Moonwalk

Warning! This post has very little (perhaps nothing) to do with philosophy.

The summer of 1969 was my summer between high school and college. I had been accepted to the American Dance Festival program at Connecticut College for Women in New London. My mother had purchased a new car and so I was loaned her 1965 Corvair convertible for the summer – pale yellow with a black ragtop – perfect for a young woman who fancied herself independent – a free spirit as so many of us did in 1969.
The American Dance Festival was fantastic and New London was far enough from home that I felt on my own. Twyla Tharp and Yvonne Rainer were in residence for the first half of the summer followed by members of the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey Companies for the second half. Tharp had been commissioned to do a large-scale work that was to be performed across the broad lawns of the college (Medley). Rainer was also doing a large-scale work – Chair Pillow, which was part of a project called Continuous Project – Altered Daily. I was in the group learning Chair Pillow and at the time was disappointed because dancing with Tharp seemed more challenging. Rainer was explicit that she wanted both professional dancers and non-dancers in her piece. You can see a performance of the piece below, though the version that I remember is more like the one found here.

 

Though there were so many things that happened that summer, the one with historical links that I remember most clearly is the moonwalk. I frequently went home on the weekends because there were no classes and I felt lonely in the dorm. I felt lonely at home also but it was a more familiar loneliness and I supposed that is why I opted to go home. I had intended to stay in New London that weekend but that afternoon the lunar module (the Eagle) landed on the moon. It wasn’t till that evening when it was already dark and the timing of the moonwalk looked like it would be late that night that I realized that I wanted to get home to watch the moonwalk on television. It was an hour and a half drive, down the New England Thruway and then through the countryside – dark winding roads – to my family’s home. I threw some things together, hoped I had enough gas, and hit the road. I had very little money that summer – a small allowance that I was to use for occasional food off campus and for gas. Meals were provided, but I remember that I was often scrounging up coins from the bottom of my purse or somewhere in the car so that I could buy ice cream, gas, or pay the tolls in Branford when I drove home on the weekend. That night I think I had about a quarter in my wallet, not enough for the toll and certainly not for gas. This was before credit cards. I was following the moon landing on the radio, not sure that I would make it in time and staring at the fuel gauge willing it to stay around a quarter of a tank. I ran the toll using a technique that had worked before. I followed really closely behind the car in front of mine so that I wouldn’t ring the warning bell which signaled that a car hadn’t paid. There were no barriers that came down between cars in those days.

I made it. No one was home and I don’t remember why. It was quite unusual for my parents to be out at all, let alone out late. It was just me and the television and no one to whom to say, “Can you believe it?”

Posted in memory | 3 Comments

Getting it right: Colbert, neutrality, and Sonia Sotomayor

This is brilliant. Thanks to Sharyn Clough for sharing it on her Facebook page or I wouldn’t have seen it since I tend not to watch very much TV. Perhaps this is an oversight on my part. Watch it and think about where we actually see “relativism run amuck”! It’s interesting how one might unwittingly be promoting the very thing one seems to be decrying.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Neutral Man’s Burden
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum
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AAP – Women in Philosophy

Why is it that the Australian Association of Philosophy (AAP) has prepared a report, “Improving the Participation of Women in the Philosophy Profession”, and there is no comparable report from the APA? All I can say is that it makes me very sad that this is something that Australian Philosophers – and not just women philosophers, by the way – thought was worth spending energy and time on. In the U.S., the Committee on the Status of Women continues to try to call the issue to the attention of the APA, seemingly with little effect.

The report is available here and I found it through a post at Feminist Philosophers.

Reading the executive summary of the report I have noticed several things that suggest further lines of inquiry for those of us interested in this issue in the U.S. First, the executive summary indicates that women are disproportionately represented in part-time, non-secure, and casual teaching positions in Australian. This is something that I have suspected is true in the states as well I do not have the data to back it up. The study notes that there effects of women being in these positions which keep them from other positions. The lack of security impacts the ability to do research as does the heavy teaching load associated with such positions, for example. Second, women now appear to be hired proportionately to their numbers, though they continue to be under-represented in the academy (23% to our 21% – so the proportion is roughly similar). The very preliminary work that Miriam Solomon and John Clarke have done on this issue would seem to conform to the Australian finding. Third, Australia seems to have data on female participation in philosophy classes at the undergraduate level which shows that while 55% of undergraduate philosophy students are female it falls each year till 4th year female participation is 47%. (First year doctorate research is 39%, by the way.) The numbers that I was able to find are philosophy female baccalaureate degrees – 30.8% in 2008. While it is not clear that these are figures that it is appropriate to compare it would seem that are starting out behind Australia in the number of women that are studying philosophy to begin with! I would be curious to explore this further.

