The other keynote speaker controversy making the rounds concerns a talk by philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne (Oxford) at a regional meeting of SCP at Evangel University in Missouri. This appears to be a sympathetic account of what transpired from someone in attendance. Briefly: Swinburne offered the usual awful arguments for anti-gay bigotry that "natural law" theorists and Christian philosophers usually trot out. No one outside the sect takes the arguments seriously, because they aren't serious arguments, but put that to one side. This talk was given inside the "sect": should anyone have been surprised that a keynote address at a Christian philosophy conference included familiar arguments rationalizing anti-gay bigotry? Many self-identified Christian philosophers reject such arguments, but many others plainly do not. As philosopher Chris Swoyer (Oklahoma) noted:
A substantial portion of Christians hold views like those attributed to Swinburne and do so on the basis of their understanding of Christianity. So it's surely not surprising for him to express such views in the setting he did.
That is surely right, and poses a difficult question for those Christian philosophers who repudiate such views about whether they want to be in that "setting" as it were.
In the case of the other keynote speaker controversy du jour, Professor Shelby was asked by a Black woman in his Q&A why he had not cited or discussed any Black feminist authors; Professor Shelby, unsurprisingly, was dismissive of the question, calling it a request for a "bibliography" and indicating he was just trying to do philosophy. He, correctly, supposed that a question of the form, "Why didn't you mention authors with particular racial and gender attributes?" is not a serious philosophical question, in contrast to, say, the question, "Why didn't you address the following argument by author X [who is also a Black feminist]?", which is an appropriate question. (Readers should review the full statement by the aggrieved audience member at the end of this post.) Other audience members shared this aggrievement as well. The organizing committee, instead of taking the opportunity to educate the aggrieved philosophy graduate student about the intellectual norms of the profession she plans to enter instead sent out a missive to all those who attended the conference stating that,
In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
So one initial difference between the two cases is that Professor Swinburne's views really are a philosophical embarrassment, whereas Professor Shelby's views and his response to an inappropriate question were not. Indeed, the philosophical embarrassment is that the organizing committee of a philosophy conference caved in to meritless aggrievement by someone who apparently does not know what constitutes an appropriate philosophical question. The other difference involves the "official" SCP response to the Swinburne talk. Michael Rea (Notre Dame), the President of SCP, made the following public statement in the wake of attention being called to the Swinburne talk:
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As Preisdent of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
Like the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea rebukes the speaker to the extent of feeling the need to apologize for the effects of the talk (both statements apologize for "hurt"). Unlike the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea at least does not pronounce "what was said" to be "wrong" and verboten "for a Christian conference," which would, for the reasons noted by Prof. Swoyer, be a difficult position to defend in this "setting." Prof. Rea's response would have been better had it just consisted in the statement that "The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse." If he'd left it at that, this would not be notable at all.
The comical sanctimony of certain segments of the philosophy "profession" is a regular topic of conversation and head-shaking among adults, but the insulting treatment of philosopher Tommie Shelby (Harvard) after his keynote at the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism (SAF) sets a new low. Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), who always has his finger on the racing pulse of the hyper-sensitive, offers this account:
At the SAF, some members of the audience found the keynote talk by Tommie Shelby (Harvard), drawn from his forthcoming book Dark Ghettos, highly objectionable. My understanding (which may not be entirely accurate) is that the controversy concerned some remarks in the talk about procreative ethics, how (as he puts it in an earlier article), “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed,” and whether what he said was disrespectful to poor, black women. Some attendees apparently thought that an apology was in order, perhaps from the organizers. (UPDATE: two days after the SAF conference ended, its organizers sent an email to the participants issuing an apology, and requesting feedback from them regarding the event and future conferences.) (UPDATE 2: further details regarding Shelby’s talk can be found in the comment below from “a poor black woman who was there.”)
I suppose Professor Shelby (and everyone else) has learned an important lesson here, namely, that the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference, but one in which failure of ideological purity (which is marked by giving "offense"--heavens!) is verboten and results in an "official" repudiation by the organization.
Again, if we were dealing with professionals--it appears we are not--then we would expect SAF to issue an apology to Prof. Shelby for this shameful treatment at what was supposed to be a philosophical event. (I should add that the sins of SAF should not be visited on those who work in feminist philosophy, though there is, of course, some overlap in the two groups. But I guess if I were a job candidate, I would get SAF off my CV, lest the sins of the SAF organizers be visited on the innocent.)
UPDATE: Philosopher Kate Norlock (Trent) tells me that Professor Weinberg's account is not accurate, and therefore the inferences I have drawn from it are not warranted. She writes:
Tommie Shelby spoke to an attentive and quiet audience without interruption.the question-and-answer period afterward involved many members of the audience providing substantial and critical comments and questions to him. I can attest, since I was there, that their objections were not to the notion that the oppressed can have moral duties.
Interestingly, one of the more unfortunate moments in the discussion period was a moment when Shelby attempted to deflect a robust criticism with the comment that he was "just doing philosophy." Since the unfortunate implication of this ill-chosen deflection is that his questioner may not be trying to do the same, I found myself asserting, as I closed the event, that I appreciated the extent to which we all, including our keynote speaker, remained engaged and did philosophy together. It is therefore disappointing to read your statement that "the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference."
Presentations at our conference included the works of philosophers from 30 different states and 3 countries. I provide you the link to our program so that you may be better informed as to the philosophical content of our conference:
I know you care about truth and fact more than your post indicates. I believe that you wish to be accurate and right. Your post about SAF is neither. It is not reflective of actualities and instead seems to merely echo Justin Weinberg's likewise uninformed post at Daily Nous. Your recommendation that my organization should not appear on a philosopher's CV may be well-intended but is predicated on misunderstanding on your part.
