Jamin Asay, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong, writes:
I'm writing to let you and your readers know about some of the struggles over academic freedom that are taking place in Hong Kong right now.
Fears about encroachment from mainland China into Hong Kong politics are of ongoing concern across the territory, and there is growing worry that the autonomy of the universities in Hong Kong is under attack. The latest dustup revolves around the blocking of the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan to a senior leadership position by the University of Hong Kong Council, a body that includes several members appointed by Hong Kong's Chief Executive. Chan's appointment was blocked despite a unanimous recommendation of him for the post by the selection committee, and many suspect that political reasons are the source of his rejection. As former dean of HKU's law school, Chan is a colleague of Benny Tai, one of the leaders of the "Occupy Central" movement that overtook Hong Kong one year ago. Many believe that this action of the Council is serving as a punishment to HKU for its role in Occupy Central and the "Umbrella Movement", as many of the leaders of the movement are students or staff at HKU. Background on the issue can be found here:
My colleague Timothy O'Leary, Professor of Philosophy and Head of the School of Humanities, is one of the leaders of a protest movement to fight back against any threats to academic freedom in Hong Kong. He helped to organize a silent protest march yesterday that attracted upwards of 2,000 HKU students and staff, and future demonstrations are in the works. News reports on yesterday's protest are here:
...has a "safe space policy" which, in non-Orwellian language, is actually a "policy to suppress speech in the name of equality", as its application to the lesbian feminist writer Julie Bindel plainly demonstrates. (Thanks to Phil in an earlier thread for pointing this out.) This is the road some would like American universities to head down, alas. I wonder if anyone familiar with Manchester and this policy can comment on how frequently it is invoked for the suppression of speech that is clearly not unlawful, even under English law?
UPDATE: As explained by several commenters, the Student Union (responsible for the "safe space policy") is a legally distinct entity from the University, over which the latter has, it appears, no control.
“My mind was racing but physically, I was frozen,” she wrote. “How do I react to this? In high school, I would have walked out of the room straight to my car. I would have called my mother on the way home, and she would have arrived at the front office in under an hour to rip the principal and his employees a new one. All is well when you are young and do not have to deal with these issues head-on. But in college my mother is over 1,800 miles away. This time around I was on my own.”
UPDATE: Here's the full statement by the complaining student--the one whose Mom wasn't available this time. Its contempt for tenure and for academic freedom is appalling. Its inability to distinguish between racism and failed pedagogy is also alarming.
No, it's not; yes, it is. (Some of the comments at the latter are a bit, shall we say, "off topic," but several are interesting on both sides of the issue.)
(Thanks to a reader who asked not to be named for the pointers.)
ADDENDUM: Things are going a bit further off the rails at the second link, alas, but there's one interesting comment a bit further down worth noting, so I quote it here:
What's tiresome about the Rini piece is that she writes as if those of us interested in promoting dignity for all individuals and groups are somehow blind to the importance of solidarity with the marginalized.
We're not. Solidarity is *obviously* very important. We are, however, suspicious of this particular instantiation of solidarity, because it is bound up with a variety of ills that conflict with other important values. Trigger warnings, overzealous speech codes, changes to syllabi, and the need for "safe spaces," are all outgrowths of this instantiation of solidarity, all cause real intellectual harm, and all cater to a childish mentality.
Moreover, there is a performative aspect to all of this, amplified by social media, that is simply off-putting. And the performative element feels increasingly 'mandatory' in some quarters; one's denunciation of the most recent outrage must be swift, harsh, and public.
Rini is of course under no intellectual obligation to address all of this. But then, to whom is she really talking? Does she really believe that those of us who object to 'call out' culture are uninterested in solidarity, or do not recognize it when we see it? We recognize it, but at the same time we also recognize other characteristics that ought to be kept at arms' length. This latter insight doesn't disqualify one from upholding the value of solidarity, and claiming that it does is simply another feature of this increasingly ridiculous debate.
