faculty

UVA Center Board Member Resigns After Explaining Why Women Didn't Want to Go Shoe Shopping

The University of Virginia’s Miller Center is facing its second controversy in almost as many months, with the resignation of a member of its governing council over a sexist email he wrote to the council’s former chair. In the year-old email obtained by Politico via an open-records request, Fred W. Scott Jr. wrote that women “don't like to be put into groups. They group up all the time, but these are their own voluntary groups. Lunch, coffee, Children, etc. No men allowed in.” Some people “just like to stir up trouble then melt into the background and watch,” he added, and, “If we have such a person, they may not be the best choice to promote.”

The email was reportedly in reference to what is known at the Miller Center as “shoegate,” in which Scott awkwardly offered to take female center employees shopping for shoes in exchange for their hard work (he later apologized). Scott, whose family has made major donations to the university, also wrote that there “are no United White People College Funds or White Students' Alliances or Men Against Drunk Driving. Even at a ‘tolerant university' ... especially there! Women's Initative [sic]. We both support it. Is there a Men's Initiative???”

Over the summer, many Virginia professors opposed the Miller Center’s decision to hire Marc Short, President Trump’s recent legislative affairs director, as a senior fellow. Two center professors resigned their positions in protest. Politico also reported that Scott is the center’s third council member to resign in a year over sexual harassment allegations. The center has since introduced additional sexual harassment training and a code of conduct.

The center, which studies the U.S. presidency, said in a statement that its “current leadership was unaware of the existence of this email until the evening of Aug. 28,” and that it “strongly objects to the content and sentiments expressed in [Scott's] email, including discriminatory and offensive language as well as any suggestions of potential retaliation against any Miller Center staff members.” Scott, who declined comment, resigned Friday.

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The case of Michael Kimmel raises key questions for academe (opinion)

As the Me Too movement continues onward into its second chapter, a disappointing and harmful pattern has emerged: the mere lip service paid to “men’s accountability.”

Holding men accountable for their behavior has become central to the politics of men's ally activism as more men get involved in feminist activism, some taking on visible leadership roles. There are entire conferences, sessions within conferences, webinars, panels and workshops devoted to discussing the importance of men’s accountability -- not just accountability for perpetrators but also for the so-called good guys, too, the activists and allies. And yet, what we see with the recent allegations (see here and here) of sexual harassment against renowned male (pro)feminist and sociologist Michael Kimmel is that accountability rarely exists outside of movement rhetoric -- especially in the case of powerful men in academe.

This situation brings up two crucial questions:

  • What makes holding powerful men accountable so difficult? (Why did it take a prestigious award for Kimmel to be held accountable?)
  • Where do we go from here?

In our capitalist, patriarchal and white-dominated society, we learn to perceive hierarchy and exploitation as normal (“that’s just the way it is”) and often respond with silence when confronted with it. Holding people in powerful positions accountable is difficult, in part, because their abuse of power relies on our participation in the form of our enculturation and complicity with it. Abuse is unremarkable because it is normative. Patriarchal systems are structured in dominance; therefore, we reward privileged people for their complicity in it, and we punish marginalized and exploited people for speaking out and resisting.

Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior was a “known secret” for decades, yet his power in the entertainment industry continued to grow and solidify. To tweak an overused expression, you don’t need many “bad apples” when the barrel (a culture rooted in power, greed and dominance over others) is rotten.

The former students and junior faculty members who have recently come forward to tell about their experiences with Kimmel felt unsafe to do so precisely because they were/are operating within an exploitative system marked by egregious power differentials. Coming forward could have put their burgeoning careers in jeopardy, at the same time that staying silent didn’t spare them from emotional and material harm. It is telling that the initial public allegations, which came to light in the wake of the revelation of Kimmel’s selection for a prestigious award designed to “recognize scholarly work that expands the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society,” came from an anonymous Twitter account.

But what about Kimmel’s colleagues who knew about his behavior, particularly senior faculty and male colleagues -- people with arguably less to fear and more professional security?

Did they give Kimmel a pass because his scholarship on feminism made them assume he was one of the “good guys”? Did they cave under pressure from him to remain silent, as some of the allegations suggest that Kimmel took criticism personally and sought redress? Or was it that his behavior was somehow seen as acceptable because it was mostly women and genderqueer students who have reported these experiences -- students who should perhaps consider themselves lucky to work with someone of such high regard? Would he have gotten away with this behavior if he wasn’t a cisgender white man?

The culture of accountability, or lack thereof, in our academic departments and institutions needs major rewiring. As the late sociologist Allan Johnson pointed out, as we respond to individual instances of exploitation and abuses of power, we must pay attention to the larger “rules of the game” that enable this kind of behavior. In other words, we must go beyond expressing outrage at the exploitative and harmful behaviors revealed in the allegations against Kimmel to also ask: How might the broader environment of academe, which values prestige, competition, popularity and success, make otherwise well-meaning people complicit when popular and prestigious men like Kimmel behave in sexist and unethical ways?

As Johnson noted, “Since the thing we’re participating in is patriarchal, we tend to behave in ways that create a patriarchal world from one moment to the next.” Thus, Kimmel, too, is a product of a culture that has rewarded him as a man for behaving in ways that give him status and power, even as the focus of his work has been a critical, sociological examination of those very things.

