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CU Boulder philosophy department sexual misconduct report concerns female profs

Last month, an American Philosophical Association committee issued a report about the philosophy department at CU Boulder, and it wasn't pretty. Among the claims: "The department has maintained an overall environment 'with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior.'" Now, six female faculty members, including Claudia Mills, seen here, have issued a statement that supports the program but stops short of backing all their male colleagues.

We've included a lengthy summary of the report below. As you'll see, the document shies away from specifics and names no names. But findings include "an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment and inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior," "lack of civility, collegiality and respect for members of various groups," "bullying," "lack of boundaries/lack of professionalism," "lack of transparency regarding disciplinary processes, procedures and outcomes" and "lack of faculty trust in university judicial institutions, practices and procedures."

This last assertion is supported by a graphic showing survey responses to questions about potential CU Boulder action following complaints:

CU Boulder philosophy department sexual misconduct report concerns female profs

The impact of this environment is explained in the following excerpt:

Some assistant and full professors (both male and female) 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.

CU Boulder's philosophy department building.
CU Boulder's philosophy department building.

The female graduate students report being anxious, demoralized, and depressed. Some female students report that they avoid working with some faculty members because of things that they have heard about those faculty members. Some female students report avoiding working with faculty members because they directly witnessed or were subjected to this harassment and inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior. There was and is a lack of support for students who lost their advisors or instructors due to sanctions. The female graduate students would like more women int eh department but they cannot recommend this department as a good place to come.

In addition, male graduate students report being extremely worried about the climate of harassment. They are worried that they will be tainted by the national reputation of the department as being hostile to women.

The CU Boulder administration didn't shrug off the report, which was conducted last September and submitted in November. The university has suspended graduate admissions to the department for the fall 2014 semester "until policies and procedures can be reviewed and standardized to create a consistent, fair and collegial environment," the document notes. In addition, Dr. Andrew Cowell, described as being "external to the department," was installed as chair last month.

Over recent weeks, few members of the department have publicly addressed the findings. But that's changed.

Continue for more about the response to the CU Boulder philosophy department sexual misconduct report, including photos and a summary of the document.

Mitzi Lee, one of the statement's signatories.
Mitzi Lee, one of the statement's signatories.

The aforementioned statement, posted on the Feminist Philosophers web page, is signed by an impressive roster of female faculty members.

Included among them is Claudia Mills, seen above, who co-edited a book entitled The Moral Foundations of Civil Rights, and Alison Jaggar, editor of Gender and Global Rights.

The statement, which appears below in its entirety, points out that the signatories "have different takes" on the issues dealt with in the report, based on personal experiences -- and the lack of specificity prevents them from tackling individual claims.

Nonetheless, they stress that they're united on a number of points. For one thing, they express concern that every male faculty member will be viewed as having contributed to the problems, when that's not the case -- and they also worry that male graduates will find it more difficult to find work because of the department's suddenly shady reputation.

In this spirit, they write, "We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues)."

The use of the word "most" in the parenthetical sentence fragment above is key. While the female faculty members are dedicated to the CU Boulder philosophy department, they don't refute the report as a whole, suggesting they, too, realize there are some serious issues that need to be addressed.

Here's the report summary, followed by the complete statement from the six female CU Boulder philosophy department faculty members.

American Psychological Association CU Boulder Report Summary

Statement from six CU women philosophy department faculty members:

All of us in the Philosophy Department at CU-Boulder are naturally upset by the fallout following publication of the Site Visit Report authored by a team from the APA-CSW Site Visit Program. Inevitably, we have different takes on the content of the Report. One reason for the differences among us is that we each have access to different evidence, not only because we have different personal histories in the department but also because much of the evidence on which the Report is based is secret by its nature or confidential by law. Despite differing perceptions regarding both the Report's details and the overall impression it gives, all of us are united on a few things. First, we are all distressed that the Report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct. It could also harm the prospects of our male graduate students currently on the market. We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues). We believe that many have heard about the problems, if at all, only through the rumor mill. The second thing that unites us all is our determination to rebuild the department and its reputation. Receiving the Report has been and continues to be very difficult but it has galvanized us into working extremely hard to make our department once again a place where we can be confident about inviting people from all demographic groups to be colleagues, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Sheralee Brindell, Senior Instructor in Philosophy and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies

Carol Cleland, Professor of Philosophy

Alison Jaggar, College Professor of Distinction, Philosophy and Women and Gender Studies

Mitzi Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy

Diane Mayer, Senior Instructor Emerita in Philosophy

Claudia Mills, Associate Professor of Philosophy

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa March 2012: "CU Boulder has higher rate of eating disorders compared to other colleges, report says."


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