The University of Colorado Boulder removed the chair of the philosophy department and suspended graduate student admissions for two years after a report found evidence that “the department maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior and divisive uncivil behavior.”
The report by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women begins by noting that “[t]he philosophical community at University of Colorado Boulder is proud of its high quality” before describing a community that few would consider to be any quality other than poor.
“Some assistant and full professors,” the study reads, “report responding to this situation by working from home, dropping out of departmental life, and avoiding socializing with colleagues. Several faculty members’ reputations for bad behavior place a higher service work burden on colleagues. Women are leaving or trying to leave in disproportionate numbers.”
“The female graduate students,” it continues, “report being anxious, demoralized and depressed.”
The report is unwavering in its criticism of faculty and administration who have allowed this situation to develop. “[W]e find there is a lack of ownership from top to bottom regarding solving the problems and addressing unprofessional (or worse) behavior [and] a clear lack of appreciation at all levels that recovery, if it is to happen at all, will involve taking drastic measures.”
The members of the APA’s committee outline these “drastic measures” in great detail, though some of the recommendations are not merely basic for any workplace environment, they are already codified in state and federal law. For example, “[d]epartmental practices, policies, and norms must be such that they make it absolutely clear that sexual harassment and inappropriate sexualized behavior are totally unacceptable.”
All members of the department are to “entirely avoid arranging situations where sexual harassment might happen or where people might think it is happening. This means no alcohol served at any events connected with the Department…and no evening socializing.”
“Many of the incidents of alleged sexual harassment and assault have occurred while faculty and graduate students were socializing after hours,” the report states. “We found that there is excessive drinking when faculty and graduate students socialize, and that there is an inappropriate expectation that graduate students and faculty should socialize together after hours (e.g. in bars in the evening).”
“The Department uses pseudo-philosophical analyses to avoid directly addressing the situation. Their faculty discussions revolve around the letter rather than the spirit of proposed regulations and standards.” The committee found that “[t]hey spend too much time articulating (or trying to articulate) the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior instead of instilling higher expectations for professional behavior.”
“They spend significant time debating footnotes and ‘what if’ scenarios instead of discussing what they want their department to look and feel like. In other words, they spend time figuring out how to get around regulations rather than focusing on how to make the department supportive of women and family‐friendly.”
It recommends members of the department to behave in ways “that you would feel comfortable with your children or parents being present.”
Before the committee could issue this report, however, it discovered that the department was planning on going ahead with its spring retreat. The proposal for the retreat read, in part, that “[t]he idea is that we’ll have a full day of talks in Boulder on Friday, and then head to a house or two in the mountains…for Friday, Saturday, and perhaps Sunday night.”
The committee acknowledged that it supports the idea of departmental retreats in theory, “[t]o be perfectly honest, we are floored that members of this department would believe that having another mountain event would be a good idea, given the unprofessional behavior that transpired at the last one.”
The report did not specify what “transpired” at the previous “mountain retreat,” but it reiterated that if the department desires its reputation to be rehabilitated, it must avoid the merest appearance of impropriety.
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Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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