Recently, one blogger has taken to policing my tweets and comments on blogs, in order to find material she can take out of context to try to embarrass me. (I had previously worked closely with this philosopher in assisting a victim of sexual harassment in transferring to a more civilized program, but apparently trying to help victims of actual misconduct is now less important than finding ways to humiliate someone who had the audacity to express concerns about due process in the Ludlow case, to host a discussion of the Colorado Site Visit report (after the Feminist Philosophers blog shut down all discussion of it), and to disagree on various occasions with FP philosophers on various issues). This is juvenile, but par for the course in cyberspace.
Now two other philosophers (one of whom is closely allied with the first, and both of whom are opposed to the PGR, about which more in a moment) have posted portions of e-mails I sent to two faculty who had attacked me, but again stripped of all context. They even claim, falsely,that I made a "threat that 'things will get around'". (In fact, it was the person I wrote to who made that threat, not me, but concern for facts and context do not loom large in this pathetic affair.) They did not even have the courtesy to ask about any pertinent context before posting the e-mails.
I will supply the context here.
During the summer, after I criticized some misleading job placement ranking data, Carrie Jenkins (British Columbia) took to the web to make clear that in her view such criticism was not permissible in our profession and that, therefore, she viewed my blog post as "unprofessional and unethical," and that, in consequence, she was no longer going to treat me as a "normal or representative member of" the profession. (I learned about Jenkins's post attacking me from Catarina Dutilh Novaes.) On social media, Jenkins had long impressed me as a bit of a "sanctimonious ass" (as I said in the e-mail), and this was certainly par for that course. I sent her a sharp and derisive e-mail about her blogged threats, to which she never replied. But I did wonder, as one might imagine, in what ways she was not going to "treat me as a normal" member of the profession. But apparently our profession is so degraded that if one philosopher declares in public that she will not treat Brian Leiter "as a normal member of the profession," that's OK, and I'm supposed to say nothing.
Noelle McAfee took her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, and was on the job market when I was placement director there. Unlike some of those on the current crusade, I am not going to disclose more details, but suffice it to say there is a lot of missing context. I will discuss here only what is already in the public record. Since getting her PhD, McAfee, who teaches now at Emory, has been a member of SPEP, including its "Advocacy Committee" (a Committee created to counteract the PGR), and has for many years made false and misleading claims about me and the PGR. I have corresponded with her off and on for years, asking her to cut it out. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, came earlier this year, when yet again she took to the Internet to lie about me and the PGR; the lies or (more charitably) misrepresentations included claiming that (1) there was a 39% drop in the number of programs that participated in the 2011 PGR compared to 2009 (McAfee can't count); (2) the 2011 PGR failed to disclose the departments that participated in the survey (McAfee apparently could not find her way around the PGR site either in order to locate the lists); (3) Emory and other departments are "refusing" to participate in the PGR (some departments request to be included, but others, including Emory, have been included at various intervals--and Emory did, in fact, once request inclusion, contrary to McAfee's false assertion); (4) the PGR reflects a sexist bias against departments with lots of women (a claim not supported by any careful analysis of the data); and (5) various false statements of fact about my professional situation. Then it turned out that, under a pseudonym, McAfee was vandalizing my Wikipedia page. As I said to her, "I am a philosopher, but I’m also a lawyer, and I’ve grown tired of malevolent misrepresentations about me and the PGR like yours. You are on notice and I hope you get the message." In fact, she got the message, since she revised many of the false statements of fact.
This is how the law works: if you say false things intended to damage someone's reputation, you have acted illegally. U.S. law gives more cover for defamers than elsewhere, but even here there are limits. In the future, I can have my lawyer send these e-mails, but I frankly thought it more gentle to write myself.
Those who posted the e-mails, without any of the preceding context, raise this as an objection to me as the "editor of the PGR." Well, I am the editor of the PGR; I am also one of the leading Nietzsche scholars in the world, a law professor, a New Yorker with limited toleration for the fools our profession breeds, a leading figure in legal philosophy, a leading philosophy blogger, a devoted teacher and mentor (defamation of me has grown so common on this score that I've taken to putting my evaluations on-line), a husband, a son, a father of three, a longstanding opponent of cyber-harassment based on gender and race, and a defender of academic freedom and the rights of everyone from Steven Salaita to John Yoo to speak freely about matters of public concern without state sanction. But those out to attack me now, both those who published the e-mails (without context) and Catarina Novaes, have made clear that this is primarily about the PGR.
