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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