University Dismisses Chair of Philosophy Department After Report Finds Extensive Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

The University of Colorado at Boulder recently removed the chair of its philosophy department and instituted other changes after a report identified multiple instances of sexual harassment and bullying within the department. The report resulted from a review conducted by the American Philosophical Association (APA), which found that the philosophy department, while maintaining the quality of its academics, had developed a “climate of incivility.” This included not only inappropriate sexual comments and advances, but also more generally “divisive uncivil behavior.” Female faculty members and graduate students were particularly impacted, and women were reportedly leaving the department at an alarming rate.

The university’s provost, the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and the philosophy department jointly invited the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women to conduct a review of the “climate for women” in the philosophy department. The APA conducted its review in September 2013 and reported its findings to the university in November. The university issued a summary of the report and its responsive actions on January 31, 2014.

During its review, the APA’s team met with individuals and groups from nearly all areas of the university, including administrators, faculty, staff, and both graduate and undergraduate students. It found that students are generally enthusiastic about the quality of academics in the philosophy department, and noted that the faculty is generally very supportive of its students. The environment among faculty and staff, however, was considerably less amicable, with people in every group stating that they directly observed inappropriate behavior. This climate, the APA concluded, has caused harm to both men and women in “every stakeholder group.” Certain faculty members, it found, have “reputations for bad behavior” that cause their colleagues to take on a greater workload.

One of the most notable findings in the APA’s report involves the disproportionate rate at which women are either leaving the department or attempting to leave. Some female professors and graduate students had resorted to working from home rather than face the department’s hostile work environment. Female graduate students reported feelings of depression and anxiety, and morale was found to be very low.

Among male graduate students, the APA found substantial concern that the department’s reputation as a hostile environment for women would have an adverse impact on their ability to find positions elsewhere. Many reported that they avoided working with specific faculty members because they did not want to become associated with someone repeatedly accused of harassment.

The university suspended all graduate admissions to the philosophy department in December 2013, shortly after receiving the APA’s report. On January 31, it announced additional steps that it was taking to address the issues identified by the APA, starting with the removal of the chair of the department. It is requiring training for faculty members on the university’s discrimination and harassment policies, and is working on policies and procedures that can make the department more inclusive.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in New York City and surrounding areas, helping them assert claims for harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Summary of Report by the American Philosophical Association to the University of Colorado Boulder (PDF file), January 31, 2014
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