Though an external investigation found that the University of Colorado's philosophy department was unfriendly toward women, that's not uncommon at other universities around the globe, according to one of the academics who conducted the review.
Valerie Hardcastle, who led the three-person American Philosophical Association team that investigated CU's department, said women remain the "substantial minority" within the field of philosophy. She said perhaps because of that, sexual harassment can be a common problem.
"I would say — here I'm speaking generally, not speaking specifically about (CU) — that, historically, sexual harassment has been a problem in philosophy, yes," Hardcastle said.
Last summer, well-known University of Miami philosopher Colin McGinn agreed to leave his tenured post after a graduate student brought forth allegations of sexual harassment. A blog called What Is It Like To Be a Woman in Philosophy? details some of the plights and uncomfortable experiences of women in that field.
Because she promised members of CU's department and other interview subjects confidentiality, Hardcastle said she could not discuss the team's findings.
According to data provided by the American Philosophical Association, roughly 17 percent of full-time philosophy faculty are female and 26 percent of part-time philosophy instructors are female.
At CU, four out of 24 philosophy faculty members are female and 10 out of 53 graduate students are female.
Hardcastle said as early as the undergraduate years, men are disproportionately represented in upper-level philosophy courses.
"When you look at women in philosophy, we lose them all along the way," she said. "Women and men, for example, will sign up for an intro philosophy class at roughly the same rate. Those classes are 50/50. When you look at more senior-level (undergraduate) courses in philosophy, men are already outnumbering women. In master's programs, even more men and fewer women. In Ph.D. programs, more men, fewer women."
A combative field
Hardcastle said that the combative nature of the field may be one reason why men are represented at disproportionate levels.
Historically, the field has revolved around argumentation for ideas — or telling other people why they're wrong, she said.
"One perspective might be women are socialized such that that's a very uncomfortable space for them to be in," she said. "Men are socialized to be more aggressive and just more comfortable, either standing up in that classroom and saying, 'No you're wrong,' and being on the receiving end.
CU philosophy professor Michael Zimmerman, who has been at the university for eight years and has been working in the field since 1974, said both women and minorities aren't very prevalent within philosophy.
"This is a big problem with philosophy," he said. "It's still regarded as a white, male field — because it is. Women are by no means represented proportionally. The same thing goes for minority representation."
As news about the lack of female representation in philosophy began picking up speed within the popular press, Zimmerman said he made it a point to send relevant articles and materials to the CU philosophy department to start conversations among his colleagues.
He said it's an issue that the university president's should be asking questions about and attempting to better understand.
'Bring in fresh eyes'
Last year, the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women began a site visit program to help universities assess and improve philosophy department climate.
Hardcastle said the committee has five site visits planned for this year, both because departments feel like they're struggling to create female-friendly culture and because departments who already have succeeded in making cultural adjustments want to know if what they're doing is enough.
At CU, the team of investigators from the committee included Hardcastle, a professor at the University of Cincinnati; Peggy DesAutels, a professor at the University of Dayton; and Carla Fehr, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo.
"The hope is maybe if we bring in fresh eyes, bring in people who have experience with implicit bias or stereotype issues or diversity issues, who have social science backgrounds and know how to interview people and analyze that type of data, that maybe with those fresh eyes we can get a better perspective and offer suggestions for improvement," she said.