Here. Our earlier coverage was here. Special thanks to all those who took the time to write to the RIT Administration, your efforts have produced a good result!
UPDATE: Professor Torcello writes:
I am confident that your letter and the letters of other supportive academics proved an important counterbalance to the conservative campaign of harassment. I have no doubt that such letters helped give my administration the appropriate encouragement they needed to take a stronger stand.
One reason I think a statement like this is so important is that if universities were to routinely issue a public acknowledgment of the scientific consensus on climate change in response to faculty harassment it would remove some of the incentive deniers have to instigate their campaigns in the first place. Universities still hold a significant level of institutional authority in the mind of many citizens so such statements affirming the existence of scientific consensus are meaningful in the public sphere. It is my hope that this new statement will get some attention in academic circles as an example of the sort of full-throat statement appropriate for universities to make in defense of faculty targeted by conservative propagandists. I hope some people will write thanking the RIT for taking a stronger stance. I have no doubt that some conservatives will be writing in again offering the opposite view.
ANOTHER: Philosopher Brian Schroeder at RIT shares this excellent statement sent to the faculty by the Dean of Arts & Sciences, James Winebrake.
Dear COLA Faculty and Staff:
You may have seen this morning’s email from President Destler regarding a recent essay by Dr. Lawrence Torcello (Department of Philosophy) on the academic sight The Conversation. I am including President Destler’s email below my signature in case you missed it [ed.-see above]. Larry’s essay has generated numerous harassing communications from people outside the RIT community. These communications were triggered by the misrepresentation of Larry’s work in various media outlets and websites.
While the college cannot effectively prevent those outside our institute from misrepresenting the work of individual faculty, we do have an obligation to defend academic freedom and our faculty's right to freedom of expression. We will not tolerate actions by others who use threatening, obscene, or harassing communications to intimidate our faculty in an attempt to restrict this academic freedom. In such cases, college resources will be accessed to defend and protect our faculty’s safety and rights.
The purpose of this communication is to first and foremost state explicitly that we stand by Dr. Torcello’s right to freedom of expression. This communication also informs other faculty to reach out to my office for assistance if you ever feel that external communications related to your academic work become intimidating or harassing. I am currently in communication with Dr. Torcello, the provost, and several others regarding hosting a panel discussion next fall about these types of situations and how faculty, administrators, staff and others (e.g., Public Safety, University News, Legal Affairs, etc.) may best handle these types of situations. More information on this panel discussion will follow at a later date.
RIT and its Administration deserve kudos for this robust response to the harassment of a faculty member for his scholarly work. All Universities should follow RIT's example.
...for arguing that funding misinformation about climate change should give rise to charges of criminal negligence. That isn't the law at present, and there are a number of reasons why it probably shouldn't be the law, but Professor Torcello's essay raises some interesting points about the harms of misinformation campaigns and whether they are legally cognizable. (If the real target is those who knowingly fund misinformation for private gain, then "negligence" would be the wrong legal standard. The issues here, it seems to me, are closer to those regarding the regulation of "hate speech" and other speech that causes harm.)
Alas, climate change is one of those hot button issues for the far right, which quickly swung into action, starting with misrepresenting Professor Torcello as calling for climate scientists who dispute the consensus to be put in jail. That soon turned into a campaign to get the Rochester Institute of Technology to punish Professor Torcello for his constitutionally protected speech, and speech that falls well within his contractual right to academic freedom. The hysteria and misrepresentations made its way into all the usual far right venues, including Fox News. Professor Torcello made a brief statement in response to the craziness here. RIT made what is, to my mind, a tepid statement about the matter, but one that at least affirms his right to have views of which others disapprove.
I sent the following e-mail to President Destler, cc'ing Provost Haefner and Dean Winebrake; I encourage readers to send the same or similar messages (the e-mail addresses appear below). This kind of organized harassment of faculty by the far right happens too often, and universities should be encouraged to take a stronger stand against this malevolent behavior.
Several readers have sent this report (also this) according to which Peter Ludlow has had to withdraw from the classroom in the wake of various student protests demanding his firing. Northwestern disciplined Ludlow based on its findings, and it is quite debatable whether the punishment was serious enough. But that he should be driven from the classroom because of this debate? That seems an unhappy outcome for a university. Or as one correspondent put it: "not exactly a victory for due process and/or academic freedom." (This correspondent, a senior philosopher with tenure elsewhere, did not want to be quoted by name making this mild observation.)