Last, please provide me with any proof that I or my organization officially repudiated Tommie Shelby or owes him an apology. Proof should include more than your repetition of Justin Weinberg's gossip. That the blogs cite each other does not constitute proof. Again, I know that you know this, or would ordinarily know this.
I appreciate the additional detail, but I am, I confess, still puzzled. I am surprised that Prof. Weinberg's posting would remain uncorrected on these points after more than a day and despite dozens of comments including from members of SAF. (UPDATE: Prof. Weinberg's post was updated to reflect this point after I posted this.) I have asked Prof. Norlock for the apology e-mail organizers allegedly sent to members; Prof. Norlock's message to me was silent on tHis. When I have more information, I will post more.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Another SAF meeting attendee has forwarded me the e-mail sent out by the organizers, which confirms the crucial part of Prof. Weinberg's original account:
We write to all participants in the SAF 2016 conference so that those of us not on Facebook or social media have the same access to our acknowledgement of the harms some participants have already identified, and opportunities to participate in addressing them.
In planning this conference, we wanted to create a safe and nurturing space for feminist philosophers and feminist philosophies. We recognize that this was not the case for everyone present, and for that we apologize. In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
To: Colleagues at Northwestern and elsewhere
From: Benjamin I. Page, Fulcher Professor
Concerning: Jacqueline Stevens
September 22, 2016
In intellectual terms I have great respect for Jackie. She is very smart. Always provocative and interesting. I have enjoyed a number of lively interactions with her. Politically (in the world and national sense) I usually agree with her views, including some that others may consider far-out. Personally, we have always been on friendly terms. She has never caused me the slightest harm or discomfort – unless one counts my impatience with some of her lengthy discourses at department meetings; but that is par for the academic course.
Unfortunately, however, on matters of departmental citizenship and collegiality Jackie has fallen sadly short. She seems to have allowed her strong views on various substantive and (especially) procedural issues to provoke her into extreme actions that have traumatized a good many departmental colleagues – faculty, staff, students, and especially Chairs, the last three of whose lives she has made miserable repeatedly and over extended periods. Jackie’s recent scorched-earth policy of tendentiously blogging about normally confidential personnel matters threatens to disrupt the very functioning of the department. It has led our outstanding current department leaders Sara and Al – and most of my senior colleagues, including myself – to question whether it could be possible for any of us to serve as Chair with Jackie actively making trouble in the department.
This is a bad business. My sense is that several departmental colleagues and university administrators have been working very hard to avoid disaster. But Northwestern (and probably other universities as well) does not seem well prepared to deal with highly unusual situations in which extreme behavior by a single tenured faculty member threatens the functioning of a whole department. I am hopeful that this particular situation can be resolved. Perhaps new procedures will also be needed to protect against anything similar happening in the future.
The Political Science Department at Northwestern has been a wonderful intellectual home for me. I like and respect every one of my colleagues. I have greatly enjoyed working and talking with them. It is probably accurate to say that there is no other department in the country that could have been so helpful to the flourishing of my scholarly work. I would be extremely distressed, and would consider it a terrible loss to the university and the country, if anything were allowed to seriously damage such a fine group of scholars and human beings.
As everyone knows, the major threat to free speech at American universities comes not from hyper-sensitive and narcissistic millenials (though they can be a nuisance at some schools) but from those who want to police discourse about Israel and Palestine, and punish those who hold insufficiently pro-Israel views. Several readers have flagged for me the latest incident at Berkeley, which has now been resolved in favor of academic freedom and against the would-be censors. (Thanks to Arthur Smith for this link.) Nothing has done more damage to Israel in America than the consistently disgusting behavior of its alleged friends.
Professor Stevens has updated her website, and released a number of documents, most significantly, the June 22 investigative report prepared by outside counsel, Kathleen Rinehart, after Prof. Stevens requested indemnification following receipt of a cease-and-desist letter from Prof. Tillery's lawyer last Spring. (For those who have not been following this case, see the earlier post for a summary of what is known and not known about this affair.)
Among the revelations in the report, one learns that "[a]s a result of the unpredictability of Stevens' conduct and safety concerns expressed by a number of people in the Department, an officer from the University's Police Department provides a daily presence in the Department" (p. 6). The report also states that the undergraduate who allegedly witnessed the March 8 incident "said he never actually saw anything" (p. 8) (this seems hard to square with the declaration posted on-line by Prof. Stevens--see #8 in the earlier account). The Report also states, but does not document with names or testimony, that "the faculty, staff and students intervieweed as part of this process are afraid, exhausted and/or fed up by Stevens' aggressive and unpredictable conduct" (p. 10) and that, "To a person, individuals stated that the interaction between Tillery and Stevens on March 8 was not an isolated event; instead efforts to work with Stevens to accomplish even simple or non-controversial tasks are difficult to impossible" (p. 10). Unless the investigator is simply a liar--and if this ends up in litigation, we will find out--this is extremely damning.
Oddly, Prof. Stevens now includes the following reference to me in her new "Postscript": "If he bothered to fact-check my views on Title IX, he'd discover that his gleeful crowing about the ironies of my being banished after my role in having Peter Ludlow fired is way off." The post to which she alludes is this one. The parenthetical comment of mine to which she now responds at length is the following:
(Longtime readers may recall that Prof. Stevens championed the cause of the undergraduate complainant against Peter Ludlow several years ago, claiming that Ludlow had engaged in "criminal" misconduct. While the University found Ludlow in violation of the university's rules about sexual harassment, they did not find against him on any of the allegations that might have been criminal, and no criminal charges were ever filed.)
