Criticism of Colorado’s Proposed “Best Practices”


Spencer Case, a PhD student at the University of Colorado, writing in the National Review, describes and criticizes some of the practices his department is adopting in the wake of the site visit by the APA Committee on the Status of Women.

Update: Some people have asked why I have posted a link to this article. Let me say first that as a general rule, my linking to an article does not itself imply endorsement of the article’s content. I link to items that I think a good amount of my readership will be interested in knowing about. In this case, I posted a link to the article because it provides some information about what steps the Colorado department is taking to address issues of climate for women, and also because I thought philosophers would want to know that such steps are being criticized in a publication with broad circulation. That is all.

Update 2: See this post for a link to the document that lists the practices Case writes about.

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Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

The author is a veteran of our wars in the Middle East. He’s also held a Turkish Fulbright. So clearly he has a lot of experience. One worries, however, that there are areas of privilege that he is quite unaware of, despite the fact that he almost certainly participates in them. These include white privilege and male privilege.Report

HappyPhilosopher
HappyPhilosopher
6 years ago

I’m no conservative–quite the leftist, in fact–but I think Case is absolutely right. And I am definitely not inclined to attempt to undercut what he has to say by appealing to “white privilege” or “male privilege” or any other empty rhetoric that allows us to avoid confronting the man’s arguments on their merits.Report

P
P
6 years ago

HappyPhilosopher, can you say a bit more? What leads you to conclude that concepts of “white privilege” and “male privilege” are empty rhetoric? (i.e., without substantive content, and as such irrelevant to the merits of the arguments proffered?)Report

annejjacobson
annejjacobson
6 years ago

If you look at the letter, you will see signs of an ignorance of white male privilege at many points. For example, he says, in an effort to highlight a bad new policy, it is recommended that ‘“We should pay special attention to the philosophical promise of female students and students from other underrepresented groups” (emphasis mine).’ ‘Special’ is emphasized. The problem is the very well documented special attention white male students typically receive, and his apparent failure to realize that female students typically received an unequal chance in philosophy. He sees an attempt to level the playing field as in fact creating disadvantages for men. That strongly indicates he is unaware of how advantaged white men have been.Report

Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Reply to  annejjacobson
6 years ago

This is exactly right. Consider:

“So heavy-handed is the “Best Practices” document that every major point summarized at the end of the “Class Discussion Concerns and Guidelines” section relates directly to the interests of women and “underrepresented groups.” This is micro-managing and worse. Instead of being an objective facilitator of learning for all, the teacher must now be an advocate for some. One can no more inhabit both these roles simultaneously than be both a judge and a prosecuting attorney.”

There’s a lot in there. Why are ‘under represented groups’ put in scare quotes? Are women and people of colour *not* underrepresented in philosophy? But more to the point, the objection that these behavioural recommendations prohibit the teacher’s ability to be objective depends on the false assumption that we’re already objective. There are scores of data driven research programs that show that this is false. This article demonstrates a complete absence of understanding of the power dynamics at play in a field overwhelmingly populated by white men. If you’re a teacher and you *don’t* think that you’re going to have to advocate for some of voices in your classroom, I think you’re doing your students (all of them) a disservice.Report

Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

So, a National Review author doesn’t like affirmative action. That cannot be a surprise.

But what on earth is supposed to be problematic or heavy handed about “attempting gender equity in discussion?” I could see if the guideline were gender balance at all costs, or all discussion must have gender balance, or pay the price. but it just says you should *try* to achieve a discussion where men and women are given equal time to voice their thoughts. This hardly strikes me as an example of the oncoming dictatorship of the feminazis. Ditto for not allowing other students to talk over women. Is it really so horrifying to male grad students to think that their professors are no longer going to let them talk over their female peers? Do some men really think their voice is so important that they simply must be allowed the privilege to interrupt and talk over women?

It’s unfortunate that the article starts off this way, because he might have a point about criticisms of feminist philosophy. Being able to criticize a style of philosophy on philosophical grounds should not be prohibited in the academy. That’s an unnecessary restriction on free speech, and we should worry about that.