[Professor] Adler said that while she was gratified that all of the reviews cleared her, the fact that her course "had to undergo this extraordinary scrutiny to reverse CU’s initial jump to judgment is a sad statement on what is occurring in universities." She added: "My victory today is a small one, and mostly Pyrrhic, because the trends toward mission creep and overreach by bodies such as the Office of Discrimination and Harassment and Institutional Review Boards are increasingly dominating decision-making in higher education. Universities and schools at all levels around the globe are increasingly sacrificing academic freedom as they become more concerned with risk and liability than with creating an environment in which creativity and ideas can flourish and students can be challenged to expand their horizons."
A spokesman for the university said that it would not respond directly to Adler's statement, although it does disagree with it. But the spokesman added: "The institution's motivation at all times in this situation was concern for the the welfare of students and teaching assistants."
The regents’ policy, effective immediately, gives a university’s top leader the authority to suspend or fire any faculty or staff member who improperly uses social media, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
The policy’s list of improper uses includes communications that incite violence, disclose student information or research data, or are “contrary to the best interest of the university.”
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/12/18/4701383/regents-approve-policy-for-using.html#storylink=cpy
Notice that the prohibition on "inciting violence," if interpreted in accordance with the applicable constitutional standards, would not cover the "tweet" that started all this. A prohibition on disclosing student data is probably already covered by FERPA (the federal student privacy law), while the prohibition on disclosing "research data" and making statements "contrary to the best interest of the university" are probably both unconstitutional (the latter is at least unconstitutionally vague--unfortunately, the courts have been eroding the free speech rights of public employees in various ways over the last decade, but I would be astonished if this standard passed constitutional muster).
Not a great day for public highe reducation in Kansas. I assume a court challenge will be forthcoming.
[Sociology Professor] Adler said that the lecture in question has been part of her course for years, without incident. "It's the highlight of the semester in my signature course," she said.
She uses prostitution, she said, to illustrate that status stratification occurs in various groups considered deviant by society. She seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes -- she named as categories "slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services." They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes....
Adler said that she was told by Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained. Adler said that participation was entirely voluntary and not part of anyone's grade.
She said that Leigh told her that there was "too much risk" in having such a lecture in the "post-Penn State environment," alluding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Adler said that she was given the choice of accepting a buyout now, or staying but not teaching the course, and not giving the prostitution lecture, and to be aware that she could be fired and lose her retirement benefits if anyone complained about her teaching in the future.
The ultimatum stunned her, Adler said. She said it was a violation of her academic freedom to be told that she couldn't teach the lecture or the course. But she said she feared the impact of losing her retirement benefits if she stayed and got fired later. "This is health insurance my family depends on," she said.
If this description is accurate, then Dean Leigh, who is a biological anthropologist by academic training, is the one who should be summarily fired from his post as Dean.
It is perhaps worth noting that Colorado is a state where Republican politicans have repeatedly pressured the University on a variety of issues; the consequences are now clear: administrators are doing the "dirty work" before it rises to the level of political controversy. What a disgrace.
UPDATE: Several readers sent me copies of an e-mail sent out by the Provost at Colorado; the relevant portion is this:
A number of you have raised concerns about academic freedom and how it may connect to this situation. Academic freedom protects faculty who teach controversial and uncomfortable/ unpopular subjects. However, academic freedom does not allow faculty members to violate the University’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class.
In this case, University administrators heard from a number of concerned students about Professor Adler’s “prostitution” skit, the way it was presented, and the environment it created for both students in the class and for teaching assistants. Student assistants made it clear to administrators that they felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit. None of them wished to be publicly identified.
The Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the Chair of the Sociology Department determined that Professor Adler would not teach the class in the spring semester (2014). Pending a review by faculty in sociology and in accordance with the needs of the department, Professor Adler may be eligible to teach the course in the future.
To reiterate, Professor Adler has not been fired or forced to retire. As to comments she has made that she might be fired in the future, I should note that any employee at the University – including faculty members – found responsible for violating the University’s sexual harassment policy, is subject to discipline up to and including termination.
Unfortunately, everything said here is consistent with Professor Adler's allegations, including her allegation that she was threatened with termination if she didn't cease and desist her teaching. The only thing that might redeem the University's position is if there were a credible allegation of sexual harassment, but on the facts before us that seems unlikely. More likely is that the University became worried about how this might play in public, and so acted preemptively and in complete violation of the norms of academic freedom.
