The Lincoln Center campus denies approval for students who wanted to start a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The Center for Constitutional Rights' letter to the Fordham admin sets out what happened and why it is unlawful. This is all-too-typical of the brazen hypocrisy about free speech on American campuses when it comes to Israel. Shame on Fordham. I hope their President will reverse this decision promptly.
My "academic ethics" column this week at CHE will be on a similar topic, but this author does a good, concrete job on arguments to avoid and arguments to make. The idiotic comment by the Northern Iowa professor disparaging postal workers also lept out at me when I read it.
Apparently these legislators are too stupid to realize that tenure is non-monetary compensation, and that ending tenure will require enhanced compensation--unless of course the plan is just to destroy the public universities in the state. Which may be the plan. (The Iowa legislator apparently doesn't even know about breach of contract--it would certainly be a constructive expenditure of state resources to have to defend against a lawsuit by every tenured professor in the state were this legislation to become law!)
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 9--SOME USEFUL COMMENTS, ESP. REGARDING PRACTICES AT BERKELEY (see esp. comment #19)
A student applying to PhD programs in philosophy writes:
I'm currently applying to PhD programs, and several of them are in the University of California school system. Many of these schools (Berkeley, UCSD, and UCLA, at least) of these schools either require or strongly recommend submitting a "personal history statement." Unlike the well-known (and relevant) "personal statement," the history statement says,
"Please describe how your personal background and experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. In this section, you may also include any relevant information on how you have overcome barriers to access higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups."
I don't mind the first part of the question regarding how your personal experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. I can see its relevance (it speaks to the applicant's motivation and perhaps can be a useful predictor of how likely the applicant will be to finish the degree), and I can even see some students feeling pleased that they can personalize their application a bit more, expressing the unique things they can add to the program.
That said, besides the first sentence, the rest of the things on this personal history statement bother me quite a bit, especially when the essay is *required,* and therefore is likely being used to evaluate an applicant.First, the latter part is completely irrelevant to academic fit of the prospective student, like requiring an applicant to describe their medical history. Second, it seems overtly politicized, displaying a left-leaning preference in the institution. Since academia is *already* taking flak for being a politicized enterprise, this only brings that problem into sharp relief. Third, and most deeply frustrating in my opinion, is that this seems a clear selection mechanism for applicants who belong to a certain moral club -- that of making their dominant moral aims helping underprivileged students -- instead of being a selection mechanism for applicants with a strong moral character (having a strong moral character I could see being relevant, since most academics will draw on public funds for their work).
Not long thereafter, Ciccariello-Maher's tweets were picked up by the Daily Caller, Breitbart and other conservative [sic] news sites....
Reached on Monday by The Inquirer, Ciccariello-Maher offered a reaction to the reaction.
"On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, 'white genocide,'" he said in an e-mail. 'For those who haven't bothered to do their research, 'white genocide' is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I'm glad to have mocked it."
Many readers and social media followers didn't get the humor, though - and his employer didn't either.
On Sunday night, Drexel issued an official statement saying: "While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher's comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University."
The university also said it "contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail."
Ciccariello-Maher said Drexel's statemenet lacked "understanding either the content or the context of the tweets," and that "while Drexel has been nothing but supportive in the past, this statement is worrying."
"What is most unfortunate is that this statement amounts to caving to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing," he said. "On the university level, moreover, this statement - despite a tepid defense of free speech -sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent. It exposes untenured and temporary faculty not only to internal disciplinary scrutiny, but equally importantly, it encourages harassment as an effective means to impact university policies."
He added that he has been the subject of "a coordinated smear campaign [that] was orchestrated to send mass tweets and emails to myself, my employer, and my colleagues," and that he has "received hundreds of death threats."
"This satirical tweet became fodder for online white supremacists to systematically harass me and my employer, Drexel University," Ciccariello-Maher said. "As my students will attest, my classroom is a free-for-all of ideas, in which anyone is welcome to their opinions, but expected to defend those opinions with argument. I teach regularly on the history of genocidal practices like colonialism and slavery -genocides carried out by the very same kind of violent racists who are smearing me today."
Drexel would do well to show that it does not render judgments about faculty based on reporting from the fascist fake news media like Breitbart and Daily Caller.
