Statement from Colorado’s Tenured Women Philosophers


The tenured women philosophy professors at the University of Colorado—Carol Cleland, Alison Jaggar, Mi-Kyoung “Mitzi” Lee, and Claudia Mills (emeritus)—have jointly authored a statement about the recent events involving their department. The statement, published in The Daily Camera, expresses their intention to “repudiate a secret culture of misbehavior and to win back the confidence of prospective students and faculty on the basis of hard-won achievements.” An excerpt:

We, and many of our colleagues, are grateful both to Andy Cowell, our external chair, as well as to the CU-Boulder administration, for taking strong and decisive action to investigate wrongdoing, for committing significant resources to punish those found in violation of university regulations, and for investing in the future of our department. Although the process has been and continues to be painful, we believe that the outcome will be positive.

We are in the process of stopping behavior that was harmful, especially to the women students and faculty in our department, and we are taking steps to make sure that in the future, such problems either will be prevented or, if they occur, will be addressed quickly and effectively. Although these measures may have temporarily damaged the reputation of our department in some quarters, we are confident that we can rebuild on stronger foundations.

The complete statement is here.

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David Boonin
David Boonin
6 years ago

I am a member of the CU Philosophy Department, and I was Chair of the Department from 2006 to 2010. Based on my experience both during my tenure as Chair and after, I agree with the fundamental points raised in my colleagues’ statement: there were indeed a number of complaints about certain members of the Department of the sort their statement identifies, the Department on its own was in fact unable to satisfactorily address them, and while the process by which the Department came to have an external chair and to be on the receiving end of some quite harsh treatment by the administration has most certainly been painful, the Department has just as certainly benefited from some of the strong and decisive actions to which my colleagues refer.

When I was Chair of the Department, the main things I did in response to the situation were report every concern I became aware of to ODH, make clear to the rest of the Department that they, too, were under an obligation to report to ODH any concerns that they became aware of, and attempt to help inculcate what I took to be a pretty common sense approach to professional interaction with other faculty and students, one that went beyond merely saying that people should not violate actual campus policies and that encouraged them to err on the side of caution when it comes to both words and deeds. I attempted to do this both by making a good faith effort to model such behavior myself and, at times, by explicit exhortation. I still remember quite clearly one Department meeting relatively early in my tenure as Chair when I attempted to lay down what I called the Sadie rule: when you are at any official Department event or gathering, whether on campus or off campus, you should not say or do anything that you would not say or do in front of my daughter Sadie, who at the time was four or five years old. I remember feeling that a good number of people in the Department seemed to be on board with this edict. But I also remember that one faculty member angrily stormed out of the meeting at that point, muttering under his breath (though still audibly to me) that he thought I was wrong to be even talking about such things at a Department meeting. That was definitely not a good sign.

I think it’s fair to say that what I and the Department did under my leadership did not prove to be enough. And while I feel confident that my successor as Chair, Graeme Forbes, was at least as vigilant about addressing such issues as I was, I think it’s also fair to say that problems persisted during his time as Chair, too. I don’t want to get into the question here of whether this is because Graeme and I were ineffective as Chairs or because there are serious limits to what, on his or her own, any Department Chair can do about these kinds of problems. The relevant point, to my mind, is simply that over a fairly long period of time, the Department did not prove able to satisfactorily address these issues when it was essentially left to try to do so on its own.

I do not believe that this justifies everything that the administration has done since the Site Review team visited our Department. I’m not going to comment on whether they did the right thing in publicly releasing the report, and I’m not going to say that they made the right call in suspending graduate admissions last year. I’m not even going to say that every strong action they have taken with respect to the various faculty members in the Department with respect to whom they have taken strong action has been justified. But I do think that at least some very strong actions that they have taken with respect to at least some members of the Department have been enormously beneficial. And based on my experience as Department Chair, I have to concede that it is less likely that these kinds of actions would have taken place had the Department been left to continue attempting to address these issues on its own. In that respect, I too am grateful for what Andy Cowell has done for our Department and to the administration for the role that it has played in enabling him to do so.

I am also grateful to the great many members of the philosophical community outside of our Department who have been careful not to rush to judgment and condemn our Department as a whole, and I look forward to taking comfort from their support as we continue to move forward and try, in the words of my colleagues, to “win back the confidence of prospective students and faculty on the basis of hard-won achievements with respect to the climate as well as the commitment of a solid core of faculty members to an inclusive and welcoming work environment for all.”Report

Ann Garry
6 years ago

This is a welcome statement from the tenured women faculty — and please, folks, click on the link to read the complete statement. I hope that philosophers (and their anonymous friends) can applaud the progress that the CU department hopes to make and stop revisiting (and revisiting and revisiting) details and implications of the site visit. The protracted discussion is taking up way too much time and energy from too many people who have already given far much time and energy trying to improve the climate in philosophy.Report

Carnap
Carnap
6 years ago

Ann Gary,

Progress is to be applauded but it does matter how it is achieved.

With respect, the “protracted discussion” would not have been so protracted had the Site Visit Team been forthright in answering Tooley’s questions when they were initially raised.

We can look backward and forward at the same time.Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

In reading this, I was trying to recall the statement the CU female faculty made soon after the report became public – my memory was that it was written to support their male colleagues and grad students who could be unfairly suspected of wrong doing. Justin, I think this blog didn’t exist back then, but do you have a link to that statement? All I could find was a Camera article that heavily quoted from it, but I thought I read the actual statement somewhere at the time. In any case, I think it would be interesting to have the two statements together. http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_25175075/female-cu-boulder-philosophy-colleagues-speak-out-reportReport

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

Yes, thanks, that’s it. I searched at Feminist Philosophers and didn’t find it (and your link goes to a content-free page for me). So thanks for reprinting the text.Report