U. of Oklahoma’s collective and concerted efforts

July 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

In the spirit of this blog, I will list a couple of things that I personally have done about what it’s like for women in the profession, and then some of the many things that my department has done.

First, myself:

I have organized all or parts of five conferences or workshops in the last three years. In each successive case, I worked harder to achieve gender balance, and had greater success. I worked harder, not because I came to care more or take the problem of gendered conferences more seriously, but because of reading sites like this that gave me practical suggestions and tips about how to do a better job at it. I have begun to include readings from feminism and philosophy of race in my courses, even though I don’t teach courses *on* those topics. (Admittedly, this is pretty new. I will do this in the Fall and in subsequent semesters, but somehow I found this to be one of the more difficult things to change.)

Now, my department (the University of Oklahoma):

We created a committee on Recruiting and Diversity, which includes as members both the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Director of Graduate Studies; the committee has been involved in many of the initiatives listed below. The chair of this committee has been involved in graduate admissions and in every hire, tenure-track or not, that has been made since the committee was formed. She looks at every applicant dossier with an eye to identifying and advocating for female, racial minority, queer and disabled candidates whose qualifications might otherwise have been overlooked.

For our most recent tenure-track hire, we overhauled our hiring procedures (completely eliminating APA-style interviews, among other measures), expressly for the purpose of minimizing the operation of implicit bias. (I had previously written up a detailed explanation of how we proceeded, but it was far too long to post here. If anyone is interested, please feel free to email me: wriggs@ou.edu.) We are, by the way, extremely happy with the outcome of that search!

We have adopted a formal parental leave policy, offering one semester of leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

We have brought more women into the department as faculty, which we expect will contribute to an environment that is more supportive for women students. Three of our last 4 tenure-track hires have been women, 2 of whom are now tenured. Three of our last 5 visiting assistant professors have been women.

We have made a concerted effort to identify and recruit qualified women students, and 50% of our PhD students admitted over the past two years have been women.

We have begun sending out official messages from the chair each semester to students who perform well in our undergraduate courses, encouraging them to consider majoring in philosophy. (Data in other environments suggest that such messages have a disproportionately encouraging effect on female students.)

We brought Sally Haslanger to campus to offer a workshop for faculty members about creating a hospitable climate. We have added sessions about department climate (with discussions of implicit bias, microaggressions, solo status, stereotype threat, and related concepts) to the proseminar all graduate students take in their first semester, and have generally worked to be more vigilant about microaggressions and other factors that create a chilly or hostile climate for women and members of groups underrepresented in philosophy. We adopted a Statement on Department Professional Conduct that is sent out to each of our graduate students every year.

We have developed new undergraduate courses in feminist philosophy and philosophy and race and organized a feminist philosophy reading group.

We have hired a junior faculty member with an AOS in feminist ethics and invited colloquium speakers who specialize in feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, gay & lesbian philosophy, and Native American philosophy.

Many our faculty, staff members, and graduate students have gone through our campus’s LGBTQ ally training program (known as Sooner Ally). This fact is announced on our home page and on the listing of our faculty. (Our department has more Sooner Allies than any other academic unit on campus, as you can see here: http://www.ou.edu/content/studentlife/diverse_communities/lgbtq/sooner_ally/sooner_ally_list.html.)

Thanks again for providing a forum for those of us who are trying to do something about what it’s like for women in philosophy to share strategies, hopes and successes. It has already helped me in its short existence. I hope that some of the things I have shared will be useful to others.

Wayne D. Riggs

University of Oklahoma


§ 7 Responses to U. of Oklahoma’s collective and concerted efforts

  • jennysaul says:

    Do you have information available to you during the appointment procedure that tells you whether candidates are queer or disabled, even that is a reliable guide to race? (I’m surprised, because we wouldn’t be allowed to have such information.)

  • Helen says:

    In response to Jenny’s question: I applied for a TT position at Oklahoma last year, unfortunately, the search was suspended. I got a monitoring form where I could fill out my gender, race, orientation etc., but this information was not made available to the SC.