A curious piece at IHE, which is mostly just a composite of various blog postings, including from here. It appears IHE had trouble finding anyone to defend this character, so they reached out to the bizarre Carol Swain (Vanderbilt)--see, e.g., here--whose contribution is to assert that since Jorjani has not advocated violence, he is not a NeoNazi. Apart from that amusing non-sequitur, there's not much of additional interest: no evidence yet that Stony Brook is re-evaluating the award of his PhD, for example (which, as I've said already, they would have no basis for doing).
The book is, indeed, silly (and basically incompetent), but I've never seen the point put so succinctly:
It seems to me absurd to suppose that McCumber’s book comes within cooee of excellence . He argues that the triumph of the unduly disengaged school of analytic philosophy in the USA was due to McCarthyism. It is a moot point whether analytic philosophy IS unduly disengaged (Russell, Ayer and Hart, for example, were notable as as public intellectuals and one reason that so many logical empiricists had to flee to America was because of the anti-fascist tendencies of their thought) , but whether it is or not, McCarthyism can’t be the chief explanation of its triumph in America since analytic philosophy *also* triumphed in other Anglophone countries where McCarthyism was either muted or non-existent. The book is typical of one of the two ways in which American scholars tend to go astray. Because America is such a big, powerful and important country, they find it hard to keep the rest of the world in focus. As a result they are prone to two opposing errors: seeking a global explanation for what is mainly an American phenomenon or seeking a specifically American explanation for what is a global phenomenon. McCumber gives an American explanation for the triumph of analytic philosophy which is a global or at least a pan-Anglophone phenomenon (though one should not forget the triumph of analytic philosophy in countries such as Sweden and Finland). There is the further problem that analytic philosophy had largely triumphed in America BEFORE the political advent of McCarthy whose glory days were from 1950-1954. Now you can get around this difficulty by defining McCarthyism more broadly to encompass the red-baiting anti-radical and anti-Communist hysteria (often with an anti-New Deal agenda) that began in the nineteen-thirties and found institutional expression in the House Un-American Activities Committee which began its sessions in 1938 as well as the its predecessors such as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee whose co-chair, Dickstein, turns out (hilariously) to have been in the pay of the NKVD. But in that case the theory becomes even more bizarre as the most high-profile victim of this kind of proto-McCarthyism was Bertrand Russell, one of the founding fathers of analytical philosophy, who was blocked from a job at CUNY in 1940 because of his social and sexual radicalism and his anti-religious writings, reducing him temporarily, to near destitution. So McCumber’s thesis metamorphoses into the claim that philosophers sought to avoid the fate of Bertrand Russell by philosophizing in the style pioneered by -– Bertrand Russell. Well that’s not quite right (someone might reply); the point is that the triumph of analytical philosophy is to be explained by the fact that philosophers sought to avoid the fate of Bertrand Russell a) by philosophizing in the style of Bertrand Russell whilst b) *eschewing the public role that Russell had played for so many years as an activist for left-wing causes*. But then it seems that what McCarthyism (in this extended sense) explains is not the triumph of analytic philosophy (which was well on the way by 1940 and which happened elsewhere without the aid of McCarthyism) but the relative silence of left-leaning philosophers on social issues that was characteristic of American philosophy in the forties and fifties. In other words, what McCarthyism explains is not the triumph of analytic philosophy in America but the retreat of those triumphant analytic philosophers to the ‘icy slopes of logic’ . (This is confirmed by the fact that in other countries, where McCarthyite tendencies were relatively weak, you get the triumph of analytic philosophy without the retreat to the icy slopes: Russell, Ayer and Hart were all pretty vocal on social issues in the forties, fifties and sixties.) But this is not McCumber’s thesis but Reisch’s thesis as developed in ‘How the Cold War Transformed the Philosophy of Scince’. I have reservations about Reisch’s book but at least it isn’t as obviously silly as McCumber’s.
So it turns out that equally silly thread on Babette Babich's fantasies about the Continental traditions in philosophy produced several useful comments!
Also Thursday, the regents added stronger language to a policy that faculty members already believe takes power out of their hands and places it in the hands of campus administrators.
The new language spells out that every five years, campus administrators must do "independent, substantive reviews" of tenured faculty, a process that faculty members fear could open the door to arbitrarily overturning positive performance reviews given by faculty peers, and ultimately justify a firing.
Regent Tony Evers, the state's superintendent of public instruction for K-12 schools, said the policy seemed to be "a solution seeking a problem, and I don't think this is a problem."
We have commented on the ridiculous but probably irrelevant APA "Code of Conduct" over the last few weeks. The biggest risk is that this document will be used as an excuse to fire some temporary faculty, citing the authority of the Dear Abbys of the APA. But a number of readers have asked: who wrote this nonsense?