Prof. Stevens appears to have only two weapons in her rhetorical armory: (often reckless) hyperbole and the ad hominem. Given the former, I guess my comment could count as "gleeful crowing," but I thought its relevance was that it shows that Prof. Stevens does have a penchant for...reckless hyperbole, which seems not wholly unrelated to the issues raised by her colleagues. Her disjointed response to this in the "Postscript" is par for the course for those who have been following her website. She reports, for example, that,
I sat with her [the student complainant against Ludlow] for a two-hour interview by a Chicago police officer, who was appalled that Northwestern itself did not report the allegations a year earlier. It was obvious that the officer found the student credible and Northwestern remiss for not insuring a criminal investigation of her allegations against Peter Ludlow when NU first interviewed the student one year earlier.
Since then I learned of several other incidents involving faculty assaulting students (one was a social scientist and he did this to more than one student) and that NU's administration hid these episodes.
In fact, the police did not file criminal charges against Ludlow, nor did the University investigation conclude there was any criminal misconduct by Ludlow. (No mention of these facts by Prof. Stevens.) Thus, the original parenthetical observation made in passing stands: Prof. Stevens used the word "criminal" to describe conduct that was not.
I had remarked once previously that Prof. Stevens's rhetorical posture tends to lend support to, rather than discredit, the allegations about her, especially her penchant to combine conspiracy theories with her inability to resist even the most absurd ad hominem attacks. (A striking example are the bizarre series of ad hominem insinuations in Section 5 of this update.) If, as Prof. Stevens reports, she has legal representation, she should have her lawyer vet her public pronouncements.
In any case, this new information still does not resolve questions 9-11 that I raised here and which bear on the academic freedom issues raised by this case.
UPDATE: A couple of readers have now also called to my attention this page created by philosopher Sally Haslanger (MIT) in support of Prof. Jacqueline Stevens. Haslanger admits to having been friends with Stevens for more than twenty years, and also acknowledges that,
She [Prof. Stevens] can be rude. She can even be offensive. But the only times I have seen her be either is when she was provoked by rude and/or offensive behavior by others.
I am not sure it helps Prof. Stevens's case that her friend offers testimony not inconsistent with the general tenor of the allegations against her. Prof. Haslanger also assures us that Prof. Stevens is only "rude" and "offensive" as a tit-for-tat in response to rude and offensive behavior. (The "Trump approach"?) I'm uncertain how reassuring we should find that, given that someone with a propensity for being rude and offensive--not on a blog, mind you, but apparently in real life and to colleagues--may not be the best judge of what counts as rude or offensive behavior by others. Of course, rudeness and offensiveness would have to be quite extreme and disruptive to warrant disciplinary measures, and we still do not know all the details of the allegations against Prof. Stevens on that score and whether they are credible.
A philosophy graduate student elsewhere calls my attention to this interesting lecture by the writer Lionel Shriver; an excerpt:
Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, which—the horror— numerous partygoers wore.
When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the “culprits” threatening an investigation into an “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Partygoers were placed on “social probation,” while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoin’s student newspaper decried the attendees’ lack of “basic empathy.”
The student government issued a “statement of solidarity” with “all the students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and demanded that administrators “create a safe space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that “creates an environment where students of colour, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” In sum, the party-favour hats constituted – wait for it – “cultural appropriation.”
Curiously, across my country Mexican restaurants, often owned and run by Mexicans, are festooned with sombreros – if perhaps not for long. At the UK’s University of East Anglia, the student union has banned a Mexican restaurant from giving out sombreros, deemed once more an act of “cultural appropriation” that was also racist.
Now, I am a little at a loss to explain what’s so insulting about a sombrero – a practical piece of headgear for a hot climate that keeps out the sun with a wide brim. My parents went to Mexico when I was small, and brought a sombrero back from their travels, the better for my brothers and I to unashamedly appropriate the souvenir to play dress-up. For my part, as a German-American on both sides, I’m more than happy for anyone who doesn’t share my genetic pedigree to don a Tyrolean hat, pull on some leiderhosen, pour themselves a weisbier, and belt out the Hoffbrauhaus Song.
The ultimate endpoint of keeping out mitts off experience that doesn’t belong to us is that there is no fiction.
But what does this have to do with writing fiction? The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY: SHORT UPDATE (SEE #3, BELOW)
Let me start with a word about how I happened to start blogging about this. Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) first called Prof. Stevens's website to my attention, and then, upon his receiving some kind of confirmation from Sally Haslanger (MIT), he blogged about it. Others began sending me links as news stories began to break. It was pretty clear from the start that Prof. Stevens's account was, understandably, biased in her favor and incomplete; her rhetorical posture also did not enhance her credibility by my lights (but that is weak and defeasible evidence in a matter like this). I have, in the past, championed cases that were framed as Prof. Stevens framed hers: an outspoken professor being mistreated by a heavy-handed administration. But given my lawyerly instincts, I wait until I have more information before pressing forward (this is why, for example, I did not blog about Professor Sartwell's case initially, until I was persuaded he had been treated wrongfully--as the outcome suggests he was.) Victims are often made to look guilty unfairly, but miscreants almost always plead their innocence and sometimes try to play the victim (for example), so some caution is required in these matters.
1. On March 8, Prof. Stevens met with Prof. Tillery, in his capacity as Associate Chair, regarding course scheduling in the Department. This meeting did not end well. Prof. Stevens claimed Prof. Tillery screamed at her and slammed the door on her; Prof. Tillery claimed it was Prof. Stevens who behaved unprofessionally. (The University's investigator found in favor of Prof. Tillery on this point.)
2. Subsequently, Prof. Stevens began making statements about Prof. Tillery's conduct to others; Prof. Tillery claims these statements were false and defamatory. Prof. Tillery retained a lawyer who sent Prof. Stevens a demand letter that she cease and desist her alleged defamation and, allegedly, that she reimburse Prof. Tillery for his legal expenses. [9/11 UPDATE: Prof. Stevens has updated her website; the only relevant new information is a copy of the letter sent by Prof. Tillery's lawyer to her.]
