Monday, December 17, 2007

Pyrotechnic PSA Elections

The ballot has arrived for officer elections to the Philosophy of Science Association. These kinds of things are usually so boring. Not this time!

I've written posts before about the limited scope of papers presented at PSA meetings and in their journal, Philosophy of Science. At the last meeting, more papers were rejected than were accepted. There were surprisingly few papers authored by women. The topics tend to be technical, obscure, and unrelated to science policy. One session that I attended was the presentation of a paper which I had already seen published in a journal a couple of years prior. Deadlines are moved without announcement. And so on.

In general, my impression has been that the Society does little to cultivate the careers of its members who are not established--that is, it is not particularly welcoming to most grad students, to professors at undergraduate institutions, or to those doing original and creative research. Luckily, other organizations who do have been gaining momentum--HOPOS, ISHPSSB, and 4S.

The language on the ballots certainly conveys the discontent I feel. And there is also protective, defensive language to counter it.

On one side, candidates write:
"I would be especially interested in exploring opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate training that highlighted the role for philosophy of science beyond the boundaries of philosophy, and in seeing the PSA more actively enhance the immediate postdoctoral future of its most junior members."
"As a professional organization part of PSA's mission is surely to nurture young scholars. Can this be addressed...?"
"I think it makes sense for PSA meetings to be representative of the most current, creative, and well-regarded research being practiced by its members...I would also encourage a greater voice for the PSA in public policy and public education."

And on the other:
"The main purpose of the PSA is to promote high-quality research in the philosophy of science, and the PSA has done so very successfully in the past."
"The PSA does not need major changes."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bringing Philosophy into the 21st Century

In the last decade, at least half of U.S. college graduates have been women. But less than a third of philosophy majors have been women. Women have not reached workplace equity at the beginning of the 21st century, but there are only a few places and ways in which they are not reaching educational parity. Philosophy—the discipline that takes as its subjects ethics, justice, consistency, and self-reflection—is one of those places.

What does this gender inequality indicate about our discipline? Some have taken it to indicate that the material itself is gender-biased, that the methods of argumentation reflect masculine psychology, or that philosophy is a bastion of cultural traditionalism that incubates sexist practices.

That assessment is too negative, in my opinion. As an optimist, a meliorist, and a pragmatist, I think that it indicates first and foremost that philosophers, unlike other analytic disciplines, have not made gender parity a priority.

Philosophers have been satisfied to think that thinking alone—the pursuit of philosophy itself—would be enough to attract and support anyone interested in taking it up. They have made love of wisdom a moral test. Those that are unable to overcome social obstacles to pursue philosophy are not supported.

As a commenter noted, one surprising result in the data on women in philosophy is that the pipeline is not leaking much through graduate school. We can't be exactly certain what is going on because no data is collected on graduate school admissions. At any rate there is a markedly larger disparity in employment than in the earning of graduate degrees.

The most productive place to direct our attention is apparently at undergraduates. It is there that the representation problem starts, and success at increasing the percentage of women at the professor rank is linked to improving parity at lower ranks.

There are other reasons to direct efforts at undergraduates as well. For one thing, such efforts could involve all of us philosophy professors, not just those at a few departments. For another, educational research on gender shows that one of the most effective ways of increasing the percentage of women in a male-dominated field is to improve recruitment and retention across the board. (For citations, see Unlocking the Clubhouse.)

That is, one way to improve the participation of women is to attract more students—both men and women (but proportionately more women). This would be good for the discipline. It would even be good for those people who don’t care in the least about gender issues. And it is something that professional organizations are suited to and funding sources amenable to.

A final thought is that one thing which works against recruitment efforts is the pervasive self-loathing of philosophers. Here’s an example, which was printed in the APA’s Proceedings. Philosophers are paranoid about what counts as philosophy and hostile toward new approaches (including feminist ones). An open mind about what philosophy is and how philosophers can contribute to non-academic problem-solving is important to improving the gender ratio.

Though I don’t understand the causes at work, women are more attracted to disciplines which solve social problems. Philosophy is already one such discipline. Public philosophy, applied ethics, environmental philosophy, and a host of other research areas break down philosophy’s disciplinary isolation, are relevant to the career prospects of graduates, and produce effects beyond the classroom.

(This is the last in my series of 6 or so posts. For someone else's thoughts on solutions to gender inequity in philosophy, see A Philosopher's Walk.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why AREN’T There More Women in Philosophy?

In some preceding posts I collected statistics on women’s participation in philosophy by earning bachelor’s degrees (31%), Master’s degrees (28%), PhD’s (27%), and the percentage that teach in any university-level job (21%).

K. Norlock commented on why we should care that the participation of women in philosophy is lower than in any other humanities discipline, rivaling only computer science, engineering, and physics.

Now I finally have the opportunity to discuss CAUSES of women’s low participation.
Why is philosophy, alone among the humanities, so distant from achieving gender parity in its own ranks?

I must confess to feeling stumped and dispirited when I think about this question. After all, I have always found that my colleagues profess concern, in their courses and published papers, about justice, equality, objectivity, bias, ethics, and the value of reflection.

The gender disparity thus raises another question: why don’t more philosophers care? Since I believe my colleagues’ concern with justice is sincere, I think it must be because they are ignorant of the statistics or because they are ignorant of how to remedy the situation.

Here are some possible causes of philosophy’s persistent male dominance:
  • Philosophy is perceived as a masculine pursuit.
  • Philosophical style (“the adversary method”) is at odds with women’s conversational style.
  • Women lack interest in course content.
  • Women are ignorant of what philosophy is and what uses a degree can be put to.
  • There is inadequate advising and recruitment, or advising and recruitment targets men more than women.
  • There is a lack of female role models.
  • There is a hostile social environment (i.e., outright sexism).