I think it would be interesting and appropriate to see discussion of academic boycotts as a tool of political protest and persuasion, specifically in relation to the BDS movement and Israeli policies in the occupied territories. A recent article in the Electronic Intifada raises issues that some American philosophers might be interested in.
Comments are open. Please try to keep it substantive and calm.
I will state my own view (which everyone is welcome to reject or dispute): while there might be situations in which academic boycotts would be effective tools of political persuasion, Israel is not one of them. An academic boycott would punish innocent parties, without any prospect at all that the government would change its policy because of the inconvenience to academics. Economic boycotts or sanctions would surely make a much greater difference to Israeli policy towards the occupied territories.
Kate Manne, an assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell, has an op-ed on "trigger warnings" in the New York Times. She makes some good points contra this piece (though that piece was not primarily about "trigger warnings"), but elides the real issues which are: (1) PTSD is a clinical diagnosis, and no one I know has argued against (legally required) accomodations for someone with that medical condition; (2) instructors, with no clinical competence, making ad hoc judgments about what warnings *might* be necessary for students who *might* have PTSD is an invitation to both insufficient accomodation and unnecessary "warnings" that may have, as their consequence, precisely what the critics claim, namely, shutting down discussion. Prof. Manne is aware of the latter risk, but says only that, "Common sense should tell us that material that is merely offensive to certain people’s political or religious sensibilities wouldn’t merit a warning." Common sense is sometimes in short supply, alas (The Atlantic article is actually full of useful examples.)
ADDENDUM: The AAUP statement is also useful, and see esp. its discussion of the Oberlin policy, which was distinctly lacking in "common sense."
Interesting report here, though I'm not aware of the loss in the philosophy department alluded to (unless they are referring to the political/legal philosopher Colleen Murphy switching her main appointment to law, though she is still in philosophy).
ANOTHER: Prof. Murphy tells me that Jonathan Waskan (philosophy of science), previously a tenured associate professor, decided to leave academia. She reports that none of these developments (Waskan's, Arana's, or hers) were related to the Salaita affair.
IHE has a good account (thanks to several readers who sent this along). Having looked at one of the syllabi in question, I should note that it prohibited use of words like "The Man" and "colored people." I imagine the instructor was motivated to include those based on past experience. And an instructor is well within her legal rights to discourage use of pejorative terms like these. Students in a classroom at a public university do not enjoy unbridled First Amendment rights, just as instructors don't either: both are subject to reasonable regulation to insure a constructive educational environment. (Recall our earlier discussion of Pickeringin connection with the Salaita case.) Some of the syllabi arguably overreached, both in what language they sought to regulate and in specifying excessive punitive measures. Anyway, what's really noticeable here is that despite the right-wing crazy storm in cyberspace by the usual smear merchants, Washington State came up with a balanced response that corrected the excesses without caving in to the witch hunt.
More on Canada's apparently most dysfunctional university. The culture of bullying clearly extends to the philosophy department, where Alan Richardson (the Chair of the Department at UBC and a longtime PGR hater, going back to 2002!) tried to bully colleagues, as we've since learned, into signing last fall's PGR boycott statement, until there was a backlash in the department--at which point Richardson had to make clear that he and Jenkins didn't want to force anyone to sign. Once that happened, five members of the Department who had signed prior to the release of the statement withdrew their names just days before its publication! (Amusingly, outside UBC, David Velleman also withdrew his name too: he obviously realized it was absurd to suggest that my derisive e-mail to Carrie Jenkins after she threatened me was especially "harmful" because of my role in the PGR.)
More here. Another hopeful sign--Chancellor Wise is gone, Board Chair Chris Kennedy is gone, now the Provost. With the original micreants out of the way, this will make it much easier to reach a settlement with Salaita, involving reinstatement, and rescuing the reputation of the University (and saving it millions).
