Monday, 19 April 2010

Discrimination against mothers alive and well in academy.

The NEH (National Endowment for Humanities) recently asked a single mother to prove that she had adequate child-care arrangements for her 12 year old son prior to offering her a place on a summer course. Though the case was settled privately, SWIP UK president Jennifer Saul is requesting that letters be sent to the NEH asking for a public statement. Saul's statement and the letter are below:

Dear all,

I'm writing to you as people concerned about the state of women in
philosophy. As you may be aware, a woman philosopher (Christina Van
Dyke) was recently the subject of some fairly deplorable treatment by
the directors of an NEH Summer Institute (see: While the NEH has
acted promptly to address the matter in private, so far their public
response has consisted entirely of those few comments reported in the
IHE article. Particularly given the wide publicity this event
received, however, a purely private response by the NEH seems
inadequate. As a result, some of Christina's friends - with her
advice and oversight - have drafted a form letter of protest to the
NEH, asking for a strong and unequivocal public response to the
matter. The letter is included below, and if you're sympathetic to
its content I strongly encourage you to sign a copy and send it to (or, alternatively, write your own letter and send it).
Your help and support in this matter would be deeply appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Jennifer Saul

Professor Jennifer Saul
Director of Learning and Teaching
Department of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
45 Victoria Street, Sheffield S3 7QB

Ph: 0114 222 0578


To Whom it May Concern: I am writing to express my concern over the recent treatment of Prof. Christina Van Dyke by the directors of the NEH Summer Institute “Cultural Hybridities”. As you will no doubt be aware, Prof. Van Dyke - who is a single mother - was, three days after her initial acceptance to the Institute, given twenty-four hours notice by the Institute’s directors to demonstrate specific, full-time childcare plans for her twelve-year-old son. She was further told that if she could not demonstrate these childcare arrangements to the unspecified satisfaction of the directors (a full three months in advance of her attendance) her acceptance would be withdrawn and her place given to an alternate candidate. The letter which made these demands of her not only claimed to do so in consultation with the NEH, but also called into question her responsibility as a parent and the seriousness of her interest in the Institute. As I am sure you will agree, that this occurred is nothing short of outrageous. I am aware that the demands made of Prof. Van Dyke did not come from anyone directly employed by the NEH, and were in fact inconsistent with NEH policies. However, the event took place under the auspices of the NEH, was allowed via the procedures for the acceptance of (and communication with) applicants which the NEH has set up, and was carried out by academics directly funded by the NEH in the management of an NEH Summer Institute. The NEH thus bears at least partial responsibility, and needs to act accordingly. We understand and appreciate that the NEH has dealt with the matter in private to Prof. Van Dyke's satisfaction, ensuring her acceptance to the Institute and clearly communicating to the directors that their demands were unacceptable. However, due to the publicity the incident has received, a public response is by the NEH is also needed. Thus far the NEH’s public comment has consisted only of a statement, reported by Inside Higher Ed, that if in fact such demands had been made of Prof. Van Dyke (who is anonymous in the IHE article and various blog reports about the case) they would not be consistent with NEH policies. The gravity of this issue - and the worrying potential that it is not an isolated case, but simply an isolated publicizing - requires a strong and unequivocal public response. Such a response would, at minimum:
• Confirm the report discussed by Inside Higher Ed. In that article, the NEH spokesperson who was quoted raised some question as to its veracity. The NEH should now state that the report was in fact true.
• Publicly express regret that an event of this kind took place under NEH auspices.
• State specifically what the NEH has done to redress this particular situation and any measures it has taken in attempt to avoid recurrence of similar problems in the future.
• Clarify the relevant aspects of the NEH’s Equal Opportunity Employment policy which prohibit the kinds of demands made of Prof. Van Dyke.
A clear public statement from the NEH, meeting at least those standards laid out above, is particularly pressing in this case due to the wide publicity it has received. Anyone reading about it who might in the future find themselves in a similar situation - either as someone of whom such demands are made, or as someone in a position to make such demands - needs to know that the NEH will tolerate nothing of the kind. It is bad enough that this event occurred at all. The NEH will only make it worse if they fail to respond appropriately. [SIGNED]

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