that the faculty are all good people free of sexist and racist inclinations, and I think I do still believe that, but I still think they’re in the wrong and I can’t say with certainty anymore that they care as much as I once hoped.Report
Thanks a lot for your perspective on this, it is really appreciated! I wanted to mention some resources that you might find useful: first, there are a few contemporary philosophers doing excellent work on LGBT issues (see for instance Edward Stein, Cheshire Calhoun, and Raja Halwani, among others). Also, there is a society for lesbian and gay philosophy, and an APA’s committee on the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered philosophers. There is also an informal Facebook group for LGBT philosophers. To sum up: you are not alone!Report
And John Corvino, Talia Bettcher, Richard Nunan, (I’d say *me*), you too Esa…the list is not short. The problem is more likely that our work isn’t being taught, so it isn’t easily found by students.Report
I am so sorry you have felt this way! Reading your claim that you were lucky because you could “hide” made me so sad. Maybe it’s too late, but you might be interested in looking into the MAP’s mentorship initiative: http://www.mapforthegap.com/mentors.html
Some of the mentors might be particularly apt to give advice to LGBTQ undergraduates in philosophy. If it’s not useful to you, it might be useful to people you know. Best of luck!Report
As a gay man myself, I’ve often noticed the apparent low numbers of LGBT people in philosophy. In grad school I only knew of one faculty member and two other grad students who were LGBT (and I believe the faculty member may have been retired). Over the years since then I’ve gradually met a few more people, especially through the recent Facebook group that Esa mentions.
One thing that makes it particularly hard is that for many of us, just reading our work would give no obvious indication of our orientation. But we’re out there. (Also, I was on a panel at WWU in November speaking about diversity issues – I’m not sure if you happened to attend that panel.)Report
I’d like to mention a number of actions that have been taken in my department, either by the department via the Chair, or by individual members of the department. (1) The Chair sends (via regular mail) letters to all A-range grades students in our large intro classes encouraging them to take more Philosophy classes, and advising them about particular complementary courses that they might take next. If intro classes are 50% female, then one might expect that 50% of letter recipients would be female, and so encouraged to go on to take more philosophy. (2) Ensure that syllabi, especially at the intro level, have a balance of authors, male and female, and preferably from diverse ethnic backgrounds. This is not as hard as one might think, if one simply does not use standard anthologies (which have horrible gender balance), or supplements those with JSTOR articles. The APA committee on diversity is compiling a database of syllabi that can help here. (3) Faculty make a point of talking to a class about how to have a constructive classroom discussion (this isn’t long and drawn out, but sets a tone). (4) Individual faculty make a point of encouraging talented female students, and individual female faculty make a point of being visible around the department.
While it is far from clear whether any of these strategies have had a direct causal role in increasing the number of women majors, it is nonetheless the case that the gender balance of our women majors and minors has improved since the letters started being sent out. I can’t imagine any of the other strategies can hurt, and they involve strikingly little effort on the part of faculty.Report
“(2) Ensure that syllabi, especially at the intro level, have a balance of authors, male and female, and preferably from diverse ethnic backgrounds. This is not as hard as one might think, if one simply does not use standard anthologies (which have horrible gender balance), or supplements those with JSTOR articles. The APA committee on diversity is compiling a database of syllabi that can help here.”
As an undergraduate student in the WWU philosophy dept taking classes from some teachers who make this effort and others who don’t, this statement (and comment in general) rings particularly true with me.
In one particular upper-level class I and one other woman were the only people assigned to the only two articles written by a female that we discussed in the class (same philosopher). When I inquired about this “coincidence” I was shut down because this coincidence isn’t a big deal and it’s not something I should read into.
