Both parts of this series are authored by Jan Dowell and David Sobel with great help from several other philosophers.

Below is the second installment in our two-part series on sexual harassment in academia. In this installment, we discuss proposals for what individual philosophers and departments can do to prevent harassment and support victims. Some of these proposals will likely be controversial. The ongoing discussion of this topic is important; we hope people will carefully consider our proposals and the rationale offered for them. And while proposals for change frequently come with the risk of creating new problems, we hope people keep in mind that the status quo has very serious costs.

Before those who disagree publicly express their dissent, I very much hope they will keep two considerations in mind:

(i) Whether the proposals advocated by the signatories to the statement below are warranted depends very much on what’s known about the rates of harassment and retaliation in academia and their impact on victims. Anyone who is unfamiliar with these facts will find it difficult to reasonably assess these proposals. So, we hope that anyone not yet familiar with the empirical data will first read our initial post here:…/first-of-a-two-part-series-on-sexual-h…/

(ii) Survivors and those who advise them will be following public discussions. As we know from private discussions, many who have been harassed have experienced and often continue to experience a good deal of pain. I hope those engaged in public discussions of the proposals below will be mindful of that by choosing their words in a way that does not have the effect of discouraging survivors from coming forward. When they come forward, they provide an important service to our profession, often at considerable cost to themselves. We need them and we need their service to fix this problem. And they need and deserve our support.

With that in mind, I hope also that critical responses are accompanied by alternative proposals for addressing the problem. We owe this to survivors.

If you would like to add your name in support of the document below we ask you to post your name, rank, and academic affiliation in the comments section of the PEA Soup post. We will then add your name to the document.

–Jan & Dave


The #MeToo movement has raised awareness of both the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault and their debilitating impact on victims.  Addressing the problem in academia, however, raises special challenges.  Tenure can afford perpetrators strong protections. And even where universities are in a position to act against one of its own employees, they are relatively powerless to act against those who harass on their campus, but work elsewhere. Moreover, professional standing and power, together with the very real threat of retaliation, give victims and witnesses strong incentives to keep silent, as well as perpetrators’ friends and colleagues incentives to protect and support them. Nonetheless, there are actions that individuals and departments can take to help protect victims and potential victims from bearing the full and very significant cost of harassment and assault.

First, individuals can support victims by acting in ways that make coming forward easier.  There are many ways to do this.  One simple way is by being mindful that, when harassment is discussed in professional settings, there is a good chance that a party to the conversation is a victim, knows a victim, or will later advise a victim.  Avoid minimizing allegations against someone when you have no specific information about the case. Otherwise you risk conveying to victims and their would-be supporters that your default response will be to doubt their complaints.

A second way to support victims is by expressing sympathy and condemning harassment when it is discussed in professional settings. This may seem unnecessary, as sympathy and condemnation are too obviously warranted to require expression. But this is clearly not obvious to everyone; if it were, harassment wouldn’t be the fairly pervasive and tolerated problem that it is.  To a victim, a failure to express sympathy can easily be interpreted as indifference or knee-jerk doubt.  Open condemnation of harassment suggests to victims that you are aware of their suffering, that it is safe to talk to you, and that you would support them should they choose to come forward. This can be enormously empowering for survivors.

Third, be alert to the problem, so you can act to protect potential victims. Perpetrators of harassment can and do professionally retaliate against their victims.  Indeed, they frequently target those against whom it would be easy for them to retaliate, such as people they write letters for.  But even whispered doubts about a job candidate by a non-letter writer can have a negative impact.  This often makes simply discussing a problem, let alone lodging a complaint, quite risky.   By being someone who is clearly safe to talk to,[1]you can increase your awareness of who the bad actors are.

Fourth, do what you can to protect potential victims from those reasonably suspected of being bad actors.  This is more difficult than the above suggestions, since it requires assessing what counts as evidence sufficient for such suspicion and this, in turn, raises the question of what sort of evidence is sufficient for which types of action.

