Seeking Feedback on “Good Practices Guide” – Part 2


This is the second of several posts soliciting comments on a draft “Good Practices Guide” for advancing diversity in philosophy.

The first in the series, published on Monday, concerned practices regarding sexual harassment, caregivers, and staff-student relationships.

This post includes the sections on conferences (and other events) and teaching. As before, suggestions, criticisms, and comments are welcome.


Good Practice Policy: Conferences and Events

1. When chairing a session ensure that the discussion is welcoming and inclusive.

a. Ensure that nobody contributes without permission and that no member of the audience interrupts others, is aggressive or rude, or takes up too much time of the discussion

b. Allow for a break between talks and Q&A sessions in order for participants to gather their thoughts and/or to have time to attend to their different needs.

c. Carefully select the order in which you call on questioners. Keep in mind that beginning the Q&A session with a member of an underrepresented group often leads to a more inclusive discussion.

d. Encourage the participation of those who are more reluctant to speak (e.g., graduate students, or people sitting in the back)

e. Do not allow questioners follow up questions if others have not been given a chance to speak or limit to one follow up.

2. As a member of the audience, be respectful of the speaker and the other people in the room.

a. Keep questions short. If you want further clarification or wish to expand on your point you may do so with the speaker in private after the talk or over email.

b. Try to ask constructive questions that will help the presenter. Set a respectful tone by thanking the presenter and acknowledge points made by previous questioners.

c. Try to read the room to assess whether your question will benefit the discussion.

d. Do not dominate the discussion—ask only one question per question and make that question as short and concise as possible.

e. Be mindful of your body language and what it signals.

3. Organizers should make every reasonable effort to make the conference as inclusive as possible.

a. Departments should ensure that this policy is available to staff and students who are organizing events in a permanent format (e.g., intranet, handbooks) and that they are aware of it.

b. Departments should, on a regular (e.g., annual) basis, monitor the proportions of members of under-represented groups at conferences and seminar series organized by colleagues within the department, and, if significant imbalance emerges, take steps to strengthen their policies.

c. When drawing up a list of potential invited speakers, take reasonable steps to ensure that sufficient representation (see also Implicit Bias).

d. Where possible, consult the members of underrepresented groups on your list before fixing the date of the conference, to ensure that speakers are not just invited but will actually attend.

e. Organizers should ensure that members of all groups are treated equally as speakers on publicity material and the conference program (e.g., to avoid the situation where a male speaker is described as ‘Professor in philosophy at …’ but a female speaker, also a Professor, is described as ‘teaches philosophy at …’; or where the male speaker’s title (Dr, Prof.) is included by the female speaker’s isn’t).

f. Where possible try to include local scholars.

g. Signal willingness to accommodate scholars with disabilities or other particularized needs.

i. Provide in the call for papers/conference announcement information such as what kinds of accommodations you will be able to provide in order to enable and encourage scholars to attend.

ii. Whenever possible, do not require participants to disclose their needs as that can make them feel that they are a burden on the conference organizers.

iii. Ensure that they are made to feel at ease to ask questions about accommodations.

h. Ensure that the venue of the conference is accessible and that there is staff to assist people with disabilities.

i. Ensure that speakers and attendees know whom to contact to address any questions or needs that may arise.

j. Ensure there are sufficient breaks within the day, and stick to the announced schedule for these breaks.

k. Be aware of implicit biases when thinking of who to invite.

i. Chances are that the first people that come to mind will be people without historical disadvantage.

ii. Consider invitations to junior and less well-established philosophers from underrepresented groups to avoid holding these philosophers to higher standards  (e.g., women must be famous, but not so men). See the Up Directory for possibilities.

l. When possible, offer funding to members of underrepresented groups and those with specialized needs. Underrepresented groups may well be at lower-prestige institutions and/or in lower-ranked jobs. They may therefore have less access to institutional funding. If you cannot fund all speakers, ask bigger-name speakers whether they can fund their own travel (they can always say no), freeing up resources for less well-known speakers.

m. Offer free registration rate for a companion assisting an attendee with a disability and abide by all other ADA policies.

