Diversity and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews

Demographics of the Philosophy Department

As of February 2021, there are 35 members of Academic and Research staff in the Philosophy Department. Out of those 35 people, 12 are women. Out of those 12 women:

  • 2 are visiting scholars.
  • 3 are professorial fellows and thus are not employed primarily by St Andrews.
  • 2 are on a temporary contract. This includes Dr Alison Duncan Kerr who has been working for the department since 2017 and is planned to be made redundant in June. The other one has a 1-year contract which ends summer 2021.
  • 5 have a permanent position, with 1 of them being in a part-time position.

The Philosophy Department has 19 members of staff in full-time permanent positions. Only 4 of those are held by women. This includes 2 professors and 2 senior lecturers. This means that only 21% of permanent academic and research staff members in Philosophy are women.

No permanent junior position is held by a woman.

The Philosophy Department has 5 Honorary and Emeritus members; none of whom are women.

Finally, the department has 57 PhD students, including 13 women, which amounts to 22.8% of all PhD students.

Gender and Feminist philosophy within the Philosophy Department

Within the Philosophy Department, two members of Academic and Research Staff explicitly work on gender and feminist philosophy:

  • Dr Alison Duncan Kerr, who has been continuously employed by the department since September 2017 as a Research Fellow and who is planned to be made redundant in June 2021;
  • An Associate Lecturer in Philosophy, who joined the department for the academic year 2020-2021 on a 1-year fixed term contract which ends in August 2021.

Both are junior female researchers who won’t be there for the academic year 2021-2022 or afterwards, due to their planned redundancy or the short length of their contract.

This means that as of early February 2021, there is no certainty that there will be any member of Academic and Research Staff within the Philosophy Department who explicitly works on gender or feminist philosophy after September 2021.

By contrast, out of the 13 female PhD students, 3 of them work on questions relating to gender or feminist philosophy within the scope of their primary research, including 2 who have Alison as their secondary supervisor. Overall, 8 PhD students have substantial interests relating to gender or feminist philosophy and incorporate those aspects within their primary or secondary research.

This growing interest in feminist and gender studies led to the creation of the monthly Feminist Philosophy Reading Group in early 2020, a research postgraduate student-led initiative, which then evolved into the fully fledged Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory Seminar, an official research seminar at the Arché Philosophical Research Centre created in collaboration with the St Andrews Institute for Gender Studies which made its debut in September 2020. The Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory Seminar (FPST) is attended weekly by a core group of 11 postgraduate research students and 3 members of Academic and Research staff, with other members of the philosophical community joining sporadically. This attendance rate is comparable to the other research seminars within the Arché Research Centre, even though the FPST seminar was created through the campaigning of three female PhD students and is not linked to a research project led by a member of Academic and Research staff. In fact, the FPST seminar currently cannot be counted by Arché postgraduate members towards the two Arché research streams that they are mandated to attend each week. The FPST seminar is, at present, indicated to change status next academic year and will be considered a research stream after it is subjected to a trial run of a year, but both the push for this change and the high level of participation beforehand reflect the great value that postgraduate department members place on Feminist and Gender topics and the resilient demand for department offerings focused on them.

Postgraduate members who choose to attend the FPST seminar do it out of pure passion, rather than to fulfill their membership duties towards Arché. This demonstrates the interest in gender and feminist philosophy present within the community of postgraduate research students. These postgraduate research students are part of the future of the discipline and they have been constantly showing the Philosophy department that it needs to evolve towards the inclusion of gender and feminist philosophy as main areas of research rather than relegating them as secondary topics.

Finally, the FPST seminar is the only research seminar at the Philosophy Department which achieves gender parity at all of its meetings, thus highlighting the importance of such a research space within a male-dominated field.

A Statement from the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) Chapter at St Andrews and Stirling

Dr Alison Duncan Kerr has played an important role in supporting the creation of our MAP chapter and has helped us as an academic advisor since the creation of the chapter in 2018. Without the support of staff members like Alison, our work to improve the diversity and the inclusivity of the philosophy department would not be possible.

Alison is a great role model and has helped our voices be heard in the philosophy department. As one of the few members of staff who is from underrepresented groups, Alison has been through similar experiences to us and is able to provide us with a safe space to discuss the challenges that young women in philosophy face and has given great professional advice to help us do what is best for our future academic careers. Being able to receive the advice of someone in a junior position who has faced the same challenges as we do is an invaluable input that we are not able to currently receive from other members of staff, due to the lack of women in junior positions.

Additionally, Alison offers us her expertise in feminist philosophy and gender theory, which are integral domains of the research of some of our members and an area of interest of most of us who do not work on the topic directly. She is the only staff member in philosophy who specializes in those topics and the only one competent to offer expert advice in these areas. Making redundant the researcher in the department who works on topics that are the most likely to attract prospective female postgraduate research students is going against the PAFS School and Philosophy Department’s commitment to address the gender imbalance in the philosophy PhD cohort. Currently, less than a quarter of PhD students are women, a number unlikely to improve next year, as prospective entrants for September 2021 entry have already applied. Even more worryingly, the perspective that the link between the St Andrews Institute for Gender Studies and the Philosophy Department might be severed after Alison’s departure might deter prospective female applicants from accepting their offers for entry in September 2021.

The few female PhD students need mentors and staff members that they can relate to. Making Alison redundant would be acting against this need in the utmost manner as it would deprive us from one of the few female staff members and mentors that we currently have. Finally, it would send a terrible signal to current philosophy students, as it would directly contribute to the gender inequality of the department, as well as setting an example that junior female researchers who actively contribute the diversity and inclusivity of the department are seen as disposable.

This is why we stand with Alison.

Minorities and Philosophy St Andrews and Stirling

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