Advancing Women in Philosophy

A University of Dayton philosophy professor who has dedicated much of her career to advancing women in the philosophy discipline will receive the American Philosophical Association’s highest honor for service to the profession.

Peggy DesAutels will be presented with the APA’s 2017 Quinn Prize in February at the association’s 2018 Central Division Meeting in Chicago. The award, which includes a $2,500 prize and an engraved plaque, is given annually by the APA board of officers in recognition of service to philosophy and philosophers.

DesAutels chaired the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women and helped to found the committee’s site visit program, which works with college and university philosophy departments to improve overall diversity and the climate for women. She also organized a 2013 national conference, “Diversity in Philosophy,” at the University of Dayton River Campus.

“For nearly 20 years, Professor DesAutels has taken on leadership roles in promoting the recruitment and advancement of women and in addressing sexual harassment and institutional climate issues affecting women in both philosophy and the STEM disciplines,” said Cheshire Calhoun, APA board of officers chair. “It is hard to imagine anyone who has had a more extensive and significant impact on the profession’s efforts to improve the status of women.”

DesAutels said the representation of women both as faculty and students in philosophy is among the lowest in the humanities disciplines, with numbers similar to those in the traditionally male-dominated science, engineering, mathematics and technology (STEM) disciplines.

As of 2015, women accounted for 25 percent of tenured or tenure-track philosophy faculty in nearly 100 departments, according to data from the Demographics in Philosophy project. In addition, the average proportion of women publishing in 20 top academic philosophy journals was only 16 percent.

From 2008-2011, DesAutels represented the University of Dayton as part of a four-university regional partnership under a $2.86 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant to increase the number of women faculty in STEM disciplines and related industries in the Dayton area. Through that work, she discovered the American Physical Society’s site visit program to improve the climate in physics departments for underrepresented minorities and women.

She trailed the physics team on a visit to Yale University and then proposed the APA Committee on the Status of Women launch a similar program to assess the climate in philosophy departments. The first of nearly 60 site visitors were trained at the 2013 Diversity in Philosophy conference. Since then, teams have conducted 15 visits at U.S. colleges and universities.

The first site visit in 2013 at the University of Colorado made national headlines because the team reported instances of sexual harassment in the philosophy department. An APA team also visited the University of Miami in 2014 following a sexual harassment episode in that school’s philosophy department. Currently in higher education such concerns must be reported to the school’s Title IX coordinator.

“Now we mostly just look for ways to improve the climate for women,” DesAutels said. “That could be things like how to address microaggressions, low numbers of women, women speaking less in class or other issues related to people of color, LGBTQ or people with disabilities. It might be something as simple as, ‘You need better accessibility in your building.’”

DesAutels joined the University of Dayton faculty in 2001 and was promoted to full professor in 2012. She teaches Ethical Theory, Introduction to Philosophy and Medical Ethics courses. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in philosophy, as well as a master’s in computer science, from Washington University.

Her recent honors also include being named the 2014 Distinguished Woman in Philosophy by the Eastern Division of the Society of Women in Philosophy.

Rebecca Whisnant, professor and chair of the University of Dayton department of philosophy, praised DesAutels’ achievement in winning the Quinn Prize.

“Dr. DesAutels’ tireless and courageous work to raise the status of women in philosophy, and more broadly to promote diversity in our profession, is eminently worthy of this recognition,” Whisnant said. “In addition to her work’s effects across the discipline of philosophy in the U.S., her influence is felt closer to home as well. Her knowledge and passion for these issues has helped improve women’s status and voice in our department, as well as underlining our emphasis on diversity, both demographic and intellectual.”

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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