University of Colorado Boulder Addresses Sexism in Philosophy Department

University of Colorado Boulder

February 4, 2014

Sexism on college campuses is not novel, but most reports highlight inappropriate behavior among students, or at least colleges' mishandling of that behavior. Colleges acknowledging sexism in their own faculty ranks is decidedly less common, notes Inside Higher Ed, but this is precisely what is happening at one major university -- and the admission has triggered some major changes.

Last week the University of Colorado at Boulder announced Professor Andy Cowell would replace Graeme R. Forbes as head of its philosophy department. According to an announcement published on the university's website, the change was one of many steps the institution would take to "improve the climate" in philosophy for faculty, staff and students, "and, specifically, to improve the climate for women." The move comes on the heels of a new report from the American Philosophical Association that accused the department of maintaining "an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior." The report also noted that the department lacked professionalism with respect to alcohol and faculty-graduate student interaction at social events.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a disproportionate number of female faculty are currently trying to leave the institution, and efforts to recruit new women are hampered because of what the APA calls a "worldwide" reputation for sexism and harassment. Some male faculty have been observed "ogling" undergraduate women students, and some graduate students strictly refuse to work with some male professors. All of this has increased the workload for both women and non-harassing male faculty members who must advise these students. Overall the department characterizes female graduate students as "anxious, demoralized and depressed."

In addition to posturing Professor Cowell as the new department head, the university assured students and faculty that it would take additional steps to improve conditions. Among them: mandatory sexual harassment training, bystander intervention training and workshops designed to improve the department's "scholarly climate."

"I want to make it clear that we cannot allow patterns of misconduct and breaches of integrity to go unchecked," University Chancellor Phillip DiStefano said in the school's official announcement. " I expect this campus to operate at the highest levels of personal and professional integrity in everything we do."

Inside Higher Ed notes how unusual it is for colleges to make reports of this nature so public. Peggy DesAutels, a professor of philosophy at the University of Dayton and director of the APA's site visit program, told the publication she was "shocked" that the report was released, and worried it might deter other institutions from allowing similar evaluations in the future. Still, she concedes that the situation at Colorado was particularly bad, and probably should be highlighted.

"In this particular case, for Colorado, the profession is better off knowing about this," said DesAutels.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Leigh names Andrew Cowell new chair of philosophy as campus seeks culture change in department,", January 31, 2014,

"Philosophy of Sexism?", February 3, 2014, Scott Jaschik,

"Summary of Report by the American Philosophical Association to the University of Colorado Boulder,", January 31, 2014,

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