Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sexist Jerks in Power, continued

It seems to me that if various organizations (professional societies, journal editorial offices, funding agencies, university/college administrations) made even minimal effort to find out if someone being considered for an important position has a history of sexist or other disturbing behavior (as in a serious, long-term problem beyond just being socially inept), they would be able to weed these guys out. And if it became known that you weren't going to be the president of that society or the program officer for that funding agency if you had a record of inappropriate attitudes and behaviors towards women or other groups of people, maybe things would change eventually. Maybe.

I asked a few people about this most recent example of someone being given a powerful position despite decades of not being able to deal appropriately with women as colleagues or students (see last post), and no one I knew (including this person's former advisor) had been asked to give a reference. His advancement was based entirely on his publication and funding record, without consideration for other aspects, although these will now become of paramount importance in his new position. I think it should be possible to filter out the people who should be disqualified owing to a long record of sexist behavior from those who have just been annoying or not particularly likable and might actually do a good job despite their personality dysfunction.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like there's been an institutional decision many places not to punish or reward any sorts of behaviors like that, but instead to consider only the detached quantifiable contributions in the specific field when considering a person for a position. Rather than give or withhold points in some respect for what may be seen as arbitrarily chosen behavioral traits on which to focus (can we really pick on everything, people have said), it seems that they've chosen a very dry way to go about the selection process instead. I suppose it might be useful if such antisocial or sexist behavior had a more negative impact on the chosen indicators for selection, but I don't really see that being the case right now.

I'm interested mostly in the solution, though. We have a clearly identified problem, in specific and in general, and there must be some way in both cases to resolve it as such. What would you suggest, being more privy to the specific departmental or institutional politics than I? What system would you then recommend being used to take into account interactive behavior between peers and subordinates when evaluating candidates for such positions?

gs said...

It seems to me that if various organizations (professional societies, journal editorial offices, funding agencies, university/college administrations) made even minimal effort to find out if someone being considered for an important position has a history of sexist or other disturbing behavior (as in a serious, long-term problem beyond just being socially inept), they would be able to weed these guys out.

Yes indeed, FSP, sexism should be unacceptable in modern society. ;-)
**********
Let me also comment on the previous post: what to do if a sexist jerk is given an important appointment that may affect you?

Presumably the matter is serious enough that you want to take action. Two possibilities occur to me.

First, make discreet inquiries whether other people share your perception. If that's the case, a collective expression of concern may at least be a shot across the guy's bow.

Second, it's unlikely that your target's sexism is the only dimension of his jerkhood. You may have more potential allies than you think. Base your organizing on the welfare of the field: "To help assure that our beloved discipline of gas rheology fulfills its scientific promise, etc etc."

Mind you, I don't have the interpersonal skills and savvy to pull this kind of thing off, but you may be among the people who do.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, in fact that's what I did -- I made some discreet inquiries to see if my concerns are shared (they are) and if others had similar experiences (they do). I asked male and female scientists. That's what prompted my post about why the organization doing the hiring didn't ask around as well. I am more optimistic than I might have been if I hadn't served on an oversight committee for this organization several years ago, so I know that they don't let people in their employ run amok. Any problems will surely show up and be dealt with on the time scale of 2-3 years, but I just wish he didn't even have the chance to wreak havoc with anyone's career. And I wish it didn't matter so little to the people who selected him for this important position.

Global Girl said...

I work with a sexist guy. My advisor doesn't care, because he doesn't want to discuss something so etheral as "sociology" (his words). I lost a lot of respect for my advisor the day he said that. It may be dry, but it prevents people from having to get down and dirty with solving real problems. It's much easier to issue statements than actually go tell someone off.

I have a friend getting a Ph. D. in math who was stalked by someone in her department. Her department was very helpful. They suggested therapy (at her own expense) and gave the guy a fellowship.

I'm getting the message that in academia, it's ok to be sexist.

Ms.PhD said...

I'm with global girl. I recently ran into this, where someone who was a subordinate/peer in title was sexist, and it was seriously impeding my work, but my advisor didn't care to do anything about it.

I find it ironic that at the upper levels, personal/social issues don't seem to matter, but everyone tells us that to get into a faculty position, one of the most important things is how 'collegial' you are. On the one hand, we wish that admission to the next level could be as objective as this- just based on publications and funding. But it's not, it's terribly sexist and there's an element of socialization in it that I very much resent. On the other hand, there are cases like this where you wonder how it is that in 2007 we still haven't educated EVERYONE on these issues and how important they are.

Just make sure everyone is aware that they can and should keep records of and report any transgressions by this guy. Find out what your institution's policies are for filing complaints, and do it as soon as you have the ammunition. Hopefully he's blatant enough that it will be easy to take action. The worst ones are the ones you can't prove.