We begin with our proposed policies and follow with the sorts of evidence we’ll argue are sufficient for implementing them. Withholding opportunities to give talks, as well as to place papers in invited volumes, can be an effective tool in fighting harassment. First, withholding speaking invitations helps keep perpetrators out of contact with possible victims.  Second, in academia, prestige is the coin of the realm, giving perpetrators the power and access to potential victims that they need to operate without consequence.  Depriving perpetrators of professional opportunities undercuts their ability to find and retaliate against victims. As editors of invited volumes, we might decline to include any paper by those we have sufficient evidence to believe a predator. As authors, we might similarly refuse to participate in volumes which include work by such individuals.  Finally, broadcasting a departmental policy of not extending talk or conference invitations to individuals a department has sufficient grounds for thinking a bad actor can help rig the payoffs against harassment everywhere.  Departments might circulate a list of possible speakers to their members before any invitations are issued. In that way, a department might internally pool its information about individuals, to determine whether collectively it has evidence it deems sufficient to take a candidate off its list of possible invitees.

Before turning to a discussion of sufficient evidence, two points are important to underscore. First, opportunities to give talks, as well as to place papers in invited volumes, are professional goods no one is entitled to. Widely accepted professional practice already confers on departments and volume editors extensive latitude in determining to whom invitations will be extended.  (For example, it is widely regarded as permissible for a department to decline to issue invitations to those unwilling to engage with graduate students or to those who are non-responsive to criticisms of their work.) These together make withholding such professional privileges, when sufficient evidence suggests doing so would serve as a tool to protect students and fight harassment, permissible. Second, because we are currently discussing cases where there is evidence sufficient to justify withholding some sorts of invitations but not sufficient, perhaps, to justify public accusation or other action, it is important that departments or individuals that decide to adopt any of the policies recommended here take steps to ensure that exclusions remain confidential matters.  This is to protect complainants, as well as suspected bad actors.  In the case of department policies, we recommend that information about individuals on a possible speakers list be communicated directly justto the faculty member in charge of issuing invitations.  To be clear: We do NOT advocate that such discussions take place in department meetings.

Implementing such policies requires clear rules for what counts as evidence sufficient for acting on them.  Spelling out such rules precisely is no doubt complicated. Here we list two sorts of evidence we think should be generally recognized as sufficient to warrant their implementation.

Easy cases involve first-personal experience.  Tougher cases involve sorting through testimony. To head off possible sources of controversy about when testimonial evidence should suffice to warrant action, first a reminder.  There are two types of individuals who have stakes in the actions suggested below: There are those who would be identified as possible bad actors and those who are victims or possible victims.  Discussions of harassment frequently focus on the former.  And there should be some focus on the former. Being incorrectly identified as a possible bad actor and deprived of the opportunities just mentioned would be bad for the person so identified.  This means our evidential standards should be reasonably high. Having said that, though, we equally need to recognize the very serious consequences of harassment on victims.[2] Not acting may have very significant costs.

First, compelling first-personal testimony from someone you know to be highly reliable is certainly sufficient to warrant taking someone off a possible speaker or volume participant list. Second-personal testimony from multiple, independent, and highly reliable sources is also sufficient. For example, if you know three or more highly reliable individuals who report that they have direct, independent, reliable, first-personal testimony concerning the same individual, you clearly have sufficient grounds for withholding professional invitations.[3]

Two considerations further support this. First, the incidence of false accusations for harassment and assault are quite low.[4]This is not surprising.  Harassment and assault are underreported crimes partly because the possibility of retaliation makes reporting quite risky, particularly when a victim shares a profession with her assailant.  But false accusations also open accusers to retaliation. The cost/benefit calculation in both cases favors silence.  We should expect that those who come forward at great cost to themselves are very likely telling the truth.

Moreover, the evidential standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ while appropriate in criminal cases or other contexts in which individuals may stand to lose their rights or freedom, are inappropriate here. Outside of such contexts, we justly place the right persons have to be free from sexual harassment and assault ahead of the mere interest persons have in professional opportunities to which they are not entitled. Thus, given the base rates of the respective harmful actions and the discrepancy in the stakes and rights involved in the cases under discussion here, we think a policy of the sort outlined above makes good sense.