All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.
You argue - cogently - that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and shortsighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society - indeed, to a vigorous national economy - is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy.
I hope that your book will be high on the reading list of those politicians busy reshaping higher education in the light of national priorities, as well as of those university administrators to whom the traditional humanities have become alien ground.....But alas, I do not believe that your hopes and mine have much chance of being realised.
There are two main reasons for my pessimism. The first is that you somewhat underestimate, in my opinion, the ideological force driving the assault on the independence of universities in the (broadly conceived) West. This assault commenced in the 1980s as a reaction to what universities were doing in the 1960s and 1970s, namely, encouraging masses of young people in the view that there was something badly wrong with the way the world was being run and supplying them with the intellectual fodder for a critique of Western civilisation as a whole.
The campaign to rid the academy of what was variously diagnosed as a leftist or anarchist or anti-rational or anti-civilisational malaise has continued without let-up for decades, and has succeeded to such an extent that to conceive of universities any more as seedbeds of agitation and dissent would be laughable....
This leads me to the second reason why I fail to share your optimistic faith that the tide may yet be turned. A certain phase in the history of the university, a phase taking its inspiration from the German Romantic revival of humanism, is now, I believe, pretty much at its end. It has come to an end not just because the neoliberal enemies of the university have succeeded in their aims, but because there are too few people left who really believe in the humanities and in the university built on humanistic grounds, with philosophical, historical and philological studies as its pillars.
You argue that only the faculties of humanities are equipped to teach students the critical literacy that allows a culture to continually renew itself. But I envisage a telling question will be asked of you: even if we grant that critical literacy is as important as you claim, do students really need to know about Hesiod and Petrarch, about Francis Bacon and Jean-Paul Sartre, about the Boxer Rebellion and the Thirty Years War, to attain a sufficient competence in such literacy? Can you not simply design a pair of one-semester courses - courses in which all undergraduates, no matter what their career track, will be required to enrol - one course to be entitled "Reading and Writing", in which students will be trained to dissect arguments and write good expository prose; and the other to be entitled "Great Ideas", in which they will be briefed on the main currents of world thought from Ancient Egypt to the present? A pair of courses like that will not require an entire faculty of humanities behind them, merely a school of critical literacy staffed with bright young instructors....
I could not be more strongly on your side in your defence of the humanities and of the university as the home of free enquiry....But in the end, I believe, you will have to make a stand. You will have to say: we need free enquiry because freedom of thought is good in itself. We need institutions where teachers and students can pursue unconstrained the life of the mind because such institutions are, in ways that are difficult to pin down, good for all of us: good for the individual and good for society.
A colleague at CUNY has sent to me the statement by the faculty union President, Barbara Bowen:
The CUNY Administration has developed a draft “Policy on Expressive Activity,” to be considered for adoption sometime after January 1 by the CUNY Board of Trustees. You can read it here. The draft policy proposes severe limitations on how the fundamental and distinct freedoms of speech and assembly may be exercised at the City University. Anyone who knows the importance of freedom of expression at CUNY or who understands the essential character of a university has a stake in whether the policy is adopted.
Proposed on the heels of faculty opposition to Pathways and student protests about tuition increases, the policy reads as an attempt to silence dissent and to stifle protest before it starts.
As drafted, the proposed “Policy on Expressive Activity” goes beyond existing regulations on individual and collective action at CUNY. It would ban demonstrations from the interior of CUNY buildings, forcing demonstrators into “designated areas”; it would require 24 hours’ advance notice of demonstrations involving as few as 25 people; it would limit the distribution of “materials” on campus to areas designated by the administration; and it would give college presidents or their designees the sole power to determine if a demonstration is “disruptive”—and to call the police onto campus to stop it. “Freedom of expression and assembly,” the proposed policy states, “are subject to the need to maintain safety and order.” The union takes extremely seriously the University’s responsibility to maintain a safe environment for those who work and study here. But safety is not the same as “order”; safety does not require repression.
Universities should uphold the highest standards for freedom of speech and assembly. As institutions devoted not just to the transmission of knowledge but to the production of new ideas, universities are inherently places of exploration, debate, dissent and, sometimes, protest. If CUNY is to be an intellectually vibrant university, it must recognize that “expressive activity” is a vital part of campus life, not a danger to be confined to narrow limits.