I have yet to dig into this report more completely and other projects will probably prevent me from doing so right now. The current and forthcoming issues of the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Feminism have articles on these issues – analysis in the current issue and suggestions for strategies forthcoming in the fall. While I think it is great that the Committee on the Status of Women continues to support these inquiries, why is it that it appears that only women in the profession seem to think this is an issue? Surely it is a concern for the profession as a whole, as our Australian counterparts have clearly seen!

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Society for Analytical Feminism
Feminist Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition


CALL FOR PAPERS

SAF Session at the Central Division APA
Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois
February 17 – 20, 2010

The Society for Analytical Feminism invites submissions for a session at the 2010 Central Division APA meetings to be held in Chicago in February 17-20, 2010.

The Society seeks papers that examine feminist issues by methods broadly construed as analytic, or discuss the use of analytic philosophical methods as applied to feminist issues. Reading time should be about 20 minutes. Authors should submit either (1) a paper, or (2) an extended abstract, as detailed as possible (up to 1000 words) accompanied by a bibliography. Please delete all self-identifying references from your submission to ensure anonymity. Submit papers as a word attachment to sharon.crasnow@rcc.edu.

The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2009.

Graduate students or underfunded professionals whose papers are accepted will be eligible for the Society’s $250 Travel Stipend. Please indicate on a separate page (or in your covering letter) if you fall into one of these categories.

The Society for Analytical Feminism

The Society for Analytical Feminism provides a forum where issues concerning analytical feminism may be openly discussed and examined. Its purpose is to promote the study of issues in feminism by methods broadly construed as analytic, to examine the use of analytic methods as applied to feminist issues, and to provide a means by which those interested in Analytical Feminism may meet and exchange ideas. The Society meets yearly at the Central Division meetings of the APA, and frequently organizes sessions for the Eastern Division and Pacific Divisions as well. Information can be found on our website:

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The new issue of the APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy has been posted online. This issue includes the study by Miriam Solomon that I mention in the previous post. It also includes the papers from the Central Division 2007 session sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women, except for Sally Haslanger’s article which was published in Hypatia (Sally Haslanger. “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone).” Hypatia 23 (2008): 210-23). There is also an additional article by Kathryn Norlock. I was a participant on that panel and so my article is there.

Kathryn Norlock makes some interesting points in her article, which is an extended argument for collecting data on women in philosophy. Most particularly I was chastened when she notes that one reason that we might think that we shouldn’t collect the data is that “Women do enough service already. Women in academia are already well aware that we have limited time and resources. Every pursuit is a diversion from other pursuits, and when women in philosophy make it our task to do the work of disciplinary demography, a service which, in other fields, would be accomplished by a national organization, we succeed in adding to the service labors which women already over-perform.”

This point hit home. In addition to this article, I will have another in a collection of papers from a second, follow-up panel. This will appear in the fall issue of the newsletter. I have spent quite a bit of time on the issue over the course the last several years, so much so that when I was lamenting my inability to focus on my primary research project, science and values, my partner pointed out that I had spent so much time on women in philosophy that it was no wonder that I hadn’t done anything else!

Take a look at the articles if you have not already. Obviously I think this is worth continuing to worry about.

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And yet more employment data

Miriam Solomon (with John Clarke) has completed a study of this year’s hiring season in philosophy. It has been published in the current Proceedings and Addresses of the APA and will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of the newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. It is also available online here.

It appears that, at least for this year, the hiring of women is roughly consistent with the percentage of PhDs. More importantly, we at last have a baseline which may help us better understand inequities of the past and the path to a more equitable future.

Thanks to Miriam for her hard work in making sure that this information was finally available!