3. Prof. Stevens refused, and asked the university to indemnify her against Prof. Tillery's legal threat. Before deciding whether indemnification was appropriate, the University hired an outside investigator, Kathleen Rinehart, the General Counsel of St. Xavier University here in Chicago, whose integrity Prof. Stevens has ceaselessly attacked since going public with events on September 1, but without any actual evidence of misconduct by the investigator.
4. The investigator found in favor of Prof. Tillery regarding the March 8 incident, but also reported that "most individuals" she interviewed "expressed serious concern about the unpredictability of Prof. Stevens' conduct" either toward themselves individually or towards others in the department, and that the "cumulative impact" of her conduct has been "debilitating" for normal department functioning.
5. These findings, it appears (I'm less certain about this), triggered some "process" (whose details and standards of evidence are unknown at this time) that resulted in Prof. Stevens being banned from campus and required to undergo a psychological evaluation.
Professor Tillery writes:
I learned recently that the fact that the Executive Summary of the Rinehart Report, which investigated the incident between Stevens and me, was placed in my personnel file gives me some ability to talk about it. In order to preserve the confidentiality of my colleagues, I have attached a screen shot of only that section of the Report that centers on me and the incident that Stevens has blogged so much about. Please feel free to share it and this note with your readers if you find it illuminating.
Here it is (click on it to enlarge):
Prof. Tillery kindly wrote to me and gave permission to share the following, which gives a more illuminating statement of what has transpired than I have seen in the media accounts:
I am writing to thank you for your very fair-minded blogging about the Jackie Stevens matter at Northwestern. I saw that Sara Monoson had an exchange with you already, and I was wondering if you had any questions for me or would like me to share any of the documents that I have about my interactions with Professor Stevens. Contrary to Professor Stevens's portrayal of these events, she has not been removed from campus because of the strange interaction that occurred in my office. Instead, she was removed because the investigation that she called for so that she could gain indemnification from the university against my legal actions turned up issues that triggered some of Northwestern's security protocols. I never asked for Professor Stevens to be removed from campus. Instead, I asked that my office be relocated to a different building so that I could get about my work and avoid her, just as I did when I was not serving in the departmental administration. I actually initiated legal action against Professor Stevens because I worried that the university would not act to punish her for spreading false claims against me. And, yes, the claims have been demonstrated to be false, and Professor Stevens knows that. I would also like to stress that my great alarm about Professor Stevens is not about micro-aggressions--they were just an extra bit of unpleasantness--but about the conspiracy element of her personal experience. In short, I felt threatened by Professor Stevens because (1) she believes that she is living out some sort of espionage novel; (2) thinks that I am part of the team against her; (3) falsified a complaint against me, which multiple witnesses (including her own) have now refuted; and (4) suggested that a young man volunteered to harm me on her behalf. So, I wanted to leave my office and go someplace else because I was not eager to see how that espionage novel--with me as the villain--was going to end. And, one just has to read her blog to see that it is an ongoing narrative for her, except, that is, when she needs the university to pay her legal bills.
Prof. Stevens's response to other media accounts certainly fits with what Prof. Tillery describes as her "ongoing narrative" of "conspiracy" and "espionage."
Professor Sara Monoson, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northwestern, writes:
Given that Prof. Stevens has chosen to publicize what might have remained a confidential personnel matter, I can offer an unadorned timeline that will illuminate what set the university's action in motion. Prof. Stevens' research and political activity had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Back in March 2016, Prof. Stevens filed a formal complaint against associate chair Prof. Tillery alleging verbal abuse. Prof. Tillery engaged an attorney to demand that she retract the false and defamatory accusation. She refused. She asked the university for indemnification. The university engaged an independent investigator whose credentials both parties approved. The investigator’s report concluded that indemnification was not warranted. That report also placed her behavior towards Prof. Tillery in the broader context of her pattern of uncivil and threatening conduct towards multiple faculty, staff and students in the department. The university is now dealing with this information according to established procedures. Prof. Stevens is doing her thing.
I hope you will ask more questions. For instance, why would she ask a university she claims to be persecuting her for indemnification?
I did ask that question in reply, and a couple of others, and will report further, probably later today.
UPDATE: I queried Prof. Monoson about whether there were other complainants and about other examples of threatening behavior by Prof. Stevens. Prof. Monoson replied:
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--UPDATED
A number of folks have been flagging this story: this version is free (but heavily dependent on Stevens), while the CHE story (which is much more informative) is behind a paywall. Briefly, Prof. Stevens has been barred from campus pending a psychological evaluation by a psychiatrist retained by the university. This grows out of complaints from her colleagues, in particular, an incident with the Associate Chair of Political Science, Alvin Tillery. Professor Stevens's account is here and Prof. Tillery's account is here. From the CHE article:
The university reviewed Ms. Stevens following a run-in she had in March with Alvin Bernard Tillery Jr., associate chair of political science. After the incident, each accused the other of screaming and shouting.
Mr. Tillery says Ms. Stevens’s behavior has felt "creepy" ever since he arrived at the university three years ago. He says she has screamed and sobbed in his office, spun tales of conspiracy theories — including charging the university with tapping her phones — and denigrated his scholarship in African-American studies. All of that, says Mr. Tillery, has made him worry that Ms. Stevens is unstable.
Then there was the confrontation in his office last March. "Do I think she might shoot me?" he asks. "Absolutely. It happens all over the country."
