Expressions of Solidarity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Yesterday, Justin Weinberg put a post on Daily Nous that comprises a public statement entitled “COVID-19: A Statement of Academic Solidarity” initiated by Seyla Benhabib, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Harold Varmus, Donna Haraway, and Nell Irvin Painter. The statement, which was the subject of an earlier article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, solicits signatures from faculty who pledge to refuse invitations to participate in events at institutions that do not treat nontenured faculty and graduate students equitably during this global pandemic.

Signed by prominent faculty from across academia, the statement is accompanied by a list of institutions subject to the boycott and a list of related campaigns and resources about equitable and fair treatment of untenured faculty, staff, and graduate students at this time.

A lively discussion has ensued on the Daily Nous post, a discussion to which I contributed the comment below:

The predicted disastrous effects of the pandemic on hiring and working conditions at universities and colleges will not be distributed uniformly, not even amongst nontenured faculty. Groups that are underrepresented in philosophy will remain underrepresented and indeed become more marginalized. The extant gaps between philosophers in privileged social groups and areas of specialization, on the one side, and philosophers in disprivileged social groups and areas of specialization, on the other, will almost certainly widen across various stations of employment.

Significant social movement usually requires an array of strategies that target different dimensions of a given state of affairs, including temporal dimensions. For my own part, I’d like to see tenured and tenure-track philosophy faculty more directly ramp up tactics designed to eliminate the inequalities that form the background conditions of this statement, conditions that receive mention in the statement, though no direct attention: ableism, prestige bias, racism, ageism, sexism, and so on. If philosopher X refuses to speak at prestigious engagements in the coming months and years, does this action nullify or neutralize their willingness to accept and even condone the way that their department reproduces prestige bias and (say) ageism in its tenure-track hiring ordinarily?

Both philosophy of disability and disabled philosophers of disability especially continue to be almost entirely excluded from philosophy. Marcus Arvan’s recent survey offering data about the types of jobs listed last year indicates a figure of 0.5 jobs posted in philosophy of disability. I think that this (terrible) figure is not quite correct insofar as it seems to take account of a job in the areas of bioethics and disability studies, the latter of which area, strictly speaking, does not necessarily cover the same field of specialization as philosophy of disability and the former of which area comprehensively medicalizes disability in ways that largely run counter to philosophy of disability. In other words, there were 0 jobs posted in philosophy of disability last year (In any case, the aforementioned job went to a nondisabled philosopher.) If anything, this pandemic has put into relief the crucial need for philosophers to expand critical philosophical examination of (the apparatus of) disability, as well as (the apparatuses of) race, age, and socioeconomic status.

Will there be positions in philosophy of disability advertised next year? Very unlikely. Alas, none of the tenured philosophers with whom I’ve recently spoken about hiring next year seemed to think that this perpetuation of an ableist status quo in philosophy (or indeed a more general, more white, more classist, etc. re-routing to an arguably backward trend in philosophy) is a primary concern at this time. I got the same impression, overall, from this statement, although I recognize that the sense which I derived from the document was likely not among the aims of its crafters or its signatories.

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