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More on women in philosophy

Sally Haslanger has posted data on women in philosophy at the “top 20” schools in the 2009 Leiter Report. It is posted here but I have copied it below since it seems that some people have had trouble accessing the information.

School Rank %women of tenured %women of full-time %women of all faculty
NYU 1 5 17 14
Rutgers 2 10 10 19
Princeton 3 7 21 18
Pittsburgh 4 5 8 10
U. Michigan 5 18 18 16
Harvard 6 36 30 21
MIT 6 20 17 25
Yale 8 36 39 33
UCLA 9 25 21 26
UC Berkeley 9 23 27 20
Stanford 9 24 26 21
UNC Chapel Hill 9 22 19 16
Columbia 13 28 35 33
U. Arizona 13 25 24 23
CUNY Grad Ctr 15 22 22 22
Notre Dame 15 12 15 17
Brown 17 25 27 25
Cornell 17 31 25 29
USC 17 17 14 21
UTexas Austin 20 11 14 10
Total (top 10) 18 20 19
Total (top 20) 19 21 20

Julie van Camp has been keeping track of the percentage of women in tenure-track positions at 98 institutions for quite some time (at least since 2004), though her information hasn’t been updated since last year (4/14/2008). She notes the following for the “top 54” Leiter ranked institutions:

Percentage of women on tenured/tenure-track appointments at Top-54 Doctoral Programs in Gourmet Report: 19.61%
————————————————————————————————————–
Average percentage of women at the Top 54 doctoral programs: 19.85%

Median percentage of women at Top-54 Doctoral Programs: 20%

Data taken from Departments’ own faculty listings on the Web, as linked above, as of 4/14/2008″

The complete information is available at http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/doctoral_2004.html

Though there is much to be said about this state of affairs the one thing that I would like to point out is that things aren’t changing much.

The percentage of philosophy PhDs that are women is roughly 27% and has been right around 27% for at least the last 10 years. The Committee on the Status of Women is working on getting data about the what percentage of women are hired for the jobs advertised in JFP (Jobs for Philosophers) and that ought to be available for the 2007-2008 job search soon. Preliminary information indicates that it is most definitely not the case that the women are getting all the jobs, contrary to rumor.

The APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy will be publishing two issues that address this problem based on two CSW sponsored APA panels: the Central in 2007 and the Pacific in 2008. Watch for them.

Posted in women in philosophy | 1 Comment

Being a philosopher at a community college

I read a post about interviewing at a community college on The Philosophy Smoker last night. Several days ago I had an email from a philosopher who is a friend of a friend asking me for advice on applying for a job at a community college. It isn’t surprising given the job market this year. Newly minted PhDs who had thought that they would be going to research institutions or liberal arts colleges are looking at places that they hadn’t thought they would look before and so are considering community college teaching. I have been at a community college for 17 years now. They aren’t all the same of course, but I think I have some understanding of the pros and cons, particularly as someone who has tried to continue doing research while working at an institution that all but actively discourages it. So, I thought I would write a little about what it is like to work at a community college.

Here’s a little of my history. This is a case study in a way, and whether or not the case is relevant might depend on knowing the specifics so here they are.

I drifted a bit after graduate school taking and then leaving a tenure track job at a small liberal arts college. I didn’t really want to write any more after my dissertation, feeling shell-shocked from the whole graduate school experience, and I toyed with giving up on philosophy entirely. I had children. But philosophy was the only thing I really knew well and so while my children were small I continue teaching as an adjunct for 9 years. I was lucky, because my teaching was all upper division, challenging, and in my area of specialization. Financial pressures and a renewed interest in research led me to pursue full-time employment in the early 90s. At that point, I had been out of graduate school for over 10 years but had recent publications and so I looked interesting enough to people to be a finalist for several positions, was offered one, but was ultimately unable to take it for personal reasons.

During that same year, I applied for a full-time temporary position at a community college, primarily driven by financial concerns. It was a revelation. I had students who were excited about philosophy, thrilled to be exposed to new ideas, and striving for something other than the lives that they saw around them. I felt like my teaching mattered and as though philosophy was important. The general excitement of that semester also fed my energy to write and even with all the teaching (5/5 at the California community colleges), I felt as though I could do everything. When I saw a full-time opening at a community college in the area I applied.

