A Woman’s Graduate School Experience at Princeton Philosophy in the 80’s


It was impossible for me to get credit for my own work… and for the faculty to put the two things together: me, Lisa Lloyd, the woman, and my own original work… So what can you say?

That’s Professor Elisabeth Lloyd, the Arnold and Maxine Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, discussing her graduate school experiences in an episode of Sci Phi, a philosophy podcast series hosted by Nicholas Zautra, an Indiana PhD student.

The podcast covers her early life, education, career, and research, from her youth and family life, to when, as a college student, she thought “philosophy was bullshit,” to her current views about philosophical success and the relationship between philosophy and science.

Lloyd was a graduate student in philosophy at Princeton from 1980-1984. She describes an environment in which she “had to pay for [being] a woman who thought on her own.” There was only one other woman in the program at the time, another first-year student (“they had gotten rid of all the upperclass women… [they] had been discouraged from continuing on in the profession”).

With the encouragement of her advisor, Bas van Fraassen, she published two articles during her graduate studies. At the time it was not common for graduate students to publish, and she was the only student in her class to have publications when it came time to apply for jobs. Nonetheless, the department had her on academic probation for her entire time there, and when they ranked the graduate students who were going on the market and recommended them for jobs, she was ranked 13th out of 13, and was not recommended for any research positions. Why? Lloyd reports that years later, Paul Benacerraf, who at the time had been the department’s placement director, told van Fraassen “we thought you wrote those papers.”

Lloyd has wonderful things to say about van Fraassen:

You can’t imagine a better adviser than Van Fraassen… He could not possible have been a fiercer defender of me. I was on probation every year and he had to fight for me every year to keep me enrolled at Princeton… I wouldn’t have had a career if it wasn’t for Van Fraassen’s support.

Her comments on Benacerraf are a different story:

Paul Benacerraf… petted and touched me every single day during my graduate school career when I went in to get my mail.. he would lurk in the lounge where the mailboxes were and pounce then moved-in whenever I would enter the room and touch my arm, my shoulders, my breast… He started when I was first year and he continued until my last year. This was several years before the Supreme Court ruled on sexual harassment in the workplace so what he was doing had not even been advertised as being illegal yet, it was just an extra price I had to pay that the men did not have to pay, in order to get my PhD.

Lloyd also recounts an episode at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association (at which nearly all initial job interviews were conducted) in which Benacerraf insisted that a note from the University of California, San Diego inviting her to interview for a position “must be a mistake” and called the UCSD search committee to check on that (it wasn’t a mistake).

She adds: “I still heard people say throughout my career that I had an unfair advantage because I was a woman.”

The interview is interesting throughout (though there are some audio problems here and there). It is one of 30 interviews currently up at Sci Phi.

[Note: comments on this post that question the veracity of Professor Lloyd’s remarks or state alternative possible interpretations of the events she recounts here will be published only if they’re made by parties whose identity is known to me and whom I have reason to believe are relevantly informed.]

 

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Richard Russell Wood
Richard Russell Wood
3 years ago

One hears stories such as these more and more about predatory behavior, even at our most august institutions, and committed (allegedly, though we have no reason not to believe) by some of the most revered people (men) in their profession.
Good on those brave women for exposing this unacceptable, and in some cases, criminal behavior, and outing the miscreants.
Report

LS
LS
3 years ago

Rebecca Goldstein’s _The Mind-Body Problem_ is a roman a clef about roughly this period (maybe a little later?) in the Princeton philosophy department.Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  LS
3 years ago

Rebecca Goldstein was a graduate student at Princeton in the 1970s – so, a little before Lisa’s time there.Report

Charles Wolfe
Charles Wolfe
3 years ago

Catherine Wilson did her PhD there around then, no?Report

D.C.
D.C.
3 years ago

“She adds: “I still heard people say throughout my career that I had an unfair advantage because I was a woman.””

