Reporting of Sexual Assault and Harassment in Philosophy (updated)


I recently saw a post on social media comparing the current deluge of accusations of sexual harassment and assault being made and taken seriously in entertainment, news media, and politics, with how little of that seems to be happening in philosophy. The author wanted to know what explains this disparity. I don’t know, but here are some possible explanations, followed at the end by a proposal.

  1. It wasn’t long ago that the relatively large number of stories about sexual harassment and assault in philosophy had people thinking that philosophy was especially bad, compared to other professions. One interpretation of this is that philosophy was ahead of the game in revealing bad actors. If a lot of the “low-hanging fruit” of sexual misconduct in our profession has already been picked, but is currently being picked in other professions, a snapshot of today would make it look like philosophy is not doing as a good a job at identifying bad actors.
  2. If the comparison class to “philosophers” is “entertainment, media, and politics” (the fields we’ve heard the most from) then philosophy is a relatively small class, and it would not be surprising that it contained fewer bad actors, and so fewer reports, and so, fewer of the accusers being supported.
  3. The obscurity of philosophy professors, in comparison to the more well-known figures in entertainment, media, and politics, may lead would-be accusers of philosophers to think that their experiences are not important enough to report about (especially since media uptake of an accusation seems to contribute to the accusation being taken seriously by the accused and their employers).
  4. Victims may be more motivated to come forward when they know of other victims of the same bad actor, and it may be difficult to for many victims of professors to track down other victims. (For example, think of how hard it might be for an undergraduate who was harassed by a professor a decade ago to even recall who else was in their classes, let alone who else a professor might have targeted.) Relatedly, others may be more likely to believe accusations against someone if they come from multiple victims. (On this, see the proposal at the end of the post.)
  5. If the victims were students at the time, but are no longer in academia, then they may think that the incidents of sexual misconduct they endured are less significant for or connected to their current professional lives, in comparison to sexual misconduct that they endured while climbing up the ladder of their current profession, and so they may be less motivated to report it.
  6. Philosophers seem to be more prone to blending their personal and professional lives, both online and off. Any philosopher, including any philosopher who has engaged in sexual harassment or assault, is likely to have several close friends in the profession, and each of these friends are likely to have several close friends in the profession, and so on. This intraprofessional friendship may deter reporting (that is, people may be less likely to report someone who is their friend, or the friend of a friend, or the friend of someone important to their career) either because one does not want to upset so much of one’s own life, or because one anticipates that the accused will have a network of friends defending or excusing their behavior.
  7. Perhaps there is less sexual harassment and assault in academia than in most other professions. (This is, of course, compatible with there being a substantial amount of sexual harassment and assault in academia generally, and in philosophy in particular.) If true, I am not sure what would explain that.

I put these up as possibilities worth thinking about and discussing, not as explanations I’m convinced are true. Your thoughts on these, and suggested alternative explanations, are welcome.

And now the proposal, regarding 4, above: I am willing to confidentially collect information from victims of sexual harassment and assault by members of the profession with the aims of determining whether any of those accused of such behavior have more than one accuser [, and, if so, facilitating initial communication among such accusers ]. Victims can email me a description of what happened (as specific or as vague as they are comfortable with sharing) and name the perpetrator. I’ve created a new email account for this purpose: [email protected]. The contents of these emails will not be shared with anyone without their authors’ permission. If I receive more than one accusation from different parties (whose identities I’ve been able to confirm) against a person, I will inform those who’ve accused that person of this fact (though not of the details of the accounts) [and, if the accusers wish, I will put them in touch with one another or otherwise attempt to facilitate their communication]. Thoughts on this proposal are welcome, as well.

UPDATE: The aforementioned proposal has been slightly revised in light of comments here and elsewhere. The details are still a work in progress. There is a chance I may work with or completely hand the project over to a lawyer or reporter. I will keep you apprised of any developments.

UPDATE 2: Based on the advice of a few correspondents, I’ve made a further revision to the proposal, eliminating the component that facilitates communication, if desired, between the alleged victims. At this point, the proposal would simply be to let accusers know how many others have named the same person as their harasser or assailant. If, after further legal consultation, it’s determined it would be better to reinstate this component, I’ll let you know. And, as before, this remains a proposal in development.

