CU Department of Philosophy
Best Practices for Faculty and Students
5/14/2014

 

The Philosophy Department has formulated Best Practices for faculty and student conduct that we believe will promote the highest levels of professionalism in our department. Many of these are suited to practices, norms, and expectations in our profession; others are specific to the culture and history of our department. The department is strongly committed to the highest professional and ethical standards, and is taking steps to improve the culture of the department and its climate. We are determined to make this a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place for all men and women, including members of underrepresented groups, to work, teach and study.

 

We begin by emphasizing that we adhere to, and strongly endorse, the University policies concerning

  1. discrimination and harassment;
  2. sexual harassment;
  3. amorous relationships; and
  4. alcohol.

In addition, we adhere to, and strongly endorse, the Professional Rights and Duties of Faculty Members and Roles and Professional Responsibilities of Department Chairs, endorsed by the Boulder Faculty Assembly and the Provost. Here is a document that outlines the professional duties and expectations of faculty members, duties that complement the rights of faculty members and make those rights possible.

 

Class Discussion Concerns and Guidelines

Motivation and Goals: We think it is extremely important to make sure that our community is welcoming to and supportive of women and underrepresented minorities. We ultimately hope to play a positive role in making the discipline of philosophy inclusive and welcoming to all who wish to pursue it, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, age, etc. We note that this is in line with the Flagship 2030 commitment to "develop, implement and assess university strategies to improve the diversity of faculty, students and staff as well as to foster a supportive, more inclusive community for all" (pg. 42), to "…ensure that all students, faculty, and staff feel included and welcome; and [to determine] what steps we can take to enhance the overall CU-Boulder campus climate".

Best Practices:

  1. Teaching members of the department should attempt to take a balanced approach when determining which readings to include in their syllabi. Articles and books by women and other underrepresented groups are often overlooked; we should strive to include such works whenever they are consistent with the pedagogical goals of the course.
  2. We should also ensure that our classroom examples are respectful and gender- and minority-inclusive.
  3. We should attempt to gender balance class discussions, and more generally to encourage classroom participation from all students during discussions.
  4. We should take special steps to assist female students and students from underrepresented groups in expressing themselves in class, by, for example, intervening when such students are interrupted or spoken over while attempting to contribute. Such students are often faced with additional difficulties in this respect. And, more generally, we ought to be careful not to talk over others, ignore each other's points, or appropriate the ideas of others without acknowledgment.
  5. We should pay special attention to the philosophical promise of female students and students from other underrepresented groups and encourage these students to pursue and achieve their philosophical and professional goals, since the promise of such students is often overlooked.
  6. All teaching members of the department should familiarize themselves with the results of studies concerning implicit bias, stereotype threat, as well as best practices for counteracting these problems in the classroom.

 

Respectful and Professional Discourse

Motivation and Goal: All members of the department, both faculty and students, wish to work in an environment where their work is taken seriously by others, where their work is given proper respect, and where discourse is civil, respectful and professional.

Not only is this something that all faculty and students want to see in our department, it is also written into the BFA Professional Rights and Duties of Faculty Members:

"Collegiality, expected of each faculty member, includes civility, mutual respect, common courtesies, personal accountability, and willing contributions to the effective functioning of the academic unit. Among other essential professional obligations and expectations are that the faculty member respects and defends the free inquiry of associates; shows due respect for the opinions of others in the exchange of criticism and ideas; acknowledges academic debt and strives to be objective in professional judgment of colleagues and staff members; does not discriminate against or harass colleagues or staff members; respects the privacy of colleagues and staff members…."

Best Practices:

  1. Faculty should use professional discourse toward each other and to students, and demonstrate a high level of respect toward each other—not just politeness but respect and appreciation.
  2. Students and faculty should be open-minded and cultivate a wide interest in philosophical work, investigate and not disparage areas of philosophy or other disciplines with which they are not familiar. We encourage people to be respectful of those working mainly in other areas of philosophy. Constructive criticism is an important source of progress in philosophy, but it is generally better to focus criticisms on particular arguments and theories rather than whole areas of the discipline, which typically contain a wide variety of work. And we should always avoid raising criticisms that could be construed as an invidious personal attack by any reasonable person—especially in public contexts.

 

Email Concerns and Guidelines

Motivation and Goals: Our goal is to cultivate an environment in which all interactions between members of the department—whether personal or professional, whether face to face or by electronic media—are conducted with the utmost civility and professionalism. Email communication is now a necessity for every organization and group, but it has serious limitations that can breed misunderstanding and conflict. Furthermore, we believe that nothing can substitute for positive face-to-face interactions among colleagues and students.

