Seeking Feedback on “Good Practices Guide” – Part 1
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).
Why not prohibit?
We’ve just gotten LSE to adopt this new policy on staff-student relationships, which, while not quite what we in the gender equality staff network wanted, is stricter. In particular, it “prohibits any personal relationships between staff and students where i) there is a direct supervisory relationship in existence (e.g. PhD student and supervisor); ii) a member of staff has direct or indirect responsibility for, or involvement in, that student’s academic studies (for example, assessor of a student’s work) and/or personal welfare (for example, academic advisor and advisee) or iii) a member of staff interacts with a student as part of their role (including the period during which a prospective student is applying for admission, and any period of time after the completion of a degree during which the staff member maintains a direct or indirect professional role, such as mentoring or writing references for a former student).”
In a small department like ours, we are interpreting this to cover all relationships with students, as anybody may need to be called on to serve as exam board chair etc.Report
Just to perhaps add to this, the original policy was more along the above lines. But our experience across the university has been that mere strong discouragement does not work, and that the implication that staff may legitimately pursue relationships with students (they are pursued, they don’t just happen), is seen as a license by those who do this serially, and exploited as an excuse in sexual harassment cases (just a clumsy attempt to start a relationship…).Report
Perhaps I’m naive, but isn’t this just excessive, and a violation of privacy?
I would never pursue a relationship with a student or colleague because it seems like a terrible idea in every conceivable way, but apart from questions of harassment, my love life should not be my employer’s business. People in these relationships should recuse themselves in a conflict of interest, as they should if the department was considering their brother’s application. But my employer should also be reticent about telling me about how to arrange my personal life. A further irony is that in the department where I work, just about every faculty member is married to another – with most of them having met when one or the other was a graduate student.
The only place I’ve worked that has rules similar to this is the military, which makes them seem laughably extreme compared to most private sector workplaces I’ve been in.Report
One reason that the guidelines might not prohibit staff-student relationships is due to cases where the relationship preexists the enrollment of the student/the appointment of the staff member. At the school I attended as an undergraduate, there was a professor who had been married for many years to a person who had not earned a bachelor’s degree, and decided to get the degree at the institution where their spouse taught for reasons of convenience. Prohibiting this relationship seems to me clearly wrong; and it seems like a similar situation could arise for many philosophy departments. For this reason a blanket prohibition on staff-student relationships seems to me unwise.
I agree that the concerns that Johanna Thoma raises are important, however, and I don’t know how to address them… Probably those who have put more thought into this than me are better placed to give positive proposals.Report
What a prohibition (where there is potential of a direct supervisory relationship) would mean in practice is that avoiding the supervisory relationship is something that should ideally be negotiated in advance, rather than left to the university to deal with after the fact. If you are thinking of asking out a student you are already teaching, or saying yes to their asking you out, or if your partner would like to sign up to be a student at your institution, you can approach your Head of Department to see if you can get your responsibilities reallocated, negotiate not to be chair of the exam board etc for the time your (potential) partner is there etc. For pre-existing relationships that’s clearly something that should be granted if at all possible (though very difficult in small departments), and in that case the conversation could also be held with adequate prior notice.Report
The policy above already makes such relationships the employer’s business, but in a way that the costs are borne by everybody but the member of staff: The student may be constrained in what courses they can take, and who they can work with, other members of staff need to take over work, other students are affected by potential changes in lecturer mid-term – and that’s aside from the damage a culture of dating students can do more generally. If somebody teaches a compulsory course and is the best qualified to do so, this can create significant difficulties. If we agree that the safeguards mentioned above need to be in place, then by choosing to pursue a relationship with a student, a member of staff is taking actions that render them unable to do part of their job, potentially a significant part. So it seems appropriate to raise the stakes in a way that reflects that.Report
This isn’t really a defence of your policy. You just assume assent to the above policy and then say we might as well go more extreme if we’re going to do anything at all – which doesn’t follow.Report
Sorry for being ambiguous: I meant the policy guidance in the original post. Both agree that staff should not be at once engaged in a personal relationship and a supervisory relationship, and I don’t really want to debate that point. The recommendation in the original post allows, however, that staff members enter a personal relationship while they have a supervisory relationship with a student, and make it the department’s/university’s responsibility to then make accommodations that are potentially very costly to everybody but the staff member. Prohibition, as in the LSE policy means that staff members should not enter personal relationships while they are in a supervisory relationship. Their options are negotiating themselves out of their supervisory relationship in advance of entering a personal one, waiting, taking a leave of absence, quitting their job, accepting a sanction, or deciding it is not worth it.Report
Thanks for the clarification.