This rather odd piece is making the rounds (thanks to reader David Zimmerman for sending it to me initially). It is titled, "5 Reasons to Be Skeptical of 'Campus Coddling' Scare Pieces," alluding to this. Oddly, though, there's only one actual reason given, since the other four points are irrelevant to whether or not these "scare pieces" are accurate. Here are the five purported reasons:
1. Most of the examples to support these pieces are purely anecdotal
True, but what in the world would data even look like in this context? And the denial that there is a problem is, of course, anecdotal too. What's clear by now is that there are a lot of anecdotes from a lot of different places; if they have anything in common that would caution against generalizing it is that they come overwhelmingly from elite colleges and universities, which probably have disproportionate numbers of coddled, spoiled narcissists in the student body.
2. Conservatives are in fact more likely to be “sensitive” and “babyish” about content, yet all the alarm is about liberalism.
Even if this were true, it would be irrelevant to the claims about the "New Infantilism" on campus. But is it true? The author offers this further non-sequitur:
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post also used facts and numbers to push back on the idea that “political correctness” was a left-wing phenomenon. Citing a survey about censorship, Catherine Rampell noted that: “In almost every category, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to endorse book bans.” Why is no one calling these censorious types squeamish babies who demand to be coddled?
Well, for one things, the attempts to ban books are not happening at colleges, typically, but at the pre-collegiate public schools, and one typically calls those trying to ban books more unpleasant names, e.g., "fascists" or "the Texas Taliban."
3. There may be real ways that millennials have a different cultural outlook, but no one is exploring the cause and effect of technology and culture on that outlook.
The question is how widespread the New Infantilism is, the question about its cause is separate, so this is irrelevant.
4. There are crises in academia, but they are not solely curricular or student-caused.
The author mentions the problems confronting adjuncts, as one example. Who could disagree? But the truth of the presence of the New Infantilism on college campuses does not depend on whether there are other more serious crises in the academy.
5. PTSD is not a being a baby.
No one called those suffering from PTSD "babies." Someone with PTSD is entitled to systematic accomodations under the Americans with Disabilites Act, and should receive them.
Given how absurdly unresponsive this piece is, one might note that another problem confronting universities is graduating nitwits who can't reason--though, as a friend on facebook quipped, for a site called "flavorwire," coming up with one feeble reason out of five alleged ones isn't bad!
Over at the FP blog, there is someone described (opaquely) as "having some expertise in law and philosophy." Is the person a lawyer? I'm not sure. Is it one person or several (the FP blog refers to the pseudonym as "they"). In any case, in the post at issue, the procedural posture of the recent events in the Salaita lawsuit is correctly described. But buried in the rather pedantic discussion of the procedures comes this gem:
(Pardon a brief detour in the discussion. Looming over the entire process is settlement. Discovery is very costly, so the University may be especially motivated to settle now that their motion to dismiss has been denied. Suppose that the University wants to depose 10 people, and suppose each deposition takes 8 hours. Depending on who is taking the deposition, the hourly billable rate might be anywhere from $450 to upwards of $1000. Suppose it’s something in the middle, maybe $700. Just the deposition time itself — setting aside preparation time and assuming that it’s just this one lawyer doing all the work — will cost the University $56,000. That’s a new professor’s salary or a few graduate student stipends for a year and that’s just taking depositions. There will also be time spent defending depositions (what the University will do when their witnesses are being deposed, which amounts to sitting there and occasionally objecting for the record), collecting and reviewing documents, and preparing for trial. The high costs of litigation may often make settlements a good economic proposition for both parties, which is why reading anything about the merits into the existence or amount of a settlement alone, as some did after the University of Colorado settled with David Barnett, is disfavored.)