Best Practices:

  1. We should attempt to avoid sending mass emails or emails to listservs on tendentious matters of department policy, personal opinion, or other concerns that are best discussed in person.
  2. Use 'News and Announcements' whenever possible, to announce talks, events, and to make announcements, including news worthy of congratulations. Use the appropriate listserv for your emails (including phil-discuss and phil-soc).
  3. In general, avoid using the "reply all" function when responding to emails. Consider sending mass emails with recipients "Blind Carbon Copied" (BCC), which does not allow recipients to "reply all" to the entire list.

 

Social Media Concerns and Guidelines

Motivation and Goals: We recognize the special benefits of using social media. It can provide an important means for getting to know people outside the classroom, building relationships and networks, and sharing ideas. But it can also lead to messages meant only for close friends, or written in haste, being shared with a much broader audience, including the rest of the department, field, and community. Such comments can easily be taken out of context, causing hurt and damage to reputations. So, we encourage students and faculty who enjoy the benefits of social media to also be aware of these risks and work to maintain good relations within the department and between the department and the broader community.

In particular, students and faculty should be aware of the following pitfalls of using social media indiscriminately in academic settings. First, faculty who 'friend' students run the risk of sending the message that pursuing close personal relationships with them is required for a graduate student's long-term success in the program and in the profession. That can be highly problematic for female graduate students in a department where the faculty members are predominantly male. Second, this behavior may pressure graduate students into sharing personal information that the students wouldn't normally be comfortable sharing with faculty members. Third, they run the risk of drawing in-group/out-group lines that are corrosive to the morale of students, and allowing for an appearance of favoritism. All of these problems can be avoided by a careful and thoughtful use of the media.

Best Practices:

  1. Faculty members should consider making a policy of not adding current graduate students in the program to their social network groups.
  2. However, social media can be a useful way of developing professional relationships with students, as long as the following guidelines are followed:
    1. Everyone should make informed and ample use of privacy settings to block posts that share information best left out of a professional setting. Be very careful to respect students' FERPA/privacy rights.
    2. Such social-media relationships should be avoided until after the student has settled upon a dissertation committee and passed his or her prospectus.
    3. Faculty and graduate students (who are or may in the future become GPTIs or instructors in the department) should never form social media relationships with undergraduates.

 

Social Events Scheduling Concerns and Guidelines

Motivation and Goals: Department social events are important to the way we do philosophy, which is often done in conversation and discussion, inside and outside of the classroom. However, it is of the utmost importance to maintain professional standards of behavior in our social interactions, especially when such social interactions are taking place between faculty and students. We also believe in the need to run our social events in a way that is fully hospitable to all departmental members. We ultimately hope that all departmental members will feel completely comfortable attending our social events, and that no member will ever be alienated from an event for fear of harassment or incivility, or will feel forced to attend an event against his or her better judgment.

Best Practices:

  1. We should attempt to schedule events so that departmental members, who have a variety of obligations, can participate, including working parents. In practice, this will mean scheduling events at various times during the day, some within regular business hours, some in the early evening.
  2. We should attempt to hold events on campus or in public locations, whenever possible.
  3. Faculty should make a concerted effort to attend a range of departmental events, when such events do not conflict with their schedules.

 

Undergraduate Event Concerns and Guidelines

Motivations and Goals: We have a large and thriving undergraduate major and minor program, and wish to make the department a welcoming place for them. We can overcome the relative impersonality of a huge university like CU by providing students with constructive undergraduate experiences and opportunities to interact with faculty. We do this by hosting events that allow faculty and students to talk about philosophy and continue conversations outside of the classroom, as well as working to include the students in the research community on campus.

The department strongly encourages faculty involvement with students for their direct educational benefit. This includes independent studies, UROP projects, senior honors theses, McNair Program theses, and similar academic opportunities. When conducted in accord with the general principles below, these activities are central to the learning opportunities offered by a research university. Similarly, undergraduate presence is encouraged at all conferences, colloquia, talks, and other academic events. Best practices include faculty regularly announcing in their classes that these opportunities exist, and encouraging students to take advantage of them.