The rest of his complaints are hard to take seriously.Report

cslassiter
6 years ago

The essay reads as though the discipline is going from an un-engineered state to an engineered one. But that’s just not right; we’re going from one engineered state into another. We now have a better understanding of how we got into the male & white dominated state and are able to take measures to correct it. Social engineering got us to where we are; social engineering is what it takes to get us out of it:Report

Clayton
6 years ago

Why the quotation marks around the expression “gender gap”? I stopped reading there. Should I continue?Report

enzo
6 years ago

An odd piece. There is some argument in it, but I don’t see how the author thinks it’s OK to present the blatantly problematic numbers (31% of PhDs, 21% of jobs) without even attempting to explain them away before moving on to his critique of the feminists. Does he think that his principled case (based on freedom of expression, as far as I can make out) is so strong that the underrepresentation issue just pales in comparison? Or is his explanation of the numbers too unpalatable even for the National Review? Unpersuasive either way.Report

r
r
6 years ago

Others have already dealt with central problems in the piece, so I’d like to flag a smaller point. Case writes:

“A few months ago, I spoke with a philosopher from a top-flight school whose department engaged in demographic engineering (euphemistically called “affirmative action”) in order to guarantee that an equal number of women and men are admitted into the program each year. The result, he admitted, was a higher attrition rate for female students.”

There’s an interesting rhetorical trick going on here – by saying that his interlocutor “admitted” that affirmative action led to increased female attrition, Case implies that this is an uncomfortable truth. But how exactly did his interlocutor *know* that this is what happened? Did this purported top-flight philosopher gather systematic gender-linked attrition data both before and after the institution of affirmative action? (I’ve never heard of a department doing this; few that I know of bother to keep any gender-linked attrition data at all.) Did this person statistically control for third factors (e.g. that an increasingly hostile environment might have led both to higher female attrition *and* to the institution of affirmative action as a corrective)? It would be very difficult to do this without having similar data from peer departments… which is not publicly available.

Much more likely, this was simply extremely fallible speculation by the unnamed top-flight philosopher. But the use of the word “admitted” carries an implication of background evidence. I imagine a close reading of Case’s article would turn up similar rhetorical legerdemain.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. Even if you sympathize with the article. Especially if you do not.Report

enzorossi
Reply to  anonymous
6 years ago

I made the mistake of trying to do some outreach to National Review readers. Painful.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
6 years ago

Perhaps some the recommendations, like the one about not allowing the comments of students from underrepresented groups to be interrupted, could have been better phrased in more neutral terms, i.e., don’t allow any students’ comments to be interrupted. As it stands, the wording seems to suggest that interrupting white males is fine. We may know that, in practice, this isn’t likely to happen often, but the current wording hands ammunition to the readers of the National Review. I recognize that this might not work for all of the practices that are mentioned, since part of the problem may be that faculty think they’re treating different student populations equally when they aren’t, but perhaps even some of those recommendations could have been worded in a way that put more emphasis on the point that the desired outcome is equality. For example, “Because we want all of our students to receive equal faculty support, but women and students from other underrepresented groups are more likely to fall through the cracks, we should pay special attention to the philosophical promise of these students.” I think this only makes explicit what was implicit in the recommendations, but it makes it harder to portray them as being intended to place white men at a relative disadvantage.Report

Bystander
Bystander
Reply to  Dale Miller
6 years ago

I share some of Dale Miller’s concerns about the wording of these, but wonder if the seemingly lopsided language is due in part to the audience. CU has said that they were concerned with and addressing climate before the site visit, and god knows they’ve had plenty of reason to think about it since. So if these recommendations are for internal use, directed at people who were a part of these discussions, it makes sense that they cut to the chase to address specific concerns.

