A group of philosophers associated with the Demographics in Philosophy project have taken up the task of creating a “Good Practices Guide” to advance diversity in philosophy and are seeking suggestions, criticisms, and comments on the initial draft.
The draft draws on “good practices” material from the American Philosophical Association (APA), the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP), the British Philosophical Association (BPA), and the University of Oxford, among others.
I’ll be posting a few sections of the draft guide this week in the hopes of soliciting comments from readers. Today’s sections are on Sexual Harassment, Caregivers, and Staff-Student Relationships. Discussion encouraged.
Good Practice Policy: Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can be carried out by persons of any gender, and persons of any gender may be victims. Although harassment of students by staff is often the focus of discussions, departments need to be aware that power differentials of this sort are not essential to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may occur between any members of the department. Departments should attend equally seriously to harassment committed both by students and by staff, as both can have dramatically negative effects on particular individuals and on departmental culture. Departments should also be aware that sexual harassment may interact with and be modified by issues of race, ethnicity, religion, class and disability status.
There is good evidence that the proportion of incidents of sexual harassment that get reported, even informally, in philosophy departments is very low, and that this has created serious problems for some staff and students. We therefore urge even those staff who do not believe that harassment is a problem in their own departments to give serious consideration to the recommendations below.
The US defines ‘sexual harassment’ as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
Institutional definitions of ‘sexual harassment’ differ greatly from one another. Some institutional definitions focus solely on sexual conduct, while others include also include non-sexual harassment related to sex.
While departments need to attend to their institution’s definition of ‘sexual harassment’, and to make use of institutional procedures where appropriate, this is not the end of their responsibilities. Where sexist or sexual behavior is taking place that contributes to an unwelcoming environment for underrepresented groups, departments should act whether or not formal procedures are possible or appropriate.
We note that sexual harassment in philosophy can be present even when it does not meet the formal definitions above. Sexual harassment involves conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. This includes both harassment related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity (e.g. hostile and dismissive though not sexual comments about women, gay, lesbian, transgender, or nonbinary people) and harassment of a sexual nature. Note that sexual harassment is not limited to one-to-one interactions but may include, for example, general comments made in lectures or seminars that are not aimed at an individual.
- All members of the department—undergraduates, graduate students, academic and non-academic staff—should be made aware of the regulations that govern sexual harassment in their university.
a. In particular, they should know the university’s definition of ‘sexual harassment’ and who to contact in possible cases of sexual harassment.
b. They should also know who has standing to file a complaint (in general, and contrary to widespread belief, the complainant need not be the victim).
c. They should be made aware of both formal and informal measures available at their university.
d. Departments may wish to consider including this information in induction sessions for both students and staff, and in training for teaching assistants.
- Where the University or Faculty has a list of Harassment Contacts (see e.g. www.southampton.ac.uk/diversity/how_we_support_diversity/harassment_contact s.page), all staff—including non-academic staff—and students should be made aware of it. If no such list exists, the department should consider suggesting this approach to the university. It is very important for department members to be able to seek advice outside their department.
- All members of staff should read the advice given at www.oed.wisc.edu/ sexualharassment/guide.html on how to deal with individuals who approach them to discuss a particular incident.
- All of the information listed above should be made permanently available to staff (including non-academic staff) and students, e.g. through a stable URL and/or staff and student handbooks, rather than only in the form of a one-off email communication.
- The department head and others with managerial responsibilities (such as Directors of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies) should ensure that they have full knowledge of university procedures regarding sexual harassment.
- Seriously consider the harms of an atmosphere rife with dismissive or sexualizing comments and behavior, and address these should they arise. (It is worth noting, however, that the right way to deal with this may vary.)
- Cultivate—from the top down—an atmosphere in which maintaining a healthy climate for all department members, especially those from under-represented groups and including non-academic staff, is considered everyone’s responsibility. What this entails will vary from person to person and situation to situation. But at a minimum it includes a responsibility to reflect on the consequences (including unintended consequences) of one’s own behavior towards individuals from underrepresented groups. It may also include a responsibility to intervene, either formally or informally. (For more on the range of responses available, see Saul, op. cit.)
- Ensure, as far as possible, that those raising concerns about sexual harassment are protected against retaliation.
- Offer bystander training either to staff, or to staff and graduate students, if this is available or can be made available by the institution. This can help bystanders to feel comfortable intervening when they witness harassing behavior. (See the Good Practice website for more information.)
Good Practice Policy: Care Givers
Staff members and students with caregiving responsibilities—whether parental or other—face constraints on their time that others often do not. There are simple measures that departments can take to minimize the extent to which caregivers are disadvantaged.
