For nearly 17 months, we've been involved in an extended negotiation and appeals process, first with the University of British Columbia, now with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia, regarding requests filed under Canada's version of a "freedom of information" act (hereafter, "FIPPA"). The UBC Privacy manager, after taking months and months of extensions in response to the original requests, released highly redacted materials, offering what was, in our view, an implausibly generous interpretation of FIPPA's exceptions. The Commissioner's Office, in turn, upheld some of these exceptions, but not others, but again with multiple extensions of time for response (when we challenged one of the extensions, we were informed that if we challenged the extension then they wouldn't continue reviewing the case at all!). We have only just gotten the additional unredacted material.
During the summer [of 2014], 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..... 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.
It has since been confirmed by a friend of Jenkins's what was blazingly obvious at the time: that, of course, her blog post with its threats was, among other things, aimed at me. I get attacked a lot in cyberspace, and far worse than Jenkins's verbal assault, and I sometimes send cranky or derisive e-mails to the assailants. (I've never yet sued any of them!) But the Jenkins case is sui generis for how she and her colleague Alan Richardson decided to respond to her being called out.
For those with little patience for the sordid, though sometimes amusing, details, here's the quick version of what we've learned from the FIPPA requests:
1. Jenkins and Richardson were the primary organizers of the petition on September 24, 2014 alleging that my derisive e-mail to Jenkins in July 2014 had "very serious" effects on her, "impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession." In fact, in the four months following (starting in August), Jenkins made numerous contributions "to public discourse as a member of the profession" in Canada, the U.S., and even New Zealand. Indeed, her rather busy work schedule is less surprising when one learns that on August 2, 2014, a Dean was already writing to Richardson that it was "good to hear that Carrie is seeming better." That's August 2, 2014, seven weeks before the smear campaign began. And it wasn't an anomaly, since on August 5, Jenkins is writing to Richardson not about all the alleged harm I caused her but about her new "electric motorized bike/scooter" which she bought "to ride to work," seeking advice about "where on campus I can park and charge it." One might think this does not seem to be a person disabled by an e-mail.
2. Only half of Jenkins's 20-or-so colleagues (including her husband) ultimately signed the public petition (the other initial signatories were all friends), but it turns out Jenkins and Richardson had bullied even more UBC colleagues into signing the petition initially, and then had to back off when there was a kind of faculty revolt: once they backed off, five UBC faculty who had signed originally then withdrew their names before the petition appeared. Richardson continued to bully his colleagues, even demanding that none of them communicate with me. He was particularly indignant that some of his colleagues apparently defended the accuracy of what I wrote on my blog about this whole sordid affair. (Why did half of Jenkins's colleagues not sign the petition? I've heard various stories: some clearly didn't believe Jenkins's melodrama (one described her as a bit of a "drama queen"), some thought the response was absurdly disproportionate, some realized it defied credibility that my editing the PGR had anything to do with the alleged effect of the e-mail.)
3. Although the September 24 petition claimed that a twitter exchange earlier in September had prompted the petition, as early as July 10 Richardson was mobilizing support for Jenkins's "bullying case" against me because I sent her a single e-mail.
That's the executive summary, as it were; for those who enjoy a bit more of the soap opera of what must be a strange place to work given the cast of characters, read on!
Jenkins was pretty clearly influenced, to her misfortune, by her colleague and philosophy department Chair, Alan Richardson, a long-time PGR hater going back to 2002. For together (Jenksins's husband, contrary to what we originally thought, appears to have had little to do with the scheme), they decided that the only proper response to my mocking reply* to Jenkins's threats would be to launch a petition to undermine the PGR and me as its editor. (On September 15, 2014, Jenkins e-mailed Richardson that "there is absolutely no time to lose" since "the PGR surveys are to commence in about two weeks," to which Richardson replies "Very important information. Thanks," thus confirming what I said originally, namely, that this was all designed to torpedo the PGR.) Their September 2014 smear campaign claimed that (1) my derisive e-mail to Jenkins in July 2014 had "very serious" effects on her, "impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession," and (2) it was only able to do so because I edit the PGR. Thefore, the only remedy was to oust me as editor of the PGR, and thus, they hoped, take the PGR down for good. (The smear campaign was a kind of "perfect storm," as I noted originally, in which so-called "feminist" philosophers also sought revenge for my many months of advocacy for due process and fairness, even in the pursuit of sexual harassers.)
What should have been the obvious giveaway--namely, that half of Jenkins's colleagues declined to sign the Jenkins/Richardson petition--went unnoted, including by me initially. It turns out, as we learned from the FIPPA requests, that Jenkins and Richardson had initially bullied even more colleagues into signing, but when it became clear they had overplayed their hand--as Richardson wrote on October 10, 2014 regarding the backlash from his colleagues in September, "several people in the Dept said that they felt pressured to sign but did not wish to sign"--Richardson and Jenkins had to reassure colleagues that signing was not required. Once the two bullies backed off, five UBC faculty who had signed under pressure withdrew their names just a few days before the petition was released! (There are about 20 faculty in the department altogether.)
Why didn't all of Jenkins's colleagues sign if she was really harmed as the petition claimed? I've heard various explanations: some clearly didn't believe Jenkins's melodrama (one described her as a bit of a "drama queen"), some thought the response was absurdly disproportionate, some realized it defied credibility that my editing the PGR had anything to do with the alleged effect of the e-mail. (I'm going to run a natural experiment: now that I don't edit the PGR, I'm going to continue sending out derisive e-mails to miscreants and we'll see what happens.)