I’m reminded of a parallel at my children’s school: it was noticed that older children were monopolizing certain playground equipment. Younger children were often not heard when they asked for turns, some didn’t even try because they were intimidated by the process. The adult playground monitors addressed the very few examples of outright bullying, but didn’t notice that a whole group was being inadvertently excluded. When this was noticed it was addressed by having the monitors intervene. The policies written for the public, ie parent handbook, spoke of turn taking for all. But the directives to the monitors who needed to fix this were to make sure the younger children felt encouraged to speak up and that they got their fair turns. It presumably helped the adults to see inequities that they had not previously noticed.
The CU guidelines may be imbalanced for the same reason: they are not meant for public consumption, but for those in the know to address a specific, identified problem. If that is the case, it is a shame they are being used in this article, with an audience that is not likely to have much background knowledge of CU’s particular situation.Report

Dale Miller
Dale Miller
Reply to  Bystander
6 years ago

Yes, this seems right. It’s a good reminder that when you’re writing policy on controversial topics you need to keep in mind that it may be shared with a much wider audience than you intended (and a hostile one at that). But that’s easy to say with hindsight.Report

Anon76
Anon76
6 years ago

I agree with what seems to be the general opinion here that the article does not make a very good case against the feminist initiatives it criticizes. I also believe, however, that the article contains at least one gem of truth that is as important and as it is unrecognized:

“I have spoken with other philosophers who say they agree with Tooley but feel that expressing those views before their peers is, at best, more trouble than it’s worth, and, at worst, a liability.”

This picture very much fits with my own experience. The current ideological climate of academic philosophy is so one-sidedly sensitive with respect to feminism that, in most cases, one cannot openly criticize feminism without thereby taking a professional risk. Outside those who have experienced it firsthand, few seem to understand the extent to which openly criticizing feminism or taking an anti-feminist stance on something–particularly if one is a white male–is likely to be followed by a certain degree of ostracism from one’s peers, as well as by suspicions (or even outright accusations) of misogyny.

Of course, such accusations can be true; criticism of feminism can, at its worst, be laced with misogyny. There is cause for concern, however, when accusations of misogyny–which are among the most serious charges that can be made against someone’s character or argument, I would say–become a hasty and convenient way of dismissing arguments that happen to go against prevailing ideas about gender issues.

Notably, and fortunately, the discussion in this thread has thus far been quite free of accusations or insinuations of misogyny. I remind myself of the possibility that my own experience is not representative of circumstances more generally. In any case, I’m certainly not saying that all feminists, or even most feminists, are quick to resort to cheap dismissals of the sort described above. Still, I do sense that, for non-feminists, the climate of discussion in gender issues is often not a very welcoming one. Insofar as this is true, this circumstance can only diminish the value and richness of dialogue about gender issues.Report

enzorossi
Reply to  Anon76
6 years ago

I’m not sure. It’s true that criticising feminism is met with open scorn these days, but given the still prevailing sexism, it seems reasonable to assume that it is also met with tacit approval. We are still in the early days of a culture change, and those wedded to the old sexist system still wield a lot of power, though perhaps they can no longer exercise it blatantly.

Still, there is something to the author’s worry about prohibitions about criticising the content or method of certain philosophical perspectives. I really don’t think that the solution to power imbalances in the discipline can come from the magnanimity of those with power. I’m not against prominent philosophers pledging to be kind and inclusive, but in the end I’d prefer a more egalitarian discipline — one in which it doesn’t matter too much what a few big shots say or do. Analogy: it’s good that some rich people donate to charity, but I’d prefer to live in a society with a more just distribution of resources. In fact often charity lets the collective off the hook, and/or skews priorities in the direction of the hobbyhorses of a few privileged individuals, which may or may not work out for the best.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

If it’s so obviously unpopular to criticize feminism and feminist philosophers, then why do so many do so, often very publicly? I know that those who hold what they take to be un “politically correct” positions often feel persecuted for holding or expressing those opinions, but try being, for example, a vocal feminist for a day and see how much flak you get for *that*. Do you get death and rape threats? I sure have, as have many of my friends and colleagues.