The document was, as it happens, produced by the following committee:
Nancy J. Holland (Chair) (PhD, Berkeley), Professor of Philosophy at Hamline University. Specialties include Continental philosophy (esp. Heidegger) and feminist philosophy.
Scott A. Anderson (PhD, Chicago), Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia (he appears to have been at the Assistant Professor rank since 2003). Specialties include ethics, social & political philosophy, and philosophy of sex and gender.
Leslie P. Francis (PhD, Michigan; JD, Utah), Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Utah. Specialties include bioethics, environmental ethics, philosophy of law, disability law, and health law.
Ned Markosian (PhD, U Mass/Amherst), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst. Specializes in metaphysics.
Diane Michelfelder (PhD, Texas), Professor of Philosophy at Macalester College. Specialties include 20th-century Continental philosophy (esp. phenomenology), philosophy of technology, and applied ethics.
Julinna Oxley (PhD, Tulane), Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Coastal Carolina University. Specialties include ethics, applied ethics, social and political philosophy, and feminist philosophy.
As well they should. Of course, this is all part of a concerted effort by libertarians and in some cases Ayn Rand fanatics to find a foothold in the universities. At least they care about "ideas" (in a fashion)!
UPDATE: Reader Bennett Gilbert sends along the abstract of Dr. Jorjani's dissertation:
Technological science has shattered the worldviews of all traditional cultures subjected to it, at times provoking reactionary religious responses that only underscore the traumatic force of this worldwide development. Yet, as I argue, this world-colonizing force is not neutral. The anticipatory projection and world-building characteristic of scientific theorization are grounded in a practical comportment, so that the essence of technology or Craft is ontologically prior to theoretical science. In other words, science is always already Technoscience. Moreover the theoretical concepts and methodologies involved in predictive calculation and in crafting frameworks that model and mold the world are derived from pre-conceptual ideas of an aesthetic character, namely Prometheus and Atlas—titanic gods with a Greek genealogy and a cosmopolitan promise.
Diabolically, this reveals itself through attention to what it is about Nature that eludes the grasp of theorization. The ideas or idealities foundational to Technoscience are not abstract, as the concepts derived from them are. Rather, they are spectral personae. The mathematical and geometric structure of scientific projections cannot model those phenomena that most strikingly manifest the spectrality of Nature. These so-called "paranormal" phenomena are perfectly normal in animals and even simpler organisms still guided by instinct. It is our hypertrophied technical intellect that has atrophied them, but they can be regained through a cultivation of intuition. Indeed, only aesthetic intuition can consciously recognize the specters of Technoscience and transform our hitherto unconscious relationship with them to one wherein we are superhumanly empowered by embodying them rather than experiencing them as alienating instrumental forces.
ANOTHER: Reader Christopher Faille writes with an apt observation: "The abstract of Jorjani's dissertation you sent along makes him seem, predictably enough, a bit like Heidegger. This Nature worship, technophobia, worshipful reversion to Greek myths ... this is the common coin of brown shirts when they're doing their best to be obscure, intellectual, and high-brow."
MORE INSIGHT INTO THE NEONAZI from this bizarre essay. (Thanks to Kathryn Pogin for the pointer.)
While sometimes unavoidable, anonymity in online posts should be used judiciously.
In what possible sense is anonymity "sometimes unavoidable"? One can either post using one's name or not. And what constitutes "judicious" usage of anonymity? Surely, for example, a blog like Feminist Philosophers with many pseudonymous posters operating for years under their pseudonyms--e.g., "Philodaria," "Monkey," "Magical Ersatz," "Lady Day," "Prof Manners"--are not using anonymity "judiciously" but continuously, effectively shielding themselves from being accountable for what they write. And such anonymity is clearly avoidable, as others (for example, the philosophers Anne Jacobson and Jennifer Saul) post under their own names at the very same blog.
Various readers have sent this silly list of anti-American, anti-free speech faculty, or something like that. We've seen these lists before, and they fade away fairly quickly because, "Who cares?" The organizers of this one are especially stupid: when it first appeared, they had both my colleagues Eric Posner and Judge Richard Posner on the list--Eric for noting that private schools can regulate student speech, and maybe some schools should since their students are children; and Richard...well, there are so many possible reasons. But now they're gone from the list, I guess someone told the ding-dongs that, "Those guys are on the right," or something like that. Here's what I suggest: ignore it. It's a badge of honor to be on it, of course, but it's just a publicity stunt by pathetic right-wingers. And if you can't ignore it, self-nominate!