But it is. When the disparity between genders is as drastic as it is, steps to thoroughly diversify a curriculum are both easy and important and you make that point very well. Thank you.Report
I just want to give a shout out to an excellent undergrad-only department with a diverse faculty and diverse students. It also happens to be the department I got my undergrad degree in. It also used to be mentioned on Leiter’s rankings. If we want to diversify philosophy, it’s worth looking at what folks who are successfully but quietly doing so are doing. U Mass Boston! http://www.umb.edu/academics/cla/philosophy/facultyReport
Thanks, Michaela! Yes, not sure why Leiter dropped us, but we have only gotten stronger. We have a long history of successfully hiring faculty of color. Being in a major city and having a very diverse (in all ways) student body really helps with recruiting. Right now our ratio of F/M is 50% amongst tenured and TT, only 25% among NTT. This is unusual because nationwide NTTs are more often women, but our longest term NTTs (20+ years) are mostly men and all are now senior lecturers with longer contracts. We have a vibrant Philosophy Club which has been meeting Friday afternoons for years and years, and we have recently started the encouragement letters. Also, we have 3 major tracks (Standard, Social & Political, and Philosophy & Public Policy) and these give students much more choice in how they major. Plus a program in Philosophy and Law. We find that these options help to appeal to diverse majors.Report
The letter method was probably one of the factors that worked for me. I found myself in the A+ range for math and logic at St Andrews but only received a letter of commendation from the philosophy faculty. In the second year I switched from a split concentration (between philosophy and physics, with math required) to philosophy full time. That had something to do with the fact that my required courses had conflicting schedules, but I definitely felt more welcome in philosophy (!).Report
These facts are no doubt the product of decades long prejudice and exclusion. However, there’s every reason to be optimistic as, if the recent discussion at the Philosophy Smoker blog is even the ballpark of accurate, women are doing better than their male counterparts in recent TT hires, which should even things out in the long run. There’s even further reason for optimism, if the recent data from Carolyn Dicey-Jennings is approximately correct, as it doesn’t appear that coming from a lower PGR ranked department hinders female applicants nearly to the degree that it appears to hinder their similarly ranked male counterparts. So take heart! Things are changing, but, by the nature of the job market, they can only change slowly.
(CDJ post: http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/04/the-impact-of-gourmet-rank-on-women-and-men-seeking-tenure-track-jobs.html)Report
Another suggestion: anonymous grading might help. I don’t have data on this, but it seems plausible to me that students may be sensitive to biases present in non-anonymized grading. I posted some thoughts on this at NewAPPS: http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/05/anonymous-grading.html.Report
Other issues aside for the moment, I find it highly disturbing, if true, that the letter to the editor, which, while maybe not exactly what I would have written, is perfectly reasonable, “was not well received by the university.” It’s not completely clear from the post, but I hope that reaction was limited to the administration and did not extend, in any way, to the philosophy department. I suppose it’s not a surprise when people in administration respond to reasonable complaints with a heavy hand, even though it _should_ be a surprise. If the department also reacted with hostility or over-defensiveness, then it’s done something wrong, in addition to other things it may have done wrong in various searches. This was clearly a case where the department should have come to the support of a student with a legitimate concern. I hope that’s what actually happened, though it’s pretty unclear from what’s said above. As a general rule, when some person or group is doing something wrong, and then is subject to (here rather mild) criticism, it’s not acceptable to act defensively or, even worse, aggressively. And, it seems, even if completely unintentionally, the department and administration here has been doing something wrong.Report
Dr. Wasserman’s response, in part, to the letter was to emphasize that the hiring process was “not biased”.
I think its important to think beyond mere “gender-blind/color-blind” considerations when we are thinking about diversity in hiring decisions. Given all of the ways in which having a diverse faculty can be encouraging to students–as the WWU students noted above–I think diversity in itself should be a factor (though of course not the only) when making hiring decisions, over and above just anonymizing applications and removing bias in various ways.
I also want to second Carolyn’s point about anonymized grading: Given what we know about implicit biases, anonymous grading seems to me to be imperative.Report
(Just to add, lest someone think I’m being self-serving since I’ll be looking for a job in the next couple of years: I am a heterosexual white male.)Report
1. The research mentioned in the post (with link to CHE article) was initiated and led by Morgan Thompson and Toni Adleberg. I’m third author on our piece published in Philosophical Psychology providing evidence that women and men do not have different philosophical topics. Along with Sam Sims, we are now using our climate survey data to see if we can offer more ideas about why women disproportionately stop taking philosophy courses. (We also hope to offer ideas about why black students leave philosophy, another problem that must be addressed.) In my view increasing the number of women and minorities who major in philosophy will be the best (not only!) way to increase the proportion of these underrepresented groups among graduate students and faculty.