UPDATE 3: See the comment from Junior Faculty, who links to a story about a rather sophisticated software platform, Callisto, that allows victims to report offenses to it, and then:

Once they’ve written down what happened, students have several options. They can simply save it and come back to it at any time. They can send it to their campus Title IX coordinator as a formal complaint. They can download it and go directly to police. Or, there is a special option called “matching.” In this case, the survivor names the accused with a unique identifier like a Facebook profile. If, and only if, someone else accuses the same person, the survivor agrees that their own report will be surfaced to campus authorities.

Read about it here and here. This sounds like a superior option to what I was proposing, so perhaps we can get the APA to sponsor a customized profession-wide version of it instead. I’ll inquire about that. In the meanwhile, the email coordination line, [email protected], is still open.

UPDATE 4: The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to someone who provided thoughtful commentary on the proposal. I thought it would be useful to share, as it sums up my current thinking:

The core of the idea is to find a way to let accusers know whether anyone else has been victimized by the same person. (I’m no longer committed to providing any information beyond that, such as the victim’s identities or contact information, etc.) 

This is based on the following three assumptions. 

(1) Victims may be more inclined to report their harasser and/or assailant if they know they are not his or her only victim. This could be for epistemic reasons (“oh, so it wasn’t something *I* did”), prudential reasons (“I’ll be more likely to be believed if there are more victims of the same person”), moral reasons (“I see that there is a pattern here and I should say something before even more people are harmed”), or whatever. 
(2) Accusers are more likely to be believed and supported if the person they are accusing is also being accused by others.  
(3) It is sometimes difficult for accusers to learn whether the person who has victimized them has victimized others.

Those are “common sense” assumptions, meaning, I have heard them offered frequently by others but have not looked at any research about whether they’re true. If they’re not, please let me know. 

The proposal was meant to help with an informational problem, that is, to help in regards to (3), so as to take advantage of (1) and, subsequently, (2). 

As for who or what should try to help with this informational problem, frankly, I’d prefer someone else do it instead of me. But, it is very easy to say “someone should do this” and very common for that to be followed by no one doing it. I volunteered to do it. But I would be happy to hand it over to someone else who could be more effective at it, or, I think, to an automated service which may appear more trustworthy than me or any particular individual. That’s why I like the idea of Callisto or something similar.

If we were to go with some version of Callisto or the like, I do not envision the APA’s role as issuing sanctions or anything like that. The APA has no teeth. I merely see it as a funder and publicizer of the service. Further, I would hope that the software of Callisto could be customized so that it does what we want it to do. We may just want it to take reports and notify users when someone else identifies the same perpetrator they have, and that’s it. Perhaps we would want it to do more. I would trust that were the APA to go ahead with something like this, they would consult both expert members of the philosophical community as well as a lawyer to figure out what would be suitable.

 

Jay DeFeo, “Origin”

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Piton
Piton
3 years ago

Great idea. Thanks for doing this JustinReport

John
John
3 years ago

I’d advise very strongly against taking this role on yourself, Justin. See if you can find a professional reporter — at the Chronicle or IHE, say, or maybe someone involved in breaking those stories at BuzzFeed — who would be interested in being the point of contact.Report

John
John
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

My concern is primarily along the lines of (A). A professional reporter would have a better understanding of how to evaluate the credibility of the accusations and protect the accusers’ privacy, would know the best way to move forward on the credible complaints without compromising the rights of the accused, and so on. They would also have the protection of a media organization or union in case things got very controversial. And since you effectively *are* a member of the media in your role at DN I think you need to be especially careful in anything you do along these lines. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to discuss further.Report

An Advisor
An Advisor
3 years ago

It seems to me you could potentially open yourself up to libel/slander claims and get yourself unwittingly involved in court cases.

I agree with the previous commenter re professional reporter.Report

David Faraci
3 years ago

I wonder what people think about an automated alternative. It would be fairly easy to set up a website where people could enter names of offending academics (with a pull-down menu for discipline to help avoid miscounting people with the same name). The system would keep the list encrypted. Reporters could then either enter their email address (also kept encrypted) or receive a code that would allow them to return to the site to find out whether more reports have been made on the same person. This doesn’t do a whole lot, but at least victims would be able to see whether (fully anonymous) others had been victimized, and this might make them feel more comfortable about reporting through other channels.