Best Practices for Events involving Undergraduates:

  1. We should attempt to schedule events so that students and departmental members, who have a variety of obligations, can participate, including working parents and students with jobs. In practice, this will mean scheduling events at various times during the day, some within regular business hours, some in the early evening.
  2. We should attempt to hold events on campus or in public locations, whenever possible, since this is the most convenient option for most students.
  3. Graduate students should not invite undergraduates to parties in private homes, nor to parties where alcohol is being served. Graduate students may mentor undergraduate students, but the relationship should remain strictly professional, as with any teaching relationship.
  4. Overnight trips and retreats with students should have a strong educational justification; 9–5 weekend-day retreats can be suggested as an alternative choice.

 

Alcohol Concerns and Guidelines

Motivations and Goals: Alcohol has historically had a strong presence in professional philosophy, and in many ways still does. But having alcohol at department functions (involving faculty and graduate students who are of age) carries risks. First, the presence of alcohol at departmental functions can have an alienating effect on those who don't wish to drink or those who wish to avoid colleagues and mentors who are under the influence because of concerns over unwanted sexual attention or harassment. Second, such individuals may feel forced, nonetheless, to attend such events because of the importance of such events to educational and professional development. Third, alcohol loosens inhibitions, and thus may play a role in creating conditions in which unprofessional behavior, unwanted sexual attention, or outright sexual harassment is more likely to happen. We take such risks seriously. We hope for an environment where faculty-student relations are professional, but at the same time warm and friendly. We hope that no student will ever feel excluded from an event due to the presence of alcohol or feel forced to attend an event against his or her better judgment. We wish to foster strong professional relationships by providing everyone with a safe and secure environment.

Best Practice:
The department should schedule regular alcohol-free social events, such as afternoon tea, post-colloquium receptions, and an end of the year party.

 

Office Hours

Motivations and Goals: Holding office hours is a necessary and expected part of the faculty member's or instructor's responsibilities and duties toward his or her students. In general, the office hours need to be accessible to all students, at times convenient to most students. This means that the office hours need to be on campus, and during business hours. Office hours also need to be 'safe spaces' for students to interact with their teachers.

Best Practices:

  1. Hellems' hallways are crowded and noisy; it is sometimes difficult to have a conversation in a faculty office with the door open. However, students are sometimes uncomfortable being in a closed office—especially women students with their male teachers—and likewise, instructors, both male and female, sometimes feel uncomfortable about meeting with individual students behind closed doors. The best policy is to keep the door open, or to ask the student whether they prefer to have the door of the room open or not and to respect those preferences.
  2. Graduate students without private offices sometimes find it more convenient and pleasant to hold office hours somewhere else besides the collective office in Hellems 15. Office hours should be held between 9am–5pm, and should be held in a public location, preferably on campus (e.g., the Laughing Goat in Norlin Library or Pekoe Sip House in the ATLAS building). They should not be held anywhere where alcohol is served.

 

Amorous Relationships

Motivation and Goals: Amorous relations between teachers and students creates potential conflicts of interest, harms students, and corrodes the trust students have that an academic program is fair and professional.

Best Practices:
As stated earlier, the department adheres to, and strongly endorses, the campus Amorous Relationships policy. However, we also endorse the following stricter recommendation:

  1. No faculty member should proposition, date, or become romantically involved with students in philosophy, whether graduate or undergraduate.
  2. No graduate student, either currently employed as a GPTI or TA, or expecting to be so employed, should proposition, date, or become romantically involved with undergraduate students in philosophy classes.
  3. Although relationships sometimes develop between consenting adults, where one is potentially or actually in a supervisory role over the other, departmental members in a supervisory role should never seek out situations in order to foster such relationships. If such relationships develop, they must be reported to the chair, and any supervisory role must immediately be terminated (in accordance with the Amorous Relationships policy).

 

Mutual Support

Best practices are not simply the responsibility of each of us individually. All members of the department must be willing to hold their colleagues accountable in public (student-to-student, professor-to-professor, etc.) for failing to pursue best practices, and to support in public those who are on the receiving end of bad behaviors. Likewise, all members of the department should recognize, encourage and reward those colleagues who are models of best practice behaviors. Best practices are the product of a culture and community of practice, sustained by the good will and forceful ethical judgment of all. They are not equivalent to conflict avoidance, empty civility, or "harmony" sustained by mere silence and tolerance of misbehavior. Best practices may require members of a community to confront each other, in ways that can be unpleasant for both the person confronted and also the person(s) doing the confrontation. They require community support for those who confront when this is called for, and most generally they require courageous communities deeply committed to the educational mission of the University.