As an amusing sidenote, on October 8, 2014, Richardson was already e-mailing administrators suggesting that any of his colleagues who might not be toeing the Richardson/Jenkins party-line on their defamation of me could be in "violation of the Respectful Environment Statement"--seriously. On October 8, he also sent an e-mail threatening all his colleagues "not to communicate with Brian Leiter" (I hate to break it to you Alan, but....) Richardson is an academic character out of a Stalinist nightmare. Apparently, philosophy faculty at UBC again revolted against this further bullying by Richardson, since some of his colleagues noted that my characterization of events on my blog was quite accurate, which led Richardson to exclaim: "My actions are absolutely in line with the dept by-laws...but are, it seems, deeply objectionable; meanwhile BL's actions must be defended at all cost. Why?" Why indeed might Richardson's colleague defend the accuracy of what I said? The answer does not occur to the apparatchik.
Did my e-mail harm Jenkins in the ways she and Richardson very publicly claimed. (And just to be clear, Jenkins was a very active participant in this defamation: in a Sept. 19, 2014 e-mail, for example, Richardson noted that "Carrie has been in touch with various colleagues [i.e., her friends] beyond UBC" soliciting initial signatories to the defamation.) Although the September petition, for example, said that my July 2014 e-mail to Jenkins had had a "very serious" impact on "her capacity to work...and to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession," we know that, in fact, she was quite busy working and giving talks in public as a member of the profession in the months following: in August at the Bellingham Phislosophy Conference at Western Washington University; at Victoria University of Wellington (in New Zealand no less!) in September; at the University of Alberta in October; and at Purdue University in November.
Indeed, her rather busy work schedule is less surprising when one learns that on August 2, 2014, a Dean was already writing to Alan Richardson that it was "good to hear that Carrie is seeming better." That's August 2, 2014, seven weeks before the defamatory smear campaign began. And it wasn't an anomaly, since on August 5, Jenkins is writing to Richardson not about all the alleged harm I caused her but about her new "electric motorized bike/scooter" which she bought "to ride to work," seeking advice about "where on campus I can park and charge it." One might think this does not seem to be a person disabled by an e-mail.
The Richardson/Jenkins petition released on Septmeber 24, 2014 also made a big deal out of the fact that during a Twitter exchange with Tim Crane and Jenkins earlier in September, I joked about my derivsive e-mail to her on July 2 that called her a "sanctimonious arse" (the use/mention distinction was lost on Jenkins and her fellow smear merchants). In fact, though, the twitter exchange appears to have had nothing to do with the mischief Jenkins and Richardson were orchestrating. As early as July 10--more than two months before the September tweet--Richardson was already e-mailing deans at UBC about "the bullying case" Jenkins had against me (adult readers, please understand: if you send a sarcastic e-mail to a chaired professor at the University of British Columbia, this is bullying, and the Deans don't laugh out loud when the chaired professor writes to them saying, "The mean man said mean things to me, help!").
Prof. Jenkins has also written about her problems with anxiety, though the defamatory statement orchestrated by her and Prof. Richardson omitted any mention of the role these pre-existing disorders played in her alleged problems. I am genuinely sorry about her mental health problems, and had I known about her disability, I would have restrained myself despite her reckless provocation. Prof. Jenkins, one suspects, may have been taken advantage of by her colleague Prof. Richardson, who clearly was more interested in the opportunity to try to undermine the PGR, rather than looking out for Prof. Jenkins's welfare. After all, if Prof. Jenkins suffers from generalized anxiety disorders, why would anyone urge her into a situation that exposes her to both my enmity and potential litigation that could haunt her for years? It would have surely been in the interest of her mental health not to have escalated from merely sanctimonious posturing and threats aimed at me on her personal blog to defamation and a public smear campaign.
The statute of limitations still has many, many months to go. UBC's stonewalling has given us less information than we would have expected at this point, but redacted material in some of the e-mails seems very likely to confirm our suspicions. But I am sure there are people out there who know more about the truth and who also recognize the wrongdoing orchestrated by Richardson and Jenkins at my expense. I know that, were I more of a Christian, I would have "turned the other cheek" and not responded intemperately to Jenkins' public threats, but I'm human-all-too-human too; in an ideal world, of course, Jenkins wouldn't have made a public declaration of her moral virtues conjoined with threats aimed at me. Most lawsuits involve a straightforward cost-benefit calculation, and what else we learn in the next few months will determine how we proceed against the miscreants in Vancouver. Thanks to those colleagues elsewhere, readers and observers who have already been very helpful.
ADDENDUM: A philosopher at Wellington tells me that Prof. Jenkins's workshop there was via Skype, though there was no indication of that on her CV.
*I was astonished in fall 2014 that academic philosophers were so naïve that some (and not only Sally Haslanger and David Velleman) actually thought the derisive e-mail was a legal threat. I've sent real threats of legal action, they don't mock the recipient. As one prominent feminist philosopher recently put it to me regarding Haslanger: she is "an intensely dislikable person. Smug, self-righteous, moralistic without any self-critical capacity morally (though intellectually she is fine)." (The same is largely true, by the way, of Velleman, whom I've known better and longer than I've known Haslanger, though I wouldn't describe him as "smug.") Perhaps unsurprisingly "self-righteous moralistic" people "without any self-critical capacity morally" don't think twice about launching a smear campaign, and can't tell the difference between a real legal warning and mockery of other self-righteous people.