So let me be clear: the PGR is a service to students, not to me. For me, it's now nothing more than a headache--both because of all the time it takes, but because it opens me up to slimy attacks by unethical and unprofessional people. It would be in my self-interest to stop publishing the PGR, but it would not be in the interests of students or the profession (well, it would be in the interest of the Emorys and other weak departments for me to stop publishing it). But since those who want to attack me are primarily motivated by the PGR, let me put it to a poll. The next two months of my life would be much more peaceful if I do not do the next PGR. What do readers think? (Sorry, had to repost this due to a technical problem--it was about 50-50 last time--here it is again.)
[Poll closed--with about 3000 votes, it was roughly 56% against, 44% in favor--given the social media campaign to mobilize anti-PGR votes, I'm surprised it was not even more lopsided]
UPDATE: A couple dozen philosophers (many friends or colleagues of Prof. Jenkins), and other longtime PGR opponents, have indicated they will not serve as PGR evaluators to protest my criticism of Prof. Jenkins. (Only a handful of them would have been invited as evaluators anyway.) Like the others, they omit all context, including that Prof. Jenkins targetted me in the first place: I did not send her an e-mail out of the blue. As a commenter "Jean" on the Feminist Philosophers blog put it:
In Leiter’s email to Jenkins you can see what got him riled up is this: “I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards as normal or representative members of my profession.” This is not just a pledge to be respectful to others, but a pledge to somehow decommission violators of her norms. Since it does seem to me (from context) that she was primarily thinking of Leiter as a violator, it’s understandable that he takes this personally.
They also repeat the misrepresentation of a Twitter comment, which another philosopher put into circulation. I sent Prof. Jenkins the following letter about that:
Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?
Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, "Don't worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me." I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, "Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don't dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you." Unfortunately, that's more than 140 characters.
Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your "pledge" back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: "I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession." I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn't annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.
She did not reply. I do regret my earlier intemperate e-mail, though the context noted above may at least make it explicable.
UPDATE: We presently have over 550 nominated evaluators, and now about two dozen have signed the boycott letter. I would be sorry to lose their input, but given the way the boycott letter sent out by Richard Heeck presented what transpired, I understand and respect their decision, even as I regret it. The actual sequence of events, as I laid it out for a reporter this evening, was clear:
July 1: I posted a sharp critique of some utterly misleading rankings produced by Carolyn Jennings, a tenure-stream faculty member at UC Merced. She quickly started revising it after I called her out.
July 2: other blogs began attacking me for criticizing Jennings.
Later on July 2, Catarina Novaes also joined the criticism, pointing me to the response by Carrie Jenkins, which she characterized, obviously correctly, as “reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Carolyn Dicey Jennings’s analysis.”
THE 'SMEAR' CAMPAIGN: A good example of the "smear campaign" aspect of some of what is going on is the false claim promoted by an anonymous website that my targets "recently" have been disproportionately women. In fact, during the exact same time period, far more men than women have come in for criticism, derision, or polemics, including Eric Schliesser, Santiago Zabala, Tom Stern, Matt Drabek, Leon Wieseltier, Dirk Johnson, Ben Cohen, Ed Kazarian, Vince Vitale, William Vallicella, and Mark Oppenheimer, among others (I leave out the 'big names' like Zizek and Niall Ferguson). Why does the smear site mention only one of these men? Because it's purpose is not to inform, but to damage my reputation. I have twice now posted a comment on that site pointing out that there are multiple errors of fact and multiple omissions of fact, and asking the person responsible to e-mail me from their pseudonymous e-mail address so that I may supply a document listing the errors and omissions with hyperlinks. The site owner has not approved my comment nor contacted me, again, for the obvious reasons: the purpose of the site is not to provide information, but to smear me. (That its so-called "resources" include any reference to Paul Campos makes that even more plain.)