I initially considered the possibility that this system could also be used to connect victims with each other. For instance, victims might see a code that would allow them to see contact information for all and only other victims who agreed to share with other victims. But I have a concern with this that I think also extends to Justin’s proposal. Suppose I had had sexual encounters with a number of students. I might email Justin from a fake email address claiming to be a victim and asking to be put in contact with anyone else willing to share their experiences. It’s not clear how Justin (or the site I propose) could avoid potentially putting victims in contact with the person they’re accusing in this way.Report

J. Brennan
J. Brennan
3 years ago

If you are going to go through with something like this, I recommend you purchase an umbrella policy to protect yourself against liability you might incur. About $150 should get you a $million in coverage.

https://www.geico.com/information/aboutinsurance/umbrella/Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  J. Brennan
3 years ago

Two quick warnings about insurance: read the fine print closely since lots of the potential claims you’d want to protect yourself from may be excluded (most insurance policies don’t cover intentional torts) and also know that sometimes this kind of protection (insurance, indemnification) can attract rather than discourage lawsuits, as it means there’s a larger pot of money than would otherwise be available were only your assets possibly at issue. Report

Steve Downes
Steve Downes
3 years ago

How is your proposal intended to relate to/fit with what is going on here: https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/category/sexual-harassment/

Steve DownesReport

Captain Hammer
Captain Hammer
3 years ago

Elizabeth Loftus’s work on memory might be relevant here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Loftus

Report

Manny
Manny
3 years ago

Just me, or does the proposal give people the heebie geebies.

1) Certainly the idea to be pushed is “if you have been assaulted, tell the police as soon as possible.” Isn’t the proposal going to normalise not doing that? I.e.: “step one, better check with Justin whether or not this has happened before. If yes, then I can think about whether or not I want to tell the police.” And then before you know it, “it’s been two weeks since it happened, now it’s too late. And the person has never done it before, so it was probably just a one off (because if they had done it before Justin would know). So no point telling the police anyway.”
2) We (that is people who have no expertise, skill, training, or whatever) should not be doing this (that is things we have no expertise, skill, training or whatever in).

(I do not say this to in any way question Justin’s intentions. Nor to question the seriousness of the situation.)Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Manny
3 years ago

Certainly the idea to be pushed is “if you have been assaulted, tell the police as soon as possible.”
Even restricting our attention to cases that rise to the level of sexual assault, police departments often do not take sexual assault complaints seriously (read the part in that article about the Baltimore Police Department). They may even be prosecuted themselves. So it is far from clear that this is the idea to be pushed.Report

manny
manny
Reply to  Matt Weiner
3 years ago

Sorry, I don’t really follow. Presumably some authority should be told as soon as possible? Perhaps the police aren’t the correct authority, but substitute whomsoever you take that correct authority to be in for “police”: does (1) not then stand?

If you don’t like that version of (1), then I have even more heebie geebies (why? see (2)).Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  manny
3 years ago

Well, my main reaction specifically had to do with the idea that the thing to do is to go to the police.
I do agree with the idea that it’s a bad idea to rush in and try to handle this if you don’t know what you’re doing, and for that reason I would support something like what Junior Faculty suggests below. Until that sort of system exists I’m not sure what I think people should do.
As for telling authorities as soon as possible, in an ideal world that’s what would happen, but if you read some of the stories people tell about what happens when they tell authorities, you can see why they are often reluctant to do so and rely on the “whisper network” instead. The reasons Cautious Untenured Woman mentions for not wanting to go public also seem like reasons not to want to go to “authorities,” whoever they may be.
The problem is that going to the authorities doesn’t seem to be very effective in stopping harassment, at least not quickly. Publicizing multiple accusations does sometimes seem to be effective, but again seems to take a long time. What then should we do? That’s not a rhetorical question; I genuinely don’t know.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  manny
3 years ago

I think the idea is that it’s not clear who the “authorities” are here. Creating a centralized informational repository is a way of creating an “authority”. It may be that this is not the best one. It seems unlikely that police or campus authorities universally are either.Report

Junior Faculty
Junior Faculty
3 years ago

NPR recently ran a story about an automated version of this sort of reporting that’s informed by best practices for interacting with victims of traumatic events:

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/12/06/567605752/a-tech-based-tool-to-address-campus-sexual-assault