My final thought on the matter is that the burden should be largely bore by the department. If they insist on policing their employees’ personal lives, at minimum they should be the ones to make accomdations. You also haven’t addressed anything to do with privacy. I don’t know about the UK, but where I live the policy would possibly be unenforceable on legal grounds – if you tried to sanction with it, the department would potentially be liable.Report
Does disagreeing with, “Trans women are women,” constitute sexual harassment? How about including Kathleen Stock in a syllabus? I would have thought the answer was obviously, “no” (regardless of what one thinks about either issue); however, this is unclear given the following:
There should some clarification that political or ideological differences do not constitute sexual harassment. If not, these guidelines should be strongly opposed (because, to the extent they have any influence, they’ll certainly be weaponized). Report
I would attend to the words “hostile” and “dismissive” in the passage you cited. As a matter of academic freedom, people are welcome to take up those positions, but if it causes them to mistreat people, that’s a problem.
Suppose someone was persauded by Lucrezia Marinella that women truly are superior to men in every way. They’re welcome to believe that, and even argue it as a matter of academic freedom given it’s a philosophical matter. But surely if they start misteating and demeaning men in the department as a result it cannot be tolerated. The same would go for someone who preferred Guiseppe Passi’s misogynist arguments.Report
Thanks for the reply.
Insofar as “hostile” and “dismissive” is delineating prohibited comments towards individuals based upon their sex, etc. then that should be included in such policies. However, the text’s example regards comments about groups, so, we’re now veering into political territory. Prohibiting “hostile” comments towards groups seems appropriate, though I worry about how open it is to overly expansive interpretations. Keep in mind the current context of very broad interpretations of “harm” and “trauma” (not to mention slogans like “silence = violence”). “Dismissive” is even more concerning. For example, would skepticism of attributing publishing disparities between genders to gender discrimination be open to counting as “dismissive” comments about women and thus open to prohibition/punishment? I would think that would obviously be unacceptable, but these guidelines seem open to it.
I think the following steers us in the right direction:
It seems unacceptably problematic to have a sexual harassment policy that potentially prohibits such things and then rely upon an academic freedom policy to counterbalance, let alone overrule, such prohibitions. It seems better to explicitly build these limits into the sexual harassment policy. Perhaps support for such a measure would be a point of agreement.Report
The difficulty is that “sex” is being used in more than one way in these recommendations. “Harassment related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity” may be based in sex in in any number of ways. A professor who sexually pursues an unwilling student, or gropes her, etc., clearly sexually harasses that student. A professor who makes homophobic comments in class does something objectionable, but it’s not sexual harassment in the same sense as the slimy professor–in fact, I think we stretch “sexual harassment” too far by calling homophobia “sexual harassment” (unless it involves matters of “sex” in the sexual intercourse sense of “sex.”) A professor who denies that “trans women are women” makes a claim involving sex and it might have the effect of violating the dignity of a person, or a person may claim it does, but this example differs from both the paradigmatic groping/sexual pursual case and the homophobia case.
Perhaps what’s going on is that a more general anti-discrimination policy is wanted and it’s being forced into the familiar “sexual harassment” category.Report
In my experience, 2&4 under ‘departmental culture’ unfortunately lead to very bad, contentious departmental cultures. Just tons of hostility all around. Whatever the intention, ‘calling people out’ (or ‘in’!) for minor offenses leads to people feeling beleaguered, feeling labeled a bad actor, banding together and departments splitting into factions. Those doing the ‘calling in’ and who have been trained to sniff out and intervene in such scenarios often have an exaggerated sense of injustice or sometimes (not always) themselves engage in problematic spreading of rumors. My experience suggests that 2 and 4 not only shouldn’t be encouraged, but they should be actively discouraged. I’ve never seen anything like that lead to anything good.
Is there any evidence at all that ‘bystander training’ and ‘intervening’ actually have positive outcomes? I highly doubt that they do lead to a better culture overall. But my evidence here is anecdotal.Report
Thanks all for the comments, the points on both sides of each suggestion are incredibly helpful! To answer the question raised here, I do believe there is good empirical evidence in favor of bystander training. I haven’t read this particular report but it might provide a summary of some of it: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/515634/Evidence_review_bystander_intervention_to_prevent_sexual_and_domestic_violence_in_universities_11April2016.pdfReport
I think if we’re talking sexual or domestic violence in departments (that’s what this article is about), that’s a good and fine thing. I worry about “bystander training” for a more nebulous thing like ‘harassment’ … Some behavior is clearly harassing, but in my own (again, limited) experience, ‘interventions’ are performed for things that are clearly innocent mistakes, or behaviors and comments that are open to interpretation.Report
A smaller point: it is worth a sentence or link indicating what bystander training is, since not everyone is familiar with the practice.Report
I totally agreed with your thoughts about these, but the question is do trusted mentors still exist ?, and secondly, if we rely solely on idealistic approach, there is no gonna be any head way in this jet age. It implies that without been pragmatic after our sound thought and across our critics, we will never achieve the expected end.