In sum, we can do a good deal to decrease harassment and support victims in our profession.  We can vocalize our support for victims.  We can broadcast that we are sympathetic to victims of harassment and generally treat such allegations as credible and serious. We can encourage our departments to institute a policy of not bringing to campus anyone department members collectively have good grounds for thinking a bad actor.  And we can refuse to include in volumes or participate in volumes which include those who we have good grounds for thinking a bad actor. Although there may be costs to those who choose to fight harassment in any of these ways, the costs of not doing so for victims and potential victims are much greater.


  1. Jan Dowell, Professor, Syracuse University
  2. David Sobel, Irwin and Marjorie Guttag Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy, Syracuse University
  3. Stephen Darwall, Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of Philosophy, Yale University; John Dewey Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  4. Elizabeth Anderson, John Dewey Distinguished University Professor, John Rawls Collegiate Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  5. Brian Weatherson, Marshall M. Weinberg Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  6. Russ Shafer-Landau, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  7. Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Morehead Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  8. Kate Abramson, Associate Professor, University of Indiana-Bloomington
  9. Douglas Portmore, Professor, Arizona State University
  10. Ray Briggs, Professor, Stanford University
  11. Branden Fitelson, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Northeastern University
  12. Kenny Easwaran, Associate Professor, Texas A&M University
  13. Mark Schroeder, Professor, University of Southern California
  14. Valerie Tiberius, Paul W. Frenzel Chair in Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
  15. Tad Schmaltz, Professor and Chair, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  16. Philip Pettit, L.S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton University
  17. David McNaughton, Professor Emeritus, Keele and Florida State University; Honorary Professor, University of Edinburgh
  18. Jessica Collins, Associate Professor, Columbia University
  19. Sanford C. Goldberg, Professor, Northwestern University
  20. David Brink, Distinguished Professor, University of California-San Diego
  21. Sara Protasi, Assistant Professor, University of Puget Sound
  22. Terence Cuneo, Marsh Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, University of Vermont
  23. Dan Korman, Professor, University of California-Santa Barbara
  24. Jonathan Quong, Professor of Philosophy and Law, University of Southern California
  25. Justin D’Arms, Professor, Ohio State University
  26. Fabrizio Cariani, Associate Professor, Northwestern University
  27. Shen-yi Liao, Assistant Professor, University of Puget Sound
  28. David Braun, Professor, Patrick and Edna A. Romanell Chair in Philosophy, University at Buffalo
  29. Robin Jeshion, Professor, University of Southern California
  30. Michael G. Titelbaum, Professor and Chair, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  31. Andy Egan, Professor, Rutgers University
  32. Janet Levin, Professor, University of Southern California
  33. Larry Shapiro, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  34. Ned Markosian, Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  35. Shieva Kleinschmidt, Associate Professor, University of Southern California
  36. Joshua Schechter, Associate Professor, Brown University
  37. Ralph Wedgwood, Professor, University of Southern California
  38. Luca Ferrero, Professor, University of California-Riverside
  39. Andrews Reath, Professor, University of California-Riverside
  40. Elizabeth Brake, Professor, Rice University
  41. Kate Manne, Associate Professor, Cornell University
  42. Desiree Melton, Professor of Philosophy, Associate Chair, Liberal Arts
  43. Gary Watson, Provost Professor Emeritus of Law and Philosophy, University of Southern California
  44. Susanna Schellenberg, Professor, Rutgers University
  45. Ruth Chang, Chair and Professor of Jurisprudence, Oxford University
  46. Ariela Tubert, Professor, University of Puget Sound
  47. Justin Tiehen, Professor, University of Puget Sound
  48. Mark van Roojen, Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  49. Rachana Kamtekar, Professor, Cornell University
  50. Amy Kind, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy; Director, The Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, Claremont McKenna College
  51. Sergio Tenenbaum, Professor, University of Toronto
  52. Helen Frowe, Professor, Stockholm University
  53. Hille Paakkunainen, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
  54. Alan Sidelle, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  55. Dale Dorsey, Professor and Chair, University of Kansas
  56. Sally Haslanger, Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  57. Joshua Spencer, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  58. Scott Sturgeon, Professor, University of Birmingham
  59. Michelle Kosch, Professor, Cornell University
  60. Maya Eddon, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  61. Christopher Meacham, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  62. Kai von Fintel, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  63. Elisabeth Camp, Professor, Rutgers University
  64. Matthew McGrath, Professor, Rutgers University
  65. Jennifer Lackey, Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor, Northwestern University