I wonder if the APA would pay for something like this for the profession?Report

James Franklin
3 years ago

A while ago certain Catholic bishops received allegations from people who didn’t want the allegations made public. Now they’re in court charged with concealing crimes. It may be good to check with legal advisers if you may end up in the same position.Report

slartibartfast
slartibartfast
3 years ago

This whole proposal makes me feel very uncomfortable but I can’t put a finger on why. I think partly I am concerned that the system is too easily abused, by either the person or people running it (no offence Justin, but why should we entrust this to you? Why are you above suspicion when everyone else is subject to suspicion?) or by sociopathic personalities who see it as a convenient way to bring down a target. The software proposal removes the first worry but not the second. I understand the need to spot and weed out the Weinsteins of the world but I’m not sure if this is the way to go about it. Report

clc
clc
Reply to  slartibartfast
3 years ago

Agreed, and the use of gmail for receiving sensitive information is ill-advised. Reporters use Secure Drop, Signal, and WhatsApp for reasons beyond protecting anonymity in a simple sense; these tools offer E2E encryption when using them. One cannot guarantee that when merely receiving email just by virtue of using gmail, to my knowledge.

These kinds of protections are critical from the beginning: that is, *before* one begins accepting sensitive, and potentially identifying, information from individuals, especially those who are reporting on abuses suffered by *named* individuals. That puts the reporting individual at a greater risk.

I am happy to be corrected by someone who has more knowledge of the encryption capabilities and otherwise anonymity-preserving features of the tools I mention above, especially if I am wrong about the dangers of gmail.Report

Mr. E
Mr. E
3 years ago

I know of a few cases of sexual harassment, but none of the ones I’m aware of are serious enough that firing would be a proportional punishment. If I were confident the punishment would be proportionate to the offense, I would be willing to report at least one of these cases.Report

Cautious Untenured Woman
Cautious Untenured Woman
3 years ago

I’m going to abstain from commenting on the proposal, but mention that there is a seemingly obvious gap in the reasons you offer as potential explanans for under-reporting in philosophy. Coming forward with these kinds of accusations in academia (and in philosophy) has traditionally been accompanied by a great deal of attention within the profession. Junior academics may quite reasonably assume that putting themselves in the spotlight is likely to impact their current and/or future career. I cannot speak for others, but I have been holding onto many a story until I achieve tenure. At that point, and only then, will I feel comfortable enough to name names in a public forum.Report

Heidi
Heidi
Reply to  Cautious Untenured Woman
3 years ago

Cautious Untenured Woman:

Note that when you were a graduate student, you might have said, “I’ll just wait until I get a tenure track offer before I name names.”

Take that perspective and try to understand that you’ll also have reasons not to name names after you receive tenure. After all, once you receive tenure you’ll want to wait until you’re a full professor. And after you’re a full professor, you’ll realize that you are thinking about moving to a different part of the country because your spouse is contemplating a midlife career move — so you can’t speak then, either, because you don’t want to destroy your mobility and ability to get a job at another university.

By the time you’re approaching retirement and finally ready to speak, the names you would’ve named are dead and the story doesn’t matter any more… other than maybe as proof to all the younger women who were harmed by the same predator that you were complicit by participating in the systemic silence.Report

uggioso
uggioso
Reply to  Heidi
3 years ago

Your respose to Cautious Untenured Woman strikes me as quite unfair, since you unjustifiably treat the consequences of failing to make full professor as similar to those of failing to get tenure. As we all know, the consequences of failing to get tenure are typically far, far worse, uprooting the individual, along with his/her family if s/he has one. I see no reason not to take Cautious Untenured Woman at her word. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  uggioso
3 years ago

There is a thread on Twitter where a tenured woman reflects on the consequences she will likely face if/when she names her harasser. (I won’t link to it, because I’m not sure she’d welcome the additional attention.)
We should focus on changing the things that make it terrible for women to publicly name harassers, instead of condemning women who choose not to face those consequences. It’s not a survivor of harassment’s obligation to throw herself on the sword the rest of the profession is holding out.Report

Janet D. Stemwedel
Janet D. Stemwedel
Reply to  Matt Weiner
3 years ago

Given that I’m posting from a Twitter account that’s not locked, I’m OK sharing the threads here:
https://twitter.com/docfreeride/status/939260754280058880