n. When possible, have a quiet room for rest. This is important for a range of disabilities and for participants who have medical needs or are breastfeeding etc.

o. Investigate whether the provision of childcare facilities for the duration of the conference is possible.

i. Many universities have day care facilities on or near campus, which may be able to offer a day rate for conference delegates.

ii. For larger conferences, if campus facilities are not available consider hosting the conference at a hotel that offers childcare and babysitting services.

iii. Consider setting aside funding to subsidize the use of childcare facilities by delegates.

iv. Be mindful of who is and who isn’t asked to care for children (see Implicit Bias).

p. Encourage speakers to make their material accessible to all participants and make sure you know how to operate equipment in order to help speakers.

q. If there is food served, make sure to collect information about any relevant dietary restrictions of conference participants.


Good Practice Policy: Teaching

The aim of these practices is to make teaching effective and inclusive. With this aim in mind the following guidelines focus on classroom dynamics and management in order to foster a sense of community in the classroom conducive to learning and critical and creative thinking in the class. Consider suggesting some or all of the following.

1. Aim to increase the diversity of authors included in syllabi. Consult resources but also colleagues and the students themselves for suggestions.

2. Departments should ensure that those involved in teaching know about the workings of implicit bias. Information about and discussion of implicit bias should be included in any training or induction sessions run by the department for staff, including teaching assistants.

3. Make the aims of each class clear at the outset. Set the tone for a collaborative, creative and inclusive class.

4. Whenever possible, get students to introduce themselves. Try to remember their names (with correct pronunciation) and preferred pronouns and expect their classmates to do the same.

a. Consider having students fill in questionnaires about pronouns, disabilities and questionnaires to make the process easier for students.

b. Allow students to opt out of divulging personal information they prefer not to share.

5. Treat students as individuals and not as representatives of a category, e.g., “LGBTQ”, “African.” Do not assume that the person’s place of origin, for example, makes them an expert on that particular place.

6. Seek participation from everyone and encourage those who are more hesitant. Give everyone a chance to talk.

a. Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in class.

b. Ensure that students understand how to participate in class discussion.

c. Make sure no one dominates class discussions.

d. If a student is more advanced, ensure to give other participants the background knowledge required to understand the discussion.

e. Encourage questions of clarification.

f. Jokes, thought experiments and examples should resonate with the whole class and not only a subgroup within the class. If that is not possible, explain them to everyone.

g. Try a variety of teaching techniques and classroom activities to stimulate class discussion and to encourage student participation in ways they are more comfortable with (e.g., some students struggle with speaking in front of the entire class but do well in small groups).

h. Consider how implicit bias may affect your interaction with students and try to be as just and equitable as possible – this includes time given to the students to talk in class but also the distribution of negative and positive feedback.

7. Encourage students to address each other thus fostering politeness and collaboration in class.

a. Encourage students to listen carefully to their interlocutor.

b. Encourage students to help each other in class to develop ideas, contribute their knowledge and so on.

c. Make sure that students are respectful and courteous.

d. Quickly address language that is insensitive, dismissive, aggressive or rude

e. Create an environment in which students can discuss their experiences and identities without being treated as though those experiences and identities define them.

8. Ensure that students are informed about available services for students (e.g., counseling, disabilities, studying support).

9. Ensure that all aspects of the class are accessible to everyone – for instance, that classrooms are big enough and accessible by wheelchair, that there are captions in videos, that extra time and private rooms are available for students that need them during exams.

10. Encourage feedback on the class and involve students in suggesting ways to improve it.

11. In graduate student placement, make every effort to familiarize your placement officer with issues that candidates from underrepresented groups or with disabilities face.

a. Meet early and often with students.

b. Actively encourage students to talk about these issues and try to find effective ways to address them.

c. Make sure that everyone is aware of protocols and responsibilities for reporting problems in these areas.

d. Consider creating a team of placement mentors covering a range of sub-disciplines.

e. Actively support students during their job search.

f. Maintain a collection of job search materials that is accessible to all graduate students.

g. Make available to students resources that can enable them to have effective electronic interviews. (e.g., rooms for interviewing with high speed internet connection)

h. Encourage students to become members of professional societies and consider making funds available to help subsidize such memberships.

i. Prove financial support to students who need resources to lessen the financial burden of the job market (traveling, dossier services, child care etc.)