  66. Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
  67. Carrie Jenkins, Professor, Canada Research Chair, University of British Columbia
  68. Baron Reed, Professor, Northwestern University
  69. Rebecca Kukla, Professor and Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University
  70. Jennifer Nagel, Professor, University of Toronto
  71. Lynne Tirrell, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut-Storrs
  72. Dorit Bar-on, Professor, University of Connecticut-Storrs
  73. Keith Simmons, Professor, University of Connecticut-Storrs
  74. Sarah Moss, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  75. Eric Swanson, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  76. Mitzi Lee, Associate Professor, University of Colorado-Boulder
  77. Michael Nelson, Associate Professor, University of California-Riverside
  78. Stephen Yablo, David Skinner W. Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  79. Lawrence Blum, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts (Race, Education, and Moral Philosophy), University of Massachusetts-Boston
  80. Elliot Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor & William F. Vilas Research Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  81. Selim Berker, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civic Polity, Harvard University
  82. Jennifer McKitrick, Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  83. Asta, Professor, San Francisco State University
  84. Lori Gruen, William Griffin Professor, Wesleyan University
  85. Audrey Yap, Associate Professor, University of Victoria
  86. Samantha Brennan, Professor, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Guelph
  87. Karen Jones, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne
  88. Jeff Speaks, Professor, University of Notre Dame
  89. Katherine Jenkins, Assistant Professor, University of Nottingham
  90. Claire Horisk, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia
  91. Nicholas Southwood, Associate Professor; ARC Future Fellow; Director, Centre for Moral, Social and Political Theory; Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University
  92. Justin Weinberg, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina
  93. Daniel Star, Associate Professor, Boston University
  94. Sarah Sawyer, Professor, University of Sussex
  95. Anita Superson, Professor, University of Kentucky
  96. Brookes Brown, Assistant Professor, Clemson University
  97. Carolyn Dicey Jennings, Associate Professor, University of California, Merced
  98. Ram Neta, Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  99. Clayton Littlejohn, Professor, King’s College London
  100. Daniel Groll, Associate Professor, Chair, Carleton College
  101. Rosa Terlazzo, Associate Professor, University of Rochester
  102. Travis Timmerman, Assistant Professor, Seton Hall University
  103. Angela Mendelovici, Associate Professor, Western University
  104. Serene Khader, Professor, CUNY
  105. Aidan McGlynn, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh
  106. RJ Leland, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba
  107. L. Syd Johnson, Associate Professor, SUNY Upstate Medical University
  108. Rima Basu, Assistant Professor, Claremont McKenna College
  109. Daniel Greco, Assistant Professor, Yale University
  110. Simon Evnine, Professor, University of Miami
  111. Frances Egan, Professor, Rutgers University
  112. Eddy Nahmias, Professor and Chair, Georgia State University
  113. Adam R. Thompson, Instructor, University of Nebraska
  114. Julie R. Klein, Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies in Philosophy, Villanova University
  115. Erich Hatala Matthes, Associate Professor, Wellesley College
  116. Alice Pinheiro Walla, W1 Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Bayreuth, Germany
  117. Cheyney Ryan, Senior Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
  118. Martin Lenz, Professor, University of Groningen
  119. Julia Nefsky, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
  120. Elizabeth Scarbrough, Lecturer, Florida International University
  121. Benjamin Yost, Associate Professor, Providence College
  122. Mark Alfano, TU-Delft & Australian Catholic University
  123. Christina Hendricks, Professor of Teaching, University of British Columbia
  124. Naomi Scheman, Professor emerita, University of Minnesota
  125. Hayley Clatterbuck, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  126. David Estlund, Lombardo Family Professor of Humanities and Philosophy, Brown University
  127. Diana Wilson, Professor Emerita, Department of English, University of Denver
  128. David Faraci, Assistant Professor, Durham University
  129. Caroline T. Arruda, Associate Professor, The University of Texas at El Paso
  130. Gunnar Björnsson, Professor, Stockholm University
  131. Stephen Finlay, Director, Dianoia Institute of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University and Professor, University of Southern California
  132. Steven Swartzer, Teaching Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  133. Heidi Howkins Lockwood, Professor, Southern CT State University
  134. Ben Mitchell-Yellin, Assistant Professor, Sam Houston State University
  135. Kian Mintz-Woo, Lecturer, Princeton University
  136. Mark Walker, Professor and Richard L. Hedden Chair of Advanced Philosophical Studies, New Mexico State University
  137. Preston J. Werner, Lecturer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  138. Amelia Hicks, Assistant Professor, Kansas State University
  139. Dominic Mciver Lopes FRSC, Professor, University of British Columbia
  140. Joseph Van Weelden, Assistant Professor, Ahmedabad University
  141. Esa Diaz-Leon, Associate Professor, University of Barcelona


