From the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Status of Women report on CU-Boulder philosophy department, this paragraph on page 7 really jumped out at me:
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. They 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 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.
(Bold emphasis in original.)
What the report is pointing to here is the chronic rules-lawyering, the looking for an exception to defeat any attempts at formulating useful descriptions, the valorization of the critical project to the exclusion of even a glance towards the positive project -- in short, the kind of stuff that makes people hate being around a certain kind of philosopher (or "skeptic," or debate team champion).
The complicated hypotheticals and counterfactuals and Devil's advocacy get in the way of acknowledging actual things happening to actual people and working out something like a strategy (even if it's an imperfect one) to change things so people don't have to experience that sort of bad thing so much going forward.
Also, maybe not coincidentally, such pseudo-philosophical analyses keep the people engaging in them in their comfort zone (framing arguments, looking for counterexamples) rather than making them do the uncomfortable work of changing how they treat each other.
We can do better than that.
And here, the follow-up question to the one posed in the title of this post: Does UNC - Chapel Hill get that "institutional ethics" involves more than protecting the interests of the institution at the expense of people like its students?
Because this story makes me wonder. In brief:
- UNC student Landen Gambill reported that she was sexually assaulted by another UNC student.
- At the time she reported the assault, the UNC mechanism for dealing with such reports was through the student-run Honor Court.
- About month after the Honor Court heard Gambill's case, the UNC Honor Court was stripped of its ability to hear sexual assault allegations because the way it had been dealing with such allegations was probably not in compliance with Title IX
- The Honor Court ruled that Gambill's sexual assault allegations lacked sufficient evidence to impose punishment on the other student she alleged had assaulted her.
- Gambill and 64 others (including a former UNC Dean of Students) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the way reports of sexual assaults, and students making those reports, are treated at UNC results in illegal underreporting.*
- Now, Landen Gambill is herself being charged by the student-run UNC Honor Court with violation of the Honor Code because, apparently, her participation in filing the complaint against UNC amounts to “Disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another…. so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for university employment, participation in university-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”
- It is worth noting that Gambill has made no public identification of the UNC student she alleges assaulted her.
- UNC spokespeople deny that the Honor Court charge against Gambill is retaliatory -- and also deny that there is much the UNC admiinistration can do to keep the Honor Court from continuing on a course that looks very much like charging a student for reporting a sexual assault. From Inside Higher Ed:
[A] UNC spokesperson said the university may not “encourage or prevent” the Honor Court’s top officials, the student attorneys general, from filing charges in any case. Given that, “a claim of retaliation by the university would be without merit,” Karen Moon, director of UNC News Services, said in an email. The court may consult with a faculty advisory committee on difficult cases, but Moon said she could not comment on whether they had. While there is a process for administrators to hear and overturn cases, Moon said, it must be initiated by the student attorneys general.
So, it's the students who are mounting this action, and the university officials must stand helplessly by and hope it all turns out all right, I guess?
Let's take this case as an opportunity for a thought-experiment.
Imagine you're an administrator at a university. You want to maintain the university's reputation, so students will still apply for admission and faculty will still want to work there. You want to keep the university in compliance with relevant laws and regulations so, for example, you don't get cut out of federal funding of various sorts. You want to find sensible ways to create a campus environment where students can learn and be safe, and where students are active participants in upholding shared standards of conduct (which cover not only standards of scholarly conduct but reasonable ways to treat others within the campus community).
What are your first three ideas for productive steps forward from a mess like this? (Bonus points if these ideas seem likely to succeed.) And, how to you get buy-in from the relevant segments of the university community to actually take these steps?
Alternatively, consider the same situation from the point of view of a student and propose your first three ideas for productive steps forward.
*The relevant laws the complaint alleges that UNC is violating by underreporting its campus sexual assault are the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.