Diversity and Climate
The spirit of philosophy is the spirit of free inquiry, in which each person learns to think for her- or himself about the deepest problems facing humanity, rather than taking over views provided by some other person or institution claiming authority. But philosophy is not an individual practice.
From the earliest beginnings, philosophers have explored our questions through dialogue within a community of inquirers. Our fellow philosophers offer alternative perspectives to consider, the critical pressure needed to refine one’s own views, and growing traditions exploring potential answers. Given these needs, it is an imperative of philosophizing to strive for an open community into which all are welcome, and within which each person can find a good climate for cooperative work. The Stanford Philosophy Department takes this demand as a centrally important responsibility. We are committed to opening the world of philosophy to new minds from all quarters.
As a profession, though, contemporary philosophy is markedly less diverse than it should be. From the 1970s to the 1990s, our profession made modest progress toward the inclusion of more women and underrepresented minority philosophers into the life of the discipline, and many of us believed that as new entrants arrived at mid-career and began training graduate students in significant numbers, professional philosophy would find itself on a glide path toward increasing diversity in the professorial ranks. In the past twenty-five years, however, it has become apparent that such visions were overly optimistic. Despite some serious affirmative efforts, philosophy remains noticeably less diverse than other academic disciplines, and that fact, together with widely publicized climate problems in some philosophy departments, have become the subject of rising concern for the profession at large in recent years. Stanford Philosophy shares those concerns.
Stanford University has strong policies prohibiting discrimination against any individual on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. These policies cover hiring, promotion, employment conditions, admission, and any other benefit provided by the University. The Philosophy Department takes these policies very seriously, and we strive not only to live by their letter, but to integrate their spirit into our efforts to build an inclusive intellectual community.
Growing out of this commitment, Stanford Philosophy has long taken affirmative steps toward diversifying our profession, both through the training of women and underrepresented minority philosophers within our programs, and through our own hiring and promotion practices. These efforts have met with some success. Our current faculty includes women and URM philosophers across all ranks, and by 2015 we have seven women colleagues out of a total faculty strength of 21.17 FTE positions (just over 33%).
We remain unsatisfied, however, with the progress both within our program and within the profession at large. We have noted with dismay that our recent searches and rounds of graduate admissions have yielded candidate pools with only 20-28% women and very tiny numbers of philosophers from underrepresented minorities. We continue to support efforts at Stanford and around the country to improve this situation by diversifying the “pipeline” of philosophers entering the profession; for example, members of the Department have been instrumental in promoting a joint program with CCNY, which provides summer research opportunities for young humanists from CCNY and teaching opportunities for our graduate students at CCNY. We support and applaud similar efforts by our sister departments around the country, including at Brown, Rutgers, and through the PIKSI projects supported by the APA at Penn State and Boston.
We also strive to bring a spirit of continual improvement into the task of shaping the intellectual community and the climate for work in our program. For example, we have begun integrating information about implicit bias and stereotype threat, and suggestions about how to avoid them, into our teaching methods course for graduate students, and the faculty are exploring new approaches to teaching that might prove more broadly inclusive, drawing a fuller cross section of Stanford undergraduates into philosophy. In addition, philosophers from all career stages have banded together to form our chapter of Minorities and Philosophy, and its activities are complemented by many other groups, like the Women in Philosophy reading group, which brings together graduate and undergraduate women to study philosophy together on an ongoing basis.
Obviously, these initial steps mark only a beginning toward addressing the problems affecting the diversity of our profession, and Stanford philosophers at all levels continue to think about these problems and explore potential solutions. Some of the relevant issues (like the phenomena of implicit bias and stereotype threat mentioned above) admit of empirical investigation. Our colleagues at Rutgers (h/t) have curated a collection of information and resources on such issues in the Climate section of their web page, under the links on implicit bias, stereotype threat, and “Why so Few Women?”
If you have concerns about a climate issue within the Philosophy Department, there are many places to turn for help and advice. The Department values a supportive atmosphere in which members can resolve differences through frank, open exchange, but of course, more difficult climate problems can also arise within any organization. If you encounter a problem that calls for help, we encourage you to consult with a faculty member you trust, or with the Director of Graduate Studies or the Chair of the Department. Stanford University also maintains vigorously enforced policies prohibiting all forms of discrimination, harassment, and related inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and there are numerous helpful resources on campus to assist members of the community in addressing problems in those areas.