Follow-up:

https://twitter.com/docfreeride/status/939593153614458880Report

uggioso
uggioso
Reply to  uggioso
3 years ago

I strongly second Matt Weiner’s comment (i.e., “We should focus on changing the things that make it terrible for women to publicly name harassers, instead of condemning women who choose not to face those consequences.”)
I would like to add that contrary to Heidi’s insinuation, Cautious Untenured Woman’s decision to remain silent until after tenure could help other women, since harassment is less likely to occur or be tolerated when there are more female faculty. Report

sodonewith this
sodonewith this
Reply to  Cautious Untenured Woman
3 years ago

Seems very relevant to this thread that there is now an academia-wide, wholly anonymized spreadsheet about sexual harassment in higher education.

Note that contributions do not name perpetrators or victims. But, it still may give some sense of the nature and scope of the problem: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1n5uN4Hjk0cXUSdVD7jsU6luX6Mu_0eFPfOK7AD12Sbo/viewform?edit_requested=true#responses

I would recommend that philosophers who have been harassed, assaulted, or experienced gender-based discrimination contribute to the spreadsheet. So far, I haven’t seen it making the rounds in our discipline, but we should get it going.Report

Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

One main reason perhaps why a lot of sexual harassment goes unreported is indicted by Mr. E above. The mind instinctively links concept of “wrong” with concept of “righting the wrong.” If no clear concept of the latter, hard for the former to stick. The victim herself might have the feeling, intensely, painfully, “something is wrong”, or “I feel wronged”. Or she might even have the concept, from the first person perspective, “I have been wronged by him”. But converting from the first-person use of the concept (“His touching me was wrong”), to a public, communal, third-person use of the concept (“Such touching in wrong”) requires a robust and nuanced sense of punishment. Barring the latter, it is easy to be dismissive by claiming that no appropriate sense of “wrong” has been stipulated, and so saying it is only a matter of “feelings”.

In academic philosophy in particular, there is a lot of pressure to “think clearly!”; to constantly maintain that one is adept at using concepts clearly. So professional philosophers are more quick to say, and to say more sharply, that the victim’s use of “wrong” is muddle headed, unclear, not thought through. So a woman philosopher who has been harassed not just has to defend (a) the facts of the case, but (b) defend her skill as a philosopher by defending her inference from the first person to the third person use of the concept “wrong”. Otherwise, she risks her professional identity not just as a trouble maker, but as being not razor sharp conceptually.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Professor Apricot’s comment below shows no one sense of “wrong” and of “righting that wrong” has been given in this discussion. A “problem philosopher” seems to involve anyone who commits:

1) sexual assault (rape…)
2) sexual harassment (unwanted kissing, touching…)
3) sexual harassment behavior (professor who leers, follows around female students – “the genius eccentric”…)
4) sexual relations with extreme power differentials (professor who has relationships with students…)
5) sexist harassment (as in Professor Apricot’s example…)
6) sexist behavior qua philosopher (denigrating women as philosophers, feminist philosophy, male only panels…)
7) sexist behavior qua male (talking over women in classes, being condescending…)

All of these are wrong in different ways, deserving different kinds of punishments (legal, institutional, social). Who is supposed to do the work of marking these differences and clarifying the conceptual field here: title IX officials? lawyers? the victims? Justin?

It should be the philosophy profession as a whole, men and women together. A requirement for being a professor should be that one engages with this philosophical project to even a minimal extent, alongside whatever are one’s main research projects.Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
3 years ago

I salute you, Justin, for the leadership and courage you’ve shown in stepping forward in this way! Never mind that the details of how this might work and be done safely are still being nutted out. That’s ok – we’re all exploring uncharted waters in this new truth-telling seachange. What matters is that good people are willing to try to do things differently. There is much to do in our profession to ensure that those with the strongest philosophical talent are able to contribute all that they are able.

