19 October 2021

CADE Data Ethics Fellowship for 2022-2023

I wrote about this a few weeks ago and got some great feedback and questions, and in that time the call for applicants has made its way through USF’s system and is now up and going, so I can officially say that I’m looking to bring 3 people on as Data Ethics Fellows at the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco. All applications received by November 19 will receive full consideration, but I’ll be reviewing applications and scheduling interviews as soon as I can. More info in the coming paragraphs (or after the fold).

Appointments will be 18 months (technically 12+6 months, and I’ll unpack that further down). Fellows will make $75,000 per year, and fellows can be remote (although my understanding is that USFCA employees have to be within the US for tax/payroll reasons). We have a benefits package that I think is pretty reasonable, a relocation reimbursement policy that was hard-earned and I hope fairly generous, and I think other perks about working at CADE and USFCA make it pretty appealing. Let’s get into what I’m looking for and then what the job will involve.

Revisiting our data ethics curriculum

I’ve written in the past about how frustrated I was teaching data ethics at USF because of how little time you get to cover everything. I usually end up teaching a bit of ethics (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics), and then trying to show students how messy and complicated the real world is - through lenses like race, gender, sexuality, capitalism; thinking about surveillance, education, worker management, medicine, etc…

If you’re reading that paragraph thinking “this must be a real sprint all the way through”, you’re absolutely right. It’s frustrating and difficult not just because there’s hardly enough time to talk about philosophy; it’s maddeningly frustrating because there’s almost so little time that you can barely outline the problem before having to move on to the next topic. And I flat out don’t teach students a single thing about methods.

I can give students the vocabulary to talk about ethics in ways that people find legible; and I can give students a rudimentary overview of a number of different ways that computational systems manifest and perpetuate harms; and I can give students a basic sense of the methods that they would need to employ to learn about and begin to understand how people are experiencing harm. But in a 12-week class I basically have to choose to do 2 of those things, and even then I have to do it hastily - maybe even sloppily.

I want CADE to offer a new curriculum in Data Ethics that centers the lived experiences of people harmed by computational systems. I want to bring together people who have been doing this work on the ground for years, who know firsthand and from actually talking to and working with people, to speak and teach about the issues they deal with, in their own words. The curriculum I have in mind will go from one course introducing data ethics to the following:

  • (Philosophy) Theory
  • (Qualitative) Methods
  • k Special Topics in Data Ethics

This arrangement will free us up to make the introductory course a less frantic introduction to concepts and theories in philosophy and ethics as they relate to technologies and artifacts. A lot of the same readings, but with more depth and more time to breathe.

I want students of data ethics to develop and foster an appreciation for methods: for fieldwork, for interpretive analysis, for qualitative data, and generally to come to appreciate the limits of the quantitative methods that they may have learned and leaned into for most of their professional/academic lives up till that moment.

I also want students of data ethics to get a deep, nuanced, clear picture of the whole story of a few topics where algorithmic systems cause harms - the history, the context, the various dynamics and stakeholders involved, what the landscape looks like today, what the future might look like, etc…

I expect that students will take 2 or 3 of these classes. They won’t learn about everything on the landscape of AI harms or data ethics, but they will gain an appreciation for how dense the forest is by looking down these two or three paths and earning the insight that the entire world is like this, and that every domain in which they work has just as much history, has just as many stakeholders, and is just as complicated as the subjects that they learned a bit about in this curriculum.

To make this last bit happen, I want to hire researchers and activists who have been studying in these spaces to teach those courses. That’s what the Data Ethics Fellows will be responsible for.

Back to the fellowship

I want the fellows to be part of CADE for 18 months, but nominally the fellowship is 12 months plus 6 months, where the additional 6 months are guaranteed if the fellow has taught or is on track to teach a data ethics course. I think people will probably start in January, but fellows can defer for a few months if needed.

Fellows can be remote - I’ll do everything in my power to make sure we never require in-person work/instruction (at least not for this cohort of fellows), but in my experience USF’s been pretty reasonable with us. If you do want to move to SF or the Bay Area, CADE has been able to match the relocation reimbursement policy USFCA has for tenure track faculty. Basically it scales depending on the distance.

CADE doesn’t accept any corporate funding or support, and is (currently) supported by Craig Newmark’s philanthropic work (aptly named “craig newmark philanthropies”). The ability to make some distance from corporate influence was something I desperately needed when I joined CADE in early 2020; over the past few years, and the past year in particular, I’ve seen how capricious and punitive tech companies are toward researchers who challenge or even question tech hegemony.

Loose ends

If you have any questions, please check out the formal call for applications. If it’s still not clear what the answer to your question is, please email or reach out to me on twitter. Job applications are stressful and opaque and sometimes a little harrowing, and honestly nobody needs that. If I can give you a clearer picture about what this program is trying to accomplish, what I’m looking for, or what makes someone a good fit, then I want to help make that picture clearer. So, let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the fellowship by getting in contact with me.

Thanks for reading - looking forward to hearing/reading about your work!

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