Although I am not a member, it has come to my attention that the American Philosophical Association has adopted a very unusual Code of ethical conduct, quite unlike that adopted by other disciplines such as the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, or the American Psychological Association. None of these other codes purport to proscribe extramural speech beyond one's campus, let alone speech that might constitute what is capaciously defined as "bullying and harassment"; they focus instead on actual professional obligations in dealings with faculty colleagues, students, and research subjects.
Yet the APA purports to proscribe "bullying and harassment" quite generally, meaning, inter alia, "verbal agression...spreading malicious rumors; calling someone conventionally derogatory names or using derogatory stereotypes to describe them...'cyber-bullying' through email, text messages, or social media...subjecting an individual to repeated, unsolicited criticism, except when this is clearly limited to a matter of scholarly dispute; subjecting a person to public ridicule..."
Most of these terms admit of considerable interpretation, meaning the reach of the Code may be very broad. As the sociologist Randall Collins has noted, there has been massive inflation of the term "bullying" over the last generation so that it encompasses more and more ordinary interactions in which one party says something critical about another. By incorporating this inflation into the APA Code, you purport to expand the APA's authority over matters no other professional organization purports to regulate.
Nearly a thousand students, faculty and deans called for my and my husband’s immediate removal from our jobs and campus home. Some demanded not only apologies for any unintended racial insensitivity (which we gladly offered) but also a complete disavowal of my ideas (which we did not) — as well as advance warning of my appearances in the dining hall so that students accusing me of fostering violence wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of me.
Not everyone bought this narrative, but few spoke up. And who can blame them? Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community. The Yale Daily News evidently felt obliged to play down key facts in its reporting, including about the two-hour-plus confrontation with a crowd of more than 100 students in which several made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.
I have always spoken up, but far too few do, perhaps because so many are committed to making it costly to do so.
I’ve been wondering for a while now at the silence (I think!) in the philosophy blogosphere re the enormous troubles at South African universities, especially Witwatersrand but also UCT and others. They’ve been going on for ages and involve violence and closures and all sorts of extremely dramatic events (including libraries on fire, students being shot, intimidation of staff, etc etc). And it’s all revolving around a very complex and interesting issue - putting in a nutshell what probably shouldn’t be put in a nutshell - the issue of making university free for all at public expense in a country like SA where it’s still mostly whites that go to uni. There’s been some coverage in the Western news but not much as far as I know, e.g. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34615004. Of course it’s all over SA news. A rather random selection of what it was easy to find:
Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know in case you're interested and of course in case you think it worthy/appropriate for a blogpost. Indeed I guess I think it’s in itself an interesting issue why this hasn’t already cropped up in the philosophy blogosphere (if I’m right that it hasn’t).
Comments are open for more links, information etc. on what's going on.
A draft law, the Higher Education and Research Bill, is making its way through the House of Commons. The bill amounts to the biggest shake-up in the sector for more than a generation. It is designed, among other things, to make it easier for private companies to set up universities, and to enable more researchers to commercialize their work. If it passes, existing funding bodies will close and replacements will be created. But in the process of change, the bill rips up an 800-year-old settlement between the nation’s scholars and the state. It opens the door to unacceptable political interference. It must be resisted.
I'd be curious to hear from UK readers, or others informed about this legislation, what they make of it and whether it will also have impact in other fields outside the sciences, like philosophy.
Rob Hughes, a young moral, political and legal philosopher teaching in the Wharton School at the University of Pennslyvania, writes:
Having read Richard Swinburne's recent argument about the ethics of homosexuality, both the version he published in 2007/2008 and the version he presented in his talk at the SCP meeting, I can confirm your belief that his argument is awful. There is no need to discuss Swinburne's dubious moral premises. The argument clearly fails because it relies on a false and unjustified empirical assertion. Here it is, in Swinburne's own words (from the text of his recent talk posted on First Things, pp. 12-13):
"The evidence seems to me to indicate clearly that genes and environment (nature and nurture) both play a role in determining sexual orientation; and also that this orientation is sometimes to a considerable extent reversible. So if there was a general recognition in society of an obligation to abstain from homosexual acts, that would prevent homosexual behaviour being presented as an option for young people of equal value to the heterosexual one which makes possible procreative marriage. That would deter the young from wondering whether they are really homosexual when previously it would not have occurred to them, in consequence experimenting with homosexual sexual acts, getting accustomed to such behaviour and so developing a homosexual orientation."