The PSC leadership believes it is important that every member of the faculty and staff have an opportunity to read the proposed policy, which we received informally this month—though not from CUNY. The draft, however, is dated June 27. The proposed policy potentially affects all of us, and our students. We urge you to discuss the draft policy in your union chapter meetings in preparation for further union action. The PSC leadership has begun to develop a comprehensive response to the proposed policy, using every possible means—including protest—to challenge it. On October 24, the union sent CUNY a formal demand to bargain on the policy, as we believe it would have an impact on the terms and conditions of employment of the faculty and staff we represent. Union officers are also in discussion with the University Faculty Senate leadership and have asked First Amendment lawyers for their review. The PSC’s executive council and delegate assembly will fully examine the draft policy and consider resolutions in response at their next meetings.
CUNY was founded in 1847 as the result of disruption and dissent; several of its colleges have been saved from closing during fiscal crises because of protest and assembly. Chilling restrictions on “expressive activity” have no place here. I welcome your comments on the proposed policy and will update you as the union continues to act in response.
You would think this came from a Sinclair Lewis novel, but it's for real:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.
Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”
[N]otwithstanding the current spin from the Providence College administration, my event is not being rescheduled. It is being replaced with a different event.
In February I agreed that I would come to Providence to give a lecture, which would be followed by a Q&A period. Although Professor Arroyo and I had previously (last Fall) discussed the possibility of a debate, that idea was dropped for budgetary reasons. Then, just last week, I agreed to change the format so that I would have a lecture with an official respondent. Now, finally, I am being invited for a debate. These are three different kinds of academic events, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I have plenty of experience with all three, and (as I’ve long said) I’d be happy to do a debate at Providence College. What I’m not happy to do is to aid the administration in the pretense that “the September 26 event was merely being postponed, not cancelled, until we could be sure that it went forward in the format in which it was originally proposed,” as Provost Lena’s statement said yesterday....
The truth is that it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask. This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.
That’s where “damage control” should be focused right now: the personal harm to LGBT Providence College students, not to mention faculty, staff, and alumni. Pope Francis has called for a “new balance” in the Church’s pastoral ministry, and there is an opportunity—yet unrealized—to implement that balance here.
The Provost's disingenous statement here. Kudos to the Providence College faculty for "raising hell" about this. (I'm waiting for permission to post a strong statement by the President of the Faculty Senate there.) The newly appointed defender of bigotry against gay people is a familiar figure. It is always an occasion for sadness when irrational religious dogma leads intelligent people down the road of moral depravity--at least when they aren't effective (when they are effective, which won't happen here, a different emotion is appropriate).
UPDATE: The letter that no doubt helped the Provost to backtrack:
(Note: I'm putting this under the "academic freedom" category, but without knowing more about Professor Guth's areas of expertise, it's not clear to me this is an academic freedom issue, as distinct from a generic free speech issue.)
UPDATE: Actually, it turns out Kansas is now punishing him for his speech. Prof. Guth would do well to consult a lawyer, since he is pretty clearly being punished for offensive but constitutionally protected speech.
AND ANOTHER: Professor Guth concurs with being put on leave, given the threats he and others have received. The linked article also reports, unsurprisingly, that the local fascists in Kansas want him fired for exercising his free speech rights.
Frank Richter, a highly-regarded computational linguist at the University of Tuebingen, is at risk of losing his job. Why? Because, like large numbers of middle-rank (non-professorial) academics in Germany, his "time is up." Marion Zepf, a student at Tuebingen, writes:
Frank Richter, an outstanding, internationally renowned researcher in computational linguistics and an excellent lecturer, is about to lose his job at the University of Tuebingen, Germany. This is by no fault on his part, but by federal law - and Frank is by far not the only academic in Germany who has to leave the academic world despite his good work.
In Germany, 85% of middle-rank (i.e. non-professorial) academics are employed under fixed-term contracts. These contracts are usually extended and chained, up to a limit of twelve years, which is mandated by a federal law (called 'Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz'). After that time, the researcher may no longer sign a fixed-term contract at any German University. The only way to stay in academia is to be appointed to a chair - an option that covers only 10% of middle-rank academics, - or to obtain one of the very few other unlimited-term positions. The latter case is extremely rare, as there are not nearly enough such positions available to employ even just the best researchers. Thus, the law has the effect of an academic employment ban for Frank and many others who are not lucky enough to receive an unlimited-term contract.