One question I have is whether the current focus on sexUAL harrassment, which often happens to early-career women, can be widened to sexIST harrassment, which often hits mid- and late-career women as they begin to make a name for themselves and approach the possibility of controlling resources. It can be just as career-ending. An example of the sort of thing I have in mind: senior male faculty member with PhD from very good place whose career never launched because his work is so ‘safe’, and thus bor^H^H^H limited, becomes increasingly critical of the *personality* of next-generation female colleague full of energy and enthusiasm, publishing, going to international conferences, etc. Declares he ‘doesn’t like strong women’. Gossips with coworkers about the extreme unpleasantness of her ‘strong opinions’, undermining her. ‘Commiserates’ with students to whom woman gives critical feedback on their work as part of her job, undermining her position. After a disagreement about not caving in to a conceited student with whom he had a special friendship, who wanted an A+, lodges formal complaint with HR, all about her personality and how she disagrees with him thereby “impugning his integrity”. Due to his *male* seniority, this BS is taken seriously enough to be investigated by an outside lawyer. Other department members are such chickenshits that they also go in and testify against her. Eventually she takes a package and escapes the workplace.

Is this a “problem philosopher”? I would say yes. Report

Distant observer
Distant observer
3 years ago

The only protection against false accusations is that there have to be at least two accusers. Is that right? That is not enough. In my long career I’ve had a number of students who could not accept that their work was not good and decided to believe that I had something against them personally. I’ve never had one who then tried to retaliate (well, maybe one), but if we make it easy for them, then maybe they would. It is not terribly unlikely that I would have two such cases in the same time frame and that both of them would decide to retaliate. For any single X, it is unlikely that this would have to X, but it seems very likely that it would happen to someone or other. One does encounter emotionally disturbed students now and then.Report

Common Sense
Common Sense
Reply to  Distant observer
3 years ago

Don’t be so obtuse. No one has said that a single accuser isn’t sufficient — or that more than one accuser is all it takes to make an accusation credible.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Distant observer
3 years ago

I have no idea what this is even referring to. The only protection against false allegations from what? From being identified to someone who alleges that they have been subject to misconduct from a particular person as someone who others have similarly made allegations against? Report

Distant observer
Distant observer
3 years ago

Here’s the quote: “If I receive more than one accusation from different parties (whose identities I’ve been able to confirm) against a person, I will inform those who’ve accused that person of this fact (though not of the details of the accounts) .” The original plan, to put the two accusers in touch, has been struck. I am not sure what the effect of that is supposed to be, if the two accusers are not given one another’s identity. But if there is an effect and the accused has no recourse, then, yes, it’s objectionable. “Common sense,” your language is rude.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Distant observer
3 years ago

On what ground is it objectionable to inform someone who alleges that they have been wronged that someone else alleges that they have also been wronged by the same person? To take your disgruntled student example, if one student says, “Professor X really graded me unfairly” and someone replies, “Oh, my roommate took that class and thought the same thing” — are you saying that the second person has acted objectionably? That seems absurd. Now, obviously it would be wrong for the school to take the mere existence of multiple allegations to be sufficient justification for sanctioning an employee, but no one, so far as I can tell, has suggested anything like that here. Report

Distant observer
Distant observer
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
3 years ago

There’s a difference between an organized effort on the internet and an exchange between acquaintances. But before we explore that any further, it would be good to know what Justin envisions as the effect of telling an accuser that there are other accusers (without identifying them to each other). I can imagine various answers, but it would be good to know what effect Justin was expecting (if he still stands by his proposal).Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Distant observer
3 years ago

Whats the morally relevant difference? Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Distant observer
3 years ago

One natural thought is that someone who believes they have been the victim of a wrong might be more willing to report it to official channels if they believe that there are other victims potentially interested in reporting as well. Seeding this system with false reports won’t have that effect unless those false reports Gettierize real victims into going to the police. If all reports to this system are false, then no one is likely to come forward to police or campus authorities as a result of it.Report

Jackson Kernion
3 years ago

To highlight what I think is an under-appreciated point:

While it’s true that this sort of system would bring along certain risks/the potential for abuse, it’s important to weigh those costs against the the costs of maintaining the status quo.

Whether it’s a good idea to implement this kind of system will ultimately depend on contingent facts about the nature of sexual harassment in our field and the likelihood that such a tool would be used in an irresponsible way. So it’s not all that helpful to dream up various scenarios in which this system would definitely work or definitely not work. You can, of course, imagine different underlying facts which would make this system worth doing/not worth doing. What’s at issue is whether this system would solve a real world problem, and whether we have good reasons to expect that solution to result in unintended consequences.

(And it’s bad faith to worry about the risks of taking action while not also being worried about the risks of not taking action. Risk-aversion can be used support going in either direction on this.)