These people need to be outed, too.Report

ExpertoCrede
ExpertoCrede
3 years ago

Here is the list of PhD’s awarded to female students from 10 years before to 10 years after E.L. As you can see, there were far fewer in the 80’s than the 70’s or the 90’s, for whatever reason.

1974 Wilkes, Kathleen
1974 Magid, Carolyn
1974 Kitcher, Patricia
1975 Newman, Nancy
1975 Gibson, Mary
1975 Mattern, Ruth
1976 Russow, Lilly Marlene
1977 Goldstein, Rebecca
1977 Cook, Kathleen
1977 Broughton, Janet
1977 Wilson, Catherine
1978 Wolf, Susan
1979 Maddy, Penelope
1979 Hunt, Michie Irene
1981 McMullen, Carolyn
1983 O’Neill, Eileen
1984 Lloyd, Elizabeth
1987 Meinwold, Connie
1989 Mercer, Christia
1991 Robinson, Amy
1991 Rue, Rachel
1991 Mills, Claudia
1992 DiMaio, Maria
1992 O’Connor, Pauline
1992 Downing, Lisa
1994 Cowie, Fiona
1994 Stroud, Sarah
1994 Stoljar, Natalie
1994 Segvic, Heda

It was still the custom in those days for the Princeton department. as it was for many other philosophy departments, in contrast to science departments, to issue collective recommendations for its students, or for the chair or placement committee to issue such recommendations on its behalf; and in this connection every year there was a faculty meeting making rough comparisons among students going on the market. But the department did not during this period make, and has not since made, and so far as I know has never made, numerical rankings on the order of “13th out of 13”, though urban legends to the effect that such rankings are made circulate among students even today, and I suppose they were circulating already in the early 1980s. There were also meetings every semester monitoring how students in their first two years were keeping up to the schedule of required “units”, acquired by writing papers and taking exams in various areas of philosophy, that had replaced the former system comprehensive exams after two years of study; and students who were seriously behind in collecting units were told that decision about their readmission for the following year was being deferred, though very few indeed were not in the end readmitted, and one member of the department in particular, who thought students should be going through quicker, used regularly to complain about the department’s system being all bark and no bite. Having decision on one’s readmission postponed was the nearest thing, though the analogy was not close, at the graduate level to a formal status of “academic probation” such as existed for undergraduate but not graduate students.Report

Michael Smith
Michael Smith
3 years ago

ExpertoCrede: You forgot Alison McIntyre 1985. The full list of PhDs awarded can be found here: https://philosophy.princeton.edu/sites/philosophy/files/documents/alumni/PhDs_by_year.pdfReport

Me
Me
3 years ago

And now, for a more realistic feeling, imagine the same story multiplied for hundreds of times, but without van Fraassen ( or anyone else in that role)….It reads more like a fairy tale to me, that someone would defend an isolated female grad..Report

JDRox
JDRox
3 years ago

I am somewhat surprised that people tell LL that she’s had an advantage over her career because she’s a woman. I think it’s advantageous (overall) now, but I certainly don’t think it was in the early 80s. Is anyone willing to defend that claim?Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

I dunno about the early 80s but I was certainly told this over and over again as a grad student in the early 90s, and told it dismissively in advance in the late 80s as I got ready to apply for grad school.Report

Tim Kenyon
Tim Kenyon
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

I find it highly plausible that in the early 1980s, men commonly said, “I think being a woman in philosophy is advantageous (overall) now, though not in the 1960s” [or another time period recent enough to accommodate the overwhelming evidence of disadvantage, but just far enough in the past to suppose that some dramatic change has occurred].Report

LisaJr
LisaJr
3 years ago

I went through grad school recently (not at Princeton, but similar schools), and my female classmates and I had roughly analogous experiences to each travail she describes. I’m sure her struggle was much more difficult, as allies (including her) are more numerous these days, but it still isn’t a cakewalk. The suggestion that it’s advantageous overall now is plainly absurd to those of us who are currently wading through the sea of gropers, underestimaters, and saboteurs. (Which is not to say that there aren’t a few lucky people who manage to get through relatively unscathed.) Will it take another 20 years for the scales to fall off your eyes about what’s going on now?Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  LisaJr
3 years ago

