Featured Philosopher: Carole Lee


Carole J. Lee works on the production and evaluation of knowledge, with a focus on peer review. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Michigan and is now an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Faculty at the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Another Way to “Leave” Philosophy

Carole J. Lee

Thank you, Meena, for hosting this blog and for inviting me to share what’s on my mind.

The mission of my research is to understand scientific practice with an eye towards improving it. In this vein, I’m studying potential racial disparities in grant funding under a contract with the National Institutes of Health. I’m waist deep in a project studying the gender composition of co-authorships across disciplines and sub-disciplines represented in the JSTOR corpus. And, I’m serving as a Coordinating Committee Member for the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines, which aims to improve the reproducibility of research. All of these projects are incredibly stimulating. By collaborating with people from different disciplines (e.g., statistics, information science, sociology, ecology), I’m constantly learning about new concepts and methods. By working with data, I get to draw generalizations about some corner of the actual world. And, by working with organizations, I’m coming to understand the machinations of how policy changes can and cannot take root.

But, in light of recent events, I’ve been asking myself what more I can and should do in my work. One possibility I hadn’t considered took me by surprise a couple of weeks ago.

Last summer, I was invited to join a program – run by the Provost and a handful of Deans – that trains future University leaders and incubates future campus initiatives. I joined because I was glad to have the opportunity to develop leadership skills, meet a broader swath of my local academic community, and give voice to ideas that I had tucked away in my head.

We recently had our first meeting. I hadn’t anticipated the power of being in a room with others who, fresh from the election, were hungry to find ways to protect our public institution’s commitment to education, inclusivity, and the communal good. Worried about what will happen to undocumented students? Worried about students who are being targeted for hateful speech and violent acts because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual identity? Worried about students who may lose their healthcare? Being in conversation together, I recognized the power of strategizing responses to these worries – not just as a teacher or mentor – but as an administrator or campus leader.

I get it now. I understand why some post-tenure faculty pivot to become a career administrator or campus leader. It is a profoundly interesting, important way for an action-oriented, values-driven person to “leave” philosophy – or any home discipline.

I myself am not planning to leave philosophy. And, I’m not suggesting we overlook the ways in which the call to service can burden women and racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately. Research suggests that women – associate professors in particular – spend more hours on service per week than their male colleagues [1]. And, too often faculty of color are subjected to extra, unrewarded service to their institutions – a form of cultural taxation – in which they feel obliged “to show good citizenship toward the institution by serving its needs for ethnic representation on committees, or to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to a cultural group, which may even bring accolades to the institution but which is not usually rewarded by the institution on whose behalf the service was performed” [2]. Indeed, among my colleagues at the leadership training, a disproportionate number of us were women and/or faculty of color.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful and honored to have a long-term academic position, to be a part of a university that pro-actively cultivates a healthy community of leaders, and to be invited to join the conversation at that table.

I’m just startled, after working so hard to make it through the pipeline all the way past tenure, to discover such a compelling way for someone like me to “leave.”

[1] Misra, J., Lundquist, J. H., Holmes, E., & Agiomavritis, S. (2011). The ivory ceiling of service work. Academe, 97(1), 22.

[2] Padilla, A. M. (1994). Ethnic minority scholars, research, and mentoring: Current and future issues. Educational Researcher, 23(4), 24-27.


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