Given what I observed in my own department when the allegations against John Searle came to light, it seems like we still have a hard time spotting even the most egregious forms of misconduct. An independent complaint system would at the very least be useful for catching ‘low hanging fruit’, cases that involve many, many serious complaints that all display a similar pattern of behavior. (You’d think that official university complaint systems could spot these kinds of patterns, but they often don’t. And while improvements have been made at places like UC Berkeley, such improvements only make it easier to spot patterns in the future, not in the past.)

Report

A question
A question
3 years ago

How will you verify a persons identity? Let’s say I send an email (not from a university account, obviously) as Jane doe, and I allege sexual harassment at the hands of professor x. My story is plausible, and you’ve received other such complaints. The problem is I’m not Jane doe, and she doesn’t know I’m sharing her story.Report

Goodgriefarewestillhere
Goodgriefarewestillhere
3 years ago

I just want to speak to one of the suggestions initially made in Justin’s post: that perhaps harassment isn’t (much of a) problem in our discipline, now that we’ve gotten rid of some predators

Ha.
Ha.
Ha.
Ha.

I’ve personally experienced multiple forms of harassment, and I’m just a few years out of grad school. I know many of my peers have as well. They are simply terrified of compromising their careers in this grueling job market, which is why you won’t see them casually mentioning it to unvetted others.Report

Goodgriefarewestillhere
Goodgriefarewestillhere
Reply to  Goodgriefarewestillhere
3 years ago

(I hasten to add that I realize that Justin was merely reporting a theory others had floated about why #MeToo hasn’t struck philosophy. )

Also, THANK YOU Justin for trying to do something about this huge issue.Report

Cheyney Ryan
Cheyney Ryan
3 years ago

I was affirmative action director in the U of Oregon philosophy dept when complaints of sexual harassment in the dept started to spike a few years back. I have some thoughts about why such complaints do not get more public airing.

The complaints that came to me were entirely from undergraduates, one of them just turned eighteen when the incident occurred. I suspect sexual harassment issues in a dept will generally involve undergrads more than grads–given their greater potential for exploitation. So there are several reasons these will remain invisible: undergrads have little incentive to make a public issue of these matters, they are more inclined to just move on with their lives (at Oregon, they just stopped taking philosophy courses)–though some of the undergrads at Oregon have publicly written of their experiences; undergrads don’t read professional blogs where these are discussed, and I’ve generally found that students with these experiences mainly want to forget them; finally, those in a position to know about them–in this case, me–are bound by rules of confidentiality that restrict what we can say about them. These are obligations to the students who confided in us, so must be taken with the utmost seriousness,.

In the Oregon case, this was compounded by an adm apparatus designed to discourage students from stepping forward. The adm who oversaw the philosophy dept case announced to me at one point, “Women make all this up!” (Oregon’s sexual harassment problems were detailed at some length in a subsequent official review of the philosophy dept case and others, prompted by an athletic/sexual assault scandal.) The confidentiality issue is important for understanding why more of these matters is sometimes not known. One aspect of the Oregon cover-up was to publicly attack those who were forwarding complaints; I was so attacked, first by the vice-provost, then by several other faculty (after the situation got into the philosophy blogosphere). Confidentiality rules prevented me from responding to any of these attacks, and to the claim that the problems in the philosophy dept had all been fabricated, were just “rumor-mongering”, etc. Since such public attacks constitute retaliation and are violations of federal, state, and university policies, they did result in my case in my position being immediately moved to the law school. Others simply left the university. Report

Jackson Kernion
Reply to  Cheyney Ryan
3 years ago

These confidentiality policies will vary from place to place, but thought I’d note something:

I took a close look at UC Berkeley’s confidentiality policies that cover sexual misconduct reports. Although I was verbally told again and again that these confidentiality rules meant that I couldn’t talk about any misconduct that was reported to me, this was not in fact the policy. Instead, the policy specifically applied to information that the university administrators provided to you. In short, information you gathered and then sent to the administration was not confidential. But the university, in sharing information with you, shared it with you under an agreement of confidentiality.

I suspect that this setup is fairly common. And it’s understandable that people would be over-cautious and say “just don’t ever share this information”. The problem is: had we all just talked to one another in private, we would have seen the bigger picture a lot sooner.Report