If you need an easy case study: look at the differing responses and reactions to the Colorado site visit report (specifically, its authors) and to Tooley’s opinion pieces. The former were far more vitriolic.Report

Anon76
Anon76
Reply to  Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

“If it’s so obviously unpopular to criticize feminism and feminist philosophers, then why do so many do so, often very publicly?”

I think it’s important to distinguish here between criticism of feminism that comes from within academia and criticism of feminism that comes from beyond academia. If you’re saying that it’s common for feminism to be criticized in our broader culture (e.g., by pundits, talk show hosts, YouTubers, etc.), then I don’t disagree. My previous post was about criticism of feminism within academia, however–particularly academic philosophy. (Looking back, I could have made this clearer.) Here I think that it is, at the very least, a good deal less obvious that it’s common or popular to criticize feminism. Surely we both could list contemporary feminist philosophers at great length. Would it be as easy, though, to come up with a comparable list of philosophers who openly anti-feminist? Perhaps there are, in fact, many such philosophers, and I’m simply ignorant of them–but for whatever it’s worth, I have a much harder time coming up with anti-feminist philosophers than feminist philosophers. As for anti-feminist philosophers, David Benatar is the first name that comes to mind. From what I know of Roger Scruton and Michael Levin, I would count them as well, though I’m less familiar with their work than with Benatar’s. Perhaps Christina Hoff Sommers would count as well, though it’s arguable whether she’s a figure within or outside academia. I’m trying to be as generous as possible right now, and those are the only names I can think of. Lastly, I know of no philosophy students or faculty either at my current or previous institution who are/were openly anti-feminist, though I’ve known a great many who have been very open about their feminist beliefs and advocacy. As best as I could tell, the usual response to feminist advocacy and expression was an outpouring of support.

In part, I’ve had to rely here on my own experiences; perhaps others’ experiences differ. Please let me know if you know of openly anti-feminist contemporary philosophers I’ve left out, particularly if you find that they have as large a presence or impact on the field as do comparably situated feminist philosophers.

“[T]ry being, for example, a vocal feminist for a day and see how much flak you get for *that*. Do you get death and rape threats? I sure have, as have many of my friends and colleagues.

First, as it surely goes without saying, I find it horrible that you and others have had to endure death and rape threats.

No, I have never received death or rape threats, though I suspect that that is primarily because I’m not a well-known philosopher. Were I a well-known philosopher writing about feminism–or any hot-button topic, for that matter, including anti-feminism–I sense that I, like too many others, would probably face threats, harassment, etc. in some form. Bracketing the question of fame and its relation to the nature and extent of the threats one receives, I’ll consider the essence of your question as directly as I can: What sort of reaction would I get if I were a vocal feminist for a day? Though I may be mistaken, I can’t help feeling that it would be mostly a positive reaction. I have several Facebook philosopher-friends who are vocal feminists and regularly post feminist political status updates; the reaction is almost always uniformly positive. (Posting a status update critical of feminism, meanwhile, is bound to get a highly negative reaction.)

Again, I’m going only on my own experiences here, but it would come as a surprise to me if others in academia faced dramatically different circumstances.

“If you need an easy case study: look at the differing responses and reactions to the Colorado site visit report (specifically, its authors) and to Tooley’s opinion pieces. The former were far more vitriolic.”

I’m not sure which responses to the Colorado site visit report you’re referring to; if memory serves, there were quite a few of them. I do remember a general sentiment that the report was a damning indication of how pervasive and harmful sexual harassment can be in philosophy departments, and that the committee had undertaken a noble if unpleasant task. By the time Tooley wrote his opinion pieces, the Colorado issue wasn’t quite as large on everyone’s radar, and I don’t believe that there were as many reactions to Tooley’s work as to the site visit report itself. (Please correct me if I’m mistaken, however.) This somewhat complicates the task of comparing the responses. The most prominent reaction I recall to Tooley’s work, however, was this piece by Eric Schliesser, who refers to Tooley’s “inability to ‘see'” as a “disgrace”: http://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2014/03/michael-tooley-sees-no-evil-hears-no-evil.htmlReport

Susan
Susan
Reply to  Anon76
6 years ago

” The current ideological climate of academic philosophy is so one-sidedly sensitive with respect to feminism that, in most cases, one cannot openly criticize feminism without thereby taking a professional risk.”