Swinburne asserts here that sexual experimentation in adolescence or adulthood influences people's sexual orientation. This assertion is not an off-hand remark; it is crucial to his argument that God has a reason to prohibit homosexual conduct. (Swinburne does not think that natural law prohibits homosexual conduct; indeed, he nicely dispatches this view in one sentence on p. 8.) Swinburne's assertion is at odds with the evidence that a person's future sexual orientation is determined before school age and possibly much earlier. He provides no evidence for his assertion that sexual experimentation influences orientation, either in his 2007 book Revelation, or in his 2008 reply to critics, or in the text of his recent talk.
Swinburne claims to have provided evidence that adults can change their sexual orientation, but to call his evidence shoddy would be too generous. His 2007 book cited a study purporting to show that some people had changed their sexual orientation through "reparative therapy." The study's author, Robert Spitzer, retracted the study in 2012 and said that its methodology had a "fatal flaw." Swinburne's recent SCP talk acknowledges this retraction. The talk instead cites Michelle Wolkomir's 2006 book Be Not Deceived as evidence that "the sexual orientation of some, but perhaps not most, homosexuals can be changed to a significant degree." (19) The book is an ethnographic study of two small groups of gay and "ex-gay" Christians and their self-understanding. Treating this study as evidence that people can change their sexual orientation is a mistake for the same reason Spitzer's study was flawed: we have no way to establish that subjects who reported changed sexual desires were sincere and not deceiving themselves. The large number of ex-ex-gays gives us reason to suspect that people are either insincere or deceiving themselves if they claim to have altered their sexual orientations (including their desires as well as their behavior).
...that discriminate against LGBT citizens--which is a lot of countries! Philosopher Michael Cholbi called this to my attention, but I haven't seen much on it, though it would seem to be a significant violation of the contractual right of California faculty to academic freedom, since there are many pedagogical and research-related reasons faculty might need to travel to countries with otherwise reprehensible policies. Comments are open for readers who know more about this law and what it means.
We touched on this briefly last week, but as so often happens, it's taken on a life of its own on various right-wing websites. Briefly, the usual "high-school-with-tenure" crowd on Facebook was reacting to the brouhaha about Richard Swinburne's anti-gay bigotry (discussed here). Jason Stanley (Yale), on his Facebook-page-cum-blog responded with a "fuck off" and then a reaffirmation and, shall we say, "elaboration" of the "fuck off" aimed at Swinburne and his ilk. Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) (another regular in this crowd, whose FB "tough talk" we've encountered before), chimed in with the suggestion that the anti-gay bigots "suck my giant queer cock." There are two reasonably calm accounts of events here and here, both of which include slightly different (and somewhat odd) explanations from Stanley about what transpired. Meanwhile, a right-wing website called "Georgetown Academy" has been pursuing Kukla, claiming that her "message to Catholics" was "suck my giant queer cock." That isn't quite right: at best, that was her "message" to Catholics who are anti-gay bigots. Meanwhile, Jason has, wisely I suspect, removed his Facebook account, to deprive the enemy of further ammunition (though my recollection of his FB page was that it was mostly an extended exercise in "enough about me, what do you think about me?").
I will note that my own comments on L'Affaire Swinburne--"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"--didn't provoke nearly as strong a reaction, no doubt due to the absence of vulgar abuse aimed at Swinburne. It's testimony to the power of vulgar words that they can provoke such a strong reaction by contrast. My suggestion, were either Professors Stanley or Kukla taking my advice, would be to apologize for the unfortunate choice of language (everyone, after all, is allowed to have a visceral reaction, and there's nothing wrong with harsh language), but reaffirm the substance of their opposition to anti-gay bigotry, even when it masquerades as philosophy. (You know things are getting weird in philosophy cyberspace when I'm the one giving cyber-etiquette advice! But seriously, having been through right-wing cyber-shitstorms, I think this is a good way to defuse them.)
A philosopher elsewhere writes with an amusing reaction to this week's melodrama:
This shit makes me want to retire.
I already don't "go out" in the philosophy blog-o-sewer, and maybe I'll stop going to conferences too.
Many of these people are not able enough to both do good philosophy and engage constantly in sanctimonious, and often quite nasty, moral police work. Many of them seem to be getting paid a lot to do mediocre scholarly work and spend 80% of their working hours on Facebook.
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.
Professor Benjamin Page (whose important work on American plutocracy is briefly described here) has circulated a statement regarding Prof. Stevens and recent events at Northwestern:
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.
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)