Although Prof. Stevens reports having an attorney at her webpage (which is wise!), it's not clear that her defense was reviewed by the attorney, since it fits rather too well with the allegation of spinning "tales of conspiracy theories." Of course, it may be she is correct to be paranoid and suspect a conspiracy, but on the evidence so far, it is very far from clear what is going on. This may be a case of Northwestern retaliating against an outspoken professor or it may be a case of a faculty member behaving very badly, to the point that an African-American colleague of hers fears for his safety. (Longtime readers may recall that Prof. Stevens championed the cause of the undergraduate complainant against Peter Ludlow several years ago, claiming that Ludlow had engaged in "criminal" mimsconduct. While the University found Ludlow in violation of the university's rules about sexual harassment, they did not find against him on any of the allegations that might have been criminal, and no criminal charges were ever filed.)
Readers with more information, preferably from parties other than those central to the dispute, should feel free to e-mail me more information.
UPDATE: A friend of mine who knows Prof. Tillery "reasonably well" calls him an "extraordinarily nice guy" who "treat[s] people with a lot of respect," which is consistent with the outpouring of support from former students on his Facebook page.
ANOTHER: More details from IHE:
Remarkable bad behavior by the administration there. (Thanks to Michael Weisberg for the pointer.)
Comments are open for more information about what's going on, links to other sources, and the like.
Professor Sartwell writes: "I have been reinstated at Dickinson. All I'm permitted to say is that the parties have amicably resolved their differences in a manner that resulted in my return to employment."
Many thanks to all those who contributed to Prof. Sartwell's legal fund. I have no doubt that being able to retain excellent legal counsel was crucial to this happy outcome. (I should also acknowledge Dean William Carter of the University of Pittsburgh Law School who kindly responded to my request to find an experienced Pennsylvania lawyer familiar with employment law and higher education issues.)
An undergraduate at another university writes:
Dear Mr Leiter,
I am a student in philosophy at [name omitted]. I just wanted to express gratitude for this post (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2016/08/crime-vs-sex-crime.html#more) because it corroborates my experience and makes me feel as though I am not alone.
This part in particular stands out:
'a handful of very vocal figures (many otherwise quite marginal to academic philosophy), whose mixture of foolishness, sanctimoniousness and/or vindictiveness we've commented on many times before--for example, here, here, here, here, here,here. "Pathologically self-righteous people" (to quote an earlier correspondent) can't be reasoned with, but perhaps they can be stopped. But this will require more courage and forthrightness from the majority in the profession, both faculty and students, who find this climate of fear, with its harm to honest intellectual discussion, unacceptable.'
There is a group at my university who call themselves [an acronym for a group of female students of philosophy at the university]. They actively recruit members and take it upon themselves to organise things like reading groups, "how to apply" workshops, etc. They don't stand out for their philosophical ability but they give themselves an active role and visible presence in the department. When I began at the university, I joined, but have been disappointed to discover the core group are a clique who approach politics with exactly the sort of self-righteous and authoritarian attitudes and behaviours you mention here. None of them are faculty: they are people who have at least finished undergraduate studies and are looking to complete either a Masters or a PhD at some point. As I said, they don't stand out for having particular philosophical ability. Faculty don't seem to be either opposed to or particularly supportive of them. However I have found their presence intimidating and frustrating, because I don't agree with all of their political opinions, or at least have the audacity to believe they are open to question. It's not just that they promulgate their own set of dogmas, but that you feel like you have to watch your back and be careful what you say, otherwise they might mobilise people against you. I find them anti-philosophical: they don't seem to value academic freedom or free inquiry, preferring instead to police language and thought for "problematic" expression and views.
Anyway, I hope they fall by the wayside over time, and don't represent the future of philosophy. I hope all we are seeing is some kind of political fad that will die out sooner rather than later. Thanks again for taking a public stand against this worrying phenomenon!
That piece clearly touched a nerve with many readers. Another junior faculty member at another university wrote about his social media exposure to his colleagues at a temporary job he had elsewhere:
[T]he sorts of things I was seeing were just appalling. As one of your correspondents put it, the kind of pathological self-righteousness, the grotesque moral peacocking competition to see who could most aggressively signal their sensitivity to the marginalized and oppressed...it was just unbelievable to me that so many professional philosophers and graduate students could be so manifestly self-deluded as to what they were doing and why. I needn't provide examples to you, I'm sure.
In that time, you were one of the few people who helped me keep my sanity. I am normally a very outspoken person, and if not for being on the market, and having tenure to think about after that, I am very much the sort who would have relished the opportunity to weigh in on all this shameful nonsense. But at the time, I could barely keep my head above water, and am now proud I managed to resist writing some publicly available screed that might have kept me from getting a job. One of the most frustrating things about that time (and now) is that I feel less free to express my opinions than I ever did as a graduate student, where I felt very free. The climate is so censorious and grandstandingly punitive that I, like so many others, feel effectively silenced. And I still largely feel that way despite having a TT job now.
More folks, including the many senior folks I hear from, need to be more vocal in the lives of their departments and on social media about the unacceptability of this behavior.
Although I've not talked to any of those involved, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is all a coordinated effort: here now is the University President Robert Zimmer, and here is my colleage Geoffrey Stone (lead author of the University's free expression statement). Stone's piece has a useful chronicle of examples of attempts to suppress expression on various campuses.
It is amusing to see various folks in philosophy cyberspace who are precisely part of the problem ridiculing all this as a publicity stunt; but these are the same folks responsible for the "climate of fear" in academic philosophy about attaching one's name to the defense of reasonable views about gender, diversity, the appropriate punishment of sexual harassers, and the nature and content of the philosophy curriculum. It will soon be time to borrow one of their favorite tactics and "name and shame" the folks who have degraded the profession with their vindictive intolerance. There is a robust culture of free expression at this University, which other schools would do well to emulate. (I note as but one example that my libertarian and law & economics colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School knew full well the range of my political and moral opinions when they hired me!)
UPDATE: This interview with Geof Stone suggests that the Dean of the College's letter that got all the attention was not something approved by the University Administration: Stone basically disowns the way it was written.