2. I obviously have no knowledge of the history of hiring at Western Washington, but it’s worth keeping in mind (a) that there are laws regarding the consideration of race and gender in hiring (perhaps a lawyer can fill us in, but I think it is illegal for a department’s search committee to favor a candidate explicitly based on considerations of race and gender), (b) that in my experience on numerous hiring committees, in a field of 100-200 applicants, there may be between zero and a handful of minority applicants and as few as 10-15% women applicants, illustrating the importance of increasing the proportions of women and minorities who go into philosophy.Report
“As a way of responding to the concerns of the students, Wasserman organized a forum this past Monday for students to ask the faculty questions about diversity in the department and the hiring process says that the meeting was fairly superficial and diplomatic, and seemed like a “political response as opposed to a discussion to spearhead change.””
The superficiality of the meeting seems to me to have been predictable considering what we could call the “micro-social-geography” of the “forum.” If you look at the photo (from the link above) you see the students occupy the traditionally subordinate place of the audience and the professors up front, occupying what is simultaneously the power position — where the profs usually stand, in command of the classroom — and a defensive position, arranged in a phalanx and presenting a united front (no, really, look at the photo): http://www.westernfrontonline.net/news/article_030ff32c-dab8-11e3-9bb3-0017a43b2370.html?mode=image&photo=0 So the oppositionality and defensiveness of the faculty is built right into the arrangement of the meeting.
What could have been differently, and better? Before the meeting, there could have been an opt-in signature online discussion (that is, the default setting would have been anonymity) to gather topics for discussion. There could have been then a faculty and student group to review the topics and pose questions for group discussion at the meeting. The meeting should have been held in a room with movable chairs and the faculty and students interspersed throughout the room.
Moral of the story: attention to social dynamics and their relation to “micro-social-geography” is both very important and unfortunately mostly neglected.Report
People looking for ideas about why black students leave or don’t enter philosophy could read and acknowledge what some black philosophers have written on the subject–instead of reflexively emphasizing “implicit bias” and the “pipeline problem.” Here are a few places to start:
More specifically regarding the situation in departments such as WWU, hiring a good philosopher who is a woman should not be too difficult–given a concrete commitment to rectifying a woeful lack of diversity.Report
From the limited data in the comments, it appears that gender balanced departments tend to have gender balanced student populations. So, we might wonder if balancing gender among faculty is among the things that would help balance gender among students.
Might we propose a simple meta-analysis of correlations between departmental gender distribution and student body gender distribution? We might also do a longitudinal study to see if increased or decreased gender balance among faculty is related to increased or decreased gender balance among students. It looks like a good deal of this data was gathered by Buckwalter & Stich 2011. I’d volunteer to do it whether I could use their data on faculty or not.
Also, I am personally interested in knowing if anyone has thoughts on imbalances across other dimensions (e.g., religious orientation). In my last sample of around 600 philosophy professionals, grad students, and undergrads, more than 90% of participants reported atheist dispositions (full disclosure: I am drawn to agnosticism). I would not be surprised if this disparity is a result of both training/selection as well as the implicit attitude in philosophy towards certain views. Should these kinds of imbalance be actively corrected as well?Report
Molly Paxton, Carrie Figdor, and Valerie Tiberius (2012) looked at data from 56 institutions–both schools with PhD programs in philosophy and liberal arts institutions. They found a significant positive correlation between the proportion of female faculty members in the department and the proportion of female philosophy majors. Although their work already found the correlation, a meta-analysis looking at a larger number of departments would be interesting.