That last line is obviously a reference to my (correct) diagnosis of the Barnett case But I did wonder, who exactly is it that "disfavors" drawing inferences from the terms of a settlement? Certainly not anyone familiar with the law or lawsuits. Indeed, even FP's "they" are in favor of drawing inferences: after all, the point of noting the costs of discovery is to suggest that sometimes lawsuits settle simply for economic reasons. No one, of course, denied that cost-benefit calculations go into settlements, though they don't work in the simple-minded way "their" discussion suggests: after all, it just isn't the case that a university's budget for litigation is fungible with its instructional budget. And the more important point, which I made in connection with the Barnett settlement, is that universities can almost always afford to litigate longer than individuals: all the economic considerations typically force individuals to settle for less when litigating against institutional actors. That's why the terms of the Barnett settlement were so striking: not only a cash payout, and a forgiven loan, but payment of a substantial portion of Barnett's attorney fees. Against the backdrop of Colorado's Title IX troubles (described in my post), and no evidence of wrongdoing by Barnett that would justify revocation of tenure, the inference to the best explanation of what happened is plainly the one I offered. The only relevant question is whether there is a better explanation; it certainly isn't "theirs."
But back to Salaita: although "they" describe the procedural posture of the case correctly, they omit all the relevant strategic considerations that now kick in. The University wants to avoid discovery, which will be hugely embarrassing, even more embarrassing than what's already come out. The most potent claims in Salaita's lawsuit survived the motion to dismiss. If, as seems very likely, Salaita establishes the facts alleged in the complaint for the breach of contract claim, he will win a motion for summary judgment before the judge who decided the motion to dismiss claim. The lawyers for the University of Illinois understand all this. This is why, as I said a few days ago, I predict a settlement before the calendar year is out, and I would not be surprised if it includes reinstatement for Prof. Salaita, which will save the University millions of dollars in monetary damages (as well as legal costs).
.,.in a long piece by a lawyer and a psychologist (Jonathan Haidt). They coin the apt term "vindictive protectiveness" to describe the behavior of the enforcers of this infantilization (anyone watching philosophy cyberspace will be familiar with the phenomenon). The article itself is a mixed bag, as one would expect given Haidt's involvement. But they do make some interesting points; for example:
Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further
Since 2013, new pressure from the federal government has reinforced this trend. Federal antidiscrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”
But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.
If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.
As the newly released e-mails show, these two geniuses (Burbules and Tolliver) aided and abetted and rationalized the unlawful behavior by the Chancellor. The University of Illinois may be rid of Wise (who comes across as a remarkable lightweight in these e-mails), but no one there should rest easy until these two miscreants are removed from all administrative positions.
UPDATE: Corey Robin points out one e-mail in which Chancellor Wise admits to trying to destroy and conceal what would otherwise be discoverable evidence. Not smart, or prudent. That admission will be costly, I expect.
...but only if the Reading staff are successful in challenging the latest neoliberal mischief. As events in Wisconsin show, this ugliness may be coming to America too. It would help the cause if termination for cause were the norm, not the exception, but the ruling class would not welcome that.
Good riddance (and for those who missed last year's events, see this). Today's court decision (in favor of Salaita)--obviously right and predicted long ago--is no doubt the explanation. I may not get a chance to digest the opinion for a few days, but when I do, I'll post some more (if there's anything particulary interesting).
(Thanks to Jason Stanley for the tip on the court decision.)
ADDENDUM: Well, I read a good chunk of the opinion, it is well-done and devastating for the university: the breach of contract claim survives, the promissory estoppel claims survives (though in the end, Salaita can only prevail on one or the other--the breach of contract is the better claim, and he will prevail on it), and the claimed violation of his First Amendment rights survives the motion to dismiss. For my earlier discussions, see this (on the constitutional issues) and this (on the contractual ones). This is a good day for the American justice system and a bad day for the miscreants at the University of Illinois. I predict a settlement before 2015 is over, and I now would not be surprised if it included reinstatement of Salaita (that's how bad the court's decision is for the University).
