Tag Archives: bias

Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure (And Other Observations on Gendered Academe)

*while Foreign Policy editors expressed initial interest in this post, a long-delayed response time to its actual draft suggests to me that such interest has faded, though I cannot imagine why. I’ve decided to self-publish it here on RI. 

Recently, Foreign Policy contributor Stephen Walt published an article on how to get tenure in political science, and Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortna, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks, and Kathleen Cunningham responded with an article on the different experiences women have when they go through the process of seeking tenure. Both pieces are, in some ways, spot-on. As Chenoweth et al note, Walt’s points are reasonable, but “the likely effect of his recommended strategies would be drastically different” for men and for women.

Chenoweth et al correctly identify the source of that difference – that “processes may be biased against women, often due to implicit bias rather than conscious discrimination.” They then make a very strong case that implicit bias affects almost every facet of the tenure process, from letters of recommendations to research expectations, from hiring committees to the probability of citation, from publication opportunities to syllabus assignments, from teaching evaluations to service expectations. They also correctly point out that there are different behavioral expectations of women in the field than there are for men.

The authors then go on to give women junior faculty a number of survival tips for the tenure process: get what you need at work, get what you need at home, create time, set boundaries with others, filter commentary and criticism, network, and get your work out there. All of these (if they are realistic) are excellent pieces of advice for navigating the gendered nature of the tenure process. And Chenoweth et al do not leave it entirely to women to navigate the process: the last two paragraphs of the piece talk about advice for allies to make sure that they are aware of, and not complicit in, the gendered dynamics of the discipline.

One the one hand, this advice is solid – after all, to an extent  we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.

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“Liberal Intolerance” and other misnomers

Today, Nicholas Kristof had a piece in the New York Times ‘admitting’ to ‘liberal intolerance’ in academia. In relevant part, he says:

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point. … To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

He goes on to identify that less than ten percent of social scientists are Republicans, and that there are many disciplines in which it is more likely that you will find a Marxist than a Republican. The piece ends with a hopeful plea for inclusion of conservatives:

So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.

Ok, so I’m one of those Marxists, I guess. That’s not the right word, but it will do as political shorthand. And I don’t have a lot of empathy for Republicans who face ‘discrimination’ in political science. But it doesn’t make me into Kristof’s anti-diversity bad guy, and I think his post just misses the actual dynamics of what’s going on.

Being conservative is not like being a woman, or being queer, or being a person of color. Being a woman, or being queer, or being a person of color do not carry with them essential characteristics. While there is no one mold for ‘conservative,’ it is my hunch that what academics really ‘mock’ or ‘exclude’ (both terms, I think, are extreme, and will discuss that below) are not people as conservatives but conservative viewpoints. And that’s not intolerance, bigotry, or anti-diversity.

There are some who would say that its just the facts. That conservatives are just wrong. That if 90% of chemists or biologists or physicists thought something, lay people would just think it was right. That the reason conservatives have no place in social science academia is because the science proves them wrong. That some people go to grad school as conservatives, then they learn things, and then they’re not conservative anymore. And that’s tempting to me – in part because many of the assumptions that conservatives make about the constitution of the United States, its position in the world, and what it is okay to do to other countries seem so viscerally problematic to me. If I’m sure of anything in the world, its finding US hegemonic positioning morally reprehensible. And while that’s not unique to ‘conservatives,’ it is often a mainstay of conservativism.

But saying that conservatives are ‘out’ because they are wrong would require me to make a number of political commitments that I find problematic – a commitment to the existence of a universal right and wrong, a commitment to strong ontologies, a commitment to objective knowledge, a commitment to scientific positivism, etc. And I’m a post-positivist, post-structuralist leftist, certainly, but that’s a weak ontology – I am sure enough to act on it, but not sure enough to exclude other possibilities.

So my argument is different. Continue reading