It is likely that all of these play a role in perpetuating the disparity in philosophy. But none of them are impossible to address.

For instance, although many people perceive philosophy as having a masculine image, other fields have been successful in changing their masculine image. The life sciences granted women 25% of bachelor’s degrees in 1970 (a lower percentage than in philosophy right now) and reached gender parity in the mid-1990s. Mathematics, too, has increased the proportion of women.

The bright side of philosophy’s obscured image (what is metaphysics, anyway?) is that many people have no preconceived gendered image of what philosophers do, being completely ignorant that there even are professional philosophers.

The problem with causes is that they are tremendously difficult to identify. The good news about solutions, though, is that if tactics and programs confer success, it doesn’t really matter whether a cause is properly identified or not. And since philosophy is lagging behind the academy’s push to include women (lagging by at least 30 years), there is plenty of experience in other fields for us to draw on.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Can forwarding an email prove unemployable bias?

Yes, apparently, if you're the director of science curriculum for the state of Texas, and the email announces a talk given by philosopher of science Barbara Forrest. See today's New York Times editorial and Pharyngula's more refreshingly sarcastic summary, which also includes a link to The Statesman's original report.

Just when I'd stopped fantasizing about emigrating for a little while...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Women: Why Collect Data?

My first post on this blog carries a confession: I think I may be a number-nerd. It's not my specialty, but it must at least be a hobby of mine, because I get jazzed just talking about things like the U.S. Census. (To sample, or not to sample? That's an exciting question!) In philosophy, I am one of those phoning kind people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (just the name makes me happy), trying to pin down the payroll data on women in philosophy professorships. (A pdf of semi-recent results is posted on the APA's Committee on the Status of Women site, here.)

So it completely threw me when a participant in SWIP's email listserve asked, of efforts to determine our numbers, "What exactly will collecting these figures, these numbers, do? To whom do you need to prove [attrition, etc.]?" I forget that we don't all get warm fuzzies from pursuing numeric answers, I really do. And a response to the question 'Why' ought to be more than just that it makes me happy to do so. What answers might my fellow data collection fans have?

I was ready with a short answer of my own, at least: It's a matter of justice. If we are as underrepresented as it seems, then it is morally incumbent upon philosophers (and the public and private sources that support us) to provide material and monetary support to the underrepresented. But it's hard to show that moral injustices persist in the absence of data.

You know who's great at showing such data? Almost every STEM discipline. Their professional organizations actually conduct polls, collect demographic information, and present it to public and private funding sources with ease. Try a quick Google search on "women travel conference grant," and see what disciplines pop up. They're engineering, math, and health sciences. Indeed, women in such disciplines are underrepresented, as well, but when you can prove it, you can do something quite tangible about it! In the case of women in philosophy, knowledge is power.

Monday, December 03, 2007

58th Philosophers' Carnival

Richard Brown has compiled a scintillating carnival program for philosophy enthusiasts.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Women in Philosophy: Data on Professors

Here is the next installment of statistics concerning women in philosophy. Today I look at the labor statistics.

A few people have asked where the data in previous posts have come from. I've linked to the two sources--the National Research Council and the Dept. of Education. Let me say, data on the humanities are very scarce. An interesting 2002 document
called "Making the Humanities Count," part of an initiative to support collecting data on the humanities, is available from the National Research Council. It catalogs what professional data are available in various databases and argues passionately for the importance of collecting more. Extensive data are collected by the NSF for science, technology, and engineering fields, published biennially in the 1200-page Science and Engineering Indicators. Less--much less--is known about trends in the humanities.

There is no data available on the gender ratio of students entering philosophy programs. So we know the proportion of women that earn degrees but not what the attrition rate is during graduate school. We also know very little about what people do with their advanced degrees. How many get tenure-track jobs? How many teach part-time or in temporary positions? And for how long? After earning graduate degrees, what professions do philosophers go into other than university teaching?

The APA has some data charts available here, and not all of these charts are badly out of date. The APA attempted to collect some gender-related employment data in 2001 by sending surveys directly to departments but got only a 20% return rate, not enough to compile any data. David Schrader tells me the APA is preparing to do a survey of this year's hiring departments to find out the percentage of jobs advertised in the JFP that are filled by women. That will indeed be good to find out.

With the assistance of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a couple of years ago Kathryn Norlock compiled a report on women in the profession using 2003 labor data. The report is available as a pdf from the CSW website. Her summary findings are that
although women currently make up nearly 27% of the available labor pool in philosophy, recent data suggests that women are closer to 21% of professionally employed philosophers. This compares well with data for 1992, in which between 13% and 18% of professional philosophers were women.

I did a rough, unscientific count by gender of the names appearing in the APA's membership directory in 2004. That directory does not include all philosophy teachers and does include some people who don't teach. My count also came up just shy of 21%, which adds some confirmation to Norlock's numbers. Likewise, Julie van Camp did an informal study of the so-called "top 50" graduate departments and found a rate of 19% women faculty.

In sum, the percentage of philosophers that are women at various stages:
Bachelor's degree -- about 31% and holding steady for at least 12 years
Master's degree -- about 28% and stable
Doctorates -- 26-27% and stable
University teaching -- 21% and slowly increasing

It would be informative to be able to have more detail about how women are employed and whether they are tenured at the same rate as men. Anecdotal evidence is that women are more likely to be underemployed and that they are less likely to be tenured than men. However, I know of no specific current data that can demonstrate this.

More analysis to come!