ANOTHER: The CHE headline misdescribes the court decision (the article does not). On a motion to dismiss, the only question is whether, taking the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, they state legal causes of action. Thus, the court asked the question: if the facts are as Salaita alleges, does he have a valid breach of contract claim, and the court gave that a resoundingly affirmative answer (coming pretty close to ridiculing the university's position that there wasn't really a contract). The breach of contract and the First Amendment claims are Salaita's most potent in terms of damages. It was obviously agreed in advance that Chancellor Wise would step down given an adverse decision, presumably because the University knows that the outrageousness of her conduct will be exposed to view once discovery begins and presumably also thinking that it will be easier to settle with Salaita once they are rid of the University official who said, "We will not hire him." My bet is that, in order to block discovery, which would throw open to public view the bad behavior of many actors behind the scenes, and in order to avoid the damages attached to losing the breach of contract and First Amendment claims (which they would almost certainly lose, and for which the damages could easily amount to compensation for his entire career, i.e., 35 years of salary and benefits, plus additional damages for the constitutional claims), the University will now try to reach a settlement in which he is reinstated (subject to some face-saving terms for the University, like Salaita promising not to scare students in the classroom), and compensation is limited to damages for the last year plus his attorney fees. This is a very good day for tenure, for contracts, and for free speech.
AUGUST 10 UPDATE: Rob Kar, a law professor at the University of Illinois, has a good discussion of the contract law issues.
After the Kipnis fiasco several weeks ago, one in which, unfortunately, philosophers played a starring role, a law colleague asked me "Are all philosophers nuts?" Well, not all, but certainly plenty of them lack professional judgment, as we have had occasion to note before. Still, given the awful publicity for academic philosophy, one might hope that philosophers would think twice before providing further evidence to an unflattering narrative about the field. But, as Sartre said, one must live without hope.
Toronto's Joseph Heath wrote an insightful and sensible piece about the overblown rhetoric in the media about "political correctness," but then identified a more serious problem with one current of academic work:
Often when journalists talk about [political correctness], what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing. Now I must admit, it is still possible to find this sort of thing in the nooks and crannies of academia. For example, one academic reviewer took exception to a line on the dust-jacket of my recent book: “Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the Western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy,” condemning my use of the term “crazy.” Apparently it is “ableist.”
So yeah, this sort of thing still exists. What’s important is that it is no longer taken very seriously. This sort of verbal policing is the academic equivalent of a stupid pet trick – one that everyone knows how to do, and most people get over by end of undergraduate. In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.
There is, however, a deeper problem that has not gone away. This is the phenomenon that we refer to as “me” studies....
[S]ome people take the advice, to “follow your passion,” as an invitation to choose a thesis project that is essentially about themselves. For example, an old friend of mine in Montreal studying anthropology wrote her Master’s thesis on, I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “Negotiations of difference in Quebecois-Jewish couples on the Montreal Plateau.” At the time, she was living with a Jewish guy on – you guessed it – the Plateau. So she basically wrote an MA thesis about issues in her own relationship. This is classic “me” studies....
Where “me” studies can easily become more problematic is when people decide to study, not their own lives per se, but rather their own oppression. Now of course oppression, in its various forms, is a perfectly legitimate topic of inquiry. Indeed, many of the forms of social inequality that we tried to eliminate, over the course of the 20th 1century, have proven remarkably recalcitrant in the face of our efforts....
[W]ho is best positioned to study these various forms of oppression. After all, we all live in the same world that we are studying. So who is best positioned – those who suffer from it, or those who do not? The inevitable conclusion is that neither are particularly well-positioned, since both will be biased in the direction of producing theories that are, at some level, self-serving, or self-exculpatory. Thus the best arrangement will be one in which lots of different people study these questions, then challenge one another to robust debate, which will tend to correct the various biases. This is, unfortunately, not how things usually play out. Instead, the field of study tends to attract, sometimes overwhelmingly, people who suffer from the relevant form of oppression – partly just for the obvious “me” studies reason, that the issue is greater interest to them, because it speaks to their personal ambitions and frustrations. But it can also set in motion a dynamic that can crowd out everyone who does not suffer from that particular form of oppression.