Similarly--and contrary to Richard Heck’s latest misrepresentations (which he’s apparently been e-mailing out to the world)--when Noelle McAfee threatened that my e-mails to her would “get around” (a threat she has now made good on), the only thing I told her would “get around” is that I believed she had a personal vendetta against me because she felt I hadn’t done enough for her back in the late 1990s when I was one of the placement directors. That personal vendetta subsequently became a professional one as she became involved with SPEP and its Advocacy Committee.
Fortunately, the smears have receded, and there have been more substantive discussion of the actual issues by Simon May, Alex Rosenberg, and others, for which I'm grateful.
THE 'PGR AURA': The worry that some have, as I understand it, is that "the PGR aura" gives my criticisms a weight and importance they would otherwise not have. Simon May (Florida State) gave the most cogent statement I've seen from any of the boycotters, though in my view the weaknesses of his argument are also illuminating (more on that in a moment).
Here is what I take to be the core issue. I respond aggressively with only a miniscule fraction of my critics out there in the world. (The Internet is awash with literally thousands of criticisms of my rankings, my views, and me, and 99% of their authors have never heard from me--contrary to those falsely asserting a "pattern" of my targetting "vulnerable" people--even in the cases at hand, the "targets" are tenured professors at major research institutions. This is one of many reasons why the description of any of this as "bullying" is absurd). Do such aggressive responses raise questions about the work I have done for many years as editor of the PGR? Simon May thinks it does. He writes:
[T]he point is that Prof. Leiter’s status as the editor of the de facto or quasi-official rankings of philosophy departments indicates the community’s endorsement of his behaviour as within the bounds of acceptability.
I would have thought that participation in the PGR indicates that people think I and the Advisory Board have done a good job running it as a useful service for students and departments. It constitutes an endorsement of my extramural statements to critics as little as it constitutes an endorsement of my atheism, my left politics, or my contempt for Jacques Derrida and Ayn Rand. Perhaps, though, "endorsement" is the wrong word: the issue is whether participation in the PGR constitutes "toleration" of conduct that should not be tolerated?
A lot of Simon's case turns, as he correctly acknowledges, on his judgment that my e-mails were "abysmal and utterly unacceptable." This is strong language, melodramatic in my view, but perhaps not in the view of others. There are no doubt great differences of style and temperment between me and Simon, partly due to culture, to professional background, and to life experiences. I do not think anything I did was "abysmal and utterly unacceptable," even as I regret, as I've said repeatedly, sending the e-mail to Prof. Jenkins. (Although I would have written them slightly differently in retrospect, I do not regret the thrust of the other e-mails to a malevolent and persistently dishonest critic over a period of many years, one who has repeatedly walked the line on defamation and who even took to vandalizing my Wikipedia page under a pseudonym.) But I understand why some people would prefer I not send intemperate e-mails or assert what I take to be my legal rights so aggressively. I will no doubt do it less often in the future, and think more carefully before doing so. (I am hopeful that if I step down from the PGR, there will be fewer outbursts directed my way, and so less need for any kind of redress.)
As things stand, as uncontested PGR editor, Prof. Leiter has relatively free rein to act in as belligerent a manner as he might wish towards any member of the community.
This is also not true. I have "free rein to act in as belligerent manner as" I might wish because I am a citizen of a free society, in which I can speak my mind. Simon's worry, I take it, is that the "PGR aura" enhances the effect of a belligerent critique. I am not sure it does, but maybe there are cases where it does.
The mere knowledge that he is very safely embedded in a social network of esteem and approval, and that he has an unparalleled ability to dictate the content of discourse about the profession, inhibits public assertion of anything likely to raise his ire.
Anyone who spends a few minutes on Google searching discussions of me and the PGR can quickly confirm that this is false: the Internet has been awash with public discourse critical of me, the PGR, my views of philosophy, and on and on for many years. My "social network of esteem and approval" does not insulate me from mountains of criticism. It could still be true, and perhaps this is Simon's real point, that "the PGR aura" mitigates or lessens the amount of criticism that would otherwise occur. This may also be true, neither Simon nor I know. Whether this is a bad thing, of course, depends on the kind of criticism that is not aired. Given the criticism that is aired, regularly, some of which is quite vicious despite the PGR aura, I am skeptical.