In my work with Toni Adleberg, Sam Sims, and Eddy Nahmias on women’s underrepresentation at the undergraduate level in philosophy (mentioned above by Eddy), we found that in our 2012 data the gender of the instructor made no difference to women’s willingness to continue taking philosophy classes. (Our sample of female instructors was fairly small though). We haven’t yet tested this with the 2013 data.Report
Thanks for the first reference! That is an excellent reference. I will check it out.
As for your 2014 paper , I am interested in the details in how you are determining willingness to continue taking philosophy courses. Since this is probably off the topic of this thread, I will email you about it.Report
Here in the philosophy department at the University of Vermont we are working to improve the diversity of our program. The numbers in the main post indicate that, so far as the representation of women on our faculty goes, we have lots of room for improvement. It may be worth noting that, due to a retirement and our (amazing) new hire, starting in August three of ten faculty will be women.
We have a severe gender imbalance in our enrollments in our upper-division classes. Only 25% of our majors are women. We know we have a problem. We know our problem demands an institutional response. A group of our faculty are looking into the issue of gender balance in our enrollments, and will make recommendations to the department at the end of this month. We welcome suggestions for ways we can improve.
– Louis deRosset, ChairReport
This is all the more dreadful because An administrator called the student in and took her to task. Given the huge disparities in power, it’s hard not to see this as an attempt to coerce the student and stifle free-speech.Report
I really appreciate all the suggestions being made (by Maureen Eckert, Lisa Shapiro, and others) for dealing with the problem of women and members of other underrepresented groups dropping out of philosophy.
I thought I would mention one small thing I have been doing that seems to be having surprisingly good results. Background: I talked with a bunch of different undergraduate women, some who continued in philosophy after an intro-level course, and some who didn’t. I was asking them what they thought were the main reasons for the drop-off in female students. They all mentioned a shortage of female role models, and the low number of potential mentors in the department who are women. They also mentioned the scarcity of female students in upper-level philosophy classes. And the reading lists bothered them as well. But for most of the women I talked to, the number one thing was that there are always three or four guys in every philosophy class who dominate class discussion, are very sure of themselves (although not in a way that is positively correlated with how good their contributions are), and are very quick to put others down, as if philosophy were a competitive, zero-sum game. It really surprised me how often this came up, and how strongly the women I spoke to seemed to feel about it. Of course, my asking a dozen female students is not a very scientific way of gathering information. But those conversations stuck with me, and I decided to try to address that issue. So last quarter and this one I have been using a card system for calling on students in class. It’s described here:
Right away I noticed a huge difference in class discussions. For one thing, they were not dominated by a small number of people. For another thing, way more people were contributing. For a third thing, women and members of other underrepresented groups were talking way more. And for a fourth thing, the level of class discussion was much higher (because, I think, students were putting a little bit more thought into their questions and comments before raising their hands).
I think a lot of this is simply the result of making explicit the idea that we should want air time in class discussions to be distributed in an egalitarian way. So I suspect that I could have gotten a lot of these benefits without even using some weird system with cards. I think a lot of the benefits resulted just from saying out loud that not having class discussion be dominated by a small number of students was a desirable thing.Report
Just for reference, what size courses have you implemented your card system in? Do you have any strategies for overcoming initial student reactions against the system (I could imagine some students participating less overall because they find the system cumbersome or insulting). Anything that improves both the quantity and quality of discussion is something I’m eager to try out.Report
Last quarter I used this system in two upper-level classes of about 35 students each, and this quarter I am using it in an intro-level class of 43 students. I don’t know how it would go with larger or smaller classes, but it seems to work well in these medium-sized classes.
I was also worried about initial reluctance on the part of students to hold up a card. But it didn’t seem to take much effort to establish that this was a perfectly normal way to handle questions in class. And my impression was that everyone was on board with the idea that air time in class discussions should be shared in an egalitarian way.Report
I think there is another issue here that affects the decisionmaking at many public institutions: what it is legal to do.