Perhaps you are right that it is not advantageous overall to be a woman in philosophy (now)–I think it is, but I may be wrong. But the claim that it is plainly absurd seems, well, plainly absurd. Even if we had perfect knowledge of all the advantages and disadvantages, comparing/quantifying them would be highly non-trivial. In any case, my point was that the claim that it’s always, or for the last 40 years, been advantageous to be a woman in philosophy does seem plainly absurd. At least we can agree on that!Report

Sahar
Sahar
3 years ago

I am speechless!Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

I’m so deeply bone-tired of people/men being surprised at stuff like this.Report

Eric Rasmusen
Eric Rasmusen
3 years ago

Is it something about philosophy? There is lots of gossip in economics, with alcoholism, plagiarism, adultery, etc., and even a very coarse gossip website (Economics Job Market rumors), but I have heard very little about sexual harassment. I did a bit of search just now, and did find this: https://www.econjobrumors.com/topic/sexual-harassement-in-academia-are-there-any-weinsteins-or-cosbys-among-us .

The story in the post is interesting because it seems that the market worked— despite the Princeton Dept.’s negative opinion, this grad student got a job with UC San Diego. Report

Gordon Ingram
Gordon Ingram
Reply to  Eric Rasmusen
3 years ago

Doesn’t your argument that “the market worked” (because this one brilliant female grad student with a highly sympathetic advisor got *a* job offer – wow) rather depend on how her male peers, who weren’t publishing, fared in that same market? If some of them failed to get faculty Jobs, and the rest all got offers from less prestigious institutions than UCSD, you might have a point.Report

IB
IB
3 years ago

I would have loved to listen to the podcast, but unfortunately the low sound quality makes it really hard for me to follow Lloyd (English is not my mother tongue). Anyways, as a female grad student and soon to be PhD, I can relate — though I’ve certainly met many supportive male philosophers along the way, I have often felt as if I had to do more than my male fellow grads in order to be taken seriously.Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
3 years ago

Eric it looks as though the market did not work in that you are here putting forward such a shoddy argument – all women with talent to die for who did not get jobs in philosophy due to lack of grad school support are no longer around to falsify your claim.Report

Sophy
Sophy
3 years ago

To all lovers of wisdom: I propose a moment’s silence for all the brilliant, creative, adventurous new philosophical concepts, theories, thought-experiments and syntheses that would have been proposed by the women philosophers who did not make it through the kind of conditions that Prof. Lloyd describes above, had they not been elbowed aside. Report

Eric Rasmusen
Eric Rasmusen
3 years ago

If UC San Diego isn’t a highly desirable placement for a PhD rookie in Philosophy, then your field is in a lot better financial shape than Economics.

Still, the questioner above is right to ask. What kind of jobs were male Princeton PhDs getting in the 1980s? Would UCSan Diego be at the high end, or the low end?
Note that when I said, “the market worked”, I only meant it as far as this one person getting an appropriate match. I don’t know about anybody else, male or female. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Eric Rasmusen
3 years ago

This doesn’t exactly address your question since the data are from 25 years later, but it shows that as of 2010, every top-20 program in the country other than CUNY employed at least one Princeton PhD, and most had several. Harvard was the only PhD-granting institution with comparable history.

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/04/graduates-by-school-at-the-top-20-departments.html#tpReport

JDRox
JDRox
3 years ago

I don’t know whether she got a job at UC San Diego, she was just interviewing there, right? It would certainly be a highly desirable job.Report

Surprised philosopher of math
Surprised philosopher of math
3 years ago

Wow, this puts a whole new perspective on what the Benacerraf problem exactly is…Report