Everyone in cyberspace is blathering about this, so I will add my own brief blather:
1. Academic freedom protects the right of faculty to utilize trigger warnings if in their professional judgment it is important for the pedagogical mission in a class. To the extent the letter implies they are forbidden, it is nonsense. ("Trigger warnings" are a popular blather topic in their own right, but there's not much more worth saying than this.)
2. Insofar as the letter is meant to send a message, the message is that all ideas can be discussed at the University of Chicago, subject to norms of civility essential for learning. So, for example, if some faculty or students here tried to suppress discussion of Germaine Greer's views about gender--as happened in philosophy cyberspace not long ago--they would be unsuccessful here. If anyone interfered with the expression of such ideas, they themselves would be subject to discipline for disrupting the mission of the university. By contrast, criticism of Greer's views on gender would enjoy the same protection at the University of Chicago.
3. #2 is obviously the only way for a serious university to run--even Herbert Marcuse argued that in the famous essay on "Repressive Tolerance." Here the Marxian left, the traditional liberal and the libertarian right should all be in agreement. Only that consumerist phenomenon of elite universities and their narcissistic students--roughly "identity politics"--is the outlier here.
About thirty years ago, I was a grad student TA at Michigan, which had a union for TAs. Our wages and benefits (esp. health) were way better than those held by the TAs at Yale at the time (they were not, needless to say, unionized).
That was then, of course. Market conditions changed, and wealthy private universities--and not-so-wealthy ones like NYU--had to respond to market pressures, pressures created often by the existence of unionized grad students elsewhere. NYU beat off a unionization challenge a decade or so ago by dramatically improving economic conditions for their PhD students, but NYU is especially vulnerable since the university's endowment does not allow it to compete in the "big leagues," so it is highly dependent on tuition and other short-term revenue and cheap labor, now mainly in the form of adjunct teaching.
Now the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, in a case brought by Columbia students, that grad students who work as TAs have the right to unionize, reversing a 2004 decision involving students at Brown. As usual, this brings forth the usual nonsense and tired canards about unions and the "special" character of graduate education. Thus the President of Yale:
As a Yale graduate student, professor, and administrator, I have experienced firsthand how the teacher-student relationship is central to the university’s academic enterprise. The mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars. I have long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be “supervisors” of their graduate student “employees.”
Today the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students at Columbia University, who assist with teaching and research as part of their education, are employees of that school. I disagree with this decision....
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences enrolls the world’s most promising students in its doctoral programs. These students choose Yale for the opportunity to study with our outstanding faculty, and to take advantage of the university’s wide array of academic resources, generous financial aid, and comprehensive benefits. Yale will continue to provide exceptional support to our graduate students as they focus on their scholarship, successfully complete their degree programs, and find rewarding careers.
Three women of colour from developing countries who have worked with Thomas Pogge asked me to share a statement regarding how the response to the allegations against Prof. Pogge has affected them. They had originally planned to make this a signed statement (which I had offered to post), but as one of the authors explained to me:
At each step, we were discouraged by friends and colleagues, who said we would be viewed as apologists for Thomas, and that we could kiss our feminist reputations goodbye. I'm very disappointed with where we are in academia, and I'm also disappointed with myself. We're going to have to think of another way of expressing our views, or perhaps we will just need to wait a few months until the storm blows over. I'm sorry for having wasted your time, though it's been good (for me) to connect with you. I read your blog regularly and appreciate your courage on many issues very much.
In the end, they decided they could share the statement they drafted, but without their names. Here it is:
We write to express some concern about the widely circulated Open Letter condemning Thomas Pogge. We clarify, first, that our aim is not to cast doubt upon the allegations upon which the letter is based. We are all too familiar with the institutional ‘cultures of silence’ that try to muzzle women who speak out against sexual harassment and sexual assault. We stand, always, with such women of courage in their quests for justice.
Our intention, here, is to advocate for the women, including ourselves, whose academic achievement, commitment to social justice, and personal integrity have been unjustly brought under a cloud due to Prof. Pogge’s alleged misconduct and also some efforts to condemn it. In particular, our concern is with what is said and yet left unsaid in the open letter. Among other things, Pogge is accused of violating professional norms by making “quid pro quo offers of letters of recommendation and other perks,” presumably in return for sexual favours. In no way has this been our experience with Prof. Pogge. Nor is it that of many other women whom we know to be professionally associated with him. In our view, the open letter should have been more discriminating in its choice of words rather than painted with such a broad brush.
Furthermore, while it is commendable that concern for the well-being of women, “notably women of colour,” associated with Pogge features prominently in the open letter, we are saddened that there is no corresponding language that recognizes our talent, merit, and integrity. This is a serious lapse, given the potentially harmful impact of the letter on women, notably young, professionally insecure women of colour from developing countries, who have worked with Prof. Pogge.
It is distressing that any of this needs to be said. But in a world where women still struggle to be taken seriously in their professional lives, and where women of colour are all too easily eroticized and portrayed as lacking agency, dignity, and integrity, we speak out of concern that the open letter’s categorical language on Pogge’s women of colour victims, along with thoughtless social media discussions about his corrupt, nefarious relationships with them, will only reinforce sexist and racist stereotypes. Our unease is amplified by the fact that the letter was shared hundreds of times across multiple online platforms, i.e., well beyond the academic “philosophical community” to which it is originally addressed. We ask for more caution, care, and compassion moving forward.
(Earlier post related to these issues.)
Initially, Oberlin's President, Marvin Krislov, took the principled position regarding this unfortunate person: her anti-Semitic ravings on Facebook are extramural speech within the protection of her contractually guaranteed rights of academic freedom. Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees has forced Krislov to act (I have it on good authority that the pressure came from the Board):
Dear Oberlin Community Members:
In response to recent renewed national media interest in the matter of Professor Joy Karega, I am writing to provide an update to you in advance of any public statement.