There is a petition in support of Dr. Richter here. (If you do not read German, there is an English translation of the petition here.)
Professors Jeff Jordan and Alan Hajek write with the following information:
Abbas Khosravi Farsani was until this January, a graduate student in Philosophy, at the University of Isfahan, Iran. While nearing completion of his PhD dissertation regarding Mackie’s error theory of ethics, Mr. Farsani’s graduate studies were interrupted as he was arrested for political reasons. He was immediately expelled from his university, his educational scholarship was revoked, and he was forbidden from seeking a teaching position at all Iranian universities. Subsequently he had to flee Iran, and is now in Turkey, as a political asylum seeker in a difficult situation.
In 2006 Mr. Farsani’s completed an M.A. dissertation entitled “The Epistemological and Moral Value of ‘Pascal’s Wager’ in Islamic Resources and Christian Theology: A Critical Survey”.
Mr. Farsani is seeking a graduate position in which he may finish his PhD. His philosophical interests are ethics, philosophy of religion, epistemology, and political philosophy. His language competencies are Persian, English, and Arabic, with some knowledge of German, Latin and Greek.
More information about Mr. Farsani's case can be found at these links:
We have touched on the topic of Templeton's now extensive funding of philosophy-related projects before, but over the weekend, Jason Stanley (Rutgers, moving to Yale) started a lively discussion on Facebook with this comment, which he gave me permission to repost here:
Because of Templeton, we may expect a huge number of papers and books in our field taking a religious perspective at the very least extremely seriously. This is not why I entered philosophy, and it is incompatible with my conception of its role in the university. I will not take any money from Templeton or speak at any Templeton funded conferences. Reasonable people may disagree, but I hope there are others who join me in so doing.
In the discussion that followed, the neuroscientist John Krakauer (Johns Hopkins) made a striking comment in support of Jason's suggestion, which he also kindly gave permission to repost here:
In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience. Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?
Drug companies love to be associated with whom they call "thought leaders" - these physicians are never explicitly asked to shill for the companies but they also rarely criticize the companies from that position. It is always good to institutionalize ( or pay) your rebels. Physicians who receive any kind of gift from drug companies from lunches to pens and free samples always say (there are studies on this) that they are not influenced and feel no pressure. The studies reveal otherwise.
Thoughts from readers? Please do check out the earlier links and discussions. Comments must include a full name and a valid e-mail address, or they will not appear.
Brooklyn Law School is an independent law school in New York, a school of long-standing and good reputation, with no connection to either Brooklyn College or the City University of New York. Many of its faculty have national reputations for their scholarship, and its graduates have enjoyed successful careers in both private practice and in the public sector.
Several different sources have reported to me that the Law School's Board of Trustees has adopted the following definition of "Adequate Cause" for termination of tenured faculty:
The definition of “ Adequate Cause” will now include the term “ demonstrated incompetence".....
For purposes of the Law School’s regulations, “ Adequate Cause” shall be defined as follows:
“Demonstrated incompetence, including but not limited to, multiple unsatisfactory performance reviews or complaints from supervisors; multiple complaints from students or multiple unsatisfactory student evaluations; sub-standard academic performance; lack of collegiality.”
There is certainly an important need for American law schools to undertake a review of both their tenure standards and their standards for post-tenure review, given the dereliction of duties that are, alas, widespread (but not only in law schools, of course). But these standards are very alarming, and suggest the dangers associated with post-tenure review. The inclusion of "lack of collegiality" in the definition of "adequate cause" is unbelievable, given the AAUP's clear and wholly correct position on the issue. Any academic institution that wants to avoid sanction by the AAUP would be well-advised to scrap such a malleable criterion.
But at least as alarming is the fact that the definition equates "demonstrated incompetence" not with a peer review finding of pedagogical and scholarly incompetence, but with wholly unreliable and disreputable criteria like students evaluations, complaints from supervisors (which just smuggles "lack of collegiality" in the back door), and so on. Poor teaching evaluations can properly trigger a peer review of teaching, which could lead to a finding of incompetence. But poor teaching evaluations from students do not constitute demonstrated incompetence--for reasons the enormous empirical literature on teaching evaluations would make clear, quite apart from AAUP norms.
BLS has long benefitted from its location and its reputation in the recruitment of top-notch faculty. But unless the school quickly backtracks or clarifies these standards for termination, I am not optimistic for the school's academic future.
