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01/21/2021

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Grad Student

I'm currently a grad student and our cohort has filed several grievances against some faculty who are interfering with us doing our job. Our old chair responded well and spoke to the faculty, which saw some improvement. However, when the new chair took over, they were very defensive of the faculty and the faculty slid back into old habits. All this to say, it really depends on the leadership as to whether the the complaint will be received well and acted upon. So, try to get a feel for the chair and see if the problem will be taken seriously. Otherwise it's like talking to a brick wall.

anon

Your university may have an "ombudsperson" who is supposed to give advice on complaints and maintain confidentiality.

If your grievance is work-related and you are unionized, you could talk to someone that works for your union.

Grief

anon
Be very careful about "ombudspersons". I worked at a state college, and the person in HR who worked like an ombudsperson was ultimately on the side of the administration. So when someone had to be fired, for example, she quickly turned against the person with the grievance. Find out how independent the person is to whom you are raising the grievance.

Assistant Professor

Like anon, I would hope that at some level of your institution there is a formal process for grievances (in my grad program the department had an identified ombudsperson, but there were also channels at the college and university levels depending on the nature of the grievance). This would be a great time to find out what such resources exist at your institution.

Depending on the nature of the grievance, your institution's Title IX office, or an office devoted to equal opportunity and accessibility might be resources. If your grievance does not fall under these rubrics, and if you have a trusted mentor in the department you could take it to them for advice, but if you are worried about retaliation or non-action on their part (both reasonable worries), you might go directly to your graduate school for their advice (you could call the graduate school office and ask how you should proceed).

As for framing: reporting factually, being able to identify specific events/incidents/behaviors, and precisely naming the observed repercussions of these events/incidents/behaviors would be my generic advice not knowing the details of the situation. If there is a specific ask related to the grievance (for example: I would like my service reassigned because I feel unsafe continuing to TA for this faculty person) note it, but I would think these requests should be limited to what the impacted individual needs to feel safe, not broader recommendations (like I want so-and-so fired for this behavior, etc. It might end up happening, but that seems outside the scope of the initial report of a grievance).

Good luck, and I am sorry you are in a situation requiring a grievance report.

Fav

One thing that can help is getting in touch with multiple people at the same time, making sure everyone knows it is a collective message. E.g. message the department chair, the grad director, an equity committee member (if one exists), an ombudsman (ditto), a union rep, as a group, then ask to follow up with each of them individually, then perhaps collectively after that. You might find that each person is less likely to do nothing. That was my experience at least. But I imagine in some situations this approach could backfire and create a bystander effect.

I'd also say that, again just in my experience, it was less about faculty wanting to protect another faculty member, and more that faculty turn out to be pretty conflict adverse (at least about some things!). In effect that ends up shielding the faculty member, so it might be a distinction without a difference.

Prof L

Some people might not like this advice, but I would think carefully about doing anything or approaching anyone. I filed a grievance in graduate school, and in the end, I wished I hadn't. It was more grief than it was worth, and it made no difference to anything. Prof may have gotten a slap on the wrist, I'm not sure. Once the complaint is officially reported, it's really out of your hands and takes on a life of its own. Now from the faculty side, I understand the resistance to things like this. You can't change people, there's no magic wand to wave to make them better. You may be able to implement reasonable restrictions, but those tend to be pretty minimal and ineffective. Of course, this depends on the kind and severity of the behavior—some things can get a person fired. I haven't thought much about this, but if a student came to me with a complaint, I might caution them against coming forward with it—not because I give a rat's ass about the other professor, but because I strongly believe it would all make very little difference, and would be stressful for the student.

If the question is more practical, I would recommend going to a faculty member you trust to be in your corner. They can guide you to the appropriate people at your university. I would not blast out an email to everyone.

anon

I think there are some grievances that university employees are mandated to report allegations of, regardless of whether the person bringing the grievance wants it reported. As such, consulting a faculty member about merely *whether* to proceed could legally obligate them to proceed even if you don't want them to. Whether a faculty member would actually do that, I don't know. I would recommend reaching out to a graduate student union representative--even if it's a union at another school--and asking their advice. If they don't return your email, reach out to other ones until one does.

female TT prof

I don't normally comment on philosophy blogs--and I'm slightly miffed that this kind of question comes up so rarely, given how frequently graduate students are mistreated--but I'm commenting because none of the other commenters openly identify as a victim of harassment.