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David Wallace
16 days ago

This mostly looks sensible but there are a couple of places where it might cross the line into discrimination (or might inadvertently encourage readers to do so). Notably:

When possible, offer funding to members of underrepresented groups and those with specialized needs.

If one actually chose to prioritize (e.g.) women over men for funding, and offered funding to a female attendee but not to a male attendee at a similar career stage and with similar research funds, I think that would be pretty clear discrimination, and probably illegal. (It would be fine to, e.g., ask people to pay their own travel costs if they have research funds, and it’s possible that’s all the guide means here.)

In principle this might also be an issue with:

“Carefully select the order in which you call on questioners. Keep in mind that beginning the Q&A session with a member of an underrepresented group often leads to a more inclusive discussion.”

If one had a policy of, e.g., calling on women before men, I think again that would be legally dubious even if it led to a more inclusive discussion. (Consider the reverse-valence version: ‘we call on men first because we find it leads to a more energetic and engaged discussion’ – that’s a silly reason, but one doesn’t need to object to the reason to object to the practice as discriminatory.)

Again, there’s nothing wrong with paying attention to the order in which you call on people to guard against inadvertent bias, and nothing wrong with selecting on grounds other than protected-category membership, e.g. preferring grad students. And plausibly that’s all that is intended here. But I think it could be (mis?)read as intending something stronger. If I wrote

“Carefully select the order in which you call on questioners. Keep in mind that beginning the Q&A session with a highly prominent senior scholar often leads to a more focused discussion.”

then you could reasonably infer that I was recommending that you called on prominent senior scholars first even though I haven’t explicitly said that you should do so.Report

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  David Wallace
16 days ago

“Carefully select the order in which you call on questioners. Keep in mind that beginning the Q&A session with a member of an underrepresented group often leads to a more inclusive discussion.”

And I’m a little unsettled by how this suggests the chair explicitly sort individuals into “identities” based on superficial features the chair sees.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
15 days ago

It actually seems plausible that beginning the Q&A with a person who *appears* to be a member of an underrepresented group actually leads to a more inclusive discussion than beginning the Q&A with a person who *is* a member of an underrepresented group but doesn’t appear to be. At least, if the mechanism of the effect is that audience members subconsciously see who is speaking and have some sort of effect from visible role models.Report

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
15 days ago

That’s a good observation. You might be right!

But my comment seems to have fallen short of the requisite clarity.

I’m less concerned about any disconnect between appearance and reality or about the effectiveness of categorizing based on one or the other.

I’m more concerned that the chair (or, as you point out, an audience member) is being asked to exercise and even cultivate powers of mind that one should not exercise or cultivate, namely, explicitly and publicly sorting individuals on-the-fly into “identity” categories.Report

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
Reply to  David Wallace
14 days ago

“If one had a policy of, e.g., calling on women before men, I think again that would be legally dubious even if it led to a more inclusive discussion.”

Are there laws that are relevant to the order of selecting participants? I am sincerely asking. It seems odd to me that there are laws specific enough to govern participant selection at a conference held by the APA, for instance. Obviously, things like assault are illegal everywhere, but are discrimination laws broad enough to govern a policy like the one suggested?Report

David Wallace
16 days ago

(Apologies for double-posting but it’s a fairly different issue and I thought it might be more helpful separated out.)

The proposal mentions implicit bias several times, most notably here:

“Departments should ensure that those involved in teaching know about the workings of implicit bias. Information about and discussion of implicit bias should be included in any training or induction sessions run by the department for staff, including teaching assistants.”

