Censorship

Well, I’ll never work in academia again after those last two posts.
I suppose if my migraines ever get under control I can always go back to industry. Pharma is always desperate for experienced medical writers and they pay better than academia anyway. Plus the hours are better. Let’s just hope pharma doesn’t give a crap about my blog.
Which brings me to the topic of this post. Why do you think that I am able to rant so freely, express the truth so bluntly, expose morons to the blinding light of revelation with impunity, all under my real name? It’s because I have no job. And I’m not talking about how having no job gives me extra hours in the day to blog. I’m talking about something else that having no job gives me. It gives me no fear. I do not fear retribution. And I do not fear being censored.
Take a look at a recent example of someone who was censored for talking about gender and science.


Dr. Free-Ride wanted us to read one of Rob Knop’s posts:

…read Rob Knop’s account of his attempt to get his department to seriously examine the climate it creates for its female students, and his reflections on the reactions this elicited. This is a hard issue to handle — changing a culture always is — but it’s nice to know that people like Rob think that poking that hornets’ nest is important enough to risk being stung.

But if you follow the link, here’s what you will find:

This post has been removed as per the instruction of my department chair.
(I wouldn’t interpret this as an attempt to suppress public information about our department. The point was, what I was primarily discussiong was a discussion from a faculty meeting, which was supposed to be confidential. Even though I didn’t use any names, and except for a few cases was speaking generally about what was going on, I suppose it was technically a no-no. I am not sure I agree with the reasoning, given all other considerations, but there you have it.)

Please note: Rob is not calling this censorship. Zuska is calling this censorship. Did you hear that, Rob’s department chair? Zuska, not Rob.
Since when have discussions in faculty meetings been off-limits (with the exception of hiring, promotion, and tenure discussions)? Many departments record faculty meeting minutes and send them round to all the faculty. They could be shared with anyone. I don’t think there is a serious expectation of privacy in these discussions.
One might argue that Rob perhaps didn’t act in his own best self-interest by posting whatever he did (we’ll never know now, will we?) to his blog, but that’s his right. Dare I even say that’s his First Amendment Right?
But Zuska is pissed as hell that Mr. Department Chair was so much more concerned with controlling the (false) image of the department than with addressing the (real) concerns about the department’s climate for young women students. Yes, by all means, let’s keep a pretty picture for the outside world. Even if it takes censorship to do it. Yeah, I’d send my niece to Vanderbilt physics and astronomy. NOT.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy:People page at Vanderbilt lists Robert Scherrer as the department chair. That’s robert DOT scherrer AT vanderbilt DOT edu.
Look at the blogroll to the left. I have lots of links to nice blogs all written by actual women scientists. They write eloquently, poignantly on gender and science issues. Do they write under their real names? They do not. Why do you suppose this is? Rob’s example might be one good reason. Another is that it is just too frickin’ dangerous for women to admit to concern for gender issues. It compromises their integrity as scientists. “Oh, you’re not one of them, are you?” “Them” being hairy-legged, man-hating, castrating feminist bitches who are NOT good at science.
When I first arrived at K-State, the Women in Engineering and Science Program was housed in a small faculty office in the same building as the TRIGA nuclear reactor on campus. Since one of my degrees is in nuclear engineering, I felt right at home. I had a nameplate on my desk, given to me by a friend, that said “S. Franks – Woman of Steel”. One faculty member used to walk by my door every day and make some sort of jibing comment. One day it was about the nameplate – what kind of steel was it, he wanted to know, was it this or that type of steel? I said, “The toughest kind – it’ll withstand radiation damage in a nuclear reactor.” He looked shocked, and walked away. Ohmigod! The girl said something in techspeak! A week or so later the dean introduced me at a convocation for the college of engineering, and rattled off my list of degrees. A few days later the same faculty member came by my door and said, “So you have a degree in nuclear engineering.” “Yes.” “From MIT!” “Yes.” “So you can do the hard stuff! Why do you want to mess around with all this soft stuff?” I attempted some brief explanation of why working on gender issues and engineering was just as important as working in engineering itself, but he just couldn’t understand. I had an honorary penis. Why would anyone choose to care about the soft stuff if she were sufficiently hard?
Perhaps I should give Rollins President Lewis Duncan a call and tell him: if you want to see some pragmatic decision-making about gender and science, go read Young Female Scientist. Or Naked Under My Labcoat. Or Female Science Professor. Or Rants of a Feminist Engineer. Or any of the blogs on the blogroll. Then we can chat about pragmatism. And morals. And just who is really making the hard choices about science and gender in academia.