I got the job. Yes, the interviews are odd and very unlike the sorts of interviews that I had experienced at the APA. Though, I have to say I had some extremely odd interviews at the APA. There was one that took place in a hotel room (pre-APA prohibition), where the three men who interviewed me had clearly been drinking, and one was wearing the plastic Groucho Marx glasses and mugging a bad Groucho. I believe that they did ask me some questions that were relevant to philosophy but not many. It was humiliating. I’ve interviewed four or five times at community colleges and never felt humiliated. Of course, that sort of thing does not happen at the APA any more.

Community college interviews, at least in California, tend to be very regimented. They conform to rules and regulations that are designed to be defensible in court. Questions are the same to each candidate. Each candidate is required to do exactly the same set of tasks. I remember in one case our overhead projector did not work for the first interview and so we had to force all subsequent interviewees to use the non-working projector. Completely bizarre at one level but conforming to a preverse logic at another. So, if you are given instructions that seem not to make sense to you, you are at least assured that everyone else is being given those same instructions.

Do community colleges frown on PhDs? Community college search committees will frown on anyone who thinks that they are bottom trawling by applying for a position at a community college. That should be obvious. Why on earth would you want to work with someone who thinks that you are beneath him or her? The job is hard enough without having colleagues that think they are slumming it hanging out with you. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with having a PhD however. Most of the search committees that I have served on have preferred PhDs though only those who they thought understood the role of a community college instructor. This varies depending on the college however and so I am reluctant to generalize.

Community colleges are very secure employment. Tenure is generally granted as long as one is a good colleague and successful teacher (in California, after 4 years). Retirement and health care are good and in urban areas in California (I am sorry that I do not really know about the rest of the country) starting salaries are generally higher than for the CSUs and one advances relatively quickly. PhDs are frequently paid an additional stipend or at a higher starting salary. These are strong positives. Given the nature of these jobs it is not surprising that they are hard to get. I think that this suprises some graduate students who apply thinking that they are over-qualified and ought to be snapped up. Community colleges are looking for teachers however, and if you are a researcher primarily and a teacher coincidentally, search committees are likely to see that and so see that you are not appropriate for the job.

So, there are good things about teaching at a community college, but there are hardships as well. There is a lot of teaching and it is painfully redundant. In California, it is five classes per semester. Again, that can be good in some ways, because it means less preparation time after the first few years and so in principle one could devote more time to research, but since there are no TAs and classes tend to run somewhere around 50 students (that’s 5 sections with 50 students so roughly 250 students a term), there is a lot of grading and maybe not so much time for research after all.

There are, of course, ways to spice things up so that you are not doing the same class exactly the same way over and over again. But this again leaves less time for research. Then there are ways to get release from teaching by becoming involved in various types of service to the college. This can be interesting, if you have interests in education more generally, but also eats away at research time.

I do not want to be too negative about this. I have been at a community college for 17 years now and I have managed to continue my research though it is at a relatively slow pace. I am not happy with it however, I have to confess. I am critical enough of my own work to see that I have not always worked out the arguments as carefully as I might. I have not always done the level of research that I ought to have. Is this because I am at a community college and I just don’t have the time? Maybe. But maybe I am just not as good a philosopher as I had hoped to be. Overall though, I consider myself very lucky. I love philosophy. I have made a living being a philosopher, something that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do. I attend conferences and workshops, deliver papers, publish, and interact with philosophers in a way that I find satisfying. One can do all that while at a community college, at least, I have done that.

So what is the case and is it relevant to you? I am a woman philosopher and so some of my story is about that aspect of my life. I am someone with a PhD who teaches at a community college so maybe that’s what’s relevant here. I am not a terribly ambitious philosopher so maybe that is what’s relevant. Or maybe none of it is relevant at all.

Posted in careers in philosophy, community college teaching | 3 Comments

A reflection on pausing from time to time

I haven’t done much philosophical reading, writing, or even thinking in about a year. This is not to say that I have stopped entirely. There were several projects underway that I managed to complete or continue, but my heart hasn’t been in it. I have had similar “pauses” in my work over the course of my entire career, beginning with a year break during graduate school which meant that it took me 6 years to finish instead of the recommended 5 (which was the norm at the time).

