A Response to the APDA Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy Based on Job Placement and Student Experience

In numerous posts at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, I identify various factors that have, over a number of years, led to the current situation, racial homogeneity, overrepresentation of nondisabled white philosophers (cis women and men), hostility toward disabled philosophers, etc. in Canadian philosophy departments.

Several of the Canadian disabled graduate students that I have interviewed in the Dialogues on Disability series talked about the ableism, racism, and sexism that they have personally confronted or observed in their departments. If you search the series archives for interviews with Isaac Jiang (Western, McMaster), Emily R. Douglas (McGill), Nathan Moore (Western), and Alex Bryant (McMaster), you can read what they had to say about the dynamics in their departments with respect to disability and race, especially.

Furthermore, in my book, Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability, and in various articles, including an article that appeared in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly last year, I provide demographic and other information about the situation with respect to disability and race in Canadian philosophy departments and Canadian philosophy more generally.

The situation in Canada with regard to the lack of diversity and “climate” shares some similarities with the US context (and other geopolitical contexts) but is in many ways distinct from it. Indeed, I would argue that there are even national and cultural differences between how “climate” is defined and understood in the context of US philosophy and how it has been defined and understood by the philosophical community in Canada.

There are also distinct issues with respect to prestige bias that contribute to the systematic demoralization of Canadian graduate students that wouldn’t affect American graduate students or graduate students elsewhere. In previous posts about prestige bias in Canadian philosophy, I have argued that important geopolitical and national differences are obscured by cross-national generalizations of the kind that Helen De Cruz has produced in her analyses of prestige bias (for example, here).

I suspect, furthermore, that insofar as none of the APDA personnel seems to have done graduate work in Canada (am I wrong?), the analysis of the data for Canada will miss much of the contextually relevant information about the downsides of the Canadian graduate experience in the departments at issue that the data might have otherwise provided.

As in the past, I wonder about the limited and (I maintain) conceptually outdated attention given to disability in APDA’s inquiries and the subsequent information that it provides. Given that the presence or absence of disabled people are commonly construed within a narrowly defined conception of “accessibility,” ableism and the apparatus of disability are typically not considered or deemed relevant to questions about “climate,” which, by the way, in the Canadian philosophical context has historically been defined and applied (almost) exclusively to nondisabled cis white women and gender inequity.

Indeed, as I have repeatedly noted on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, the dominance of bioethics in Canadian philosophy contributes significantly to the hostile environment that disabled philosophy students confront. In other words, factors that contribute to the systemic exclusion of disabled philosophers from Canadian philosophy and the profession more generally may, unintentionally, not have been taken into account by the respondents in this study due to the questions posed. Were disability and ableism directly addressed in the study?

More than a decade ago, I was on the CPA Equity Committee. As a member of the committee, I repeatedly asked why the committee focused its efforts almost exclusively on gender equity (construed as equity for nondisabled white women). Before I was forced off the committee, the committee chair (a feminist bioethicist) stated that (1) there were no employed disabled philosophers in Canada so we didn’t need to consider them; and (2) that the reason I could not get a job in Canada had nothing to do with my work on disability but was due to my own personality. (There has never been a disabled philosopher of disability hired and employed fulltime by a Canadian philosophy department.)

I distinctly recall that at one point I said to the other members of the CPA Equity Committee that, given the shifting demographics of the student population in Canada and of the population of Canada more widely, if Canadian philosophy departments and the CPA didn’t begin to seriously address the exclusion of disabled philosophers and philosophers of colour (not mutually exclusive groups) from philosophy jobs in Canada, then 15, 20 years down the road the situation would be disastrous.

And now here we are. And now students in Canadian philosophy departments are engaged in an uprising because the demographics of faculty in Canadian philosophy with respect to disability haven’t changed at all and the demographics of Canadian philosophy faculty with respect to race have changed very little.

Power to the people.

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