The last few years have seen sustained and severe criticism in the academic literature on the science of implicit bias (e.g., my colleague Edouard Machery’s pessimistic review,  https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1569 ). Reasonable people can differ about the right conclusion to draw at present about implicit bias, but at a minimum it doesn’t seem a good idea to present it as uncontested truth in a discipline-wide good practice guide. At the least, there ought to be a prominent health warning; I’m more inclined to think we should stop using it altogether at least for now. (The concrete recommendations in the guide rarely depend on appeal to implicit bias.)Report

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  David Wallace
16 days ago

Yes, I read this and thought “how are we still talking about implicit bias”? I thought talk of implicit bias as a stable disposition was debunked a few years ago. The corporate world still uses it in trainings, but we can do better.

At the very least, it’s controversial, and so shouldn’t be used in trainings at all. Whenever people mention implicit bias, there’s a good portion of the room that (in my mind, justifiably) rolls their eyes, since they are at last somewhat familiar with the progress in that literature.Report

Alex Bryant
16 days ago

Thanks to the team behind this draft for their work. A few suggestions regarding the Conferences & Events section:

“a. Ensure that nobody contributes without permission and that no member of the audience interrupts others, is aggressive or rude, or takes up too much time of the discussion”

I understand the spirit of this point, but the phrasing sounds too strong. An alternative: 

“Keep a speakers list and stick to it. Step in where needed to help avoid e.g. interruptions of those speaking, lines of discussion that are stretching on for too long, or dialogue that has become aggressive and/or rude.”

One thing I’m not finding the words for here but would be useful to suggest is the chair’s interventions in the latter regard be a bit sensitive to the way that making an intervention at all can stoke rather than turn down the heat in the room. Similar: cutting someone off for time can be done in a range of ways, some much better than others! Not sure how best to describe this.
This phrasing also sounds too strong, perhaps because of the “nobody” and “without permission”—I’ve attended some really wonderful talks where a speaker (not the question asker, notably) has thrown to their commenter to ask them to say something, and this worked great. The phrasing here is too strong for this to be permissible, but I think we do want/like the organic way that some Q&A’s proceed. Tricky to get this phrasing right I think, but this strikes me as too strong.

“c. Carefully select the order in which you call on questioners. Keep in mind that beginning the Q&A session with a member of an underrepresented group often leads to a more inclusive discussion.”

This seems tokenizing, especially if it’s institutionalized as a policy for the question period. I suppose I’m generally in favour of being mindful about the arrangement of the speakers list when a bunch of hands go up right away, but I’m wary of how the suggestion has been phrased in the second sentence (perhaps there’s research I don’t know about to shore up this phrasing though).

“d. Encourage the participation of those who are more reluctant to speak (e.g., graduate students, or people sitting in the back)”

This is a bit funny unless you suggest a practice for how to do so. One practice that I’ve seen recently is just to bump graduate students up to the front of the speakers queue on the initial list but then go to a regular first-come-first-up list afterwards. “People sitting in the back” is a bit funny as an example to me, but maybe you just mean: when the speaker’s list has run through, consider calling for any further questions and encouraging those who haven’t spoken to chime in.

“b. Try to ask constructive questions that will help the presenter. Set a respectful tone by thanking the presenter and acknowledge points made by previous questioners.”

I’m in favour of suggesting one ask constructive questions, but I’m not in favour of the imperative that one thank the presenter—even if it’s common to thank a presenter I suppose I’m not invested in establishing a norm that one thank presenters regardless of their view of the talk.

“b. Departments should, on a regular (e.g., annual) basis, monitor the proportions of members of under-represented groups at conferences and seminar series organized by colleagues within the department, and, if significant imbalance emerges, take steps to strengthen their policies.”

Just a phrasing point: strange that this would be taken as a policy rather than implementation problem.

“c. When drawing up a list of potential invited speakers, take reasonable steps to ensure that sufficient representation (see also Implicit Bias).”

Sentence fragment.

“d. Where possible, consult the members of underrepresented groups on your list before fixing the date of the conference, to ensure that speakers are not just invited but will actually attend.”

This strikes me as a part of c. above it rather than a separate point. But it also seems like the plain norm of consulting invited keynotes’ availability before setting dates where possible, so this phrasing doesn’t quite get the suggestion I think you want. I take it the idea is that we take the availability of possible keynotes from underrepresented groups as (or more!) seriously as that of other possible keynotes, and I think that will just fall out of the aims of other suggestions here.