The negative aspect of such pauses is that each time I stop it takes a very long time to gear back up. For one thing, I fall behind in the literature and so I have to catch up, but also I lose the habit of thinking and, perhaps even more importantly, writing as a philosopher. By that I mean thinking carefully and not allowing myself to accept an incomplete or undeveloped thought as some kind of truth upon which to build other ideas. There are probably other important aspects of philosophical thinking that I lose but that is the one that I most aware of.

What makes me pause? Sometimes causes have coincided with some important events in my personal life. One followed the death of my father in my late 20s. Another followed a series of events: completion of my PhD conjoined with the birth of my daughters about 5 years later. But events in my personal life do not always lead me away from philosophy. My divorce and the years of upheaval following it were productive philosophically. This most recent pause seems to have been the result of exhaustion caused more by other activities outside of philosophy, primarily, service to my institution. Although, I think that this service may have been precipitated by or at least coincided with coming to a hard place in my research. I think this may be one of the first times that it is a philosophical problem that has been the primary cause of my slowdown. That’s probably not the norm for philosophers I would think. It is probably the difficulty of the problem that is the usual cause.

Am I more erratic in my working patterns than other philosophers? I think I am more erratic than those who are most productive. I do not feel apologetic about it any longer, though I certainly did when I was younger. I cannot work unless I feel that I have something to say and that saying it is important enough to motivate me to work. This is one of the pleasures of not having an appointment at a research university.

I suppose the big question is whether the pause leads to a full stop of career, which I suppose such pauses do for some people, or whether it is part of the process of reaching a point where I am ready to tackle the problem again. I am about to explore that question.

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New blog, new philosophy search engine, and a new post of women in the profession

Several interesting things have been happening online over the last week. First, there is a new philosophy of science group blog: It’s Only a Theory. Posts so far have mostly been about the nature of scientific theories and specifically about the semantic view of theories. The blog seems to be an offshoot of a discussion from the HOPOS list that was started by Gabriele Contessa and then moved over to the blog. I think it is a great idea and I look forward to the extension of the discussion into other areas of philosophy of science.

The next exciting development is the launch of an online research engine for philosophy papers. We have David Bourget and David Chalmers of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University to thank for this development. I am thrilled. I particularly like the feature that allows one to browse the latest philosophy journals. Particularly for someone who is not at an institution with deep journal resources this is a wonderful feature. One might quibble with the categories that they are using, but first, they are very self-aware about their choices and acknowledge that other interests might produce a different categorization, and second, they are open to suggestions and this feature is likely to rapidly evolve. It also has this wonderful, self-correcting feature that allows one to upload papers that the search engine might have missed or works in progress. I will post some thoughts on this in relation to feminist philosophy in another post (soon).

Finally, at Lemmings, Brit Brogaard raises the question of why there are so few female speakers at conferences (Female speakers: a rarity). There is one comment that reinforces one of her hypotheses: there just aren’t that many women in the conference field (in this case, philosophy of mind). A quick reminder about the numbers of women in philosophy (check out Knowledge and Experience for the a good account of current numbers – left hand column of the blog) also helps with part of the explanation. There is more to fill out however. The lower numbers of women means that it is less likely that there are going to be women organizing the conferences, it means that the men organizing the conferences are going to be less likely to think of women to invite, and so on. The aggregation of these small effects perpetuates the absence of women on these programs and their inclusion in the subsequent published volumes and so on. But wait! Here are some conferences that don’t seem to have that problem. Check out the webpages for FEAST, SAF (Society for Analytical Feminism), and the interdisciplinary group FEMMSS. One might argue that the problem is that women are only liberally included (in fact, they dominate) when the topics are explicitly feminist. That, in itself, does not seem all that surprising but when you put together that information with the point that women seem to be so poorly represented in other venues, I think it is clear that there is a problem.

Update: I just noticed that I had missed another reference to women and conferences at Feminist Philosophers.

Posted in blogs, philosophy, philosophy of science, search engines, women in philosophy | Leave a comment