UPDATE: A constructive reply from BLS's Dean Allard to these concerns is here.
IHE has a story, but a much more illuminating account is here. The Geneseo students who started a petition calling for the Administration to denounce the main speaker, Prof. Everett, should apologize; it is never appropriate for a university to express an official criticism of faculty speech (an issue we have encountered before).
The people who run Edwin Mellen Press are pretty clearly nuts. (Calling these folks "nuts" isn't actionable in the United States, but, for the record, my lawyer is based in the same jurisdiction as Mellen Press, New York, though maybe my wife's law firm here in Chicago would enjoy assigning the case to a junior associate for practice.) This time they're pursuing the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog, for a blog post that is clearly not actionable, and for a comment on that post that is also probably not actionable. Here's the "offending" post by Mr. Anderson of the blog: nothing in it is libelous, even if Mellen Press and Mr. Richardson were private citizens, rather then public figures. The letter from the Press's lawyer says, obviously falsely, that the blog has a "legal obligation" to deal with possibly defamatory comments; the comment in question is probably not defamatory, but even if it were, the Scholarly Kitchen blog has no obligation to remove it. The law in the United States is as clear as can be on this point. As best I can tell, Ms. Amendola, the Press's lawyer, is a 2010 graduate of the law school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who worked briefly for a Buffalo law firm, and is now a solo practitioner. If state bar associations were more aggressive, she should be disbarred for sending nonsense threats like the one she sent to the "Scholarly Kitchen" blog.
I predict that the Edwin Mellen Press will be out of business within the next few years. Good riddance, given this disgraceful pattern of harassment. May I suggest that any authors of serious monographs with the Mellen Press contact them now and urge them to reform their "public relations" practices?
This message is being circulated from the Canadian Association of University Teachers:
We are pleased to advise you that McMaster University has made arrangements to ensure Associate University Librarian Dale Askey can cover his anticipated legal costs in defending himself against the defamation suits filed against him by the Mellen Press and its owner.
Kudos to McMaster for doing the right thing.
(Thanks to Stefan Sciaraffa for flagging this development.)
Here, with quotes from the head of Edwin Mellen Press, who seems to be in denial at what a catastrophe this has become. I imagine hundreds of academic librarians throughout the Anglophone world have already checked to see what, if anything, they are buying from Edwin Mellen Press and are rethinking their plans as this unfolds.
It includes an explanation from the librarian's lawyer of Canadian libel law, which explains why Mellen did not bother to sue Kansas State University, the libarian's employer at the time of the original blog posting at issue. Canadian libel law is a bit closer to the insane British model than I had realized, for example, in putting the onus on the defendant to establish the truth of the facts asserted and the reasonableness of his opinions.
ANOTHER: CHE also has a story, which points out that in October 2012, Mellen Press called on its authors to defend the publisher's reputation at various on-line fora. As opposed to suing critics, that seems like a quite sensible and constructive response! I'm still mystified, though, how the Press could think suing a librarian, and thus bringing the wrath of all the world's academic librarians down on you, was a smart strategy. I also think that a sensible public relations person would advise the Press to withdraw the suit and do a mea culpa, at the same time defending the quality of its catalogue against the criticisms. (There is apparently a separate libel suit by the individual who founded Mellen Press, Herbert Richardson, against the same librarian for a different set of comments about Mr. Ricahrdson's prior professional career. If, in fact, the statements in question are false, that separate suit might have merit.)
AND YET ANOTHER: This story has some bearing on Mr. Richardson's personal suit agains the librarian, and sugests the allegations there are also, alas, without merit.
You can see the actual allegations in the "notice of action" here. It is, as Professor Green noted, "threadbare." If they filed such an action in the United States, they would be lucky to escape only with sanctions imposed upon them by the court. I do not know enough about Canadian libel law to comment on how they will fare there, but I am told that Canada, while not as speech-protective as the U.S., is not as libel-friendly as Britain, and that the action will fail there as well. (Many libel judgments in Britain are not enforceable in the U.S., because of the free speech implications.) Because Mellen's aim is clearly to discourage critical comment about the press, I think it is imperative that other blogs call attention to this sordid affair. Whatever the merits of their scholarly catalogue, the press does itself no favors by responding to fair critical comment this way. Indeed, they would help heal their image if they promptly withdrew the lawsuit, and simply issued a press release explaining why they think the criticisms unfair.
