Philosophy off the rails? Part Two

Steve’s post about alleged sexual harassment in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado reminded me of a post I wrote called “Most interesting man in the world accused of sex harassment.” The subject was a philosophy professor at the University of Miami who lost his job due to allegations of sexual harassment lodged by a graduate student.

In the post I noted that, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, stories of sex harassment “have long plagued the discipline [of academic philosophy] in which fewer than one in five full-time professors are female.” Accordingly, the American Philosophical Association has established an ad hoc committee on sexual harassment.

There is, I believe, a causal relationship between the small percentage of female philosophy professors and the “plague” of sex harassment stories. But what is the precise nature of that relationship.

It may well be that sexual harassment is more prevalent in mostly male jobs. As I wrote:

Having litigated sex harassment cases and read the case law, I understand that this form of discrimination can be a particularly big problem in certain traditionally male jobs where female employees are essentially pioneers. Examples include police officer (at one time) and coal miner. I wouldn’t have thought to add philosophy professor to the list, but why not?

Twenty-percent far exceeds the level of female representation in the traditionally male jobs of yesterday. But in many of philosophy department, it would translate to one lone female.

But there is another way that a causal relationship between stories of sexual harassment in philosophy departments and low female representation might run. It’s possible that philosophy departments are targeted by feminists in academia for these kinds of stories because they are unhappy about low female representation.

I would not have put much stock in this hypothesis were it not for Steve’s post about the allegations of harassment at the University of Colorado. These allegations are vague and/or flimsy (professors are accused of ogling female students), and not meaningfully quantified. Fifteen complaints are cited, but over what time period? And how does this compare to other departments of comparable size?

Moreover, the findings are the product of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women. I take no position on Steve’s claim that this group’s findings “can be predicted as easily as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1692.” But the very name of the committee suggests a strong interest in making findings that can be used to increase the number of women in philosophy departments.

So which way does the causation run? Perhaps both ways. Maybe sexual harassment is somewhat more prevalent in philosophy departments than elsewhere in academia, and this difference has been overstated in furtherance of a feminist agenda.

Or maybe philosophers are more prone than other academics to leer.


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