In terms of the quality of academic work, the results of this can be really disastrous. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, who specialize in some form or another of “critical studies,” who are among the worst critical thinkers I’ve met. It’s because they lack the most important skill in critical thinking, which is self-criticism – the capacity to question one’s own view, and correct one’s own biases. And the reason that they’re so bad at it is that they have never had their views seriously challenged....
The problem is that, when you’re studying your own oppression, and you’re obviously a member of the oppressed group in question, people who are basically sympathetic to your situation, but who disagree with your specific claims, are going to be extremely hesitant to challenge you, because they don’t want to appear unsympathetic.....So you are only going to hear from two types of people – those who are sympathetic but want to take a more radical stance, and those who we might label, for convenience, “jerks,” which is to say, people who are both unsympathetic and who are, for one reason or another, immune to any consideration of what others think of them....
I don’t know how many talks I’ve been to where the question period goes this way. Someone presents a view that a solid majority of people in the room think is totally wrong-headed. But no one is willing to say things like: “I don’t think that what you are saying makes any sense” or “you have no evidence to support this contention” or “the policies you are promoting are excessively self-serving.” The questions that will be asked come in only two flavours: “I’m concerned that your analysis is unable to sustain a truly emancipatory social praxis” (i.e. “I don’t think you’re left-wing enough”), or else “you people are always whingeing about your problems” (i.e. “I’m a huge, insensitive jerk”).
Then of course, out in the hallway after the talk, people say what they really thought of the presentation – at this point, a whole bunch of entirely reasonable criticisms will get made, points that probably would have been really helpful to the presenter had they been communicated. The end result is a perfect example of what Timur Kuran refers to as belief falsification (not a great term, but Kuran’s work on this is very interesting). So basically, practitioners of “me” studies suffer from a huge handicap, when it comes to improving the quality of their work, which is that only people who are extremists of one sort or another are willing to give them honest feedback....
This dynamic may help to explain why the reaction that so many “me” studies practitioners have to criticism becomes so highly moralized. They begin to think that all criticism of their views arises from some morally suspect motive. This is what then gets referred to as “political correctness,” namely, the tendency to moralize all disagreement, so that, instead of engaging with intellectual criticism intellectually, they respond to it punitively.
At the FP blog, Jenny Saul (Sheffield) then called attention to a "great piece" by philosopher Audrey Yap (Victoria) responding to Heath; Saul singled out this passage in particular as evidence of the "greatness":
Western philosophy in general has too much in the way of “me” studies, namely straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men studying other straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men. This, as far as I can tell, has narrowed the discipline in general, much to its detriment.
This was such an obvious non-sequitur on Heath's argument, that I originally thought it had to be misquotation, but, alas, it was not. Apparently the author thinks that the philosophical systems of Descartes, Hume, and Kant are usefully explained as being about their own experience as "straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men." This kind of mindless identity politics is not the face that philosophy should put before the world.
UPDATE: Reader S. Wallerstein writes:
In fact, contrary to what Audrey Yap claims, traditional philosophy does not represent the point of view of heterosexual males, because so many famous philosophers were probably gay (if that term has any meaning before the mid 20th century) or did not marry (were they asexual or homosexual?). Philosophy begins with Plato, who seems not to have been heterosexual. The term "upper middle class" refers to mid 20th century and early 21th century social conditions and I doubt that anyone would call Plato "upper middle class" nor could they call Hume "upper middle class" nor Descartes nor Nietzsche nor Marx nor Engels nor Spinoza. Professor Yap should study some history and she would learn that "white, heterosexual upper-middle-class" is a category that only makes sense within the context of contemporary U.S. and Western European societies.
By the way, it's Foucault, whom I always thought was beloved by the "me studies" crowd, who points out that the term "gay" (and hence, the term "heterosexual") has no meaning before the late 19th century, that's there a history of sexuality, of how we categorize these things. I don't know if Foucault's research can always be relied on, but it's obvious that the Greeks had no idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" in our sense and it seems that in Shakespeare's time, in England at least, they didn't see things that way either.