I had a severe issue with a faculty member as a PhD student. It involved a range of misconduct, including sexual harassment, over a long period of time. The University became involved. In my capacity as a mentor, I have also informally walked multiple other students through various harassment-related issues involving faculty.

I should say upfront that my story had a "happy ending," in the sense that I landed an amazing permanent job post-PhD. That said, if I knew ahead of time what graduate school would be like, I would never have entered the field. Because of that professor, my time in graduate school was unrelentingly miserable.

First bit of advice: there are complaints, and then there are complaints. Filing a complaint that Professor Smith doesn't return his student's papers on time is very different from filing a complaint that Professor Jones is, say, a serial sexual harasser. And any time the complaint alleges conduct that violates civil or criminal law-and note that sexual harassment often violates civil educational law-things will get complicated very quickly.

Second bit of advice: Unless the complaint is trivial, Go. Above. Your. Department., as much as possible. Even well meaning philosophy faculty tend to lack the training and finesse required to appropriately handle a serious complaint. Which office you should approach depends on what kind of complaint you have.

Third bit of advice: Not everyone who publicly espouses progressive politics will be your ally in this. There's a lot of insincerity in this field. Be very judicious in picking your faculty allies.

Fourth bit of advice: When people counsel you on what to do, remember that you will be the one who has to live with yourself for the rest of your life. I disliked people who told me, "The best thing for your career would be to Phi," and then acted as if that settled the matter. The best thing for my career was not always the best thing for ME to do. You have to think about your own values, what you want our of your experience with graduate school, and so forth. I am not at all saying anyone has an obligation to report--far from it. I am simply stressing that graduate students are whole people with whole lives, and "what would be best for your career" is not, and should not be, the only relative metric when deliberating about what to do.

Fifth bit of advice, on talking to people: Read the book Radical Candor. Graduate students grovel too much when talking to faculty.

Not sure what else to say. Happy to answer more specific questions from anyone.

Prof L

Just to be clear—do not go to a faculty member if you are unsure whether you want to proceed. I just meant—*if you have already decided you want to file an official complaint* ask someone you trust to guide you through the process. If you haven’t decided, don’t talk to anyone, because it may trigger an investigation. I’ve found faculty to generally be really concerned, helpful, and to have my best interest in mind. None of them thought they were experts, they just let me know how to navigate things. But not all faculty are like that, so of course exercise caution.

BeenThere

A lot of good advice above already, here're a bit more & on the practical side:

Before you do anything:
1. Assume, no matter how much reason you have to think the contrary, that anything you share with anyone will be shared with everyone without your knowledge & consent. This probably won't happen to the fullest extent, of course, but it will happen to some degree. (And yes I know there're laws & regulations against this but it still happens.) Consider the worst outcome that would result from this and think about whether you can take it.
2. Have a good sense of what you want "out of it". This can be really hard to do since what you really want is probably "that thing to never have happened". Also, don't start conversations by putting down a list of demands but having a list in the back of your mind will help you when things get more complicated.

While you are talking to people:
3. Keep a timeline & document everything. You might not need it but if you do, this stuff can save your life. It doesn't have to be "official" documentation like printed out emails. (Also note that it's illegal to record conversations without everyone's consent so don't do that either.) If you had a conversation with someone in person, text a friend to recap the conversation and save the screenshots. You should let a handful of people know what you are doing. If you don't feel safe entrusting the entire thing with one person, you can spread the information around. If someone has agreed to do something in a meeting, send them an email afterwards to say "just want to confirm that you've agreed to do X" and save the email.

These are the most important & context-independent advice imo. Otherwise, who you want to talk to first largely depends on: how safe you feel generally; how much hope you have that the person can be made to change their mind; how much professionalism your department has, etc.

Lastly, to echo Prof L's experience above: you can talk to union rep, school councilor, dean, equity office, Title IX office, victim advocacy center, ombudsperson's office, etc. (<- and they will certainly be presented to you at different stages as magical bullets) but keep in mind that how good they are at doing what they do & following the laws differ *drastically* from one school to another. I've talked to about half of these parties for various reasons & know people who've dealt with the other half. It really is a coin toss whether they're there to help you, do nothing, or stab you.

BeenThere

Sorry, I meant to say that I echo [Grief]'s experience (not Prof L's).

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