In March, in consultation with me as President, Oberlin's Board asked the administration and faculty to use its governance processes to review Professor Karega's professional fitness in light of her social media postings. Accordingly, the faculty governance process began and is ongoing.
I am committed to continuing and completing an equitable review process. While the process is pending, Professor Karega is on paid leave and will not be teaching at Oberlin. Arrangements are being made to cover her teaching and advising responsibilities.
In recognition of the sensitivity of this continuing review process and the privacy of the individuals involved, we will have no other comment until the conclusion of the process.
Marvin Krislov President
We truly value alumni interest, inquiry, and support and will continue to share official information and updates as they become available.
M. Danielle Young Executive Director Oberlin Alumni Association
P.S. For a compilation of Oberlin College statements, articles, and updates related to these issues, visit the Alumni Association's News and Features page.
Oberlin already had a bad reputation for toleration of free speech on campus; the Board of Trustees must be really naïve if it thinks that would-be student censors are going to recognize an exception to academic freedom only for anti-Semitic speech.
(Thanks to Mark Engleson for the pointer.)
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY: THANKS TO THOSE WHO HAVE SIGNED, THEY ARE SLOW TO UPDATE THE SITE, BUT I ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO SIGN AS WELL!
A philosophy graduate student (who did not want to be named, for reasons that will become obvious) calls my attention to this petition which I encourage all faculty to sign: it protests the creation of a blacklist of students deemed anti-Israel by an organization called "Canary Mission." The aim is to harm their professional and educational prospects. I do wish so many American defenders of Israel weren't disgusting fascists.
During college tours last year, we passed through Hamilton College, which my son liked, especially the open curriculum (he ended up going elsewhere in the end). But this decision is both pedagogically dubious and inconsistent with the absence of distribution requirements, which is probably one of Hamilton's most distinctive features in the landscape of elite liberal arts colleges.
Here. Dreger is an historian of science, who has herself been the victim of the thought police because she has discussed, sympathetically, disfavored views about transgender people. Her main theme is that threats to academic freedom in universities come from three sources: the "left" (as she calls the "identity politics left," which, of course, isn't the left, since for the actual left, only one identity counts, the human), the right (I.e., reactionary state legislatures that want to censor research and teaching), and corporate sponsorship (which wants universities to adhere to the "brand").
(Thanks to Philipp Lemoine for the pointer.)
And he's attacking not just the military, judges, and the police, but he has also demanded that all university deans resign (!), and has barred foreign travel by academics and civil servants (including researchers and faculty at public universities). There is a petition protesting the "purge of academic institutions in Turkey," but given who we're dealing with here, I don't think petitions will have much impact. Academics here might do better to petition the Obama Administration to exercise its very real influence with Turkey. The EU could do the same.
Comments are open for more information, links, etc. Turkish academics can, of course, post anonymously.
(Thanks to Jack Woods for the pointers.)
Robin Wilson, a reporter at CHE who has covered academic philosophy quite a bit, kindly sent along a link to her latest article looking at the philosophy profession (the link should be free for about 24 hours, then behind a paywall again). Many of the changes described seem sensible, though a lot depends on the department and its members (it is possible to have parties with alcohol without stupid behavior, after all). The NYU "be nice" rules did make me laugh, not because they're terrible ideas but because a third or more of the faculty there were, historically, serial violators of them! I was astonished, however, by this other bit of the article:
[Philosopher Janice Dowell] initially refused to publish in the Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism, due out next year, because she had "a lot of independent evidence" that a male philosopher who had also been asked to contribute was harassing women in the field, she says. She told the editor, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, about her concerns, and he confirmed that the other philosopher’s work would not appear in the volume.
This calls to mind our discussion from the other day. I wonder, did Routledge know that the editor of a purportedly scholarly volume was also a vigilante acting as judge, jury and executioner? (Ichikawa doesn't have much judgment, to be sure, but I do wonder what the philosophy editor at Routledge thinks about this.) How many other philosophers working in this field were excluded as a sanction for their alleged misconduct? What do epistemologists think about this? Doesn't this kind of editorial decision-making pose a threat to the philosophical integrity of your field? The Routledge Handbook is now damaged goods, isn't it? I'm happy to say I've never heard of this kind of editorial behavior in any of the fields I'm most familiar with, so maybe this is just a pathology of epistemology only.
Let me offer a constructive suggestion. If you believe you have credible evidence about misconduct by an academic elsewhere, contact colleagues in that department or contact the Title IX office at that university. I've done the latter on one occasion (with, alas, mixed results, but this was because a crucial witness in the end was not willing to speak further with the Title IX enforcement officer).
The hopeful scenario is that he was simply too aroused by this reading.
...in English at Yale. But can philosophy be far behind?
INDEED as this mindlessness migrates to philosophy, the results should be interesting. The typical "intro" graduate seminar to 20th-century analytic philosophy would involve reading Frege, Russell, Strawson, Carnap, Quine, Kripke, maybe some Davidson or Putnam or D. Lewis too. That course would have to go. The study of German Idealism: that's out too, all a bunch of white guys, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel etc. 19th-century German philosophy: forget it, all white guys again, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, maybe also Feuerbach and Schopenhauer (and all Germans to boot--what a disgraceful lack of diversity). Of course, the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy would have to go, once again all white guys (were they white? I'm not even sure, but they were definitely guys!). The future of academic philosophy is going to be interesting!
In The New Yorker; it really sounds like an unhappy and dysfunctional environment. What a shame for what used to be a major liberal arts college in the Midwest.
(Thanks to Robert McGarvey for the pointer.)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently appointed John C. Bambenek to the Illinois Board of Higher Education as the sole faculty representative. Many have criticized the move by claiming that Bambenek’s views aren’t representative of most faculty members. I claim this is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Bambenek should not be eligible to serve as the lone faculty representative to the IBHE since he isn’t even eligible to represent the University of Illinois faculty on their Senate.
