What Can Deans Do?

Samantha Brennan is the Dean of the College of Arts at the University of Guelph. Hence, she is one of the most influential and powerful members of that university community. Brennan is also one of the most influential and powerful members of the philosophical community in Canada and, I would argue, the most influential and powerful woman/feminist philosopher in Canada. In a philosophical community as relatively small as Canada’s, that is significant.

As a disabled philosopher who passed as nondisabled for many years and uses assistive technology that disabled activists/academics fought to have incorporated into the university and other workplaces, Brennan has benefited from the efforts of disabled philosophers and other disabled academics (as have Carrie Jenkins, Jennifer Saul, and others). Thus I maintain that it is incumbent upon Brennan (and the others) to do more than she (they) has done thus far to improve the dire situation of disabled philosophers in Canada.

I recently posted about Nathan Moore’s campaign on Twitter to draw attention to the exclusion of disabled philosophers from full-time employment in Canadian philosophy departments. Yesterday Moore continued their campaign, pointing out that no one–neither faculty nor students–in the Philosophy Department or Rotman Institute at Western University, where they did their Ph.D., has reached out to them to offer support or advice.

Before Brennan was Dean at Guelph, she worked for many years in the Philosophy Department at Western, serving much of the time as chair of the department. She continues to be affiliated with the Rotman Institute in the department. The Philosophy Department and Rotman Institute at Western revolve around philosophy of science and bioethics and therefore promote a deeply medicalized and individualized understanding of disability; that is, Western’s philosophers cultivate bioethics and a medicalized and individualized conception of disability that Brennan helped foster in the Western department during her time as its chair and which she (perhaps inadvertently) continues to foster in the Canadian philosophical community and philosophy at large.

Can Brennan be accountable to me and other disabled philosophers who have been repeatedly rejected by Western’s philosophy department that has, it should be mentioned, been ranked as one of the ten worst departments in Euroamerican philosophy with respect to diversity? Will Brennan address the culture of eugenics in Canadian philosophy to which the Department of Philosophy at Western and the Rotman Institute contribute?

Indeed, I would like Brennan to acknowledge that the Philosophy Department at Guelph did not hire any of the un(der)employed disabled philosophers of disability that applied to the job that it posted in the last round (which stipulated an AOC of work on disability), thus denying them an income and benefits that the department could have given them this year, because it wanted to hold open the job for someone who will not take it up until next year. That practice, it must be said, is a product and effect of the corporatization of the university and therefore facilitates the inculcation of a competitive sensibility between philosophy departments and philosophers themselves, including amongst feminist philosophers.

Brennan, Jenkins, Saul, and other privileged disabled (feminist) philosophers in so-called Canada must begin to seriously reflect on the ways in which they can improve the career opportunities of disabled philosophers in Canada and, I would argue, the circumstances of the disabled community in so-called Canada more broadly. They have learned from us, have adopted narratives that we developed, have embraced linguistic practices and identities that we initiated, and have unquestionably prospered because of us. The time has long since passed for them to acknowledge their indebtedness to us and to substantiate it by advocating for us in their department meetings, on search committees, on social media, in the mainstream press, and in other forums.

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