I have heard people at public institutions say that, although they would like to do more to improve the sex/gender and ethnic/racial diversity of their department, they are legally barred from taking a person’s sex or race into account in making a hiring decision. People say things like: “it would be illegal!” or “we would be breaking the law!” when the suggestion is made that a candidate’s sex/gender or race might be taken into account, even only after the top 10 very best candidates (out of 300 or whatever applicants) have been identified. And one hears this even from people in departments, like WWU, that have a very imbalanced track record (20 straight years of making offers just to white men, for example).
These people purport to be bracketing out all the ethical or practical debates we might have about the appropriateness, effectiveness, or general wisdom of affirmative action along any particular dimension. They purport to be talking about just what it is legal for them to do. So I want to restrict focus to that question. I should say that although I have a law degree, I am not an expert on this topic, so in some ways what I say below is an invitation to get someone with more relevant expertise.
The above scenario typically involves people who are concerned about doing anything *intentionally*. In particular, they are concerned about intentionally discriminating against men by doing something that would take sex/gender into account in order to give some points or advantage to women candidates in the pool. They are afraid of violating the law with respect to disparate *treatment* on the basis of a protected status (race, color, religion, sex, or national origin at the Federal level; and “race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability” in, for example, WA state).
What those people fail to realize is that one can also be guilty of illegal discrimination through the disparate *impact* of using facially neutral tests or selection procedures that have the effect of disproportionately excluding persons on the basis of their protected status. These policies and procedures can be completely *neutral* in terms of how they are framed, and they can be implemented with no *intention* of bringing about any kind of discriminatory effect, and yet they can still be found to be illegal. All that matters is that the hiring policy or procedure is having a disparate impact, and that the policy or procedure is not the “least discriminatory alternative available” that is consistent with “business necessity” for that particular job.
Both disparate treatment and disparate impact claims are based on Federal law (in particular: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967), and so apply everywhere. Some States go beyond this Federal “floor” in including other protected statuses, such as sexual orientation (as WA state does).
So, if I were at a department like WWU, I would be worried about the real possibility of a disparate impact claim, given that striking history. I would think that any woman who applied to WWU in the recent past and was not made an offer could bring such a claim. Women who made it to some shorter list status would have a particularly compelling claim.
What policy or procedure of WWU (or a school like it) would be singled out? Well, it would depend on the details, but there might be many candidates. One broad category that has been the subject of recent discussion are those hiring and selection policies that either heighten or fail to counteract or account for the well-documented phenomenon of implicit bias and subconscious prejudice in a variety of arenas.
In academic hiring, one might think this arises when we look at well-documented implicit/subconscious biases in terms of (a) how hiring evaluators assess written work that is identified as being by a woman or member of a minority race, (b) how hiring evaluators assess CVs that are identified as being CVs of women or racial minorities, and (c) how hiring evaluators assess the intelligence and competence of those women or racial minorities that they have had a chance to interact with (say, on a fly out or at a conference interview).
Additionally, if a department fails to correct for the implicit bias on the part of others, such a policy (or absence of policy) would also be subject to legal challenge, given these background statistics in terms of always making offers to white men. So, failing to take into account (by eliminating the effects of) the well-documented biases against women in terms of (a) student evaluations of teaching, (b) the content/form of letters of recommendation, and (c) professional citation practices, among other possible concerns, might also be subject to challenge.
A department that did absolutely nothing to address its own implicit biases (and had many policies which allowed those biases space to have an effect), and which had a record like WWU, might well be subject to a successful disparate impact challenge.
This is a fairly new area in law (in part because the “implicit bias” literature is relatively new), but there are some useful things to read. A very useful piece by Christine Jolls (at Yale Law) “Antidiscrimination Law’s Effects on Implicit Bias” (2006) is available here (and I suggest others below):
A department that had a history like WWU and which implemented some policies to both reduce and correct for implicit bias would run little risk of violating the law. (Employers are in a bit of a bind: do anything explicit, and you risk disparate treatment claims. Don’t do anything explicit, and—given substantial background factors like implicit bias—you risk disparate impact claims. So there’s always some legal risk.) Indeed, given the remarkable history, I would think that those policies would actually be legally required.