In the earlier thread discussing the survey about philosophy publishers, Leslie Green (Oxford) posted the following startling comment, which deserves separate notice, so I'm reposting it here (with the links restored, they didn't come through in the comment apparently):
The Edwin Mellen Press may well, as this survey suggests, have the worst quality philosophy list but it tops the league in disgraceful conduct in defense of its dismal reputation.
A professional librarian at McMaster University’s library complained, in a 2010 blog-post, that Mellen was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices. Librarians are expert at making such judgments; that’s what universities pay them to do. And the post made a key point about the public interest: ‘in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures.’
No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen’s approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.
The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen’s list with which I am familiar, the librarian’s statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.
McMaster University’s response to this appalling tactic has been surprising. Public silence. No one at McMaster has spoken in defense of the librarian or the University; no University administrator has pushed back against the crude threat to academic freedom that this represents. (But then the President of McMaster’s list of the seven ‘McMaster Principles’ omits mention of academic freedom.) Are the McMaster faculty, administration, and faculty associations already so cowed by libel-chill that they are afraid to speak up? Or are they unaware of Mellen’s attack? Or—and this is just as worrying—is it that McMaster values its professional librarians so little that it is willing to let them bear the brunt of such harassment, so long as the University itself can avoid vicarious liability?
Let’s hope someone at McMaster forcefully says ‘enough’ to this sort of bullying. Universities have a negative duty not to abridge the academic freedom of their members; they also have a positive duty to see to it that others do not do it either.
I do hope some of the reporters who cover higher education who read this blog will investigate. The conduct by Mellen Press described here is just appalling and the apparent silence, so far, of McMaster University troubling.
UPDATE: Useful links here (scroll down) to earlier cases where Edwin Mellen Press sued or threatened to sue critics. In the case of Lingua Franca (now defunct, for unrelated reasons), the Press lost its libel action.
ANOTHER: More information here, including the "notice of action."
Some details here. Will the other miscreants from Dershowitz to City Councilman Fidler now recant? They've been whacked by both the Mayor and the New York Times, as well as the rest of the civilized world.
UPDATE: More on Mayor Bloomberg's remarks here, which are apt and funny.
The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.
A propos the attack on academic freedom at Brooklyn College, longtime reader Ruchira Paul passes on this letter sent to President Gould from Zujaja Tauqeer '11, and Ms. Tauqeer kindly gave her permission for me to post it on the blog. By way of background, Ms. Paul notes that, "Zujaja Tauqeer belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and came to the US from Pakistan with her parents. The state of Pakistan sanctions legal and social persecution of Ahmadis."
Here is Ms. Tauqeer's letter:
Dear President Gould,
I hope this letter finds you well. As a Brooklyn College alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, and the commencement speaker and class representative for the 2011 graduating class, I urge you to continue upholding the principles of academic freedom and to allow the Political Science Department to co-sponsor, as originally planned, the panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been scheduled to take place at BC.
As you and Provost Tramontano are aware, I know all too well how fragile freedom of speech can be. As a beneficiary of political asylum by the US, I am horrified to see the kinds of perverse tactics used to marginalize minority communities and viewpoints in less developed countries being introduced in an American public educational institution for the express purpose of stifling the freedom of speech, and therefore the freedom of conscience, of students and faculty. Elected officials and trustees who hold the public trust are now trying to force you to join them in betraying that very trust. They are seeking to deprive the Political Science Department of its right—and responsibility—to sponsor discussions that may conflict with the convictions of those in a position of power.
As a Rhodes Scholar selected from Brooklyn College, I have tried my utmost to represent my alma mater as a progressive institution whose commitment to freedom and toleration vindicate the sacrifices students and alumni like myself have made to pursue a liberal arts education here. Though in the past BC has stumbled in its effort to preserve civil liberties on campus, I am confident that as president you will capably show that academic freedom, so crucial to critical scholarship and democratic citizenship, is non-negotiable.
I recall at this time the motto of our school—nil sine magno labore. We cannot ensure for future students and faculty the freedoms promised to them as citizens of this country if we as an institution back down from the effort needed to uphold those very freedoms now when they are threatened by vested interests. If I can support you in any way in helping to make this case to my fellow alumni, our elected officials, and our donors, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11
As Greenwald reports, city officials are now explicitly threatening to withhold funding to the College if the event goes forward. As Greenwald also notes, this is rather obviously unconstitutional.
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)