My experience, for what it’s worth as an anecdote, is entirely opposite: my department is so one-sidedly sensitive with respect to feminism that I cannot openly advocate feminism without thereby taking a professional risk (which is why I don’t feel like signing my full name). I don’t think comparing the responses to a complex situation like Colorado’s site visit is a meaningful way to assess the general climate for feminism, as if there are two camps and vociferous support for one or the other is indicative of anything larger. I was dismayed by the poor judgment displayed throughout that process, but especially by the administrators who chose to make the documents public.Report

Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

“Above all, in making philosophical careers appeal to women, philosophers compromise the freedom of thought and objectivity that have made philosophy an alluring field in the first place.”

I see; Because the underrepresentation of women in philosophy is chiefly owing to that women are just not interested in or attracted to philosophical careers.Report

Susan
Susan
Reply to  Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

Lauren, I’m starting to favor the hypothesis that the underrepresentation of women in philosophy is indeed chiefly owing to the fact that women are not interested in or attracted to philosophical careers, even if they are interested in philosophy itself. Can we blame them? The cynic in me suspects it’s almost a sign of wisdom if women have a greater tendency to abandon the discipline, after advancing further in their studies and learning more about philosophy as a profession.

One reason I take issue with Case’s case is that he has not demonstrated how any actions undertaken to make philosophical careers appeal to women have compromised freedom of thought and objectivity. As other comments above have mentioned, it’s easy to identify suggestions not to allow female students to be interrupted and talked over as special treatment of women only if you don’t believe that men are less likely to be interrupted and talked over. I’ve been interrupted and talked over throughout my time in philosophy, however, and I’ve observed the same thing happen to quieter, polite and unassuming men. I’d prefer that recommendations against this form of rudeness be presented in gender neutral language, accordingly, but the underlying problem is the same: we tolerate an astounding level of rudeness in shutting down one another’s contributions to discussion that would not be acceptable in many other disciplines. I suspect we turn off some bright students – both male and female – who find our standard practices distasteful, and that’s a shame. Yet I’m still far from seeing how correcting our rude tendencies is in any way a restriction on freedom of thought or objectivity. This is but one example; the article contains many others I don’t have time to address.Report

Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Reply to  Susan
6 years ago

I think we largely agree here, but I worry that this way of characterizing the issue obfuscates the relevant point, which is that it’s not that women aren’t interested in doing philosophy or being philosophers. It’s that women aren’t interested in doing much of anything that necessitates living in an environment that chronically underestimates one’s seriousness and competency. Case’s characterization of the cultural shift demanded by these Best Practices policies suggests that, insofar as the aim is to make professional philosophy amenable to women, the aim is further to change philosophical careers more substantively. It’s the difference between changing the climate surrounding the thing, and changing the thing itself. That last bit of his article strikes me as a thinly disguised reiteration of the most patently misogynistic explanation of the data: that women are for some reason naturally less philosophical than men. I think it’s important to make that piece of his argument really clear, and to see it for what it is.

With regard to your second point about (failures of) objectivity, I think it’s connected to my earlier comment, in response to Anne Jacobson. I suppose I agree that a similar or connected issue might be expressed by reiterating the thought in gender neutral language, but I think that it would be a slightly different thought, then. There’s one issue, which is that (some, many) seminars become hot-headed, and another issue, which is that women are systematically over-looked, not called on, spoken over, etc. And, it’s not because women are just more shy, or less assertive than their male colleagues. It’s more deeply rooted than that, and it stems at least in part from implicit biases about gender roles. So I guess I’m inclined to say that I don’t wish the prohibitions against speaking over colleagues were only put in gender neutral terms. I’m glad, and I think it’s important that we carve out a space to say, “Do not talk over your female colleagues.” This is of course not to say that it’s just fine to talk over male colleagues, or shy colleagues, etc. It’s just to say that as a matter of fact, women tend to be spoken over routinely, it’s a problem, and we need to try to address it. I think this is helpful because I think we need to be more proactive in explicitly making as much room for women as we traditionally have made for men.Report

