Philosophy graduate students: An open letter to the Northwestern community

Academic philosophy has a gender problem. The authors of readings disseminated in the classroom and the students studying those authors in upper-level courses are overwhelmingly male.  Approximately 20 to 25 percent of full-time faculty members are women, and although empirical studies have established the phenomena of implicit bias, there are competing explanations as to why this bias is apparently more prominent in philosophy than in other disciplines in the humanities.

College campuses also have a problem with sexual harassment and abuse.  Approximately one in four women will be the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault during her academic career; in the U.S., one in five college women has been sexually assaulted during her lifetime. More than half of assaults go unreported. Only 3 percent of people who commit sexual assaults will actually serve time for it.  Although the rate of reported allegations that cannot be substantiated is between 2 and 8 percent, a recent study showed that college students believe that 50 percent of allegations are false.

Recent events in the Northwestern community have raised serious worries about how such allegations are handled by the University.  These worries are legitimate regardless of whether the accused is cleared of wrongdoing or the outcome of the litigation: if an allegation of serious misconduct has been made, the University should undertake actions to protect students while the investigation into the complaint is ongoing.  In other professions, such as police officers, an allegation of misconduct can result in limiting the officer’s interaction with the public during the ensuring investigation.  Given the nature of a sexual harassment or assault complaint against persons in power, and the vulnerability of the student population to those very persons, professors accused of sexual harassment or assault should have limited and supervised ability to interact with students.

Whatever the outcome of the ongoing case, students at NU deserve to be informed of what the administration will do to protect them when someone in a position of power has been accused of serious wrongdoing.  This is not to say that an allegation automatically implies guilt but that any interactions with students should be closely monitored or perhaps expressly forbidden altogether while the charge is pending.  The University states it is committed to “sustaining a safe and healthy Northwestern community” and “removing barriers to learning.” To permit persons accused of gross misconduct to continue teaching students, the potential targets of such victimization, during the investigation was a severe violation of the administration’s obligations to provide a safe learning environment.  We deserve to know that in the future, more will be done to protect us.



Chelsea Egbert, philosophy graduate student 
Lee Goldsmith, philosophy graduate student 
Deborah Goldgaber, incoming assistant professor, Louisiana State University
Eric Jonas, philosophy graduate student
Jessica Talamantez, philosophy graduate student