As Chair of the Faculty Senate at WIU and as someone who has written about the importance of the IBHE and Illinois philosophy programs on this blog, I reached out to Professor Gay Miller, the current Senate Executive Committee Chair at Illinois, and she confirms what I suspected: Mr. Bambenek is ineligible to represent faculty on their Senate by both Board of Trustee Statutes and their Faculty Senate Constitution. You can find the eligibility requirements on the Senate Election Rules for the Faculty Electorate page (below the fold in blue).
The Illinois State Senate still has to approve Rauner’s appointment. State Senator Antonio Muñoz is the Chair of the Executive Appointment Committee. Professor Gay is sending letters to both Senator Muñoz and Governor Rauner objecting to Bambenek’s appointment. There is still time for philosophers, faculty, and citizens of Illinois to ask for an actual faculty member who understands the needs and concerns of faculty in Illinois to represent them on the IBHE.
Rightly so, as far as I can see: due process matters, even when there appears to be clear evidence of misconduct.
An "open letter" from twenty-one law faculty--this largely (but not wholly) a group of right-leaning law professors, though many of the issues have been raised by others across the political spectrum in law.
Philosopher of science J.D. Trout (Loyola/Chicago) comments.
Really? Bristol Admins, are you nuts?
Votes of no confidence spread. President Cross is in a difficult situation; the Regents should all resign, they have more power and they have been complicit in laying the seeds for the destruction of what was a great state university system. Shame, shame.
This time involving the Antioch Review. IHE quotes excerpts from the "offending" article which seem like rather mild criticism, and certainly not "hate speech" under any known statutory definition of the latter. It all brings to mind the thought police tantrum that accompanied the discussion of Germaine Greer's views. Alas.
A press release here. I have not yet read the complaint, but assuming his tenure contract with Marquette includes standard AAUP protections for academic freedom, he has a good claim.
ADDENDUM: I'm astonished to see that Justin Weinberg (South Carolina) continues to assert, falsely, that Prof. McAdam's original blog post was inaccurate; in fact, it was almost entirely accurate. The faculty committee report from which he quotes is astonishing, a formal confirmation that Marquette University is not a serious university that values either academic freedom or free speech. (As an amusing aside, even the committee report acknowledges at the bottom of p. 152 that the existence of inaccuracies in the original blog post is irrelevant!) It as written as though there is some legal ambiguity about whether Prof. McAdam's extramural speech is legally protected by his contract with the university; there is not. It acts as though it is up to the committee to redraw the boundaries of academic freedom; it is not. If the contract incorporates the AAUP standards, then the matter is legally closed. Most astonishingly, it invents a new obligation, namely that when faculty speak extramurally, they "avoid recklessly causing [others] harm, even indirectly." It is a shame there won't be a photo of the look on the judge's face when he or she reads this interpretation of Marquette's contractual obligations to protect the academic freedom of Prof. McAdams. There is no extant interpretation of freedom of speech or academic freedom that would license such a restriction, and for the obvious reasons that it is too vague for anyone to be able to anticipate what speech it encompasses.
Story here. This is all very sad, considering that Madison has been one of the great state research universities in the country. Will they be in the top 20 a decade from now? We'll know within a year or two the fallout of all this turmoil--not that it will matter to lowlife ignoramuses like Scott Walker.
Alas, the fired professor is a rather creepy piece of work, but his lawsuit clearly has merit. A state university can not fire a tenured professor for holding creepy views, and the justification given (failure to fill out some conflict of interest forms) is transparently pretextual. What the university should have done is initiated a normal process to evaluate his competence; his conspiracy theories clearly fall within the purview of his alleged scholarly research and expertise, and it presumably would have been straightforward to establish that he is not competent through a formal peer-review of his ideas (think of the denier of heliocentrism in the astronomy department, the intelligent design theorist in biology, or the alchemist in the chemistry department). Instead, in response to public pressure, they cooked up a justification for firing him based on failure to file some paperwork, even though it's obvious he was being punished for his constitutionally protected speech. My guess is that since FAU can afford to fight this for longer than the fired professor can, that he will end up getting a settlement of some kind.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY
The petition is here. (Thanks to philosopher Joel Pust [Delaware] for organizing this.) The background statement hedges a bit more than is really necessary in my view, crediting claims by the college that are nonsensical and won't stand up in court. But the basic text of the statement is good and I urge all members of the academic community to sign the petition. Here's the key text:
We the undersigned, as members of the community of scholars, protest the apparent termination without due process by Dickinson College of Professor Crispin Sartwell, a TENURED associate professor of philosophy, contrary to Dickinson's own Academic Handbook, AAUP guidelines, and the customary standards of tenure.
Unless the College can produce a formal letter of resignation by Professor Sartwell or evidence that he accepted a separation agreement, we call for Professor Sartwell to be reinstated immediately and for the administration of Dickinson College to act in accordance with Dickinson's Academic Handbook and accepted AAUP standards in all subsequent dealings with Professor Sartwell.
Thanks also to the many readers who helped Prof. Sartwell meet the fundraising goal to help with his legal expenses.
UPDATE: The petition was released April 21, and garnered about 100 signatures in its first five days. In the last 24 hours, since this post went up, more than 80 additional philosophers and academics in other fields have signed--thank you! But I hope even more readers will join them as signatories. Ned Block, Jeff McMahan, John Gardner, Neil Tennant, Keith Whittington, Alex Byrne, Peter Vallentyne, Richard Moran, and C.D.C. Reeve are among the distinguished senior scholars who have signed in the last day: please join them! Colleges hate unfavorable attention to their bad behavior. Legal remedies are being sought, but the academic community can make known its concern with what has transpired.