Susan
Susan
Reply to  Susan
6 years ago

Thank you for posting the link to the Colorado document. The National Review article does not portray it particularly accurately, in my view. In particular, I note that the recommendations about not interrupting and talking over people are indeed couched in gender neutral terms as well as making special reference to women and other students for whom this is a known problem already. I think this satisfies both my concern for addressing a rude practice on behalf of everyone, and Lauren’s welcome suggestion that this happens to women more often because of systematic problems. From part 1:
“4. We should take special steps to assist female students and students from underrepresented groups in expressing themselves in class, by, for example, intervening when such students are interrupted or spoken over while attempting to contribute. Such students are often faced with additional difficulties in this respect. And, more generally, we ought to be careful not to talk over others, ignore each other’s points, or appropriate the ideas of others without acknowledgment.”Report

Avi
Avi
6 years ago

We need to take account of the diversity of philosophy departments in order to appreciate the role of social contexts in determining whether feminist or non-feminist views are silenced, muted, voiced, or taken as the only acceptable views. A conservative religious philosophy department may well prove inhospitable to the even the slightest suggestion of feminist perspectives. A large and diverse research department may well have a history of philosophical tolerance that now extends to feminist philosophy in addition to other philosophical traditions. A department with a critical mass of active feminist scholars may well prove inhospitable to someone voicing anti-feminist views. We also need to take account of the tendency of individuals, whatever their viewpoints, to consider themselves under attack. I’d wager that neither many feminists nor many anti-feminists would proclaim that their view predominates and sets the tone. Even anti-feminist philosophers in conservative religious departments will likely believe themselves under attack, perhaps not from others in their department, but from broader cultural circles. Perhaps the same would be true of feminists in a feminist-friendly department. It has been observed that political unity requires having an enemy, and the greater the threat from that enemy, the greater the unity. Hence the debate turns from substantive issues to questions about which side’s attacks are more vitriolic, etc.Report

Matt the Grad Student
Matt the Grad Student
6 years ago

I tend to get frustrated by the debate over affirmative action and related policies, since it seems like both sides to the debate are talking about different things. As I understand it, the standard case for affirmative action regarding any non-privileged group is something like this:

1. Privilege exists.
2. If privilege exists, the society in which it exists is, ipso facto, unjust.
3. If a particular injustice exists within a society, justice demands that we pursue the most effective means to removing this injustice.
4. Affirmative action is the most effective means to removing the injustice of privilege.
Therefore,
5. Justice demands that we pursue affirmative action policies.

What is frustrating about this is that the vast majority of advocates for affirmative action focus their attention on arguing for 1 and 2, while I believe the most charitable interpretation of many arguments against affirmative action targets not 1 and 2, but 3 and 4. 3 is problematic because if remedying one injustice involves committing another injustice, things have not improved from the standpoint of justice. And opponents of affirmative action tend to think that affirmative action is unjust, since it often involves policies that explicitly work to the detriment of certain people on the basis of their inclusion in a certain group. Defenders of affirmative action, when they consider this objection, tend to argue that we should add an exception to 3 to rule out cases when injustice can only be met with another injustice, but claim that policies like affirmative action are not unjust, since the harms accrue to individuals within privileged groups. But this seems like something about which reasonable people can disagree. 4 is even more problematic, since this is an empirical claim, and there is some good evidence to suggest that it is false. Case cites some of these studies. I’m no social scientist, so I lack the expertise to really assess the case for or against 4. But most feminist philosophers aren’t social scientists, either.

My most-charitable reading of Case has him acknowledging that 1 and 2 are true, but lamenting that this has led people to uncritically accept 5. And if this is Case’s case, I’m sympathetic – I myself don’t know whether or not to accept 5, and my concerns lie largely with 4.