One general difficulty is that it is very hard to either (a) eliminate the effects of implicit bias or (b) quantify those effects precisely. It is hard to eliminate those effects, because even if one moves to anonymizing dossiers (letters, CVs, etc.) there still are the effects of implicit bias that have affected the evaluation of the candidate up until that point. And it is hard to anonymize effectively, given professional conferences, informal interactions, conversations, publications, etc. The difficulty of precise quantification of the effects goes to the difficulty of crafting an appropriate ‘accounting for’ of the bias. Arguably, this will be much worse in contexts like academic hiring, where evaluators are making complex, subtle, and subjective determinations of “merit” and “fit” amongst candidates (at least at the end stage) all of whom are quite excellent. It is natural to resist “artificial” but precise “bumps” in favor of a candidate, when all one knows is that the candidate has suffered some imprecise measure of disadvantage as a result of bias. The result of all of this is that departments can be reluctant to do anything at all. But the result of that, unfortunately, is that situations like the one at WWU are not uncommon. What I hope to have suggested is that there is no legal bar against attempting to respond to implicit bias. Indeed, there is a legal requirement to make such attempts.
Additionally, moving from the candidate’s viewpoint to the student’s viewpoint, I think there are good legal grounds for complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This is also a new legal area, but this has already been happening with respect to STEM fields, on the grounds that women have unequal access to higher education in those fields due to implicit bias, stereotype threat, lack of mentorship, isolation, negative climate, and inadequate numbers of role models. See this 2012 report from the National Women’s Law Center:
This has also been getting support from the Obama Administration. See this 2012 report from NASA on Title IX and STEM fields:
And see this statement from the Obama Administration itself:
Philosophy is very bad with respect to many of these issues—as bad as any of the STEM fields. As a result, it is plausible and definitely legally arguable that universities and their administrators have a legal obligation to address the gender biases that affect philosophy departments, particularly those that make it so that women have effectively unequal access to education in philosophy due to implicit bias, stereotype threat, lack of mentorship, isolation, negative climate, and inadequate numbers of role models.
I should be clear: the law in both of these area is still being worked out. What I want to suggest is just that it is facile to think that the only possible violation of the law in the neighborhood—given the facts at a place like WWU—is one of discrimination against men, if some sort of affirmative steps were to be taken to counteract the effects of explicit and implicit bias. (Given WWU’s history, which is highly relevant in cases like these, it is impossible to imagine an unsuccessful male candidate bringing a successful discrimination suit, almost no matter what WWU did in the way of taking affirmative steps to counteract the effects of bias.) Instead, there seem to be two clear legal concerns for a department with a history like WWU: a Title VII disparate impact claim by unsuccessful women and minority candidates, and an unequal access to higher education claim under Title IX by women undergraduates.
Given that, I think we should meet claims that “it would be against the law” with skepticism, and we should challenge administrators in our departments or our universities if they respond with such claims. I think that the correct view is that what is currently being done (and not being done) is against the law. It’s worth stressing that almost all of this sits in relatively unsettled legal terrain, although both disparate impact claims under Title VII and unequal access claims under Title IX are well established routes to legal redress. But there are clearly a large number of things that could be done without raising any legal concern; indeed, many of those things would clearly *help* departments and universities better meet their full legal obligations.
Here is a helpful general website about employment discrimination law:
Here are some good readings on implicit bias and discrimination (available via Google, or email me):
Tristin K. Green, Discrimination in Workplace Dynamics: Toward a Structured Account of Disparate Treatment Theory, 38 HARV. C.R.-C.L. L. REV. 91 (2003)
Susan Sturm, Second Generation Employment Discrimination: A Structural Approach, 101 COLUM L. REV. 458 (2001)
Linda Hamilton Krieger, The Content of Our Categories: A Cognitive Bias Approach to Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity, 47 STAN. L. REV. 1161 (1995)
Linda Hamilton Krieger & Susan Fiske, Behavioral Realism in Employment Discrimination Law: Implicit Bias and Disparate Treatment, 94 CALIF. L. REV. 997 (2006)
David B. Oppenheimer, Negligent Discrimination, 141 U. PA. L. REV. 899 (1992)
Christine Jolls and Cass R. Sunstein, “The law of implicit bias,” California Law Review (2006): 969-996.
