Thursday, May 12, 2022

Draft Good Practice Guide: Sexual Harassment, Caregivers, and Student-Staff Relationships

The Demographics in Philosophy project is seeking feedback on a proposed "Good Practice" guide. Help us make this document better!

[cross-posted at Daily Nous]

This is part one of several.


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.

General Suggestions

1. 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., 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.

2. All members of staff should read the advice given at on how to deal with individuals who approach them to discuss a particular incident.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Departmental Culture

1. 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.)

2. 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.)

3. Ensure, as far as possible, that those raising concerns about sexual harassment are protected against retaliation.

4. 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.

General Suggestions

Departments should adopt an explicit policy concerning caregivers, which covers as many of the following points as is practically possible:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. As far as possible, account for caregiving commitments when scheduling teaching responsibilities. 4. 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.

5. Ensure that students and staff are made fully aware of any university services for caregivers.

6. 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.)

7. 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.

8. 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.

General Suggestions

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.

Undergraduate Students

1. 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.

2. 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.

Graduate Students

1. 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.

2. 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.

Academic Staff

Between members of academic staff where there is a large disparity in seniority (e.g. Associate Professor/Lecturer; Head of Department/Assistant Professor):

1. Disclosure of any such relationship should be strongly encouraged, in order to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest.

2. 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).


Philosopher Eric said...

The first installment seems fine to me. It also seems to reflect how things have been changing in general. There’s plenty of talk lately about ending high tech California’s “bro culture” for example. It’s hard for me to believe that it was only three years ago that the tide finally claimed John Searle given his horrible behavior at UC Berkeley.

Once this transformation becomes relatively complete, here’s something that I wonder: Will women (and other “non-bro’s”) become far more represented than they are today? Has the field’s demographics been artificially restricted? I hope so! (Actually I don’t mean that I hope it has been restricted, but rather hopefully soon it won’t be.)

I believe that the field is in need of profound renewal. Though scientists do science, the parameters which underlie science reside instead under the domain of philosophy. Perhaps new blood would help a community emerge that considers it their primary purpose to provide scientists with effective agreed upon principles from which to do science. Thus in addition to a community which celebrates its eternal indeterminacy, there would also be an innovative new community which provides scientists with various agreed upon rules from which to work in metaphysical, epistemological, and axiological capacities.

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

I deign being a naysayer, however, after thirty years of trying to change hearts and minds on this subject (sexual harrasment), I am skeptically pragmatic about good practices or best practices---or even punitive practices. See, there are many people who don't, won't, or refuse to get it. Foucault might have said: power begets lust. Did he? I don't know. In any case, practice has shown we cannot legislate morality. That is an old notion, found to apply in various situations. As far situations go, circumstances shift as contingencies surface. Good practices?---lip service. Good luck.

Philosopher Eric said...

Buck up Paul! No this paper might not change anything in itself, though it does seem to be a sign of changing times.

Speaking of criticism, Daniel Kaufman is, to say the least, not happy with this draft! History is replete with examples of changing tides dooming various status quo interests. As I mentioned before, the case of John Searle demonstrates that tidal changes are finally occurring in philosophy. (And note that I’m a strong supporter of Searle’s professional positions.) A fitting response to Kaufman might be something like “Sorry bro…”.

Kaufman’s opposition does encourage me however. In truth I have no evidence that the inclusion of more women and others in academic philosophy would open it more to the creation of a parallel society whose only purpose would be to develop various accepted principles from which to better found science. I do however know that I’ve never met anyone who has been more opposed to this proposition than Daniel Kaufman. So good — perhaps this is an illustration of how the tides are becoming favorable for me. I consider this shift inevitable. As humanity continues working out its various flaws (presumably such as its void in founding principles from which to work), science seems destined to continue improving.

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Thanks, Eric. Your points are well made and taken. I am a long view thinker myself. I sorta understand the relationships among philosophy, its other humanities kin and the so-called hard sciences. My skeptical self has its spider sense---that's as it is. As far as differences of opinion go, we all have those. My bases for statements on, notions about things such as sexual harassment are founded upon how origins continue to confound progress...the sheer fact that for many, continuing to do what has always been done is a desired status quo. An expectation, conforming with the Davidsonian thesis on propositional attitudes. I'm not worried much about science. Questions on overreach do not move me. That was decided, seems to me---around the end of WWII.
No,a nexus between science and philosophy is not the problem. The problem---if it IS one, is whether philosophy can decide what, within its purview, the important problems are, and whether any of them can be solved. The track record is poor. We cannot even settle questions of truth, reality, consciousness, and ethics. Those are moving targets. A mind, no less than Rawls, cleared up justice. Yet, our system allows horse-trading, or, plea-bargaining. That is not justice. Or fairness. It is convenience.

Philosopher Eric said...

I think you’d get on well with my friend Matti Meikäläinen. He was recently telling me here about failure in the liberal thinking of people like John Rawls.

In any case it seems to me that things do change socially, though the tricky bit is grasping how and why. This should seem far less stochastic to us once mental and behavioral scientists are able to give us effective models of our nature. I’ve provided the example of John Searle as an example of changing times, as well as Daniel Kaufman as a presumed status quo interest in opposition to what’s currently happening in philosophy.

To be clear, in my last comment I included an entirely different issue as well. It was that if “the old boy network” does happen to weaken, will newly emerging participants veer more to my own predilection that science needs philosophy to provide it with various accepted answers from which to do science? That is my hope, and indeed, for now my suspicion.

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Thank you, Eric. I too have thought of the tenuous triumvirate: the Church; philosophy
And, science. It seems to me that early on, philosophy and science enjoyed greater kinship, even synergy. They confronted a common adversary, which discouraged men from thinking for themselves. As science emerged and evolved,it grew independent and philosophy, renowned for independent thinking, went its own way. My suspicion, contrary to your own, is that the old boys will not go down without a fight! Like you, if I read it right,I hope I am wrong. But change IS unpredictable. My quip is: circumstances shift as contingencies surface. The Church is patriarchal. We live in a patriarchal society.

Arnold said...

'The US (Government) defines ‘sexual harassment’...'

That a academic professional philosopher's resolve to what gender is on our planet earth...

Would be a required publicly filed accessible statement, once a person has chosen a career as a philosopher, that could change, but follow them through out their life...

This would help us all understanding 'men are from Mars, women are from Venus, men and women between Mars and Venus...'

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Always respected Canada's legal system. Lived there for several years. They are consumate pragmatists, in all senses of the term.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the interesting discussion, folks! I’m a long-term optimist. Change is slow, but it has happened in other fields. Philosophy is a bit behind, for contingent reasons, I hope!

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Not sure on the spelling---it is audionic: In Icelandic, du bis valkomen: you are welcome. These are interesting times...

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

I would have to re-visit the thinker on justice you mentioned with regard to your friend, M. And his remarks on liberal thought. When I read the book, my focus was not on any particular bent or ideology, so memory fails on such categorization. Still, these influences are as they may be. I am indebted to you for some recognition, and /or validation.

Anonymous said...

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Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Anon: your comment was puzzling. After reviewing my comments, I found no updates on employment law. Would not have pretended to such. I have been out of the government employment and training loop since 2008. Gives me more time to think on other matters...