    • profbigk says:

      Sounds like Helen’s experience is similar to that of many of us who apply to jobs, getting a request from the institution for such information for statistical purposes, as a separate matter from what search committees know or do.

  • Amy says:

    These are great ideas, and I’m going to present the relevant ones to my department (we’re undergrad-only). One worry I have about the extra service work involved for people on diversity and search committees is whether their other service work is reduced to compensate for that, and whether they have a choice about taking on the diversity work. I’m the only woman in my department and I’ve had to serve on every search committee since I’ve been here. It’s a considerable amount of work, and it has simply been added on to my regular service load. I’ve also been expected to be on all undergrad-oriented committees and to do extra advising because we want to encourage female majors. It’s bad having to do this as an overload. But reducing my other service work is not necessarily a perfect solution either because there might be other committees that I’m more interested in, yet I feel pressured to be on the ones where we really “need a woman.” On top of that is the problem in my department that there was never any commitment to hiring a woman; they just wanted a woman on the search committees to placate the administration. I’ve now decided I’m going to say no to serving this role.

  • jennysaul says:

    Helen and Prof– that’s what I’ve always encountered, too. But Wayne writes: “She looks at every applicant dossier with an eye to identifying and advocating for female, racial minority, queer and disabled candidates whose qualifications might otherwise have been overlooked.” One of our difficulties has been that this is tough to do for categories other than gender (and sometimes race), for just the reason that you note.

  • Helen says:

    This is an interesting problem for SCs. I’m a member of an ethnic minority (a really tiny minority at that, Malaysian Eurasian hispanic), but I don’t see how I could put this in my application files (Gender is usually obvious, but other minority properties such as disability and sexual orientation are not). How does one communicate this to the SC. There is the additional problem – that no matter how tough the job market is – I for one wouldn’t want to be invited just because I am a minority candidate. On the other hand, minority candidates might be overlooked because they tend to cluster in lower-prestige graduate programs, as a result of their economic disadvantage (not for everyone the case, but for me it was), so it might be useful for SC to get this information.

  • Wayne Riggs says:

    Hello Everyone,

    I apologize for my lack of response. I only just now realized that the “What We’re Doing…” blog *had* a comments section for the posts.

    Jenny: You are right that there are typically no clues to whether an applicant is a racial minority, queer, or disabled. I took that line from my colleague, Sherri Irvin’s, description of what she does as Chair of the Recruiting and Diversity committee. I take it that she means that she *looks* for any such cues, and also for evidence that we are systematically failing to seriously consider people who work in some “ghettoized” area of philosophy or who are from “low-prestige graduate programs.” Insofar as these features might be correlated to some extent with these other hard-to-distinguish characteristics of the applicants (as Helen suggests), it is better than doing nothing at all, though clearly not as much better as we’d all like.

    Amy: We are definitely aware of the pernicious service burdens that genuinely conscientious attention to equity issues in the department can place on women faculty, queer faculty, etc. We are fortunate to have four women faculty (out of fourteen), three of whom are tenured, so at least when we do find it necessary to have a woman on some committee or initiative, it need not always be the same person. I am not the Chair of the department, so I don’t have a “bird’s-eye view” of the various amounts of service work done by all the faculty, so I certainly cannot say whether Sherri, for example, carries an unusually heavy service load due to her role as Chair of the R&D committee. But I do know that our current Chair is very aware of such worries and is extremely principled about distributing the service load.

    Helen: Yes, this is a profession-wide problem whose solution is not obvious. I’m sure there is *much* disagreement among philosophers about whether information about one’s ethnic background, gender and/or sexual orientation, disability status, and so on should *ever* be disclosed in a job application. Moving toward a standard set of practices on this kind of thing will be slow going, indeed.

    Thank you all for your comments. I am really pleased to see this set of conversations getting such a high profile. While there is lots that we can do to make the profession better, I think just having serious, thoughtful people say sensible things on forums like this helps a *lot*.

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