I’m also not sure what deserves to be called “feminist” here. Feminism is a normative doctrine, premised on the idea that there are no morally relevant differences between men and women. Any feminist will accept 2. But are feminists also committed to 3, along with the proviso that harms to privileged groups are not unjust? And can someone still be considered a feminist while rejecting 5? Particularly if this individual rejects 5 out of a sincere belief that 4 is false? It’s not obvious what the answers to these questions are. Of course, these are all just verbal disputes regarding the correct application of a certain label (“feminist”). But without clarity regarding the correct application of this term, a debate pitched in terms of whether or not feminism is true, or whether or not a certain stance is “anti-feminist,” elides over some very important distinctions.Report

Bystander
Bystander
Reply to  Matt the Grad Student
6 years ago

I imagine there are more recommendations than Case mentions in his article, but it seems to me that all the ones he cites can be implemented without committing another injustice. Mentoring is not a zero-sum game. For example, I’ve been in the position of needing to explicitly look for ways to support students who are new to English. That in no way made it more difficult to support other students in their particular needs.

Perhaps other measures do have a trade-off where one group can be helped only at the expense of another – I would be very interested in seeing the whole of CU’s new guidelines. But if some guidelines tend to a trade-off, I think the right thing to do is to seek a more just remedy, not default to the unjust status quo as if it were some neutral benchmark.Report

Matt the Grad Student
Matt the Grad Student
Reply to  Bystander
6 years ago

Agreed. I’ll admit I was applying the principle of charity rather liberally on this article. I think Case really does take issue with 3 and 4, but some of the details that Case discusses suggest that he’s not really on board with 1 or 2 either.

From what I’ve seen, most of CU’s policy recommendations seem eminently reasonable.Report

anon22
anon22
Reply to  Matt the Grad Student
6 years ago

How about shifting your point of view for a moment, seeing things another way: there already is affirmative action in place for white men (effectively). The point of affirmative action aimed at gender balance is to help dismantle those kinds of structures.Report

Matt the Grad Student
Matt the Grad Student
Reply to  anon22
6 years ago

Please don’t try and straw man my argument. I concede that “there already is affirmative action in place for white men (effectively).” I am entirely on board with what I labeled Premise 1 above – “Privilege exists.” I don’t need to shift my point of view to see this. I see it clearly.

My main source of concern is what I labeled Premise 4, i.e. the premise that affirmative action will be effective in its stated goals. I know that the POINT of affirmative action is to dismantle those kinds of structures. But do not confuse the intention of a policy with the actual effects of the policy. We should always be on the lookout for unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies. And we cannot deduce a priori that affirmative action will change the structure of society for the better – this is entirely an empirical matter. And there are a number of studies that cast doubt on this empirical claim. If the root cause of privilege is implicit biases, the goal should be to implement a policy that removes implicit bias. The theory behind affirmative action is that this policy will make us accustomed to seeing individuals from minority groups in positions of power, and this will alter our implicit views about who the people in power should be. But it is just as plausible that affirmative action might HEIGHTEN these implicit biases, e.g. by creating the perception that every individual from a minority group who is in a position of power isn’t really qualified to do their job, but is just a beneficiary of affirmative action. Again, I am not arguing that affirmative action will not have the effects that its proponents claim. I’m saying this is still an open empirical question, as I am aware of compelling empirical evidence on both sides. If you have some sociological studies at hand to back up your claim that affirmative action will reach its stated goal, I would love to see them. More information is always better. But do not respond to my caution around accepting premise 4 by berating me for not accepting premise 1. This is precisely the kind of response that I called “frustrating” in my original post.

Again, for the record, I do not reject 5. I am agnostic about 5, since I don’t think that 5 is true unless 4 is, and I’m agnostic about 4.Report

Matt Drabek
6 years ago

I see nothing of merit in the article. Case appears to imbibe most of the standard misunderstandings of affirmative action programs and anti-sexist campaigns that have been discussed time and time again in Feminism 101 and Race 101 discussions. The only novelty about Case seems to be that he’s a philosopher repeating the regularly scheduled talking head garbage.Report