November 11, 2007

Making a place for the other

Janet Kourany is one of my mentors here. She's married to Jim Sterba, another of my mentors. Today, both are tenured professors in the philosophy department -- Janet is an associate professor, and Jim is a full professor. Their daughter, Sonya, is also planning on pursuing a career in academia. Janet recently wrote a heart-breaking and infuriating open letter to Sonya that was published in the latest APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. In it, she describes -- to put it bluntly -- the incredibly shitty way she has been treated by various departments of philosophy in attempting to solve the two-body problem, and she warns Sonya not to make the same mistakes she did.

People who have interviewed professional women of my generation—people like the journalist Vivian Gornick—have set out poignantly what so many of these women experienced: how they started out full of ambition and promise, how so many of them became trapped in dead-end positions such as research associate positions in the sciences, and how they ended up believing that that was all they could be. Rather than transform a negative environment to meet their needs and deserts, they allowed the negative environment to transform them. Something of that happened to me. Indeed, my third, and probably my worst, mistake was that I allowed my adjunct status at Dad’s university at least to some extent to define me. True, I fought for and eventually got an office with the regular faculty, paid trips to give papers at conferences, the possibility of teaching graduate courses and, in fact, any courses I pleased, and many of the research supports available to the regular faculty, and true, I kept professionally active, but the demoralization took its toll.

You can read all of Janet's letter here.

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