ADDENDUM: Audrey Yap claims she doesn't understand the point of the preceding. I will help: the point was to call attention to mindless identity politics of a kind that philosophers should oppose. The point of posting Mr. Wallerstein's comment was that it made some nice points, and was funny. Prof. Yap thinks this is 'adversarial': well, yes, I was criticizing something I thought deeply misguided. Prof. Yap's reply is also "adversarial" and tries to score points.
Prof. Yap reports she believes that "everyone's social position affects their thinking." I believe that too; I think the class position of academics is, for example, quite important to understanding what they spend their time on; indeed, I think it's very helpful in understanding a lot of academic identity politics. (Even more important, with Nietzsche, I think one needs to understand the non-rational psychology of people [their cruelty, malice, envy, resentment, fearfulness etc.] to really understand the meaning of what they say and do, superficial appearances notwithstanding.) But Prof. Heath's original essay was not disputing this: indeed, he conceded that the social situation of those studying the oppressed will bias their approach, whether they are oppressor or oppressed. His point, as I read him, was that when the oppressed study themselves, they tend to do so extremely uncritically, moralizing their positions instead of defending them with evidence and arguments. Yap's reply was a non-sequitur with regard to Heath's article, though she now says she was being "sarcastic." Sarcasm only works, however, if it's responsive to what was being said.
At the FP blog (where there isn't even a link to this post!), a commenter "Susan" makes a nice point:
Audrey, I don’t think that you’re reading Leiter’s response to you correctly or charitably. Leiter called your response to the Heath piece a “non-sequitur,” and hence, he gave a philosophical reason for his implicit conclusion that your piece, whatever its independent merits, was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece that you took yourself to be responding to. Many top-notch articles and books in philosophy, as well as blog posts, personal conversations, etc. correctly and non-aggressively use a charge of “non-sequitur” to advance an argument. Thus, your claims that Leiter “wrote a dismissal” and that this dismissal was caused by a “preoccupation with adversariality” are simply false and unfounded, respectively. A dismissal, on the other hand, would not have provided a compelling reason for thinking that your piece was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece. In honesty, I agree with Leiter here that your piece does not engage with the claims made by Heath, changes the subject, and then declares a conclusion irrelevant to Heath’s to be probable or proven.
I can not resist noting, for the annals of the New Infantilism, that instead of linking to this post directly, Prof. Yap uses something called "do not link" to link to it. Yap and co-conspirators apparently believe that by doing this, they do not add to the google prominence of this blog. Alas, it's way too late for that.
Via IHE. I'm very pleased to see that he will have gainful academic employment, I hope it will turn into something more permanent, assuming that the University of Illinois is not required legally to rehire him.
Signatories include, besides Sarkar, John Dupre (Exeter), Paul Griffiths (Sydney), Samir Okasha (Bristol), Alex Rosenberg (Duke), and Rob Wilson (Alberta), among others. The letter offers a variety of considerations, some political, some practical/logistical. I am opening this for (substantive) discussion.
UPDATE: The jury found against the instructor, presumably meaning they did not find there was enough evidence that she was denied the job because of her political viewpoint. She certainly had enough evidence in her favor to warrant a trial, but unlike the Salaita case, the evidence was decidedly more mixed. (Thanks to Thomas Gallanis for the pointer.)
...since, after all, if your views are offensive, you are not entitled to be employed, right? Peter Singer is, by my lights, a pernicious presence in philosophy, but my lights or the lights of disability activists are irrelevant to whether he should be employed. This is what academic freedom means: academics can hold views that you think are appalling, stupid, worthless. Maybe you are right, and maybe you are not. But the lifeblood of the academy is insulation from such outbursts of indignation.
This latest outburst doesn't really matter, of course--Singer has weathered worse. But it is symptomatic of something dangerous.
Interesting piece by a college professor, about ten years into his teaching career; some excerpts:
Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.
Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best....