  1. October 25, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    Since when have discussions in faculty meetings been off-limits (with the exception of hiring, promotion, and tenure discussions)?
    The topic of this meeting was indeed one of those things in parentheses. You did notice from my original post that I made no reference to that discussion, and I assiduously avoided making reference to that specifically because those things are supposed to be off limits. And, indeed, when the chair asked me to take the post down, I pointed this out to the chair. However, strictly speaking, it was a meeting convened around one of those topics, so perhaps it wasn’t appropriate for me to post (even in general, no-name terms) things said at the meeting.

  2. October 25, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    I am glad I clicked on the link yesterday and got to read the post before it was taken down.

  3. Greg
    October 26, 2006 at 12:41 am

    It certainly “wasn’t appropriate” to discuss reportable topics at a meeting convened around a confidential topic.
    You spend half your life fighting for openness and accountability. You agree, rightly (maybe), that a few issues are private. Immediately, the issues that ‘they’ don’t want to be accountable, the very issues which you fought to make accountable, they drag into unofficial, unreported discussions in private meetings.

  4. Anonymous
    October 26, 2006 at 12:49 am

    You didn’t hear it from me, but :
    http://physwomen.livejournal.com/
    seems to have archived the deleted post.

  5. October 26, 2006 at 1:04 am

    It certainly “wasn’t appropriate” to discuss reportable topics at a meeting convened around a confidential topic.
    My fault… I was the one who brought it up, because I thought it relevant to the matter at hand.
    Probably what I should have done was brought it up at a completely different meeting, as a standalone topic. That takes even more courage, though, to bring it up “cold.” When there is a nucleation point for the discussion, it seems easier to do. Unsurprisingly, the very topic of the climate for women is something that faculty meetings in general do not address. When they do, it’s probably usually in the form of some outside visitor giving a presentation about sensitivity or some such. It would probably be good if more faculty meetings had “hey, guys, we, here, us, sitting here, are doing this” kinds of discussions.
    Oh well.
    -Rob

  6. SuzyQueue
    October 26, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Bringing up to a clueless department/group that there is a problem, a very real problem, when they don’t see it is always difficult.
    I have very strong memories from when I was in graduate school and one of the complainers/instigators about ‘the problem.’ One of the chief faculty accusing us of causing trouble was female. She simply did not see that there was a problem and she was part of it. Saying things in class like ‘you women can still pass my class, you just need to start working with the guys on the homework.’ Oh Please! Like I could ‘study’ better while fending off sexual advances from someone identified by the instructor as better/smarter than I am when most of us knew he cheated, sometimes blatantly. It took a suicide to bring a spotlight on ‘concerns’ within the department.
    I remember a series of meetings after the suicide where we (several of the women graduate students and a few others) aired our concerns to steely eyed faculty who didn’t hear us and kept interrupting with comments of ‘that’s not true.’ I have no real idea what the department decided to do after that. Did the atmosphere change? Not that I could tell. You can get insulted, ignored, and jeered at only so much before you decide it isn’t worth it. You are not chosen to join a research team because the faculty leader doesn’t even see you exist. You can have strange reference letters written by faculty who think they are being helpful by noting that you are a worthy and competent female. That’s just above incompetent isn’t it? Every one of these faculty thought they were being supportive of women without understanding what supportive was. For more than a year, my lunch was a dozen saltine crackers and a small bottle of mylanta. No one asked why such a strange combination. It became a joke to everyone but me. AFter being told that it was all in my head and I needed counseling, I blew up. As far as I was concerned I wasn’t the one with the problem, it was the rest of the world – too bad they couldn’t see it. By that time I barely slept due to the threats/high jinx of the male graduate students who would come by my home or call with harrassing messages. I filed police reports with no real results. I kept a pocket tape recorder on me at all times. I kept quiet. I finally left and felt defeated. The only bright area I can see is I moved to engineering where I get paid better than most of the faculty from there.
    Only one of the ‘complainers’ stayed on. I kept in touch and listened to the uphill battle she kept facing. She still is facing one from what I hear. It seems to never end.
    At least I chose to change fields instead of my friend who could see no way out. He chose to end his life. I miss his presence.

  7. Greg
    October 27, 2006 at 12:02 am

    My fault… I was the one who brought it up
    Oh, oh. Elementary tactical blunder. Definitely not a manipulative political hack.

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