[1]It is important to determine if you are a mandatory reporter of sexual harassment or sexual assault under Title IX and/or the Clery Act. Many who are do not realize this fact. If you are: 1) Find out what office you must report complaints to and get training from that office, 2) Let those who may confide in you know that you are a mandatory reporter, 3) Assure complainants that this does not bind them to any action; they will be asked whether they want to pursue a complaint by the relevant office.

[2]Just focusing on health effects, these range from short-term inability to concentrate to long-term insomnia, depression, anxiety, and ptsd. These, or the threat of retaliation, may necessitate university, subfield, or career changes.

For further information, see the first post in this series.

[3]To underscore: We are opposed to the creation of or reliance on anonymously crowd-sourced, public accusations.

[4]While there are challenges to obtaining reliable data, research suggests the level of false reporting of sexual assault is between 2% and 10%. “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” by David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote in Violence Against Women16(12) 1318–1334. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since records began in 1989, in the US there are only 52 cases where men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated because it turned out they were falsely accused. By way of comparison, in the same period, there are 790 cases in which people were exonerated for murder.


55 Replies to “Second of a Two-Part Series on Sexual Harassment in Philosophy

  1. For the first footnote, it’s important to note that universities often have the discretion to pursue a report even if the reporter does not want the report pursued.

  2. Thank you for writing this!

    Please add:
    Rima Basu
    Assistant Professor
    Claremont McKenna College

  3. Thanks for this. I’d like to be added, please: RJ Leland, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba.

  4. thanks for this! i’d like to be added–i don’t have any real say in what the departments i teach for do, but i do have quite a bit of say when it comes to the ethics center at the college of law:

    adam r. thompson,
    instructor, philosophy
    university of nebraska; southeast community college
    asst. director, kutak center for the teaching & study of applied ethics, college of law
    university of nebraska
    (please feel free to leave out whatever information you’d like : ))

  5. Julie R. Klein
    Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies in Philosophy
    Villanova University

  6. Hayley Clatterbuck
    Assistant Professor
    University of Rochester/ University of Wisconsin-Madison

  7. Thank you for this initiative.
    Perhaps you could add the suggestion that if one is invited to contribute to an anthology, one should decline if one has sufficient evidence that one of the editors is a bad actor.

  8. Christina Hendricks
    Professor of Teaching
    University of British Columbia, Vancouver

  9. Thank you for your work on this, Jan and Dave.

    I am curious about the rejection of crowd-sourced, public accusations in fn. 3. Would you be open to saying more about that in the comments here? Either way, I’d like to add my name in support.

    David Faraci
    Assistant Professor
    Durham University

  10. Stephen Finlay
    Director, Dianoia Institute of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University
    Professor, University of Southern California

  11. Mark Walker
    Professor and Richard L. Hedden Chair of Advanced Philosophical Studies
    New Mexico State University

  12. Steven Swartzer
    Teaching Assistant Professor
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  13. Thanks for your work, Dave and Jan. Please add me:

    Preston J. Werner
    Hebrew University of Jerusalem

  14. I would like to sign as well. Thanks.

    Holly Andersen, Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University

Comments are closed.