Ian Ayres & Peter Siegelman, The Q-Word As Red Herring: Why Disparate Impact Liability
Does Not Induce Hiring Quotas, 74 TEXAS L. REV. 1487 (1996)
Barbara Flagg, Fashioning a Title VII Remedy for Transparently White Subjective Decisionmaking, 104 YALE L. J. 2009, 2018-30 (1995)Report
Aside: have any departments tried or had good results with having each intro courses co-taught by both a man and a woman (to introduce intro students to both men and women in the department)?Report
I can’t answer your question, but this made me think of something that I think we ought to keep in mind when thinking about women instructors at the intro level for these purposes.
I’ve heard many well-meaning men in my department suggest that we address the drop-off problem by directing all of our female faculty (we have zero racial/ethnic minority faculty) to teach the intro-level classes. In a department with few female professors, this would mean that female professors would basically only ever get to teach Philosophy 101 and the like, and rarely get the opportunity to teach more focused classes and mentor students at the higher levels. The female faculty obviously objected and it didn’t get off the ground.
I just mention this experience to warn others who might think that this is a sensible way of addressing a serious problem. It came across to us female faculty members as an attempt to use us for our gender against our intellectual interests. I imagine that other minority members of the profession would be equally off-put.
That said, if there is a connection between intro classes being taught by women, and women sticking around, that seems like something to keep in mind when trying to design the semester’s course listings. But I don’t know how to implement a course of action that takes that into consideration in a department with few faculty members, in a way that is fair and respectful to everyone.Report
No need to make team-teaching a 2 person game. If you’ve got a 12 week semester, you could have 4 three week units, each taught by different professors, and just ensure that one of them was female. Obviously there would be problems that would come with this (students see that the majority of their professors are still male; professors get to know each student less well; less faculty autonomy; less ability to build a course over the course of the full semester), but it’s one way to ensure that intro students are exposed to female faculty without making your female faculty teach all (or mostly) intro courses.Report
I agree with Lionel that the key step is to make the commitment to having a more diverse faculty. Then all else being equal, I think you will diversify your faculty. That would be great to do that at WWU going forward, and help to change the environment for your brave women students.Report
Alex Guerrero, that all seems like extremely important information for departments like mine to have going forward. Thank you for posting that!Report
I was very happy to see the comments from WWU undergrad, Esa, Rachel, and Kenny that drew attention to the limited conception of “diversity” that has circulated in this conversation. I was also happy to see Lionel’s contribution that drew attention to the fact that what members of some underrepresented groups in philosophy identify as the factors that most affect them are generally not taken into account in these discussions which usually rely upon a set of pre-determined factors that are psychological in nature and ignore wider structural, disciplinary, and institutionalized force relations.
I’ve been disappointed that disabled philosophers have been almost completely ignored in this conversation. Disabled people constitute the largest minority in North America, yet have been almost wholly excluded from professional philosophy. As I have pointed out (https://www.academia.edu/6651947/Disabling_Philosophy), disabled people comprise an estimated 20-25% of the North American population, but disabled philosophers constitute only an estimated 1-4% of full-time faculty in philosophy departments. Our exclusion arises from a number of systemic factors, some of which concern the very subject matter of philosophy, the inaccessibility of the profession, and so on. These factors are precluded from discussion of diversity that are limited to discussion of “women and minorities” and that focus almost exclusively on implicit biases, stereotype threat, and “pipelines.” I address these issues at some length here: https://www.academia.edu/5812065/Introducing_Feminist_Philosophy_of_DisabilityReport
I hope this thread isn’t dead, but some research coming out soon may add to the list of possible practices in the classroom that may help the gender/diversity balance. This one requires a lot more than just different names on a syllabus, however.