Permit me to narrow it down basically to Nigerian system, it has played this role quite often going by this saying;” if you can’t beat them you join them” . And here comes my fears about the idea behind this saying.
It suffice to say that the majors in position could be the perpetrators.
I now submit to you that the law giver are indirect the beaters that its subject listeners to their given verbal approval and gestural disapproval.Report
The discussion on relationships has this passage:
“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.”
Arguably something similar is implied in the discussion of sexual harassment, which likewise distinguishes the university’s formal policy on sexual harassment from harassment that does not meet the ‘formal definitions’.
I’m not sure it’s as easy as all that to separate norms from policies here. Precisely because of the very large power imbalances in a department (between, e.g., the Chair and Assistant Professors, or between grad students and their mentors) a ‘norm’ can pretty quickly end up being interpreted as a directive – especially if it’s codified in a written document to which the department is explicitly committed.
In the case of relationships, I think a department would be on very thin ice if it stated that its approach to relationships differed from official university policy, however many disclaimers it made about things being ‘not intended to be read legalistically’.
In the case of sexual harassment, the definition – at least in the US – basically tracks Supreme Court jurisprudence as to where the boundary is between harassment and free speech. Having a general policy – or even ‘norm’ on sexual harassment that goes significantly beyond the institutional policy thus has consequences.
In both cases I’d prefer to see the guide discussing how your university policy can be implemented in practice and in the context of a department’s teaching, research and social activities (most universities have fairly similar policies) rather than trying to freelance beyond that policy. I think the large bulk of the guide’s recommendations can be translated into that framework mutatis mutandis. (One could also potentially advise departments as to what policies to encourage the university to adopt; cf Johanna Thoma’s comments.)
As a specific coda, I think transparency is absolutely key in relationship-management policy. Too strong a norm of discouragement works against transparency.Report
As it stands, these recommendations are a mess.
They mix together and treat as one thing what that should be kept entirely separate: sexualizing actions and comments, on the one hand, and a vague category of ‘dismissive’ actions and comments, on the other.
At some points, these recommendations give a fair description of what counts as sexual harassment or relevant violations of the professor/student relationship. Those parts are good, and they should remain in the recommendation *without* the comments about how they contribute to a particularly bad environment for people of this, that, and the other demographic. Those additional comments only serve to obscure what should be a straightforward issue. Some bad actions are bad in themselves, and are understood to be bad in themselves. We don’t need to trot out all the usual phrases and categories every single time we say that something is bad.
On the other hand, we have remarks about things like dismissive comments, which are a much broader and vaguer category. Moreover, while nobody needs to engage in sexual harassment in order to perform the regular duties of a professional philosopher, we do need to dismiss things and people at various times. We dismiss students’ demands for grade adjustments, we dismiss candidates from job searches, we dismiss arguments and positions from serious considerations when their defenders cannot show that they do not lead to serious errors, and in some cases it would be perfectly correct to dismiss entire areas of philosophy (for instance, if someone insisted that repeatedly slamming a door counted as a method of doing philosophy).
No doubt, whoever put in the bit about ‘dismissive’ behavior had some specific things in mind that must never be dismissed. I wonder very much what those things are and how objective a matter it is that they are non-dismissible.
My suggestion: much of this should be scrapped entirely. All there should be is a concise and clear explanation of the proper rules for sexual or romantic conduct between various parties (or the prohibition of that conduct), some clear recommendations for treating caregivers fairly, and some recommendations for helping to avoid, for instance, racist and sexist comments (but these should not be written in a broad way that presumes that issues in applied ethics or the metaphysics of gender, say, are taken to be settled one way or the other. It’s the work of philosophy to resolve those questions through argumentation and evidence, not to presume their answers in advance).
There is also no apparent need to waste words explaining why clearly bad things are bad. For instance, the claims that “sexual harassment can have dramatically negative effects on particular individuals and on departmental culture” and that it “may interact with and be modified by issues of race, ethnicity, religion, class and disability status” can and should be skipped so that readers can get straight to the recommendations.Report
Thanks again everyone!Report