The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed's current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.
This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that "is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ ... ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them." Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change.
(Thanks to Ryan Doerfler for the pointer.)
I'm curious to hear what readers make of this. I have very little to do with undergraduates--I taught Nietzsche here to undergrads two years ago, it was a lively and engaged group, and I did not encounter any problems like this. I certainly have never encountered nonsense like this at the Law School here, or with the graduate students, but in neither case is that surprising. So, those who teach undergraduates regularly, is the author on to something or not?
...because of his views on killing the disabled (the article is in German, I'm opening comments if someone has time to translate more of it). This is, as I recall, not the first time Singer has had trouble in Germany, where, given the history, they are more sensitive than the typical utilitarian to the implications of such views.
One of the complainants apparently believes that factual errors in Kipnis's first article--which the complainant believes were significant and harmful, but which seem to Kipnis (and many other readers, myself included) minor and largely beside the point--somehow justify the filing of a Title IX "retaliation" complaint. They do not, and they should not. This student is getting terrible advice, and only digging her hole deeper. The only sensible response to events of the last week is a mea culpa for having abused Title IX by filing a frivolous retaliation complaint against lawful speech by a faculty member with no professional or other connection with the graduate student victim of sexual harassment.
...this time at CHE (behind their paywall). It does contain some new information (new to me, at least, I had not seen this previously) about the rape complaint against Peter Ludlow: it says "the university found him responsible for sexual harassment" but not rape. It also reports that, "Northwestern has banned him from the campus, [Ludlow] said, and has scheduled a hearing for next month on whether he should be fired."
The University of Wisconsin System would see $250 million in cuts and sweeping changes in its operations, under a proposal put forward by GOP lawmakers Friday that would still be less dramatic than changes proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee are poised to reduce Walker's controversial proposed cuts to the UW System from $300 million over two years to $250 million, which UW System leaders praised, but faculty members on campuses said was not nearly enough. The extra $50 million would be distributed to campuses around the state that are judged by UW leaders to be hardest hit by the cuts, according to a GOP motion.
The Joint Finance Committee would continue for another two years the freeze on tuition for undergraduate state residents that was proposed by the governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate.
In addition, the provisions of academic tenure for professors would no longer be included in state law. The UW Board of Regents could choose to retain tenure under its rules or decline to do so, which would allow it to lay off any faculty in cases of budget difficulties or changes to academic programs.
The hypocrisy is that they reduce funding but freeze tuition: they should take their own neoliberal ideology seriously. Let the University of Wisconsin be a private university, which is what it's becoming. Let it charge what the fabled "market" will bear, but don't slash its funding and freeze its tuition, that's just hypocrisy and cowardice. Let the universities raise salaries to compensate for eliminating tenure, since tenure is the single most important form of non-monetary compensation faculty receive.
Unless the Neanderthal Scott Walker and the Repugs in Wisconsin are soundly defeated, this is America's future.
UPDATE: More on the legislative attack on tenure and other mischief. Comments open for more information, insight, perspective.
A wise decision, though the comments of the student suggests she still does not understand the wrongfulness of her conduct; Prof. Eisenman's observations are interesting:
"I don't blame any students who brought charges against me," Eisenman told The Huffington Post on Monday. "They're just students, they're learning, they're smart, they're trying things out, they make mistakes." He continued: "I do hold responsible the administrators overseeing Title IX. It was well within their prerogative to examine the charge and to determine it was without merit...."
The student, who didn't want her name publicly revealed, said part of the reason she withdrew her complaint against Eisenman was that investigators had begun to probe the case without getting her full statement.
"I cannot continue to be so naive as to hope that internal complaint processes can safely be made use of in good faith. It's clear that they cannot," the student wrote in withdrawing her complaint on Sunday....
Eisenman said he believes Title IX is essential, but the law's protections must "be treated with respect." He said he worries that unfounded investigations weaken the law. "This makes it much more [susceptible to] attacks with from the right," he said.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)