“h. Ensure that the venue of the conference is accessible and that there is staff to assist people with disabilities.”

This seems a bit too nebulous to be helpful. Better to say, e.g. as you do elsewhere, that you should be aware of what staffing is available through the venue already and to explore further options in advance of posting the CFP. More helpful: add suggestions about this might amount to.

“j. Ensure there are sufficient breaks within the day, and stick to the announced schedule for these breaks.”

Awkward phrasing (what are “sufficient breaks”?).

“l. When possible, offer funding to members of underrepresented groups and those with specialized needs. Underrepresented groups may well be at lower-prestige institutions and/or in lower-ranked jobs. They may therefore have less access to institutional funding. If you cannot fund all speakers, ask bigger-name speakers whether they can fund their own travel (they can always say no), freeing up resources for less well-known speakers.”

I’m generally in favour of sliding scale support, but I’m wary of how this suggestion is phrased. I think this is quite tricky and worth exploring further on DN, I’d be interested to hear what people have been trying and to hear what seems to be working (and objections!).Report

--bill
16 days ago

In general, I like these proposals–they are a good prompt for reflection on our practices at my university.

But 2.e under “Conferences and events” has this advice for audience members:
“Be mindful of your body language and what it signals.”
For many people, control of the body is an issue.
As someone who deals with this on occasion, this guideline reads to me as suggesting that I not speak unless I am sure I can control my body.

I realize that that is not the intent of the authors of this document, but perhaps they should consider re-writing this entry.Report

Nicole Hassoun
Reply to  --bill
15 days ago

Thanks all for these excellent observations! Will try hard to get this all right! Please also reach out to us at women-in-philosophy.org if you’d like to contribute to the process more directly!Report

Kian MW
Reply to  Nicole Hassoun
13 days ago

“Consult resources”: depending on the format, a footnote or parentheses with a link or two to specific resources could make it a lot easier to act on this point. I’m thinking of http://diversityreadinglist.org/ in particular (or maybe also https://www.apaonlinecsw.org/resources/ ).Report

Justin Kalef
13 days ago

Many good points here. I like that you emphasize that students from a certain part of the world (or country) or that belong to a certain demographic should not be presumed to be experts on everything people associate with it.

Some critical remarks:

1. There is much discussion here about ensuring that conferences, speakers’ lists, and classroom readings be made diverse. But presumably, the most important type of diversity in philosophy (or at least one of the most important) is viewpoint diversity. Philosophy’s goal is to seek the truth on a range of issues and to transcend individual or partisan viewpoints. Where there is merely natural agreement or socially enforced agreement rather than a working toward the truth on the basis of argumentation, there is no philosophy. And yet, the diversity of viewpoints within philosophy (and academia more generally) is demonstrably becoming more and more narrow. It would be good to make a commitment to resolving this problem, first and foremost, explicit.

One example of a very bad practice in this respect is the presentation of a completely one-sided reading list to students. And yet, on a Facebook teaching group I am a part of, I routinely see people discuss reading lists for courses on current issues whose reading lists are entirely from one sociopolitical perspective — the very same sociopolitical perspective that seems to be held by the instructor. The guidance should make clear that this is a bad practice, and suggest ways to improve it.

It also does not seem necessary to acknowledge previous speakers and thank the presenter before launching into a question at a conference presentation. This formality needlessly takes up very limited time.

Finally, is it really clear that one should limit oneself to a single question during a Q&A? I can see the motivation for this, but it seems that a serious philosopher will desire some thorough criticism at a Q&A. The philosopher may in fact be relying on the Q&A to provide critical comments that can be used to improve the paper before submission to a journal. But by this guide, it would be illegitimate for someone to say, “By P, do you mean P-sub-1, or P-sub-2?” and then (on being told it’s P-sub-1) explain a problem with P-sub-1 given the other commitments of the paper.Report

Axel
13 days ago

Regarding the first point on the section on conferences and events, be aware that currently prevailing notions of what it is to interrupt others, be aggressive or rude, or taking up too much time are deeply informed by ableist assumptions.Report