So, where do we go from here? It is certainly worthwhile to continue holding -- and trying to hold -- individuals accountable and working to find better and more effective ways of doing it. We need better structural mechanisms in place to foster reporting, investigation and adjudication that puts more power and control into the hands of victims and others who are traditionally marginalized, disempowered and oppressed within academe. We must also guard against retaliation that targets victims, allies and whistle-blowers.

But accountability of that kind will always be a reactive strategy and, ultimately, not enough. It doesn’t dig at the root of the problem. Perhaps most important, we sociologists are well-known for our fervent critique of social responses that are solely punitive (zero-tolerance policies, mass incarceration, criminalizing prostitution and the like) because they ignore the broader systems of power that influence people’s behaviors. Therefore, we mustn’t be satisfied with focusing only on accountability, which is also punitive -- taking awards away, placing people on leave and so on. While such actions of accountability are meaningful and serve a purpose, a more effective solution is to figure out how to build equity into the very structure of our institutions and daily practices. After all, the goal isn’t just to hold individual perpetrators to account but also to dismantle the rape culture and the other systems of oppression with which it interlocks. Let us not emphasize the punitive at the expense of the transformative.

We should be moving toward breaking down the values and systems that inculcate these behaviors. If we reorganized our departments and reconceptualized academe to be -- or, at least, to move toward being -- antipatriarchal, antiheteronormative, antiracist, anticolonial, anticapitalist and antiexploitative, what might they look like? How might we allocate resources and rewards more fairly? How might we distribute and share power differently, with an eye not just toward diversity and inclusion but also toward equity and justice? Perhaps these are the kind of questions that can nudge such a vital conversation forward.

Kris Macomber is assistant professor of sociology at Meredith College and has conducted research on the role of male allies in gender justice work. Matt Ezzell is associate professor of sociology at James Madison University and a scholar and activist in the field of gender justice. They have also worked as staff members in the domestic violence and rape crisis movements.

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Grad students' advice to search committees (opinion)

A graduate student applicant offers advice on how such committees can operate in much more productive and humane ways when it comes to their hiring practices.

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Digital learning consortia diversify priorities amid shifting fortunes

Connecticut's distance learning consortium has shuttered, but similar systems in other states are soldiering on, serving a diverse range of needs and priorities.

OER guide aims to make adoption easier

Lumen Learning released yesterday an OER Champion Playbook that offers a road map for supporters of open course materials to promote successful adoption on campus.

The playbook has five sections:

A tongue-in-cheek academic conference presentation attendance calculator (opinion)

Carol Poster provides a calculator to help you estimate the probable size of your audience and plan accordingly.

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A Philosophy Blogger Resigns

Amy Olberding, the Presidential Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and expert in Chinese ethics and civility who blogs under the pseudonym Prof. Manners, resigned from the popular Feminist Philosophers blog over the summer and shared her reasons for doing so this week on her personal blog, Department of Deviance. Olberding didn’t cite a specific issue or controversy that drove her from blogging, but said that reading “both social media and blog conversations among philosophers, I often feel demoralized. The people who speak most and most insistently seem not only to be absolutely clear about what they think, but think there is no other legitimate, respectable, or even moral way to think.” 

Until she began blogging, she said, "I avoided online conversations, not eager to enter the fray when conversations could so often be heated, inhumane and unpleasant. So too, online discussions often favor the quick and agile, the aggressive and insistent, people who like (or at least can ably engage) the rough and tumble of agonistic back and forth -- and most of all those who are confidently certain. Honestly, the rough and tumble mostly makes me sad and I often have a shortage of certainty." Most of the time, she said, not knowing what to think "is itself sometimes cast as shameful. In too many contexts, to confess confusion or uncertainty is to confess deficiency -- sometimes in philosophical acumen, sometimes in ‘smarts,’ sometimes in moral clarity, sometimes even in basic humanity.” 
 
Reached via email, Olberding again declined to share any details about what prompted her departure from blogging, but said that the responses she’s seen thus far “have been positive.”  Yet, “I have to say that I’ve been avoiding looking anywhere other than my email and my Facebook messages,” she said. Jennifer Mather Saul, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sheffield in Britain and other contributor at Feminist Philosophers, said she thought Olberding’s post “beautifully describes some of the deep problems of online discussions. I now think that online discussions of difficult issues tend to do more harm than good."
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Brandeis grad students win significant gains in union contract, even as Trump administration has exerted influence on NLRB

Brandeis grad students win significant gains in a union contract, even if chances have dimmed for some of their counterparts as Trump administration has exerted influence on NLRB.

William & Mary business school adds $10 million online learning center

The College of William & Mary's Raymond A. Mason School of Business will open by next spring a Center for Online Learning to help grow its online programs.

The business school launched its online M.B.A. program in 2015 and added an online new master of science in data analytics this summer. Both those programs will be run out of the new center, which is made possible by a $10 million donation from philanthropist Jane P. Batten.

Tools and tips for creating high-quality online doctoral programs

A new book lays out a plan for creating a high-quality online doctorate, drawn from the experiences of a degree program in educational technology.

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