Departments should adopt an explicit policy concerning caregivers, which covers as many of the following points as is practically possible:
- Schedule important events, as far as possible, between 9 and 5 (the hours when childcare is more readily available). When an event has to be scheduled outside of these hours, give plenty of advance notice so that caregivers can make the necessary arrangements. Consider using online scheduling polls to find times that work for as many as possible.
- Seriously consider requests from staff of any background for part- time and flexible working. (This is largely, but not exclusively, an issue for caregivers—requests from non-caregivers should also be taken seriously.) Also be receptive, as far as possible, to requests for unpaid leave.
- As far as possible, account for caregiving commitments when scheduling teaching responsibilities.
- Be aware that students, not just staff, may have caregiving responsibilities. Have a staff contact person for students who are caregivers. Take student requests for caregiving accommodations seriously.
- Ensure that students and staff are made fully aware of any university services for caregivers.
- Ensure that staff have an adequate understanding of what caregiving involves. (E.g., don’t expect a PhD student to make lots of progress on dissertating while on parental leave.)
- Ensure that parental leave funds provided by the university are actually used to cover for parental leave, rather than being absorbed into department or faculty budgets.
- Those involved in performance evaluations should be fully informed about current policies regarding output reduction for caregivers and take caregiving responsibilities into account where possible.
Good Practice Policy: Staff-Student Relationships
Romantic or sexual relationships that occur in the student-teacher context or in the context of supervision, line management and evaluation present special problems. The difference in power and the respect and trust that are often present between a teacher and student, supervisor and subordinate, or senior and junior colleague in the same department or unit makes these relationships especially vulnerable to exploitation. They can also have unfortunate unintentional consequences.
Such relationships can also generate perceived, and sometimes real, inequalities that affect other members of the department, whether students or staff. For example, a relationship between a senior and junior member of staff may raise issues concerning promotion, granting of sabbatical leave, and allocation of teaching. This may happen even if no preferential treatment actually occurs, and even if the senior staff member in question is not directly responsible for such decisions. In the case of staff-student relationships, questions may arise concerning preferential treatment in seminar discussions, marking, decisions concerning graduate student funding, and so on. Again, these questions may well emerge and be of serious concern to other students even if no preferential treatment actually occurs.
At the same time, we recognise that such relationships do indeed occur, and that they need not be damaging, but may be both significant and long-lasting.
We suggest that departments adopt the following policy with respect to the behavior of members of staff at all levels, including graduate student instructors.
Please note that the recommendations below are not intended to be read legalistically. Individual institutions may have their own policies, and these will constitute formal requirements on staff and student behavior. The recommendations below are intended merely as departmental norms, and to be adopted only where not in conflict with institutional regulations.
The department’s policy on relationships between staff and students (and between staff) should be clearly advertised to all staff and students in a permanent form, e.g. intranet or staff/student handbooks. The policy should include clear guidance about whom students or staff might consult in the first instance if problems (real or perceived) arise.
- Staff and graduate student teaching assistants should be informed that relationships between teaching staff and undergraduates are very strongly discouraged, for the reasons given above.
- If such a relationship does occur, the member of staff in question should:
a. inform a senior member of the department—where possible, the department head—as soon as possible;
b. withdraw from all small-group teaching involving that student (in the case of teaching assistants, this may involve swapping tutorial groups with another TA), unless practically impossible;
c. withdraw from the assessment of that student, even if anonymous marking is used.
d. withdraw from writing references and recommendations for the student in question.
e. It should be made clear to staff and students that if an undergraduate student has entered into a relationship with a member of staff (including a TA), while the responsibility for taking the above steps lies with the member of staff concerned, the student is equally entitled to report their relationship to another member of staff (e.g. Head of Department, if appropriate), and to request that the above steps be taken.
- Staff and graduate students should be informed that relationships between academic members of teaching staff and graduate students are very strongly discouraged, especially between a supervisor and a graduate supervisee.
- If such a relationship occurs between a member of staff and a graduate student, the member of staff should:
a. inform a senior member of staff—where possible, the department head—as soon as possible;
b. withdraw from supervising the student, writing letters of recommendation for them, and making any decisions (e.g. distribution of funding) where preferential treatment of the student could in principle occur;
c. in the case of graduate students, withdraw from all small-group teaching involving that student, unless practically impossible;
d. in the case of graduate students, withdraw from the assessment of that student, even if anonymous marking is used.
e. As much as possible, the Department should encourage a practice of full disclosure in the case of such relationships’ continuance. This avoids real or perceived conflicts of interest, as well as embarrassment for others.
Between members of academic staff where there is a large disparity in seniority (e.g. Associate Professor/Lecturer; Head of Department/Assistant Professor):
- Disclosure of any such relationship should be strongly encouraged, in order to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest.
- Any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest should be removed by, e.g., removal of the senior member of staff from relevant decision-making (e.g. promotions, appointment to permanent positions).